SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – The South Brunswick Vikings carved up the North Brunswick Raiders 41-14 in the annual Thanksgiving Day matchup, and again hoisted the Mike Elko trophy for the hometown fans at the high school.
“It was a good win, a good win. We did what we had to do and got out of here healthy,” Head Coach Joe Goerge said after the game. “That (meeting Old Bridge in next week’s state championship game) is the whole thing right now.”
The Vikings will now face its Greater Middlesex Conference rival Old Bridge Knights in the Group 5 State Championship Game Dec. 5 at 1 p.m. at Rutgers Highpoint Stadium in Piscataway.
After losing in the state final to Manalapan last year, the Vikings lost its home opener against Middletown South by 20 points, but has since run the table with 10 straight victories including a heart-stopping win against those same Manalapan Braves last week.
Faced with a fourth and goal from about the 5-yard-line and just a few seconds on clock, quarterback Josh Liao floated a pass to a wide open Mohamed Jabbie in the end zone to eliminate the Braves 27-21 in the semifinal game.
Coming off that high didn’t necessarily translate into momentum for Thursday’s game against the weaker North Brunswick Raiders, however.
Goerge ended up leaving his starting players until deep into the third quarter to ensure the win.
“We needed (the starters in),” Goerge said. “I only keep the starters in when we need them. The way we played in the first half was disappointing, but, hey, we got it together in the second half.”
Goerge said that the team has to prove itself in every game and play up to each player’s potential.
“We came out in the second half and executed well,” Goerge said. “There was some sloppiness and some turnovers in the first half. Sometimes that occurs in these kinds of games.”
Now, as the team eyes its second championship in three years when it makes its third state championship appearance in the last four years, Goerge said the final game will be a tough one.
“(Old Bridge) is just as tough as Manalapan,” Goerge said. “We tell the guys ‘you better approach it that way’ because they are on a bit of a roll right now with two big playoff wins in a row.”
The Vikings got by the Knights 20-9 early in the season in a primarily defensive battle in Old Bridge.
Jabbie returned a 78-yard punt to put South Brunswick ahead in that late September game.
Old Bridge drove down the field on the next drive, but only came away with a field goal with four minutes left in the first, making the score 6-3.
The defensive battle heated up in the second quarter with both teams scoreless until the last minute.
With 56 seconds left, and following an Old Bridge interception, the Knights Jake Esposito ran 84 yards for a score, giving Old Bridge the advantage 9-6.
The Vikings returned the favor with a score on a 46-yard pass play from quarterback Josh Liao to Justin Shorter with 25 seconds left in the half, putting the visitors back on top 12-9.
Both defenses picked up again in the third quarter keeping both the Vikings and the Knights scoreless.
South Brunswick running back Phil Campbell capped a long drive when he scored from the one-yard-line and added a two-point conversion to put the Vikings on top for good at 20-9.
Old Bridge threatened after picking off a Viking pass and driving down to inside the South Brunswick 10.
The Vikings defense, however, caused a fumble and recovered the ball, taking possession of the clock and mounting a long drive the other way.
Next week’s championship game is expected to be just as exciting and close, according to Goerge.
“That is what the final (championship) game should be,” Goerge said. “We are excited.”
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