SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – Out of timeouts, on fourth down and goal from the five-yard line and with no time left on the clock, South Brunswick quarterback Josh Liao found Mohamed Jabbie in the end zone to give the Vikings a 27-21 victory over the Manalapan Braves in Friday night’s State Championship Semifinal Game.
“I can’t even describe (the emotions), it’s unbelievable,” Liao said following the game. “It’s the best feeling and the best game I’ve ever played.”
Right from the outset, given the history of the two teams, it was going to be a dogfight.
The Vikings topped the Braves in 2012 to win its first state championship, only to lose the title game to those same Braves last year, handing last year’s team its only loss of the season.
Manalapan’s opening drive culminated in a score from inside the 1-yard line, taking almost eight minutes off of the clock in the first quarter.
The Vikings came back with an impressive drive of its own, with running back Phil Campbell scoring from about a yard out with just over 10 minutes left in the half to tie the score at seven.
Campbell scored yet again on a subsequent drive with around two minutes left in the half, giving South Brunswick a 14-7 advantage.
The Vikings stopped a Braves threat late in the quarter causing them to attempt a field goal that went wide.
South Brunswick’s defense continued to hold off the braves through the third quarter, and Campbell added his third rushing touchdown of the night, putting the home team up 21-7 as the fourth quarter began.
Then, things started unraveling for the Vikings.
A broken play scramble by the Braves quarterback set up a one-yard run in for a second touchdown with around 10 minutes left to go in the game.
The Braves defense stopped the Vikings and got the ball back, setting up a passing score to tie the contest at 21 with five minutes left in regulation.
Liao and the Vikings went to work, hampered by a couple of penalties, they faced a long third down and 20 play.
Liao was able to hit Wendell Allen in heavy traffic to pick up the crucial first down and keep the drive alive.
“Everything that we do on this field is part of the hard work we put in prior to the games,” Allen said after the game. “We needed a big play and the coach called my number on it. I had to come down and make a big play for my teammates.”
The Vikings then went to Jabbie in the air and Campbell on the ground to get the ball inside the 5-yard line with just seconds left on the clock.
Liao said that he planned to run the ball up the middle on the last play of the game, but the Braves penetration was too much and he opted instead to roll out of the pocket in the hope of buying more time.
Jabbie was able to break free of his defender, who thought the play was a run to the far side of the field.
Once Liao saw Jabbie, he floated the ball into the end zone for the winning score as the clock ran out, sending the Vikings back for its second consecutive state championship berth, the third in four years.
“Josh (Liao) made the best call of his life,” Jabbie said. “He saw me and I was wide open. I just knew I had to make a big play. I had to do it for my team.”
Head Coach Joe Goerge said it “was a great win” for his team and, once again, demonstrated the team’s character and unwillingness to give in under pressure.
“This team has overcome a lot of different obstacles all year,” Goerge said. “They just keep fighting.”
South Brunswick will now face Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division rival Old Bridge Knights in the State Championship Game Dec. 4.
The location of the game is scheduled to be announced Tuesday.
In the meantime, the team is getting ready for its annual Thanksgiving classic match with North Brunswick on Thursday at 10 a.m. at the high school on Ridge Road.
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