IRVINGTON, NJ – In a game that was tied for the better part of three quarters, the Randolph Rams came out on top in a hard-fought 13-12 road win over the No. 2 seeded Irvington Blue Knights. The key to the game was the Rams defense, who brought down the hammer on an Irvington offense that had averaged 35 points a game this season.
“Our kids stepped up big in this one and handled adversity well,” said Randolph head coach Tarig Holman, who referenced the injuries his team had overcome. “We play next man up in Randolph and that’s typical of the type of kids we have. To come out and play like that against a great team, says a lot about our character. Our coaches did a great job.”
The Rams got off to slow start, coughing up the ball on the game’s opening drive. The turnover gave the Blue Knights possession in the red zone on their first drive.
Irvington capitalized on the good field position, scoring a touchdown a few plays later on a one-yard keeper by senior QB Jyvon Brown. However, the Blue Knights missed the extra point (kick failed) as special teams factored into the team’s play-calling throughout the game.
Randolph bounced back immediately following the early score with a long kick return near mid-field. A methodical drive, which included a conversion on 4th-and-1, found the Rams inside their opponents’ one-yard line. However, a personal foul on first down pushed the Rams back 15 yards and they were unable to overcome the penalty. They did, however, cut into the Blue Knights’ lead with a 25-yard field goal by senior Nick Zach.
Following their first score, the Rams defense kicked it up into full gear, forcing a three-and-out on Irvington’s next possession.
The Rams responded with yet another methodical drive, which included several third down conversions, but once again they stalled in the red zone. Zach added another field goal to tie the game up at 6-6.
In the final drive of the first half, Irvington converted on a long pass on 3rd-and-30 as they threatened to score deep in the Rams territory. Randolph’s defense held strong and forced a turnover on downs to keep the score tied at halftime.
It wasn’t until half-way through the fourth quarter that the game would see its next score. Rams’ senior Jeramie Simmons torched the secondary when he grabbed a center screen pass, and rumbled down field for a 64-yard catch-and-run to set the Rams up inside the Blue Knights 15 yard line.
“I stayed behind my linemen and I trusted them the entire time to make the right blocks and I did the rest,” Simmons recalled. “I owe it all to my lineman on that play.”
A few plays later, senior running back Eric LuBrano, who was filling in for an injured teammate scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 10-yard swing pass from junior quarterback Justin Suarez (Zach kick good). LuBrano fought off the would-be tackler as he twisted and fell into the end zone. That gave the Rams their first lead of the evening and would prove to be the game-winning score.
“I ran a wheel route out of the backfield, and Justin got the ball to me on a throwback,” said LuBrano. “I made the catch and just barely got into the end zone. It was an incredible feeling.”
Versatility at the running back spot has been a huge part of the Rams success this season. They have enjoyed a stable of productive bodies who have stepped up at one time or another when a teammate had to leave the game, and tonight was no different.
“It felt great to have the opportunity to carry the ball tonight,” said Lubrano. “I just did the best I could to fill in for my team, and I couldn’t have done it without my teammates help.”
Irvington didn’t go down with a fight, though.
After driving down the field quickly, the Blue Knights cashed in on a 17-yard touchdown pass with just 1:59 remaining on the clock. Junior Jasiah Provillion made an incredible one-handed diving grab on third down for the score, which brought the game to 13-12.
Without a trusted kicker, Irvington decided to try a two point attempt to grab the lead.
An illegal substitution penalty pushed the Blue Knight’s two-point attempt back five yards. Following a time out, Brown tried to score from eight yards out on a quarterback keeper, scrambling around the right side and heading for the corner of the end zone.
But the Rams defense slammed the door, and Brown came up just short as he was shoved out of bounds by a diving Chris Flynn at the one yard line.
A failed on-sides kick attempt all but sealed the game for the Rams.
Three running plays ran the final seconds off the clock as Randolph celebrated its fifth consecutive win, and first time advancing to the semifinals since 2010.
“I’m really proud of my kids, and we had excellent fan support, everyone showed up,” added Holman, who is in his second season with the Rams.
Randolph will visit Wayne Valley next Friday Nov. 29, to compete in the NJSIAA North 1 Group 4 semifinals at 7 p.m. Wayne Valley defeated Morris Knolls 32-14.
“It’s a one game season now,” suggested Holman. “If we focus and play hard, I think we showed that we can play with anybody.”