PISCATAWAY, NJ – Quarterfinals, check. Semifinals, check. Finals? To be determined.
After getting revenge against third-seeded Old Bridge in the semifinals of the Central Jersey, Group 5 tournament after a regular season loss to the Knights, the second-seeded Piscataway Chiefs will look to do the same and win the sectional crown against top-seeded Manalapan this Saturday at 10 a.m. inside Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium.
The Braves (11-0) erased a 10-point third quarter deficit to the Chiefs (9-2) on Oct. 29 at High Point Solutions Stadium, topping Piscataway 21-10. Manalapan looked dead to rights until a fourth-down offsides penalty on Piscataway was called when the Braves were set to punt the ball away. Instead, Manalapan picked up the first down and scored 21 unanswered points, including an interception return for a score with 25 seconds left.
Does it get any better to be able to play them again? Piscataway head coach Dan Higgins doesn’t think so. His kids are ready to go.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better finish to be able to play Old Bridge in the semis and then get to play Manalapan for the final. Our kids are hungry,” Higgins told TAPinto Piscataway after the win over Old Bridge. “They’re hungry for a chance to play them. We would play them again anytime even if it wasn’t for the championship. We would love to play them. But put a state championship on top of the fact, yeah, we’re going to be excited for it.”
Even after the loss to the Braves a month ago, Higgins was eager and hoping for another shot at Manalapan. He thought the game slipped right out of their hands.
“We knew they were going to be a good team,” Higgins said. “We watched them on film and they’re excellent. They are coached well, have good players, and we would sure like another crack at them in the playoffs. So hopefully if we keep working hard, we’ll see them later down the road.”
After 13 years in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 and 5, Piscataway is back in Central Jersey, and will battle for a sectional crown for the first time since dropping a heartbreaker to Elizabeth in 2012 at Kean. Current Temple quarterback Phillip Walker engineered a three-play, 98 yard drive in the closing seconds to beat Piscataway 37-33 after the Chiefs were stuffed at the goaline looking to seal the victory.
Piscataway last won in 2011 over Elizabeth (N2G4) and Manalapan beat South Brunswick in 2014 (CJG5).
How they got here:
Piscataway beat seventh-seeded Hunterdon Central 41-14 in the quarterfinals and third-seeded Old Bridge 42-3 in the semifinals.
Manalapan topped eighth-seeded New Brunswick 49-0 and fifth-seeded South Brunswick 34-20.
Scouting the Teams:
Manalapan features a balanced offense (34.5 points per game) led by junior quarterback Luke Corcione (1,706 passing yards with 26 touchdowns to only interception) and junior running back Naim Mayfield (1,624 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns to go along with one receiving). Mayfield also has two punt return touchdowns on the season and is a dangerous weapon. Manalapan has scored 40 or more points in seven of their 11 games.
Scott Scherzer leads the team with 688 yards and seven scores while Michael Taylor has seven touchdowns as well.
And as good as the offense has been in all areas, the defense is equally impressive, holding opponents to a measly 9.5 points per game with five shutouts. The Braves have recorded nine interceptions and a whopping 25 sacks as a team. Sal Tardongno made 109 tackles on the season thus far.
Piscataway relies on their bread-and-butter, a punishing ground and pound rushing attack led by the school’s all time runner, Elijah Barnwell, who has 5,290 yards on the ground. The senior has 1,654 yards and 26 rushing scores this season. Sophomore Juwon Jackson has 703 rushing yards and five touchdowns to his name as a more change of pace and speedy back. Barnwell is a downhill powerful runner that displays excellent vision, follows his blocks, is patient, and always seems to fall forward.
At quarterback, senior Danny Haus has grown as a passer, especially this season, tallying 679 yards through the air with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. While not as dynamic as a thrower as Corcione, he often does just enough to keep the defense honest and helps set up the ground game. Haus and Barnwell play behind a stout offensive line of Al-Donte Dickerson, Terrell Hagans, Brijon Artis, Anthony Ciancio, and Abdel Mohammed.
Nazir James and Trey Hogan are the Chiefs’ top receivers with 171 and 165 yards respectively. They both have two touchdown grabs while Joshua Boyd (113 yards and one score) is a factor as well. The Chiefs average 34.3 points per contest.
On defense, Piscataway flies to the ball using their team speed. Senior safety Brevin Donerson has been a playmaker with two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, two interceptions (both returned for scores), and one fumble return for a touchdown.
Pick: Manalapan 21, Piscataway 14
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