CARTERET — Time was ticking down in the fourth quarter at “The Pit” — Carteret’s famed football stadium — as Scotch Plains-Fanwood found itself in an offensive formation that it has waited nearly five years to use in a regular season game.
Since its victory over Warren Hills on November 1, 2014, the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School football team had struggled to the tune of a painful 37 regular season game losing streak that extended into 2019 after a crushing Week 1 defeat. With four straight winless regular season campaigns sandwiched between a loss in the final game of 2014 and first in 2019, the Raiders had to wait 58 months for an opportunity to execute the greatest offensive formation a team can enter — victory formation.
But on Friday, September 13, 2019, the opportunity final sprung for first-year head coach Austin Holman and his determined squad.
Hayden Widder completed 11-of-17 passes for 114 yards while throwing a touchdown — the game winning 30-yard pass to Christian Piesch — and rushing for another to lead the Raiders in a dramatic comeback triumph over Carteret, 19-14. Shawn Martin added a touchdown on 22 carries for 118 yards rushing, and came up with the game-sealing interception on defense inside the Raiders’ with 20 seconds left. Piesch added 68 yards receiving.
It was Holman's first career victory as a head coach.
“They’re probably still jumping up and down, cheering,” Holman told TAPintoSPF late Friday night. “It was a great moment for these kids. This whole place — the kids, former players, coaches, even the custodial staff was fired up — has been starving for a win. It’s about time we got it. That monkey’s off our back now.
Trailing, 14-6, at the end of a tightly-contested and well played first half, the Raiders came out determined to do something that has eluded them so many times in the past — finish a ballgame. The rally began late in the third quarter, when Widder scored a keeper touchdown to complete a stunning 90-yard drive. The drive was highlighted by Piesch’s tremendous leaping catch in one-on-one coverage, and the series was kept alive on big catch by Camden Ricci to convert on fourth down. After the PAT, the Raiders found themselves trailing by just a point, 14-13, entering the fourth quarter.
The Raiders forced a three and out on Carteret’s ensuing drive, as their will to finish was on display. After getting the ball back, the team then executed another enormous drive — this time, to take the lead and hold onto it.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood capped off an incredible 85-yard drive when Widder found Piesch in the end zone on a 30-yard fade route touchdown pass, giving the Raiders a 19-14 with three minutes remaining in the game.
“Those guys challenged us because we didn’t throw the ball particularly well last week,” Holman said. “Hayden proved them wrong for throwing over 100 yards in his second football game in years.”
The Raiders would gain another possession but were unable to run out the clock and were forced to punt with a minute left. Carteret started to make things scary be driving into the Raiders’ 30, but Martin came up with an interception with 20 seconds left to close the book on the game.
“The focus was that we kept saying to finish,” Holman said. “We had points in practice where we say that you’ve gotta finish this, finish that. If somebody’s not finished, we start the drill over. That kind of hit home right away, and I thought — especially our Wednesday practice, it was near 90 degrees and we were here until 7:00 p.m. The kids, I told them, this practice is going to determine how we play on Friday. We finished that practice hard and we finished this game hard.”
Defensively, Jack Manville and Kenny Yeager led the way with six tackles each. Manville also had a sack. Martin and Marshall Young came up with interceptions.
Carteret had scored a touchdown on the first drive of the game, but the Raiders immediately responded when Martin ran for a two-yard touchdown in ISO, aided by great blocking from Nick Johns and Nick Belford. However, the Ramblers would put up another touchdown with 43 second remaining in the second quarter to take a 14-6 lead into the half.
There was no panic from the Raiders, however, who learned from their mistakes last week and won this game as a result of maturity and the will to finish.
“Everybody has the same message, and that’s important,” Holman said. “We’re all in this together. I told the kids, ‘This is not just on you guys’. It’s on all of us. I told them at halftime the same thing. We’re going to get this win together, and that’s what we did.”
“The main thing is that the kids gotta understand that they are good enough to win tight ballgames; probably the worst thing that happened to us last week was that we were up 21-0,” he added. “It really shows some good character there, because even before the game, the first thing I said to them was there needs to be a big jump between the first game and the second game. There was.”
Holman credits his coaching staff for making some key adjustments at half time, as well.
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