WOODBRIDGE, NJ – The electric atmosphere of the fourth quarter during Thursday’s 23rd annual Snapple Bowl made up for the lackluster first three, as the Union All-Stars broke a scoreless tie with two late touchdowns to beat Middlesex, 13-7, at Woodbridge’s Nicholas A. Priscoe Stadium.
Offensive lineman Tom Morley, a recent Westfield High School graduate, proudly played alongside his fellow former Blue Devils Jelani Pierre and Brett Robertshaw.
“It is a very bittersweet feeling. I will miss playing with my teammates and being able to play football the way I do,” Morley said. “It could not have ended any better, between a 12-0 state championship team and beating Middlesex for the first time in five years.”
Elizabeth quarterback Ja’Quill Burch led both Union scoring drives. The future Montclair State signal caller erased the tie in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter with a 14-yard option run to the left. Later in the game, Burch directed the drive that culminated in a Guillaume Guirvenson 3-yard touchdown run.
Burch, who missed most of his senior season at Elizabeth due to a broken leg, said his goal was to be aggressive in the second half and that paid off in the end.
“Coach said to come out of the locker room and be aggressive,” Burch said. “That’s what we did … We ran the option inside and the linebacker was jumping all day. Coach told me to keep it and score with it. That’s what we did.”
Trailing 13-0 with tree minutes to go, Middlesex made a late run to try and tie the game. Woodbridge quarterback Tracy Fudge cut the Union lead in half when he hit fellow Barron James Modica with a 41-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
Middlesex then forced a Union punt with 1:39 to play. However, on the second play of Middlesex’s final drive, Union High School’s Kyle Boyd intercepted a Fudge pass to seal the game.
“I just knew that something had to happen so we could win the game,” Boyd said. “Luckily the interception came to me. I jumped [the pass] and caught it. It was good, great move.”
The Union All-Stars victory snaps a four-year winning streak for Middlesex County. But that was the last thing on the players’ minds following the game. Instead, their focus was on the patients of Children Specialized Hospital and the NJ Institute for Disabilities, who are the benefactors of the game.
According to Snapple Bowl personnel, the 2016 game raised close to $50,000 combined for both causes, which is a record for the event.
For New Providence/Union County linebacker Andy Urness, the charitable aspect of the game is what makes the experience so special.
“We went on a hospital visit to meet all the kids we are raising money for,” Urness said. “As much as the game gets so intense here, its all about those kids at the end of the day. It’s not about us winning. It’s not about Union County. It’s not about Middlesex County. It really felt good to one – get the win, but two – either way, win or lose, we were going to win for those kids tonight.”
Morley, who is pursuing a career as a firefighter, said he enjoyed representing Westfield one last time and getting to know players from the other schools.
“A lot of the kids on our team I had played against throughout high school, but that didn't matter,” he said. “We became a family and I feel that most, if not all, will be lifelong friends.”
Additional reporting by Mack Liederman.