BRIDGEWATER, NJ – Two familiar foes again faced off in a highly-anticipated showdown at John Basilone Field, and, while recent history has not been on the Panthers’ side against Westfield, Bridgewater-Raritan knew what was at stake against the Blue Devils going into their 2019 regular season meeting.
Looking to make a push for a playoff berth, the Panthers got the job done at home this time around.
After seven straight losses to Westfield (5-2) dating back to 2011, including playoff losses in four straight seasons from 2014-2017, Bridgewater-Raritan (4-3) again found themselves behind against the visiting Blue Devils in their first regular season meeting since 2013. Down 6-0 early following a touchdown with 3:51 left in the first quarter by the Blue Devils on what ended up being their seven-plus minute opening drive, the Panthers responded by keeping Westfield off the scoreboard the rest of the way.
Bridgewater-Raritan rode their defense and 17 timely unanswered points the rest of the way, including on two touchdowns in a span of 5:48 in the final period, for a statement 17-6 home victory over Westfield in easily their best performance of the 2019 season.
Given the amount of times the Blue Devils reached the Panthers’ territory throughout the contest, what Bridgewater-Raritan did when it mattered most to ultimately snap their losing streak against Westfield was truly remarkable.
Blue Devils 6, Panthers 0
Bridgewater-Raritan received the game’s opening kickoff at their own 35-yard line, but went three and out to open the contest. After Westfield took over at their own 31 just 54 seconds into the contest, the Blue Devils looked to set the tone right away. With senior quarterback Henry Shapiro leading the way, the Blue Devils managed to move the chains four times in their opening drive, including on passes of 20 yards and 7 yards to tight end John Czarnecki to reach the Panthers 23 halfway into the period. A few minutes later, Shapiro tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to a running Griffin Rooney, who fell to the ground towards the right side of the end zone with an acrobatic catch to put Westfield on the board.
With 3:51 left in the first quarter, Bridgewater-Raritan trailed 6-0 after a missed extra-point attempt by Westfield, but the Blue Devils managed to eat 7:15 off the clock as a result of its lengthy opening-drive score.
But those were, unbelievably, Westfield’s only points of the game.
Even despite three combined turnovers from both teams in the game’s next five plays, particularly two quick ones by Bridgewater-Raritan, the Panthers did not panic.
Immediately following the Blue Devils’ touchdown drive, Westfield forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and recovered it at the Panthers 23. But Bridgewater-Raritan’s Ryan McKinney intercepted Shapiro’s pass two plays later, enabling the Panthers to take over at their own 29 with 2:20 left in the period.
The Blue Devils then forced and recovered a fumble on the very next play to put Westfield back in Panthers territory with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter.
A false start penalty by Westfield, which was the first penalty by either team up to that point, ended up giving the Panthers’ defense the breathing room they needed to keep the Blue Devils out of scoring territory. A 4th-down pass from Shapiro eventually fell incomplete in the end zone for Westfield, and the Panthers took over at their own 26 while still only trailing 6-0.
One play later, the first quarter came to an end with Bridgewater-Raritan facing a 2nd a 7 from their own 29, and most importantly, after overcoming two turnovers in their own territory and remarkably keeping Westfield off of the scoreboard.
Blue Devils 6, Panthers 3
Even though the scoreboard appeared to say otherwise early, Bridgewater-Raritan took complete control of the game from there.
A pair of big plays of 22 and 13 yards from the Panthers’ dynamic duo of quarterback Alex Fromberg and wide receiver Miftar Hasanaj got the home team’s offense going, and they quickly moved to the Blue Devils 35 with 10:31 to go in the half. While Fromberg got sacked for a 7-yard loss on the very next play, a facemask penalty by Westfield ultimately wiped out the Panthers’ big loss in yardage and gave them a new set of downs to work with in the red zone just over a minute later.
Facing 4th and 1 from the Blue Devils 12, the Panthers moved the chains, as Bridgewater-Raritan’s Gerard Redden gained a hard-fought three yards on the ground to bring up 1st and goal from the 9 with 6:31 left in the half.
A contested pass from Fromberg on 3rd and goal unfortunately fell incomplete in the end zone, but Bridgewater-Raritan got on the board courtesy of the leg of kicker Mike Pastor from 23 yards out. The field goal from the Panthers’ kicker, who kicked the game-tying field goal as time expired in regulation at Hunderton Central in addition to the eventual game-winning field goal there in overtime in the Panthers’ 23-20 win last week, cut Westfield’s lead to 6-3 with 5:03 left in the half.
Bridgewater-Raritan forced a three and out on Westfield’s next drive, and took over at their own 41 with 2:46 to go in the half in what ended up being the final drive of the half.
After unbelievable play from Fromberg, in which the senior quarterback tossed a short pass as he was being brought down in the backfield to Nick Vizzoni for a 13-yard gain into Blue Devils territory, momentum clearly swung in Bridgewater-Raritan’s favor in the closing minutes of the first half. Panthers receiver Tyler Tangolics ended up running right through Westfield’s defense for a 14-yard gain to put the Panthers back in field goal range.
An eventual 34-yard field goal attempt was no good for Bridgewater-Raritan to close the first half, and with Westfield receiving the second half kickoff, both teams went into the locker room with the Panthers trailing 6-3 at home.
Despite coming up empty to close out the first half, Bridgewater-Raritan certainly had to feel good after overcoming multiple deep trips by Westfield that resulted in no points for the 5-1 visitors.
Blue Devils 6, Panthers 3
The Panthers’ defense picked up right where it left off after the break, opening the 3rd quarter with a three and out to keep Westfield off the scoreboard. With 10:28 left in the quarter, Bridgewater-Raritan got the ball for the first time out of the locker room. Bridgewater-Raritan’s Brett MacMath began the home team’s march down the field with a pair of runs of 7 and 6 yards for a first down, and a 10-yard pass from Fromberg to Tangolics moved the chains again and into Westfield territory near midfield with 8:35 left in the period.
One minute later, the Panthers faced a 4th and 2 at the Blue Devils 41, but Westfield ended up stuffing the Panthers near the line of scrimmage, giving the visitors the ball back at their own 40.
This did not phase Bridgewater-Raritan, as the Panthers’ Bryce Myers capped another three and out with a tackle for no gain near midfield, giving the home team the ball back at their own 26 with 5:06 left in the period.
McKinney then rushed for 10 yards and caught a two-yard pass from Fromberg for a pair of Panthers first downs, and facing another 4th and short [1 yard] from the Blue Devils 45, Fromberg and the Panthers got the one yard needed to move the chains for a third time in the drive and with 1:44 left in the quarter.
While the Blue Devils ended up stalling the Panthers’ drive from there, the ensuing punt took a B-R roll all the way to the Blue Devils 13, where Westfield took over with 38 seconds left in the quarter.
Two plays later, Bridgewater-Raritan’s Brady Kurdyla and Mike Pastor combined for a sack to close out the period, giving Westfield a 3rd and 15 from their own 7 to open up the final period of regulation with the score still 6-3 in favor of Westfield.
Blue Devils 6, Panthers 17
Bridgewater-Raritan’s patience and concentration finally paid off in the final 12 minutes of regulation.
And the special teams’ bounces were certainly in the home team’s favor in the second half.
Facing 4th and 11 deep in their own territory, the resulting punt by Westfield took a B-R backwards bounce all the way to the Blue Devils 27.
Bridgewater-Raritan quickly cashed in on the short field in two plays, with Fromberg tossing a 16-yard pass to Tangolics, and Vizzoni running untouched into the end zone for the go-ahead 11-yard touchdown.
With Pastor’s extra point attempt splitting the uprights, the Panthers went up 10-6 and took its first lead of the night with 10:49 to go.
While Westfield never seemed to go away and responded with big plays the rest of the way, Bridgewater-Raritan continued to get stops when it mattered the most.
Blue Devils running back Timothy Allegro took the ensuing kickoff all the way to midfield, and then the next handoff for a 28-yard run right up the middle to put Westfield in business exactly 35 seconds later. But despite advancing to the Panthers 22 as a result, Redden barreled his way through the Blue Devils’ offensive line for a sack and a six-yard loss to instead bring up 4th and 16 for Westfield with 9:15 to go.
Shapiro had a great look in the air on 4th and long for Westfield, but the pass ultimately fell incomplete near the end zone to give the Panthers back the ball at their own 28.
A short time later, Bridgewater-Raritan delivered the knockout punch.
MacMath quickly rushed for a pair of first down runs of 13 and 11 yards, and Fromberg tossed a deep pass up the middle to Hasanaj, who took the ball to the house himself for a 40-yard touchdown reception with 5:01 to go, extending the Panthers’ lead to 17-6 after Pastor’s successful extra point attempt.
But Westfield did not go away.
The Blue Devils marched right down the field with a pair of big passes of 24 and 31 yards from Shapiro to John Czarnecki and Griffin Rooney, with the latter reception giving Westfield a 1st and goal from the Panthers 6 with 3:34 to go.
But Bridgewater-Raritan’s Kurdyla and Redden, who already had multiple huge plays on defense up to this point, combined for another sack to drive Westfield in the opposite direction. Redden added one more sack on third down to put the icing on the cake on a monstrous performance for the Panthers senior, and, while the Blue Devils gained 11 yards on what ended up being 4th and goal from the Panthers 16, Bridgewater-Raritan took over on downs with 2:15 to go and a huge home victory in sight.
Westfield managed to stuff Bridgewater-Raritan on the Panthers’ first two plays of the ensuing drive and burned two of its three timeouts in the process, but facing a 3rd and 3 with 1:52 to go, McKinney rushed for three yards to move the chains for the game-clinching first down.
A few kneel downs later by the Panthers, the clock struck triple zeros with the home crowd at John Basilone Field erupting, and Bridgewater-Raritan improved to 4-3 in 2019 with a 17-6 win over Westfield.
Two weeks after Philipsburg scored 20 unanswered points to knock off the Panthers in a heartbreaking 20-13 home loss, Bridgewater-Raritan scored 17 unanswered points against Westfield at home following the Blue Devils’ opening-drive touchdown late in the first period. This included two touchdowns in a span of 5:48 in the final period to make it a two-possession game, and the resulting 11-point win for Bridgewater-Raritan ended up being their second largest margin of victory so far in 2019.
Their biggest margin of victory through seven games of the 2019 regular season was a 33-14 win (i.e. 19 points) at Franklin three weeks prior on September 27th, 2019. All seven of the Panthers games so far this season have been decided by an average of 8.4 points, with four of them being decided by a touchdown or less.
With their third victory in four games following a 1-2 start, Bridgewater-Raritan improved to 4-3, while Westfield fell to 5-2.
The Panthers will look to ride this momentum against undefeated Union (7-0) in what will certainly be a big 2019 Homecoming game for Bridgewater-Raritan. Kickoff against the Farmers will be at 7 p.m. at John Basilone Field Oct. 25.
Senior Night and the Panthers’ regular-season finale will be at home against Woodbridge the following week, Nov. 1.
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