BRIDGEWATER, NJ -- The Bridgewater-Raritan football team, coming off an overtime victory over Hunterdon Central last week, begins a crucial three-game stretch with a home game against Westfield Friday night.
Bridgewater-Raritan (3-3) and Westfield (5-1) are programs extremely familiar with one another, but Friday's game will mark their first matchup since they played each other in three consecutive Section 2, Group 4 championship games from 2015 through 2017.
It's the first time in six years that the Panthers will be playing Westfield in the regular season.
Last week, BRHS rallied to defeat Hunterdon Central in overtime. Michael Pastor kicked two field goals that first tied, and then won, the game. The victory was achieved largely on the legs of the Panthers' ground game, which chewed up more than 300 yards from scrimmage on a night when Hunterden Central took away the Panthers' signature passing attack.
"Hunterdon Central came out to take away our passing game with man coverage and blitzes," Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Scott Bray said. "We were able to find our running game in alternate ways, and the nice thing is it was multiple people. It was not on the shoulders of one person."
Sophomore Brady Kurdyla gained 131 yards on 13 carries and senior Peter Usewick rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
Bridgewater-Raritan, like Westfield, struggled through a difficult season last year, when Bray said injuries forced the Panthers to play several young players in spots before they were projected to be forced into duty there.
"But this year we believe we have great leadership in the locker room," Bray said. "This senior group is the last class to play in that third championship game, and last year hurt them because it was not up to their expectations. They have done a nice job rallying around that and building what we believe is our way of doing things."
Senior quarterback Alex Fromberg, in a game where Hunterdon Central geared its defense to take away the Bridgewater passing game, still came through when it counted.
"Alex manages the game well, and although he's not a loud, boisterous leader, his leadership is even-keeled, and it's shown through in all our games," Bray said. "Hunterdon Central was his first off game passing the ball this season, but on the last drive to tie the game up, he made some key completions, he ran the ball well and he still found a way."
Bridgewater-Raritan right now is in position to qualify for the playoffs, but the next stretch of remaining regular-season opponents is unforgiving: Westfield (5-1), Union (6-0) and Woodbridge (6-0).
"We get all three at home," Bray said, "but our kids are gonna have to work. I think we have to get to that four-win mark to make playoffs."