WESTFIELD — As the sun briefly broke through the clouds and rain, Westfield finally received the statement play it needed to pull away from a feisty Elizabeth team. Westfield’s offensive line gave Juandre House the space to run for a 57-yard touchdown, and the Blue Devils — now winners of 35 straight — never looked back.
House rushed for a total of 114 yards, and his monster run in the third quarter Saturday fully shifted momentum in favor of Westfield and secured it a state final appearance for the third consecutive season. Defeating Elizabeth, 13-6 — the same score they defeated the Minutemen by on Oct. 14 — Westfield advances to play Bridgewater-Raritan in the state final on the weekend of Dec. 2 at MetLife Stadium.
The senior’s 57-yard TD run came after a powerful Elizabeth team had been knocking on Westfield’s door all afternoon, and gave the Blue Devils what proved to be the final score.
“We needed that,” House said of his big play. “We needed to break away to get that distance from them, and it just felt great … It’s just the mentality we have [that allows us to play well in the second half]. If we’re down or anything, we just come out stronger.”
Just as the weather conditions improved for some time, Westfield tightened up its play on all facets when it mattered most in the second half. Through timely offense, a nearly unbreakable defense, and clutch special teams play, Westfield was able to hold off Elizabeth’s comeback attempt.
With the Blue Devils clinging to a 7-0 lead coming out of halftime, Elizabeth wasted no time making a bid to get even. Three minutes into the second half, LeShane Taylor found Gabriel Nash in the end zone on a 24-yard TD pass and the Minutemen were a PAT away from equalizing the score.
But Westfield wouldn’t let the Minutemen get any closer. The Blue Devils blocked Elizabeth’s extra point attempt, and dominated the game ever after.
Moments later, House took a carry from the Westfield 43-yard line, broke free courtesy of tremendous blocking from his offensive line, and streaked 57 yards down the field before crossing the goal line for the second time this season.
Elizabeth once again showed determination to get even, but Drew Ortiz came up with a huge interception halfway through the fourth quarter, which safely put the icing on Westfield’s cake.
“We didn’t play great on offense all game, but our defense really kept us in the game and did some great things,” said head coach Jim DeSarno. “We played really good defense again, and that’s what you’ve got to do if you want to play for championships.”
While the Blue Devils never trailed on the scoreboard, Elizabeth pushed them to their limits — especially in the first half. Westfield was held off the board for the first 22 minutes of the game before breaking a scoreless deadlock.
After numerous attempts to score from the red zone, quarterback Hank Shapiro flipped a screen pass over to Tim Alliegro, who weaved through Elizabeth’s defensive line to gain access into the end zone with 1:42 remaining in the opening half. As it turned out, this proved to be the winning score.
“We knew the linebackers and D-line were coming hard,” Shaprio explained of the play. “Coach [DeSarno] made a great call there, we got to dump it right under them and Tim [Alliegro] made a great play to get into the end zone.
“It was a little frustrating [being held scoreless], but we were going to bounce back,” he added. “We knew we made some great halftime adjustments, and our defense did a great job of keeping the score low for us to just get away from it.”
Westfield’s defense held Elizabeth to just 178 total yards of offense, but the Minutemen were not without their chances. This was especially evident less than a minute after Westfield’s first score. A LeShane Taylor-to-Tasim Hicks 26-yard touchdown pass was called back because of a hold.
Penalties were a major factor of Saturday’s game. Westfield accumulated 65 penalty yards on nine violations during the game, however, penalties shifted more towards Elizabeth in the second half.
In Piscataway, Bridgewater-Raritan routed the two-seeded Chiefs, 27-7. This means that, for the third-consecutive season, the Blue Devils will meet the Panthers at MetLife Stadium with a North 2, Group 5 sectional title on the line. Date and time are TBD.