EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — Anthony Goffe did all he could to prevent Bridgewater-Raritan from a third consecutive state championship defeat.
But despite Goffe’s stellar rushing performance, Bridgewater Raritan was unable to hold off Westfield – now winners of 37 straight – in the NJSIAA North 2, Group 5 state football championship at MetLife Stadium Thursday night.
Goffe was given 37 carries and rushed for 178 yards and a touchdown, but Westfield’s defense came up huge and propelled the Blue Devils to their third consecutive state championship over the Panthers.
“That’s been the game plan now for several weeks, it’s been to feed [Goffe] the ball,” said Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Scott Bray. “The offensive line has been blocking well, and we knew that was going to be our way to a championship.”
However, highlighted by Tim Alliegro’s 47-yard breakaway touchdown trot, Westfield uncharacteristically scored 14 points in the first half to put a crimp in a normally airtight Bridgewater-Raritan defense, then sealed the deal on Adam McDaniel’s fumble recovery for a touchdown during the final minutes of the game. The Blue Devils scored two of their three touchdowns as the result of Panther turnovers.
Both defenses entered the game regarded among the best in the state, however, it was clearly Westfield’s D that ultimately stood atop.
McDaniel’s 32-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown with one minute, 27 seconds remaining in the game – the second straight year he’s recorded a defensive TD in the state championship – finished Westfield’s third straight state title and epitomized the type of defensive night it was for the Blue Devils.
In the second quarter, Jake Dayon intercepted Bridgewater-Raritan’s Greg Verano, which directly led to Westfield’s second score and ended up standing as the game-winner. Jake Vall-Llobera recorded a one-yard keeper touchdown to finish the drive that Dayon’s interception initiated The drive was given a jolt when Hank Shapiro connected with Emmitt Smith on a 22-yard pass to put the Blue Devils at the 1-yard line.
Just four minutes earlier, courtesy of tremendous blocking up top, Alliegro went untouched through the offensive line and broke free for a 47-yard rushing TD. It was Alliegro’s team-leading ninth rushing TD of the season.
The Panthers added a score of their own in the second quarter, but they were already trailing by two touchdowns before Goffe marched 13 yards for a TD.
Westfield’s first-half surge surely stunned a Bridgewater-Raritan team, which had entered the game allowing over 14 points in a game just twice all season. It was probably a pleasant surprise for Westfield, as well, seeing as the Blue Devils had become accustomed to slow starts as of recently.
“Our defense didn’t break, [Westfield] didn’t score [on offense] after it,” said Bray of Alliegro’s big run. “We came back and put drives together. It’s not until the second quarter where they break off the run and that’s was just a couple misalignments in there. They hit the long pass after the turnover.”
With Goffe getting 37 carries, it was a challenge for the Panthers to get any additional sort of offensive rhythm going. Quarterback Greg Verano passed for just 51 yards on 13 attempts, while the team gained only 40 all-purpose yards aside from Goffe.
“[Westfield’s] pass rush kept Greg off,” Bray said, “and he could never get his feet underneath him to even give time to throw good balls.”
Neither team came close to scoring for the duration of the second half, until Jordan Barham’s strip sack of Greg Verano all but put a cap on things. Barham jarred the ball lose from a scrambling Verano, and McDaniel picked up the ball at the 32-yard line and took it all the way for a TD. McDaniel also returned a defensive touchdown against the Panthers in last year's state final.
“When they played tight like that, I had to play over the tight end on the weak side,” McDaniel said. “When I saw him scramble and my tight end came, I came up and Jordan Barham made a beautiful strip sack. The ball was loose — I was cramping up — but I picked it up, and struggled to get to the endzone.”
Bridgewater-Raritan limited Westfield to just one first down in the second half and three offensive plays in the fourth quarter.
Bridgewater-Raritan ends the season with a record of 9-3.