BASKING RIDGE, NJ - In a slugfest highlighted by eight touchdowns in regulation play--and only two punts--and then three more TDs in two overtime sessions, Union finally delivered the knockout punch to Ridge.
Quarterback Justin Beckett threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Nasir Wooten in the left corner of the end zone after executing a deft pump fake to give Union a 41-34 victory in the second overtime Friday night in the opening round of the Section 2, Group 5 state playoffs.
Al-Tariq Jones had scored three TDs in regulation and another in the first overtime for Union (5-4). Jones carried 24 times for 244 yards, including a 42-yard run 2:17 into the game after the first of two interceptions by Adam Georges gave the Farmers possession and set the game loose like a runaway freight train.
The two teams went blow for blow to forge a 14-14 tie just 8:03 into the contest. Quarterback Aidan Murphy scored the first TD for Ridge (8-2) on a 20-yard scramble with 6:20 left, and wingback Dan Skea ran five yards for a TD with 3:57 left after Murphy had set the score up with a 43-yard pass to Devin Steiglitz to the Union 11-yard line.
Beckett's 34-yard TD run with a direct snap gave the Farmers a 21-14 lead with 2:08 left in the second quarter. Ridge tied it, 21-21, with 10:36 left in the fourth quarter to close out a drive of epic proportions--a 17-play, 97-yard sortee that spanned 9 minutes and 31 seconds, bridging the third and fourth quarters after Union pinned the Red Devils deep with a punt to the 3-yard line. Reed Handabaka's 5-yard TD run (see accompanying video) and Nolan Hughes' PAT tied the game, capping a drive that showcased Ridge's ability to confound defenses with its vexing misdirection Wing-T offense. Handabaka finished with 77 yards on 13 carries.
Union needed just seven plays to move 77 yards on its next series to re-take the lead, 28-21. Jones finished it with a 24-yard TD run. But Ridge came back with a six-play, 72-yard march to knot the game, 28-28, on Steiglitz' 41-yard TD run on an inside counter handoff up the middle with 5:10 showing in the fourth quarter followed by another Hughes PAT.
Union drove to the Ridge 16-yard line, but was denied on a fourth-and-one keeper with 18 seconds left to set up the overtime session, which saw Ridge take a 34-28 lead on Murphy's 5-yard TD pass to Skea. Murphy finished with 12 completions in 24 passes for 173 yards. Jones darted 25 yards for a TD on Union's first play of its overtime series to tie the game. Both teams missed their PATs.
In the second OT, Union got the ball first and needed five plays to score on the Beckett-to-Wooten connection. Ridge netted a loss of one yard on its first three plays of the second OT, and then was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that set up an insurmountable fourth-and-26 play from the 41 before an incomplete pass ended the game.