South Brunswick running back's crucial carries lift team to victory
SOUTH BRUNSWICK — After moving the ball with relative ease in the first half but having little to show for it, the South Brunswick High School football team found yardage tougher to come by after intermission.
Despite intercepting two third-quarter passes, the Vikings failed to muster a first down after either pick and allowed Old Bridge to climb back into Friday night’s Central Group V semifinal, before bruising fullback Dahrae Ford delivered two game-breaking runs.
Ford’s 52-yard jaunt set up the go-ahead score and his 24-yard carry on a crucial third down late in the fourth quarter kept alive a drive that enabled the Vikings to run out the clock en route to a hard-fought 14-7 victory.
Second-seeded South Brunswick advanced to its first sectional final and will face top-seeded Manalapan, a 17-7 winner over Hunterdon Central, for the Central V championship next weekend.
The NJSIAA tonight will announce sites, dates and times for all 24 sectional finals. South Brunswick and Manalapan will likely meet at Rutgers University.
“Coach gives me the ball and I just run hard,” Ford said matter-of-factly about his effort. “I couldn’t do it without my line. My whole high school career I knew I wanted to get a (championship) ring and we are almost there.”
Ford (5-foot-11, 240-pounds) finished with 137 yards on 16 carries. He rushed nine times for 108 yards in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings’ defense was spectacular in snapping third-seeded Old Bridge’s winning streak at seven games. The Knights hadn’t lost since Ford rushed 17 times for 109 yards and three touchdowns in South Brunswick’s 27-21 Week 3 victory.
Senior Alex Berkuta led the Vikings with six tackles. He and fellow linebacker Kenneth Drost each had a sack. Old Bridge ran 10 plays that went for zero or negative yards. The Knights (8-3) finished with 116 yards on the ground.
Old Bridge was outgained 188 to 91 in first-half yards from scrimmage. The Knights overcame their first-half offensive ineptitude to make the score 7-7 with 10:47 remaining on Dwayne Trawick’s 14-yard touchdown reception. His sliding catch in the end zone on a slant pattern capped a 71-yard drive.
South Brunswick (9-2) mustered just five yards of total offense in the third quarter on two possessions, one which began at its 46 yard line following a Dion Hooper interception, and the other that began at the Old Bridge 35 following T.J. Taylor’s 40-yard interception return.
The Knights finally gave up a big gainer in the second half when, on the series after Trawick’s touchdown reception, Ford bulled his way for a 52-yard run that set up Hooper’s 2-yard touchdown plunge for a 14-7 lead with 8:28 remaining.
“That was up front as well as Dahrae,” South Brunswick coach Joe Goerge said, alluding to the Vikings’ strong offensive line play. “When we have Dahrae on the scout team, our guys don’t like to tackle him because he’s a load. They got back in the ballgame and all of a sudden (Old Bridge’s) momentum got deflated on Dahrae’s long run.”
After Old Bridge went three and out on the ensuing series, Ford dashed any hopes the Knights might have had of getting the ball back one last time with his clutch 24-yard run on third-and-6 from the South Brunswick 37.
Ford’s dash enabled the Vikings to close out the game with a seven-minute drive that ended at the Old Bridge 2 yard line after quarterback T.J. Perkowski took a third consecutive knee.
Perkowski was brilliant in the first half, completing 8 of 10 passes for 147 yards. His 31-yard completion to Taylor – a clutch grab on a ball Perkowski threw off his back foot into double coverage – set up Ford’s 7-yard touchdown plunge with 4:31 left in the second quarter.
“We all had that on our minds,” Taylor said of reaching the sectional final. “It was definitely doable with the team we had this year. We just had one goal. This was probably the best game we played defensively. Defense led us to the win.”
South Brunswick’s first three possessions of the opening half ended in the red zone with a lost fumble and two failed fourth-down conversions.
The Vikings benefited from excellent field position, twice beginning drives at the Knights’ 43 yard line, the second drive of which led to their first-half score.
Old Bridge drove to the South Brunswick 18 yard line early in the second quarter, but placekicker Ed Mish’s 35-yard field goal attempt was wide left, keeping the game scoreless.
South Brunswick’s opening series ended at the Old Bridge 19 when Hooper was stuffed on a fourth-down toss around right end.
The Vikings’ next possession ended at the Old Bridge 11 when Ford had the ball knocked loose and safety Mike Friedman recovered his fumble.
After driving to the Old Bridge 2 yard line on its third series, an errant pitch lost 13 yards and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved the Vikings 15 yards further back, setting up a desperation pass into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 24, which Mish knocked to the ground.