SOMERVILLE, N.J. – The 4th Annual Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone Bowl was an exciting one to see at Somerville High School’s Brooks Field Thursday night.
The charity game presented by the U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Station of New Jersey and the Somerset County Football Coaches Association benefited the Basilone Memorial Foundation.
And those in attendance who spent eight dollars were treated to an All-Star like football game featuring 13 Somerset County schools and two Hunterdon County schools (South Hunterdon and Delaware Valley) between the Devil Dogs and Leather Necks. And for the third straight year, the Devil Dogs were victorious with a 21-13 triumph that came down to the wire.
As a total of five North Plainfield High School alums participated in the game, two really shined – running back Ceisean Tucker and linebacker Siraaj Price.
Tucker, who was named the overall MVP for the Devil Dogs, finished with 112 rushing yards and a touchdown. His 11-yard score with 47.6 seconds remaining put the Dogs up 21-13.
“It was unreal feeling,” Tucker told TAPinto North Plainfield after the game on what it was like diving toward the left pylon for the score. “I mean, I had to make a play and it was the play I had to make it. I just had to come through in the fourth quarter.
“I got stopped in the backfield for a little bit and I had to push it out. I just knew no matter if the play breaks down you have to find a hole, find a way, keep pushing, and score.”
Price, who will also be teammates with Tucker at Delaware Valley University, made a bunch of tackles on a defense including a sack and a fumble recovery. Although he wasn’t on the field at the time of Tucker’s score because he plays defense, he was still jumping for joy.
“I was just so enthusiastic,” Price said after his Tucker scored. “Then I was even (happier) because I got to go on defense and hit people again. They took me out the series before and then we won the game.”
As Tucker broke a few tackles and made defenders miss all night with his powerful build and shifty jukes, he credited the coaching staff which told the team to always keep your feet moving and keep fighting.
“We knew not to give up,” Tucker said. “I give congrats my coaches. They drilled it in our heads no matter what we have to keep pushing.”
And just like actual Marines, the whole team fought all night on both sides of the ball.
The Devil Dogs took a 14-7 lead into halftime with scores from Bridgewater-Raritan’s Matt Miliotis (the Dogs’ offensive MVP), who caught a 12-yard strike over the middle from Watchung Hills’ quarterback Mark Ball on the game’s opening possession, and the second coming on a 38-yard pass from Bridgewater-Raritan’s Eric Nickel to Immaculata’s Derek Walker. The score remained the same through the third quarter and after the Dogs missed a field goal on the first play of the final quarter.
On the Leather Necks’ ensuing drive, Somerville quarterback Mike Tarver hit Somerville’s Jeremiah Lynch over the middle for a 30-yard score with 8:08 left in the game to cut the deficit to 14-13. It looked like the same play that had the Leather Necks’ overall MVP wide open in the second quarter for his first score of the night – a 29-yard pass from Franklin’s Darius Gibson. But, the Leather Necks pushed the envelope and missed a gutsy two-point conversion call as Tarver rolled right and his pass to the back right cover of the end zone went wide.
The Devil Dogs got the ball back but failed to do much and was forced to punt the ball. The Leather Necks’ got the ball back with 6:06 left on the clock, but turned the ball over on the downs which led to the Dogs’ final offensive possession where Tucker put them ahead by eight.
But just like the second half, the team’s traded a few turnovers, big hits, and big plays in the first half. Both teams battled, but the Devil Dogs upped their series record to 3-1.
“All we did was stay uplifted,” Price said. “We never got negative and we just kept firing back. When they made a big play, we made a big play. Then we made two big plays, three big plays. Then they made another big play and we made four. That’s just how defense [and offense] has to go, so that’s what we did.”
The bowl game is in honor of United States Marine Gunnery Sergeant John A. Basilone (Nov. 4, 1916 – Feb. 19, 1945), a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for his heroism during the battle of Guadalcanal in World War II. According to basiloneparade.com, Basilone helped his small group of 16 men fend off thousands of Japanese soldiers. Basilone manned two machine guns, fixed two more, crawled into hostile territory with bullets flying over his head and grenades exploding around him to get ammunition, and lastly finished off the Japs with his pistol.
The sixth of 10 children to parents Salvatore Basilone and Dora Bencivenga, Basilone was born in Buffalo, N.Y. but the family returned to Raritan in 1918 where his five older siblings were born.
Basilone was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of Iwo Jima in Japan, but was awarded the Navy Cross. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia near Washington D.C.
In addition, the fallen and most decorated Marine has an annual parade held in his honor in the town of Raritan, with the 2016 edition set for Sept. 18 at 1p.m.