WESTFIELD, NJ — In a tradition spanning more than a century, the Westfield High School football team met Plainfield Thursday morning for the rivals' 111th Thanksgiving Day game. The stands were packed at Gary Kehler Stadium with students, families and alumni home for the holidays. Westfield came out with their 59th win of the rivalry, extending their record on the season to 11-0.
“Plainfield plays us hard every year,” WHS senior defensive end Devin Zrebeic said. “We're undefeated — they wanted to be the ones to knock us off. We always expect a good dog fight, and that's what we got today.”
The Blue Devils started shaky, with senior wide receiver and punt returner Jelani Pierre muffing a punt and senior quarterback Zach Kelly taking a sack on Westfield’s first play from scrimmage. The Blue Devils could not capitalize off an interception by senior linebacker Owen Colwell on the ensuing drive in Plainfield territory.
Both Kelly and star running back Jack Curry were tackled for losses by Plainfield’s Khalil Cox. With Cox and Plainfield defense focusing on stopping the run game, Curry struggled to gain yardage. The first quarter ended scoreless.
The second quarter continued to be a battle of defenses. Plainfield quarterback Jayson Bryant could not find his groove with big 6’4 wide receiver Jaleel Simmons, resulting in a series of four and outs. Kelly found some success with junior tight end Kyle Dombrowski, who also served as the team’s punter and defensive back. Westfield, however, still were unable to find the end zone.
Westfield head coach Jim DeSarno had junior Phillip Martini replace Kelly after Kelly fumbled. On his second drive, Martini hit Dombrowski, Kyle Shirk and JD Marner in short order for first down gains. With less than a minute left in the half, Martini connected to Pierre on a slant route across the middle for a touchdown. “Irish Mike” Moriarty kicked in the extra point to bring the game to halftime.
The Westfield offense came alive in the second half. Martini threw a 40 yard pass to Marner. With Westfield deep in Plainfield territory, Dombrowski made a one-handed catch in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
On the next Westfield drive, junior Matt Varano took over rushing duties as DeSarno decided to rest Curry. After some solid gains, Varano fumbled deep into Plainfield territory. Plainfield took over the ball, but senior linebacker Jacob Kursted tackled Plainfield quarterback Bryant in the end zone for a safety, bringing the score to 16-0.
Jelani Pierre returned the Plainfield kickoff to their 30 yard line. Martini found Shirk for another first down, but just missed Pierre in the right corner of the end zone on the next third down. Moriarty knocked in a 27 yard field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
On their next drive, Plainfield turned over on downs in their own territory. Westfield running back Matt Varano broke four tackles for a 25 yard touchdown run. DeSarno let linebacker Owen Colwell kick in the extra point.
After both teams traded turnovers, Plainfield got on the scoreboard. Bryant connected to Jason Cisson on a screen pass for a touchdown with 1:27 left in the game.
On the final Plainfield drive of the game, junior Jack Shirk scored on a pick six to bring the game to its 33 - 6 finish.
“It's surreal to be playing my last game at Kehler,” Pierre, a senior, said. “For it to be the last time, and for us to go out with a win, it's special. I hope people care about this game.”
During halftime, the family of longtime Westfield girls cross country coach and teacher Thom Hornish was presented with a bouquet of flowers to be placed outside the football stadium. Hornish passed away earlier this year after a battle with cancer. Senior cheerleaders and band members were also recognized.
Westfield will play Bridgewater-Raritan at MetLife Stadium next Thursday for the state sectional championship.
“It's going to be a good game,” Pierre said. “Obviously I think we are going to win. I have the confidence in myself and my players to go out there and do what we usually do.”
Mack Liederman is a student at Westfield High School participating in a journalism program with TAP into Westfield.