WESTFIELD, NJ — Ownership of the second half became second nature for the Westfield football team during the course of three straight undefeated state championship seasons from 2015-2017.
And, although the Blue Devils lost their 2018 opener two weeks ago, they seem intent on carrying on the program's trademark of being great finishers.
They were on Saturday, when Westfield overcame a touchdown allowed on the opening kickoff and a three-point halftime deficit to surge ahead for a 33-17 victory over Old Bridge.
Junior quarterback Hank Shapiro threw two second-half touchdown passes to Jacob Saltzer and Tim Alliegro rushed 183 yards and two TDs on 30 carries for Westfield (2-1), which scored 19 unanswered points after trailing, 17-14, at halftime. Shapiro completed all 13 of his pass attempts in the game for 191 yards.
"We started the game not how we would like," said Alliegro, referring to Old Bridge's John McAleavey bringing the kickoff back 88 yards for a touchdown, "but all summer and so far this season, our coaches have been preaching that we are a fourth-quarter team and we work on our conditioning to be able to finish games in the second half."
It took Westfield just three plays into the third quarter to answer a 17-14 deficit, with Shapiro rolling out to his left and finding Saltzer open down the left sideline for a touchdown pass covering 56 yards to give the Blue Devils a 20-17 lead a minute into the half.
"It was a skinny post," Saltzer said of the pattern he ran. "We executed the play, everyone blocked the right guys, I went right past the corner and I saw no one in front of me."
On its second possession of the third quarter, Westfield marched 65 yards in 10 plays to score — on fourth down and 10 to go- — on a 20-yard TD pass from Shapiro to Saltzer, who again was wide open thanks to a big downfield block from a teammate.
"That was a wheel pattern," Saltzer said. "My outside receiver, Justin Chambliss, came up with a big block to take their defensive back out of the play. Taking guys out of plays with downfield blocks is something receivers have to do on this team, and it's a big part of our success."
That touchdown extended Westfield's lead to 27-17 with 1:31 left in the third quarter. Old Bridge (1-2), running a type of triple-option offense that Westfield rarely plays against, then moved from its 28-yard line deep into Westfield territory, reaching the 8-yard line before being whistled for a holding penalty and then having a pass intercepted by Westfield DB Emmett Smith in the end zone for a touchback.
Westfield then put the game away on the next drive, going 80 yards in nine plays to score on Alliegro's 8-yard TD run on a pitch left with 5:28 left in the game.
"Our offensive line is pretty much brand new this year," Alliegro said. "But the offensive line did great today, and all the credit goes to them."
After Old Bridge had taken a 7-0 lead with the opening kickoff, Westfield tied the game, 7-7, midway through the first quarter on a 9-yard bootleg run by Shapiro one play after an Old Bridge punt attempt resulted in a bad snap and a broken play that gave the Blue Devils the ball on the Old Bridge 9-yard line.
Alliegro's 4-yard TD run with 10:49 in the second quarter gave Westfield a 14-7 lead, but Old Bridge came right back to tie it with 8:38 left in the half on a 25-yard TD pass from Bryson Corbett to McAleavey. Andrew Vera kicked a 43-yard field goal with no time left in the opening half to give Old Bridge the 17-14 lead.
Westfield defensive end Colin Freer came up with two second-half sacks to short-circuit Old Bridge offensive drives.