BRIDGEWATER, NJ – Sitting at 4-4 and scoring a go-ahead touchdown with 2:11 to go over undefeated Woodbridge, who had scored 12 unanswered points in the 4th quarter, it looked like Bridgewater-Raritan was set up to pull off a huge upset on Senior Night in a game with significant playoff implications.
All it took was one pass from Woodbridge’s quarterback 38 seconds later and a late stand by the Barrons’ defense to break the hearts of the home crowd.
Running back Ali Lee Jr. rushed for a pair of 4th quarter touchdowns for Woodbridge (8-0) to begin an explosive 4th quarter, which saw a combined 26 points after only 14 total points were scored in the first three periods. Bridgewater-Raritan (4-5) then scored on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Brady Kurdyla to Alex Fromberg with 2:11 to go to give the Panthers a four-point lead late, but with the Barrons’ offense finally settled in, Woodbridge quarterback Anthony Santino tossed a 43-yard strike up the middle to receiver Jamir Brown, who made the catch in the end zone to silence a stunned home crowd at John Basilone Field with 1:33 to go.
A pass interference call against Woodbridge as time expired in regulation led to one last chance via an untimed down from the Barrons 21 for Bridgewater-Raritan, but Fromberg was sacked on the ensuing play to preserve a 22-18 victory for the visitors.
After a first half in which Woodbridge outgained Bridgewater-Raritan by a margin of only 82-75 in total yards, with 50 of the Panthers’ first 75 yards of the half coming on a touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage from Fromberg to Kurdyla, the Panthers still felt pretty good being up 8-3 at the half.
Unfortunately for Bridgewater-Raritan, Woodbridge ultimately heated up on offense in the final period when it mattered most, and with the regular season now over and the Panthers sitting at 4-5, all they can do now is wait for their 2019 postseason fate to be determined.
Barrons 0, Panthers 8
The Panthers defense certainly bounced back out of the gate after allowing 51 points to Union the week before. They took the field first after electing to receive the kickoff in the second half, and forced a three and out to give the offense the ball at midfield to start the game.
On Bridgewater-Raritan’s very first play from scrimmage, they took control of the scoreboard.
Quarterback Alex Fromberg found a wide open Brady Kurdyla, who easily took the ball into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown reception just 1:19 into the game. Kurdyla then caught what ended up being a 2-point pass attempt to quickly give the Panthers an 8-0 lead over the Barrons.
Woodbridge running back Ali Lee Jr. then led the way for the visitors on the Barrons’ ensuing drive, running all the way to the Panthers 26 with 7:21 to go in the period. A false start negated what would have been a 26-yard touchdown pass from Barrons quarterback Anthony Santino to receiver Justin Magera, and this penalty ultimately ended up stalling a promising drive for Woodbridge. The Barrons eventually turned the ball over on downs at the Panthers 32 just over a minute later, but the Panthers only managed 12 yards on their next drive before punting the ball away with 3:48 to go in the period.
Taking over at the Barrons 45, Lee Jr. then led the way to immediately put Woodbridge back into Panthers territory in just two plays. While the Panthers defense was called for a penalty on 4th down to extend Woodbridge’s drive, they ended up getting a stop on the next third down to bring up 4th and inches from the Panthers 23 as a chess match of a first quarter came to a close at John Basilone Field.
Barrons 3, Panthers 8
Woodbridge ended up getting the few inches they needed for the first down, but after an 8-yard catch by Isaiah Allen from Santino put the Barrons into the red zone, a combined tackle for a loss by Bridgewater-Raritan’s Ryan McKinney and Brett MacMath ultimately forced a 34-yard field goal attempt by Magera. He ended up splitting the uprights on the kick with 7:59 to go in the period, and Woodbridge got on the board to cut Bridgewater-Raritan’s lead to 8-3.
But the Panthers had to feel good about themselves after holding the visitors to just three points on a drive dating back to the 1st quarter that took just under eight minutes off of the clock.
Both teams came up empty on each of their next drives, and Bridgewater-Raritan ended up going three and out despite starting the ensuing drive at midfield. Lee Jr. ended up moving the chains for the first time in a while with a 13-yard run on the first play of Woodbridge’s next drive with 3:48 to go in the half.
The Barrons junior running back also ended up with a big play on the other side of the ball.
After another punt by Woodbridge with under two minutes remaining in the half, he intercepted a pass from Fromberg at the Barrons 42 to bring what looked like a promising Bridgewater-Raritan drive to a screeching halt. But the Panthers also stopped Woodbridge on what ended up being the final drive of the half, as Mike Maciolek recorded a sack as time expired in the period with the Panthers leading 8-3.
Barrons 3, Panthers 11
Despite a combined 159 total yards of offense in the first half, with 109 of them coming in a span of 22:41 out of a possible 24 minutes, Bridgewater-Raritan certainly had to feel good about itself considering its defensive struggles the week before and having the opportunity to make it a two-possession game against Woodbridge.
But Woodbridge’s defense forced the first turnover of the night, recovering a fumble in Panthers territory with 9:25 to go in the period. Santino came up just short on another potential deep touchdown pass of 48 yards to receiver Jesus Cabrera after the toss was just out of reach, but this ultimately forced a Woodbridge punt.
Bridgewater-Raritan advanced all the way to the red zone with a second chance at extending its lead to two scores, but they ended up being held to a 31-yard field goal with 4:02 left in the period to extend the lead to 11-3.
One more three and out for the Panthers defense seemed to have them take control of the game, but a muffed punt on the ensuing kick by Woodbridge was ultimately recovered by the Barrons at the Panthers 32 with 2:48 left in the 3rd quarter. Santino finally cashed in on a big play for Woodbridge on 4th and 4, finding Jamir Brown up the sideline to bring up 1st and goal from the Panthers 2 after a 34-yard gain.
A tackle for a loss on what ended up being the final play of the third period appeared to swing momentum back in favor of a Panthers defense that had played well all night up to that point.
Barrons 22, Panthers 18
Woodbridge and its key players had other ideas in the final period.
Lee Jr. rushed for his first touchdown of the night from three yards out on the first play of the 4th quarter, and while the ensuing 2-point try failed, Bridgewater-Raritan’s lead was cut to 11-9.
The Panthers went three and out following the Barrons’ scoring drive, and Santino seemed to be in a groove the rest of the way. A 17-yard pass from Santino to Cabrera combined with a roughing the passer penalty on Bridgewater-Raritan in addition to a 40-yard run by Lee Jr. on the very next play quickly put the Barrons back into the red zone with 7:45 to go.
A couple of plays later, Lee Jr. ran for his second touchdown in a span of four and a half minutes in the final period alone, giving Woodbridge their first lead of the game with 7:20 to play.
Trailing 15-11 and getting the ball back at their own 39-yard line, Fromberg and MacMath lead the way and marched the Panthers down the field while eating up a lot of the clock in the process. With most of the plays coming on the ground for Bridgewater-Raritan, the Panthers made it all the way down to the Barrons 11 after converting a 4th and 1 with 2:22 to go. Two plays later, Kurdyla found Fromberg in the end zone from 11 yards out, and kicker Mike Pastor’s extra point gave back the Panthers an 18-15 lead with 2:11 to go. This seemed like an eternity for Woodbridge, especially given how Bridgewater-Raritan’s defense had played all night prior to the Barrons’ previous scoring drive.
And then Santino quieted the Panthers home crowd with one flick of the wrist.
A 43-yard touchdown strike from Woodbridge’s quarterback to Brown gave the Barrons the lead right back with 1:33 to go. Needing 70 yards and a touchdown in a span of 1:24 remaining to win the game, Fromberg and Myers led the way in the air for the home team on Senior Night. The Panthers used all three timeouts and eventually advanced to the Barrons 36, and a flag in Woodbridge’s secondary as time expired in regulation gave the Panthers an untimed down from the Barrons 21.
Fromberg got sacked on this play, and Woodbridge preserved its 22-18 comeback victory over Bridgewater-Raritan to remain undefeated in a heartbreaking regular season finale defeat for the Panthers on Senior Night.
NEXT UP + PLAYOFF PICTURE:
The Panthers finished their 2019 regular season with a 4-5 record, but improved their regular season record by two wins from their 2-7 campaign in 2018. Including their loss against undefeated Woodbridge, three of the Panthers’ five losses were decided by a grand total of 12 points; in two of these three losses, Bridgewater-Raritan was denied the go-ahead score inside of the opposition’s 10-yard line in the 4th quarter.
Bridgewater-Raritan’s postseason fate will be determined following the results of all games on both Friday and Saturday, and while the chances of a playoff berth have decreased following the Panthers’ heartbreaking loss against Woodbridge, a defense that has given up an average of just over 21 points per game (even including last week’s 51-35 loss against Union) to go with its improved offense could make the Panthers a dangerous draw for any potential opponent.
Follow James Olivola on Twitter (@MrOlivola) for live updates during game days and all things related to Bridgewater-Raritan Panther Athletics. Like The BReeze on Facebook and follow The BReeze on Twitter (@TheBReezeTAP).