NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Facing an undefeated powerhouse is nothing new for New Brunswick High School Football team. After all, The Zebras took down Piscataway on Sept. 27, 13-7, beating the reigning North 2 Group 5 champions and causing a seismic shift in most state rankings.
New Brunswick is out to do it again tonight at 7 when it travels to Woodbridge to take on the undefeated Barons.
Woodbridge is off to its best start in 22 years, but coach Nate Harris told TAPinto New Brunswick that his team is ready to meet the challenge despite coming off a heartbreaking loss to East Brunswick.
Against all odds, the Zebras converted on a 96-yard pass to Nadir Harmon in the final minute to put themselves in position to take the lead. Three plays later, however, they watched as time ran out on a 17-14 loss.
"It's tough like any other loss," Harris said. "We had a lot of opportunities. The last drive of the game. We get the ball with under two minutes. On the negative side of the field, Nadir Harmon makes a hell of a play where he almost breaks for a touchdown, but one the East Brunswick kids made a game-saving tackle. It's like any other loss. This one hurts a little more because of our current circumstances and the fashion we lost the game in."
In its earlier loss against Sayreville, New Brunswick had driven inside the Bombers' 15 only to fumble. The Bombers recovered the ball and hung on for a 7-0 victory.
It's been a challenging season when you combine these past two heartbreaking losses with the adversity from being sanctioned for using an ineligible player and having their season opening four victories wiped away. Plus, you can factor in injuries to players such as two-way starter Ahyan Brown-Miller (season-ending should injury) and Marcel Blount (concussion).
In Harris' heart, the team is 4-4, not 0-8 after it was forced to forfeit wins against Monroe, Dickinson (Jersey City), Edison and Piscataway.
Harris uses words such as tough and resilient to describe his team's mind-set going into tonight's game. He's counting on players such as Jarazell Bull, Marcellus Blount, Amon Sanders and Eli Rodriguez to step up when the Zebras meet running back Lee Ali Jr. and the Barons.
Ali has more than 1,000 all-purpose yards and leads the league with 18 touchdowns.
"We buried the East Brunswick game," Harris said. "We have what we call the 24-hour rule. As far as Woodbridge, we know the task at hand. We understand the opportunity. We have Lee Ali going to be hosting us. He just got an offer to play football at the next level. They have a good offensive line. We're excited about the opportunity. It's all positive vibes and energy from the Zebras."
Harris is the perfect coach to lead this team. He was one of the finest linemen in New Brunswick High School history. He finished in the top 10 of his class and earned an academic scholarship to Rutgers. He was a preferred walk-on, but soon scratched and clawed his way past highly recruited blue-chip prospects ahead of him on th depth chart.
Harris has shared with his players stories of some of the challenges he has faced on and off the field - especially around the time when he first arrived at Rutgers.
"It wasn't perfect for me," he said. "There were times I second-guessed myself and I wanted to quit. Thanks to my personal support system and my personal belief that I was built for the moment - those are experiences that I look back on and say helped me for what we're going through now."