WESTFIELD — At halftime Saturday, Westfield’s 33-game winning streak appeared to be in jeopardy, but the Blue Devils thwarted any possibility of an upset against their archrivals in a three-touchdown second half.
Scoring 21 unanswered points in the final two quarters, Westfield held off its foe Scotch Plains-Fanwood, 35-14, during the Salute to Soldiers football game Saturday afternoon at Kehler Stadium.
Quarterback Hank Shapiro came alive in the final 24 minutes and tossed three touchdown passes to propel Westfield to its eighth victory of the season. Shapiro found Emmitt Smith in the endzone to conclude the opening drive of the second half to give Westfield the go-ahead score. The quarterback then hit with Steven Barden and Griffin Rooney on additional scoring plays to put the game on ice.
Shapiro finished the game with 301 total passing yards and four touchdowns, while Barden hauled in a game-high 146 receiving yards in addition to two scores.
“[Scotch Plains] came out with a lot of fire, but we came back and gave them more fire,” Barden said. “We shut them down, they couldn’t stop us, and we came out with a dub.”
“Westfield versus Scotch Plains goes way back, many years before I was even born,” Barden added. “It’s nice to play in these type of games, because it’s a bunch of emotion and all love.”
Westfield’s offense was rolling all afternoon long, as the Blue Devils matched their season-high of 35 points scored. In addition to the team’s second half aerial attack, Westfield put up 14 points in the first half.
Shapiro threw his first of two TD passes to Barden on an 81-yard TD hookup, which gave Westfield a 14-6 lead in the second quarter after Scotch Plains had struck first. Westfield received its first score of the game on Jake Vall-Llobera’s one-yard run into the end zone.
In total, the Blue Devils accumulated 401 yards of offense on 64 total plays.
“We were able to get Stevie Barden and our wideouts open today, which was great,” said Westfield head coach Jim DeSarno. “We kind of want to take what the defense is giving us, and they gave us the passes, so we took it.”
While Westfield cruised to victory in the second half, it was a different story at the beginning of the game.
Despite opposing a winless opponent in Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Westfield was facing one of the most potent offenses in the Mid-State 38 conference, and the Raiders displayed their prowess early on. They scored on the first drive of the game after keeping the drive alive on an executed fake punt, and knotted up the score at 14 after Isaiah Stewart’s seven-yard TD late in the second quarter.
The Raiders’ 14 points are the most any opposing team has scored on Westfield this season, and it’s not a huge surprise that they are the first team to score multiple times on the Blue Devils’ defense. Quarterback Cooper Heisey is the leading passer in the state with 2,320 yards, and 308 of them came Saturday. Heisey’s top target was Dwight Laylor, who hauled in 116 yards.
“Those [Scotch Plains] kids aren’t going to quit, and I’ve got a lot of respect for them and their coaches,” DeSarno said. “We knew that coming in, this was not going to be an easy walk-over game. Those kids work hard and they’re going to give their best effort, and we knew we were going to get it.”
Westfield took advantage of many costly Scotch Plains turnovers during the course of the game. On three occasions, the Blue Devils recovered Raider fumbles from inside the redzone. Additionally, Jacob Dayton intercepted a Heisey pass and brought it to Raiders’ one-yard line, leading to Vall-Llobera’s first quarter score.
Defensively, Westfield stepped up its game in the second half and did a great job of limiting Scotch Plains’ rushing attack. In addition to shutting out its opponent in the final two quarters, the Blue Devils limited the Raiders to 21 yards on the ground and stopped 12-of-13 Scotch Plains third down attempts.
“[The defense] woke up a little bit, played better; we got a little more pressure on the quarterback in the second half,” DeSarno said. “Our defense tightened up, and that helped us offensively.”
Prior to the game, Westfield’s Salute to Soldiers event was considered a major success. Members from the United State Armed Forces were honored on the field and received a rousing ovation from the capacity crowd at Kehler Stadium.
The next task for Westfield is beginning of the road to its third consecutive state title. The Blue Devils commence the playoffs next Saturday, and will likely be hosting Watchung Hills, per the powerpoint system.