PISCATAWAY, NJ -- For years, the Piscataway High School football team’s bread and butter has been to run the ball. That was no different Friday when the Chiefs (3-0) topped rival South Brunswick, 28-14, in a Greater Middlesex Conference -- Red Division clash in Piscataway.
Whether it was with two tight ends, one with a fullback, or from the shotgun with wide receivers spread out, the Chiefs gashed the Vikings (2-1) on the ground. Running back Juwon Jackson, who was the lightning to the now graduated program’s leading rusher Elijah Barnwell’s thunder, finished with 200 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.
“It was going to be one of those blood bath type of games. We just wanted to pound it. Why let them have the ball,” Piscataway head coach Dan Higgins said. “It helps us defensively, too. We ran multiple sets. We spread them out and still ran inside.
“I love watching Juwon run. He’s really good. He slides through holes, he has vision, and he has the breakaway speed. When you see him not even get touched, that makes me even more happy because that means the line’s doing their job. It’s not just him. The line did well. I thought we could push them around a little. So that’s what we did.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Chiefs put 14 points on the scoreboard in the second quarter when Jackson found the endzone both times from 9 yards and 1 yard out.
Piscataway had excellent starting field possession on both of those drives, starting at the South Brunswick 25 and 31-yard line thanks to a poor punt and a fumble recovery by Keshawn Grant respectively.
The Chiefs, who led 14-0 at the break, opened the third quarter with a three-and-out. On the ensuing South Brunswick possession, Viking quarterback Felix Quinones found big, speedy, and virtually unstoppable wide receiver Justin Shorter for a long 33-yard touchdown to cut it to 14-7.
“It’s almost impossible to stop the kid,” Higgins said of Shorter, a four-star recruit who is committed to Penn State. “There’s a reason why he’s ranked as high as he is. I’m proud of our kids. They fought him, but, he’s that good.”
Piscataway again went three-and-out on the next drive and momentum started to slip away. But, the Chiefs defense held and forced the punt that Kamille Pryor returned 23 yards.
Jackson, who had over 700 yards as a backup in 2016, showed why he is now a star. After a hole big enough for a truck opened up, Jackson took a handoff from quarterback Joe Hatcher out of the shotgun and raced 26 yards untouched for a score to increase Piscataway’s lead back to two touchdowns at 21-7.
“I told my line since Day One, if you can give me holes, I’ll give you a treat,” Jackson said. “I’ll show you my yards and show you what I can do.”
South Brunswick later made the play of the night when on a fourth-and-three from the Piscataway 10-yard line, Quinones scrambled right, then left and threw a pass into the endzone that was tipped simultaneously by a Chiefs’ defensive back and Shorter that ended up in the hands of Jaylan Lawson to a touchdown as the Vikings cut the lead to 21-14.
But, after a short kickoff/on-side kick attempt, Piscataway’s Jevon Buckmire Davis, who wrecked havoc as a fullback and at linebacker all night, rounded out the scoring with a 2-yard plunge on the ground with 4:06 left in the game.
Pryor then ended all hopes for a late South Brunswick comeback with an interception with 2:40 to go.
“We expected a fight. They’re well coached and have kids that can make plays. We played 48 minutes. I was really proud,” Higgins said. ‘We needed this so bad. The first two games we got leads and got other guys in, we got to play a full 48 minutes where we had to play defense and make plays down the stretch. We grew up today.”
Coming into the year, some expected 2017 to be somewhat of a “reloading year” due to losing numerous seniors and starters on offense, defense, and special teams. But the Chiefs, who won their ninth sectional championship last year when they won the Central Jersey, Group 5 title, handled their business.
“We know we lost all of our big players from last year, but it doesn’t mean we’re backing down,” Jackson said. “This is a big statement. They said South Brunswick was going to have the advantage, but I’m pretty sure they all see Piscataway is on top. We’re going back for another ring.”
Jackson said he’s learned a lot and looked up to Barnwell, who racked up 5,728 rushing yards and 75 touchdowns. The Rutgers freshman passed the torch to Jackson, and the junior is running away with it.
“Since he left, all summer all I’ve done is grind,” Jackson said. “I’ve been busting my (butt) just to keep pushing. Now everyone is seeing the work I put in over the summer.”
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