BRIDGEWATER, NJ – No one in the Panthers locker room forgot how their 2019 season ended on Westfield’s home turf. Trailing 23-0, the Blue Devils scored 27 unanswered points in the final 14:15 of regulation for a miraculous 27-23 comeback victory, eliminating the Panthers in the first round of the 2019 playoffs and avenging a 17-6 loss to the Panthers in that same regular season.

That heartbreaking end to 2019 certainly made a huge Week 3 victory in 2020 even sweeter for Bridgewater-Raritan.

Trailing 14-6 at halftime and being held to only 22 total yards of offense against the Blue Devils in the first half, Bridgewater-Raritan (2-1) turned the tables on Westfield (0-2). The Panthers’ defense held the visiting Blue Devils to 66 total yards in the second half, while the offense scored 21 unanswered points in the final 15:09 of regulation on the way to an impressive 27-14 victory at John Basilone Field.

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Bridgewater-Raritan’s Ryan McKinney ran for 138 of his game-high 155 rushing yards in the second half, including a 61-yard touchdown run with 3:09 to go in the third quarter for the offense’s first points of the night. Including a 35-yard fumble return touchdown to open the game’s scoring by Miftar Hasanaj just two minutes into the contest: the only points scored by Bridgewater-Raritan in the first half, the Panthers’ defense forced three key turnovers and made three more fourth-down stops on Friday night.

On offense, the Panthers bounced back with 234 second-half total yards to flip the script on its rivals. Quarterback Brady Kurdyla ran for an 8-yard score to give Bridgewater-Raritan the lead for good with 10:21 to go, and he added the knockout punch five minutes later with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Myers to put the game out of reach for the visiting Blue Devils.

Friday October 16th certainly was the night of another instant classic in this rivalry for the Panthers, who are undefeated at home halfway through their six-game 2020 regular season.

(DISCLAIMER: All stats contained in this recap are unofficial stats.)

FIRST QUARTER
Blue Devils 7, Panthers 6

Bridgewater-Raritan won the opening coin toss and deferred to the second half, and Blue Devils quarterback (and kicker) Mack Prybylski took the field for visiting Westfield.

But coming off of a big performance against Union last week, the Panthers’ defense quickly picked up right where it left off.

Just 1:41 into the contest, Miftar Hasanaj scooped up a Blue Devils fumble in the backfield, taking it 35 yards the other way into the end zone to quickly give the Panthers a 6-0 lead. On Westfield’s ensuing drive, a sack by Bridgewater-Raritan’s Allen Li forced a third and long situation for the Blue Devils, eventually leading to a turnover on downs at midfield.

Halfway into the opening period, Bridgewater-Raritan’s offense finally took the field.

While the Panthers’ first offensive drive resulted in a punt, the defense again stepped up on Westfield’s next drive and forced another third and long. With Prybylski going deep and despite good coverage by the Panthers’ secondary, a questionable pass interference call extended Westfield’s drive. Following the penalty, Blue Devils tight end Logan Howland caught a 22-yard pass to get deep into Panthers territory, and Prybylski got Westfield on the board with a five-yard touchdown run.

As a result, the Blue Devils took a 7-6 lead with 0:57 left in the opening quarter, which is where the score stood following an 11-yard run by Bridgewater-Raritan’s Ryan McKinney to end the period.

SECOND QUARTER
Blue Devils 14, Panthers 6

Opening the second period with a 1st and 10 at its own 31, Bridgewater-Raritan again came up empty at the hands of Westfield’s defense.

However, a bobbled catch on the ensuing punt led to a fumble recovery by the Panthers, setting them up at the Blue Devils 31 with 10:48 left in the second quarter.

The Panthers drove inside of the Blue Devils 20, but a missed Bridgewater-Raritan field goal ended the drive, keeping the home team down 7-6. Both teams went three and out on their ensuing drives, but Westfield finally got the big play it was looking for.

Starting at its own 26 halfway into the second quarter, Westfield’s Shane Carlin caught a 13-yard pass to get the Blue Devils’ drive going, and a 44-yard pass from Pyrbylski to Russell Kobrin set Westfield up deep in Panthers territory.

With 2:30 to go in the half, Carlin punched it in on a third and goal from the Panthers 1, extending the Blue Devils’ lead to 14-6.

While the Panthers were held to only 22 yards of offense through the contest’s first two quarters, and despite 167 total yards by Westfield’s offense in this span, Miftar Hasanaj’s early fumble return touchdown and timely plays by the Panthers’ defense still kept it a one-score game at the half at John Basilone Field.

THIRD QUARTER
Blue Devils 14, Panthers 12

Despite the Panthers’ offense being held scoreless in the first half, they completely turned things around out of the locker room.

Bridgewater-Raritan received the kickoff to open the second half, and Antione Hinton’s return to the Blue Devils 43 quickly set the tone things to come the rest of the way. While a fumble recovery by Westfield halted Bridgewater-Raritan’s opening drive of the third quarter, the Panthers again managed to get a stop on defense in their own territory in their first drive of the second half.

Halfway into the period, the Panthers took over at their own 19-yard line, but turned it over on downs at the Blue Devils 43 with 4:45 left in the third quarter. However, a sack by Mike Pastor on third and long gave the Panthers’ defense another key stop, setting the Panthers up at their own 39 looking for a big play on offense.

Like Westfield did early in the first half, Bridgewater-Raritan finally got its first big play it was looking for on offense right away on the ensuing drive.
McKinnney bursted through the left side of the Blue Devils’ defense, going the distance for a 61-yard touchdown run to cut Westfield’s lead to 14-12 after a failed two-point conversion attempt with 3:09 left in the quarter. But with all of the momentum in favor of Bridgewater-Raritan, C.J. Stevens then came up with an interception on Westfield’s next drive to set the Panthers up at midfield with under a minute left in the period.

A few plays later, the Panthers found themselves in position to retake the lead as time expired in the quarter.

FOURTH QUARTER
Blue Devils 14, Panthers 27

Starting the fourth quarter at the Blue Devils 23, it did not take very long for the Panthers to find the end zone yet again.

With 10:21 to go, Panthers quarterback Brady Kurdyla found the end zone on an eight-yard touchdown run: his first score of the night, to give the Panthers a 20-14 lead after a successful two-point run by Bryce Myers.

It was all Bridgewater-Raritan the rest of the way.

A three and out by Westfield started a long fourth quarter for the Blue Devils that resulted in just 13 net total yards on offense in the final period. A 44-yard run by McKinney on Bridgewater-Raritan’s ensuing drive quickly got the Panthers back into Blue Devils territory, and a tough catch by Colin Kurdyla plus a defensive penalty on Westfield set Bridgewater-Raritan up in the red zone yet again.

An 18-yard touchdown reception by Myers with 5:25 to go proved to be the dagger at John Basilone Field, which extended the Panthers’ lead to 27-14 and put the game very far out of reach for Westfield. The Panthers’ defense got two more fourth-down stops to put a pair of exclamation points on another masterful night by their unit.

Following Westfield’s final two timeouts late in regulation, one more first down run by Myers deep in Blue Devils territory ended up being the icing on the cake for Bridgewater-Raritan, improving the Panthers to 2-1 in 2020 and dropping rival Westfield to 0-2.

KEY STATS AND TAKEAWAYS:
(DISCLAIMER: As mentioned above, all stats contained in this recap are unofficial stats.)

Another week, another gem by Bridgewater-Raritan’s defense.

While Westfield’s defense also had a big night despite what the final scoreboard and stat sheet said, it was the Panthers’ timely plays that were the difference in this classic edition of the Panthers / Blue Devils rivalry.

After forcing three turnovers against Westfield, Bridgewater-Raritan’s defense now has forced seven turnovers in its past two games. (The Panthers forced four turnovers against Union just one week prior.) While the 2020 season is still young, Bridgewater-Raritan is now not only 2-0 at home, but is similarly undefeated in games where its defense comes up with at least one turnover.

Ridge did not commit a turnover in what ended up being a 42-14 win over Bridgewater-Raritan in Week 1 in a game that now seems like a distant memory for the Panthers.

Although the Panthers’ defense allowed big plays in their loss against Ridge, and also in their win against Union in addition to 357 total yards of offense allowed on the ground, this was not the case overall against Westfield from a dangerous unit that has continued to improve each week.

The Panthers only allowed seven total big plays (defined as offensive plays resulting in gains of 10 or more yards for this purpose) the entire night against the Blue Devils. Not including a ridiculous 44-yard catch along the Panthers’ sideline by Westfield’s Russell Kobrin, who led the Blue Devils with four receptions for 61 yards, these remaining six plays were good for an average of just over 15 yards per play.

The Panthers defense’ previously allowed 17 big plays against Ridge, which accounted for 304 of Ridge’s 397 total yards (17.9 yards per play amongst these big plays), and 11 big plays against Union that accounted for 366 of the Farmers’ 414 total yards (33.3 yards per big play).

Furthermore, against Westfield in Week 3, the Panthers only allowed 134 total rushing yards on the night (and just 99 passing yards). More remarkable is that this came on 35 running plays by the Blue Devils: giving the Panthers’ defense only 3.8 rushing yards allowed per play against Westfield by the end of the night.

After allowing 167 total yards to Westfield in the first half, Bridgewater-Raritan only allowed 66 yards the rest of the way, including just 14 total yards in the final period of regulation. With some points on the scoreboard as well thanks to Miftar Hasanaj’s early fumble return touchdown, you can definitely say the Panthers’ defense will go into the second half of the schedule with a lot of momentum and confidence.

As for the Panthers’ offense, they managed to overcome a difficult first half where they netted just 22 total yards. Bridgewater-Raritan’s offense put up a staggering 234 yards in the second half: 123 yards in the third quarter, and 111 yards in the fourth quarter. This included another pair of timely big runs for Ryan McKinney (20 rush, 155 yards, TD) to provide the Panthers the spark they needed against Westfield, particularly his 61-yard run to the house late in the third quarter that began Bridgewater-Raritan’s rally.

After a monster night in Week 3 against Westfield, McKinney has run for an average of just under 100 yards per game so far in 2020 and has four rushing touchdowns on the year.

Quarterback Brady Kurdyla had another great night against the Blue Devils. While he only had three rushes against Westfield, one of them was good for his eight-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter that put the Panthers ahead for good. Through the air, he finished with 124 passing yards and a late fourth-quarter touchdown throw to Bryce Myers (4 rec, 49 yards, TD; 2 rush, 14 yards) to put the game out of reach for the visiting Blue Devils.

Not a bad rivalry-week performance, to say the least.

Westfield quarterback Mack Prybrylski finished with 99 passing yards, and added 13 carries for 75 yards and a rushing touchdown. Running back Shane Carlin finished with 21 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown, and added three more catches for 16 yards.

NEXT UP:
Two of the final three regular-season games for Bridgewater-Raritan (2-1) will be away from John Basilone Field, including the Panthers’ first road game since their season-opening 42-14 loss at Ridge. The Panthers have won two big games in a row since this opening-night defeat.

Next on the current schedule, assuming no changes, will be a long drive to Elizabeth Oct. 23. Kickoff against the Minutemen will be at 7 p.m.

Barring any future schedule adjustments, the Panthers’ remaining 2020 regular season schedule is as follows:

  • Fri 10/23: at Elizabeth (7 p.m.)
  • Fri 10/30: vs. St. Joseph (Metuchen) (7 p.m.)
  • Fri 11/6: at Phillipsburg (7 p.m.)

For detailed Bridgewater-Raritan Panthers Athletics schedules, information, and game locations, please see https://bridgewaterraritanhighschool.bigteams.com/.

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