EWING, NJ - When the third-seeded South Plainfield High School football team drew second-seeded Ewing High School in tonight’s Central Jersey Group 3 tournament semifinal, most fans and media thought the game would be a hardnosed, tough, and down to the wire affair.
Just because a game looks close on paper, doesn't mean it’ll be close on the field though, and tonight, the Tigers (8-2) showed just how dominant they can be when they’re at full strength.
While the Blue Devils’ (7-3-1) offense wasn’t completely stagnant, their home crowd didn’t have many moments to cheer over. A number of timely defensive stops, and an overwhelming rushing attack gave the Tigers a dominant 26-0 win, and a spot in the CJG3 finals against Rumson-Fair Haven.
“We played a great team game today,” South Plainfield coach Gary Cassio said after the game.
“Offense, defense, special teams, we worked hard. This is a very good Ewing football team, a very well-coached football team, and we had a game plan and the kids executed.”
Tonight’s game essentially came down to South Plainfield’s defense being able to come up strong when it mattered. Even though the Blue Devils’ offense was shutout, they were able to put the Tigers on their heels on a few occasion.
Ewing quarterback Edamiyon Doggett was able to lead his team down the field more than once, but every time he entered or came close to the redzone, the Tigers either got a 4th down stop, or forced a turnover. South Plainfield’s Charles Lovett contributed to the trend when he picked off a pass from Doggett early in the second quarter. Doggett, a usually potent passer, went into the locker room at half-time with 86 yards passing on 8 of 14 attempts, and then went on to finish the game with 173 yards while connected on 16 out of 27 passing attempts.
“We bent a little bit on defense, and I’ve keep saying that every week, but we locked them down once they got in the redzone,” said Cassio. “It was a dog fight. Ewing didn’t put up any points, but they’re a dangerous team. Our kids made a play at opportune times, and we shut their drives down.”
South Plainfield’s offense on the other hand, specifically their rushing attack, seemed to be as effective as it’s ever been this season. The hallmark of the offense, was the ground and pound, up the middle rushing carried out by Zach DelVecchio. The sophomore back said his coaches have been getting on him to keep his head down and just charge down the middle, and tonight, he used those tactics to literally and figuratively run right over Ewing’s defenders,
“We came in here with a good game plan the coaches built all week, (and we) executed.” DelVecchio said. “We had a couple bumps in the road (in the season), but we came in here pretty good after last week’s win. We were confident and knew we were going to put on a show out there.”
Delvecchio's 27-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter, helped give his team a 14-0 going into the half. The sophomore added two more touchdowns before the final whistle, and picked up 157 yards on 30 attempts.
“I just follow my blocks and hope for the best, and hope they get the blocks done,” DelVecchio said. “If they don’t, I just try to pound it through the lineman, look for the little holes, and get 2-3 yards at least.”
The Tigers saw strong performances from its other players as well, as Lovett picked up 59 yards rushing while he shared quarterback duties with Ryan Marston. One of DelVecchio’s touchdowns was set up by an 85-yard kickoff return by Dondre Tate in the third quarter.
South Plainfield will undoubtedly be an underdog when they take on an 8-2 Rumson Fair Haven in the championship game. Cassio said he considers his team to be one of the most balanced squads he’s coached, and with the team finally over the injuries that’ve been plaguing them since mid-season, the coach says he’ll be expecting a lot out of them, no matter what the newspapers say.
“We’re finally healthy and clicking on all cylinders,” Cassio said. “I know we’re going to be a heavy underdog, and like I was telling the kids, we’re not going to lay down for anybody. We’re going to play football.”