UNION — As if Union didn’t already have enough motivation to complete a perfect regular season with just one game left in its way Friday night, the Farmers entered this showdown against Sayreville with heavy hearts and extra motivation to reach the milestone in honor of an ailing teammate.
The spleen injury that last week sent Farmer Kofi Ansah to emergency surgery and into a medically-induced coma made for an emotionally-grueling week for Union, but also a rally cry that the Farmers will now take with them in their quest for a state championship. And in its first game back in action Friday night, Union turned in a performance that it knows would make Ansah proud.
Union completed its first undefeated (9-0) regular season since 1991 with a dominating 49-13 victory over Sayreville on a senior night fueled by emotion and made successful by explosive plays. Quarterback Andrew Sanborn completed 9-of-11 passes for 245 yards on four touchdowns -- two each to Ahmirr Robinson and Desmond Igbinosun. Diante Wilson rushed for two touchdowns on 155 yards on the ground, and Kayir McBride added another rushing TD for the Farmers, who are likely to receive the top seed in the North Group 5 state playoffs, which begin next week.
“I have Kofi in class and just to not see him in class gets to me; let alone on the field,” said receiver Ahmirr Robinson, Union’s Rutgers commit and a senior classmate of Ansah’s. “We just had him in our hearts; it felt like he was there with us. We just had to grind it out. Obviously the scoreboard tells it all, but every play is important and every score is important.”
And it’s funny that Robinson mentioned the scoreboard, because while Ansah was not on the field with Union Friday, his presence was was very much alive at Cooke Memorial Field. At game’s end, that maroon scoreboard displayed a “13” in bright yellow lights on the visiting side, which was, obviously, the mere amount of points Union’s defense allowed.
But 13 is also the jersey number of Ansah, a defensive end.
“The one thing about our team is that we love each other to death,” said Desmond Igbinosun, a receiver and fellow defensive end of Ansah’s. “When an unfortunate situation like that happened to Kofi, we all rallied around and stayed strong. We cried for a little bit, but we know that Kofi — if Kofi were here — is one of the hardest workers here, so Kofi would not want us to stop.”
Union did anything but stop Friday night, as the Farmers scored on their first possession of the game and never looked back in what would be another offensive explosion on a brisk November night.
Robinson caught a short screen pass from Sanborn, got past his defender on a deft juke near the left sideline, then took the ball to the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown to complete a three-play, 58-yard opening drive, and that would be the formula for Union early on. On the Farmers’ next series, Igbinosun caught a 23-yard TD to make it 14-0 on a six-play, 67-yard move, and then Robinson struck again with a nine-yard reception for a score on Union’s third drive of the night to make it 21-0 with 9:55 left in the second quarter.
“I saw his leverage was inside, so all I had to do was shift the center of gravity, and once I got him leaning, I just hit him with another move and ran into the end zone,” Robinson said of his highlight-reel first TD. “It’s important to set the tone for any game. It puts the tone out there and lets the team know from the jump that’s it’s going to be in the long one.”
Union would add another passing touchdown later on in the night when a short screen from Sanborn to Igbinosun turned into a 77-yard touchdown. Igbinosun caught the ball just around the line of scrimmage from the Union 23, but the explosive junior — who has attracted strong FBS recruiting interest with his stellar season — made some cuts, ran east-to-west, and streaked down the left sideline all the way to the house.
At the time, that made it 42-7 with 3:42 left in the third quarter.
“I don’t want to say we were expecting it, but we knew it was going to happen because we had a great week at practice,” Igbinosun said of the success in the passing game. “In fact, in 7-on-7s, we didn’t even drop a pass this week. We’re putting the state on notice that we’re an explosive offense, and just pray that every team we play [in the playoffs] has to come through here.”
Sayreville would respond on its next drive to make it 42-13 and briefly halt the running clock, but the Farmers then answered right back and instituted the running clock for the remainder. Diante Wilson broke free for a 43-yard TD run with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter to make it 49-13, putting the icing on the undefeated regular season.
Wilson also broke away for a major 70-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter, which made it 27-0 at the time. In the rushing department, Kayir McBride added a TD run to complete the first drive of the second half and give Union a 34-7 advantage in the moment.
With such a deadly passing and running attack, you could legitimately make the argument that Union has the best offense in the state. Time will tell in the next few weeks, as Union commences the state playoffs next Friday, but right now, it’s hard to find an offense more explosive in New Jersey.
“Our passing game is incredible and our running game is also,” Sanborn said. “The weapons on our offense… we do not run out of weapons. Our whole offense is just explosive and a great one, and we’re just going to keep rolling with it."
Union's defense, which of course was playing without a starter in Ansah, did not show any signs of regression early on, recovering fumbles on Sayreville's first two drives of the night. The Farmers forced and recovered a fumble on Sayreville's second play of the game, which directly led to the drive Robinson caught his fist TD on. Then Union again receovered a fumble on the Bombers' ensuing series, which set up the drive that Igbinosun scored his first TD on.
However, Union knows it still has some things to work out before it begins the playoffs next week, in which the opponents will only get harder as the postseason continues.
"Sayreville is a good program and they made a lot of plays; we had to really fight them off," said Union head coach Lou Grasso, Jr. "Our offense is clicking and we’re happy about that, but we know the challenges are going to get bigger and bigger as we go. We’re going to have to tie a lot of things up and just keep getting better."