BRIDGEWATER — While Bridgewater-Raritan found itself engaged in an absolute barn burner of a first half against Union, scoring on every possession during the first two quarters, Panthers head coach Scott Bray knew that the winner of this game was going to be the one that came up with the first defensive stop.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, that team was Union.
Union erupted for 51 points on 500 total yards of offense Friday night, scoring on all 13 of its drives (stopped only by the clock at game's end), to defeat Bridgewater-Raritan, 51-35, in an absolute barn burner at Basilone Memorial Field. Every drive from both sides in the first half resulted in a score – the first eight being touchdowns – but only Union, now a perfect 8-0, was able to keep up that blazing pace throughout the game.
“We were able to move the ball for the whole game, but they got that upper hand, so now that puts pressure on you,” said Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Scott Bray. “You’re saying, ‘Oh, we’re not stopping them’. So now [for example] you go for the onside kick, and that gives them a short field. But you have to do that, because we weren’t stopping them and their kids were making plays and not making mistakes.”
Union star senior quarterback Andrew Sanborn eclipsed the 6,000 career passing yards mark during the first half and finished with 270 total passing yards Friday. His counterpart in Bridgewater-Raritan’s Alex Fromberg was pretty darn good as well, throwing for 274 yards and two touchdowns — one to Miftar Hasanaj and another to Bryce Myers, both in the first half.
However, Union’s offense was a bit more explosive when it mattered most. Junior wideout Desmond Igbinosun, who has FBS Power-Five recruiting interest, had two receiving touchdowns, which were Union's first two scores of the night. Sanborn would then add a rushing touchdown, before Christian Murrell, Diante Wilson (twice), and Kayir McBride would all find the endzone as well, while Ricardo Casas added a field goal. Union added 220 total rushing yards between the majority of Murrell, Wilson, Sanborn.
Bridgewater-Raritan's offense was equally as explosive in that first half. Fromberg threw for 200 yards in the first 24 minutes, as the Panthers countered Union's every move to make it 28-28 up until Casas' 23-yard boot as time expired to give the Farmers a 31-28 advantage heading into the locker room.
Union would then settle down on defense and come up with stops on Bridgewater’s first two drives of the second half, which allowed the offense to extend the lead to as much as 45-38 before Bridgewater made another push to get back in it.
“We come out on that first drive, have a drop that would’ve been a first down to prolong, then run a swing pass to our running back who runs out of bounds instead of running for a first down, then the next play, they make a tackle to keep us a yard away on fourth down,” Bray said. “That’s what we told them — the team that comes up and gets a stop is going to win the game. That’s what happened.”
Union's defense suffered its worst half of football Friday, but responded in the second half with a spirited effort to right the ship. Stops on Bridgewater's first two drives of the half -- spearheaded by the play of Davison Igbinosun, Darius Presley, and company – slowed the Panthers down and allowed Union to distance itself.
"That was huge for us, huge," Sanborn said. "We knew that if we would stop them, we’d stop some of their momentum and be good for the rest of the game."
Wilson ran for a nine-yard touchdown to complete an eight-play, 64-yard half-opening drive in the third quarter to make it a two-possession (38-28) game. Sanborn then hooked up with McBride on a 16-yard scoring pass on the next drive to extend that advantage to 45-28.
Bridgewater wasn't done yet though, and responded when Fromberg ran for a one-yard keeper on the ensuing drive to cut the lead to 45-35 and make things interesting. However, Union's engine kept running and Wilson would soon run for a 25-yard score to make it 51-35 with 8:03 remaining in the game.
The Farmers' defense then came up with a huge goal-line stand with just over two minutes left, forcing a turnover on downs on Bridgewater's final drive, which stalled at the Farmer one-yard line.
“They came out in something we weren’t expecting, but we have great coaches, and they drew it up at halftime,” Desmond Igbinosun, who also plays defensive back in addition to receiver, said about the second half defensive revival. “When we came out in the second half, it was great giving up only seven points to a great Bridgewater-Raritan team."
While this game was decided in the second half, the first half was perhaps some of the wildest 24 minutes of football played in the state this season.
Union opened up the scoring when Sanborn hit with Igbinosun on a 28-yard touchdown to complete the opening drive, which the Farmers needed five plays to march 60 yards in 3:06. Bridgewater instantly responded on its ensuing series when Brett MacMath's 10-yard rushing TD tied it up, after the PAT.
Sanborn again found Igbinosun for a TD on the Farmers' next drive, this time a five-yard hookup to complete a six-play, 56-yard move to make it 14-7. Yet again, Bridgewater answered right away though, as a Fromberg seven-yard keeper up the middle completed a 78-yard drive and evened it up with five seconds left in the opening quarter.
Union needed just three plays to jump back ahead, when Sanborn ran for an 8-hard score. That lead was short-lived again, as an eight-yard pass to Miftar Hasanaj tied it at 21 with 8:47 left in the second quarter.
On the Farmers' next drive, Sanborn found Igbinosun for a 44-yard pass to put the Farmers in the red zone, where Murrell would run it in from two out two plays later to make it 28-21. However, the Panthers got even when Bryce Myers caught a 13-yard TD pass from Fromberg, evening it at 28 with 1:20 left in the game.
Union started the next drive at its 25, but a 55-hard pass to Rutgers-bound Ahmirr Robinson got it to the Bridgewater 10. After failing to score on the next three plays, the Farmers called on Casas, who booted the chip shot and put his team ahead for good.
“I’ve been in games where one of us has been up a lot and the other team comes back,” Bray said, “But that whole exchange in the first half was something else.”
Friday also marked Bridgewater-Raritan's annual Homecoming event. Seniors Varun Sarabudia and Shreeti Patel were crowned Homecoming King and Queen.