CEDAR GROVE, NJ – Cedar Grove advanced to the next round of the NJSIAA North 1 Group 1 state tournament after defeating North Warren 25-12 at home Friday night.  In New Jersey high school football, there is a three-step journey to the championship game, and Cedar Grove passed the first step.

North Warren threatened Cedar Grove’s title hopes in the middle of the third quarter. It was 13-6 Panthers when Matt McManus had a 9-yard punt that allowed North Warren to start their drive on Cedar Grove’s 48-yard line.

North Warren took advantage with a 38-yard pass that set them up for first and goal. However, McManus got redemption for his punt with an interception in the end zone that killed North Warren’s momentum and set the Panthers up to score.

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“It felt great and it gave a ton of momentum for the team,” said McManus.

McManus’ interception led to a touchdown drive, set up by a 43-yard pass from Nick Zecchino to Evidence Njoku and capped off with a 1-yard touchdown run from Dan DiPrenda. That was not the first time those names made noise in the game.

McManus set up the first scoring drive for Cedar Grove with a 49-yard run that put the Panthers on North Warren’s 11-yard line.  DiPrenda ended the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.

“Everyone got pumped up. We knew we were ready to work now,” noted McManus.

Later in the game, North Warren had one last chance to drive down the field and tie the game. Instead, Joe Rufo spoiled their plans with an interception returned for a touchdown as time expired.

“We had a lot of momentum shifts during the game, but the one that made me happiest was Rufo running down the sideline on the last play of the game,” said Cedar Grove Head Coach Ed Sadloch.

Of course, the Panthers had to recover from a tough loss against rival Verona last week where they had the game snatched from them in the last few minutes.

“We played great against Verona. It was a tough game, but we brought that momentum to this game,” added McManus.

Now, that momentum has allowed Cedar Grove to advance to the semi-finals and bring them one step closer to a state championship game at Metlife Stadium.

“It’s a three-game series,” noted Sadloch. “We didn’t want to go home tonight.”

Cedar Grove’s next step towards a state title will be on the road against Boonton next Friday night.