EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Piscataway High School varsity football team will put a new piece of hardware on display in the trophy case as the Chiefs won the first ever North 5 Bowl Game on Saturday morning by defeating Ridgewood, 31-21, at MetLife Stadium.
Running backs Nasir Best and Juwon Jackson combined for 228 yards on 33 carries for Piscataway. Jackson had 119 yards on 13 carries and Best had 109 yards on 20 carries. Best also ran in two touchdowns.
Lord Jones added five rushes for 56 yards and a score and fullbacks Nick Recine and Daniel Lopez chipped in with 23 and 16 yards each on the ground. Piscataway rushed for 338 yards.
At quarterback, Joseph Hatcher completed 4-of-7 passes for 38 yards with 36 of them going to Jones.
Placekicker Robert Konya was perfect going 4-for-4 on PATs. He also booted a 34-yard field goal on his only attempt.
Recine added eight tackles and three sacks on defense.
"It doesn't get any better than this,” Best said clutching the shiny, gold trophy. “We all balled out today."
Piscataway head coach Dan Higgins talked about the history his team made as it became the first team in program history to go a perfect 13-0 with the added bowl game.
"It's outstanding. These kids worked hard all year long. It was long, grinding season. There wasn't a day off,” Higgins said. "They put the work in. I'm proud of them. They made history. It's a special team."
The Chiefs, who are ranked No. 3 in the latest NJ.com Top 20, won the coin toss and deferred the defense went out and forced a quick punt. After taking over at the Ridgewood 41-yard line, Piscataway drove down, and Konya kicked his 34-yarder to put the Chiefs up 3-0 with 5:41 to go in the first quarter.
Ridgewood was forced to punt after just three plays again on its next drive. Piscataway, which stuffed six-straight Ridgewood Wing-T plays, took over and showed a new wrinkle. Jones took a snap as a wildcat quarterback and raced off the right side for a 29-yard touchdown run. Just like that, the Chiefs led 10-0 after one quarter of play.
The Maroons however gained ground through the air in the second however as Liam Tarleton started hitting receivers and Gabe Santiago scored on a 1-yard run to the cut the deficit to 10-6.
Ridgewood added another touchdown as Will Cardew ran in a 26-yard touchdown and the Maroons took a 13-10 lead. It was just the second time Piscataway trailed all season long.
Faced with some adversity, the Chiefs fought back and returned to their bread and butter, their power running game.
Near the goal line, on a Best rush, he appeared to be down before he fumbled but no whistle blew, and left tackle Jordin Martell picked up the ball and rumbled in from three yards away for a Chiefs touchdown.
Piscataway led 17-13 at the break.
“We said before the game that this was going to be a back and forth kind of game and not expect to win a game easily. We responded. It shows the mental toughness of the team,” Higgins said. “No matter what, they were going to fight through it. Those kids over there have pride. They're a good team. We had to play make the plays and we did."
Throughout the whole second half, Piscataway kept with its traditional running game and pounded the rock. To start the third, the Chiefs kept the ball on one possession for almost nine minutes. Best capped the drive with a 5-yard rushing touchdown.
"That was needed,” Higgins said about the long drive. “It kept them off the field and their offense on the shelf. We beat them up a little bit on that drive. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense."
"It's because of the o-line,” Best added. “The o-line controlled them. They pushed them and bullied them."
Jones had a key 13-yard gain out of the wildcat on third-and-11.
"That drive, we were angry and fired up,” Jones said. "(The wildcat) was a big factor to mix things up and put a speed look in there instead of the pound all the time. I think it was the big part of the game. It gave them something else to worry about."
Jackson was out with a right ankle injury for most of the second half. But Best showed the depth of the top public program in the state but carrying the load with no problem at all.
"We never want to have anything like that to happen, but when it does, it shows the depth of our team. One guy picks up the next and that's what you saw with Nasir,” Higgins said.
Offensive coordinator A.J. Cook mixed in some plays for the fullbacks as well.
"We wanted to give them the ball some more. Defenses always key on the tailback. Rightfully so, I would too against us. But when you sneak the fullback in there for four-five yards a pop and then you add Lord Jones running the wildcat making the big plays, now you have the defense off balanced,” Higgins said.
Jackson did however gut out a few runs in the fourth quarter to see the field one last time as a Chief. He had to be carried off by his teammates late in the game.
“He wanted to play. How are we going to stop him in his last game? Obviously, he's in pain, but you have to give him credit with how tough he is,” Higgins said.
Piscataway broke out new uniforms for the new bowl game as it sported gray uniforms with yellow numbers. Higgins mentioned they were courtesy of former Chief and current Philadelphia Eagle, Malcolm Jenkins.
"We played like Malcolm, too,” Higgins said. “We stepped up on a big stage like he always does."
Higgins couldn’t quite answer and say out of respect whether this was the best team he’s ever coached. He did coach Jenkins, who was one of three NFL first round draft picks joining Anthony Davis and Kyle Wilson. The Chiefs last were undefeated in 2010 when they went 12-0.
"It's history. It's legacy,” Higgins said. “It's never been done before. It's in the books now. It'll forever be the first Piscataway team to be 13-0. It feels good to be No. 1."
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