SKILLMAN, NJ- The Randolph Football team traveled to Skillman NJ for the opening round of the NJSIAA playoffs, where they faced a high scoring Montgomery team who was feeling confident with their dynamic -2 QB offense and an 8-1 record on the season. While there, the Rams introduced the Cougars to their own dynamic offensive weapons in Jimmy Pepe and Matt Kleiven, as well as their turnover causing defense, before leaving town with a penalty filled 42-28 victory.
“Before the game, coach gave us the greatest speech I’ve ever heard,” said Captain Justin Townsend. “He reminded us of everything we have done and how hard we’ve worked for this moment. The theme of the week was to create playoff turnovers, and we all played within the system which led to us making plays all night.”
Pepe kicked off the scoring with a 55-yard TD pass reception from QB Matt Kleiven, to give the Rams an early 7-0 lead. But the Cougars, whose high scoring offense alternates QB’s per possession, struck right back with a 45-yard TD pass to tie the game.
After trading possessions, the Rams defense got their turnover count started when Dillon Sheehan recovered a fumble. Randolph capitalized when a few plays later Pepe scored again, this time scampering in from 17 yards out. A tripping penalty forced the Rams to attempt the extra point from 36 yards out, but kicker Rikil Amin stepped up and drilled the ball through the uprights for a 14-7 lead.
After a bunch of penalties on both sides, and some back and forth play, the Cougars grabbed a TD with just 17 seconds left in the second quarter to send the teams into halftime tied at 14-14.
"I reminded the team at halftime that there are very few teams who work as hard as we do when it comes to the off-season, pre-season, & in-season," said coach Will Nahan. "I told them to get what their hard work deserves, and play this second half for each other because we've worked way too hard for it to be over tonight."
It was in the second half that the real fireworks started. The Cougars took their first and only lead with a TD just two minutes in, but they missed the point after and led 20-14. But that lead would only last the amount of time it took Pepe to return the ensuing kickoff 83-yards, giving Randolph the lead at 21-20.
“Our mindset was to focus on fighting through adversity because in the playoffs anything can happen at any time,” said Pepe, who finished with 2 catches for 100 yards, and 13 rushes for 73 yards. Doing our jobs consistently and with good poise will lead to success. We knew this team ( Montgomery ) was going to make big plays, but how we responded to that is what makes us so powerful.”
Both defenses were going at each other hard the rest of the third, and for the Rams, Pat Schimmenger roughed up the Cougars with two huge hits in the quarter. Anthony Raiello also caused a fumble that was recovered by Darian Ghahary.
When the fourth quarter began, senior Captain Kevin Jung decided it was his turn to join the turnover parade, as he snagged an interception to give Randolph the ball on the 39-yard line.
The Rams struck quickly as Pepe ripped off runs of 12-yards and 25-yards, the latter going straight up the middle and into the end zone for a 28-20 lead.
The Cougars then hit Randolph right back with a 70-yard kickoff return, and after the two-point conversion the game was knotted up at 28-28.
The Rams defense would then come up with two huge plays on the next two Cougar possessions that would help seal the game.
First, Justin Liebhauser stopped a fourth down and two try from Montgomery that gave the Rams a golden chance to jump back into the lead. After taking the ball on the 45-yard line, senior QB Matt Kleiven ( 9-for-16 for 169 yards and 2 passing TD ) moved his team to the 21-yard line. From there, Kleiven put the Rams ahead for good, with a scramble into the end zone and a 35-28 lead.
On the next possession, DB Corey Naclario made the next big defensive play, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Raiello, leaving Randolph with the ball on the Cougars 25-yard line with just over 2 minutes left. Kleiven dropped back to pass, and fired the ball to Justin Lawler ( 4 catches for 59 yards ), who came down with it in a crowd of defenders to put Randolph up 42-28 with 1:44 left.
“We stressed all week the importance of forcing turnovers in the Playoffs and how that changes the momentum of the game,” said Nahan. “There was a focus on getting the ball back and giving our offense extra opportunities. The offensive line then gave us great protection and were extremely physical which sets the tone when it comes to the playoffs.”
As those final seconds ticked off, more flags were thrown and a Cougars' lineman was kicked out of the game for fighting. The Rams defense would surrender some yards, but no more points, and the game ended 42-28 Randolph.
The Rams now travel to play Woodbridge in the second round, date and time TBA