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New Milford vs Rutherford
Game Of The Week

“I have two words for you guys,” Rutherford coach Andrew Howell said to his team after their come-from-behind, 42-27 victory over New Milford in a NJIC semifinal game. “Never quit. You guys never quit and that shows the character of this team.”

The Bulldogs stormed back with 35 unanswered points after falling behind 27-7 midway through the third quarter.
“Coach got us pumped up again with his speeches,” said senior Rich Marques. “Thirty-five unanswered points - we couldn’t ask more of our offense or defense.”

“That defined our character right there,” said Howell. “We’re tough, we’re resilient and we’re never going to back down from adversity. When adversity strikes we dig down deep and keep fighting. I’m so proud of these guys. They never quit, they believe in each other and if we play like this we can do some great things this year.”


 

The comeback began after New Milford had taken a 20-point lead when Knights cornerback Thomas Silverio intercepted a pass and three plays later quarterback Ryan Picinic hooked up with wide receiver Tommy Ryan for a 16-yard TD. Marques ran the ensuing kickoff to the 43-yard line and junior quarterback Kyle Russell engineered a nine-play drive that culminated with a 3-yard fade pass to Marques, which cut the lead to 27-14.

“I think I could have placed it a little bit better,” Russell said, “but he has great hands. It was a good ball and we put up six.”

“I was just focused on the ball,” said Marques. “We have confidence in each other. We know what we each can do. He can place the ball where I can catch it.” The Rutherford defense held the Knights to a three-and-out and got the ball back at the New Milford 45 with 27 seconds left in the third quarter. “We came out real sloppy,” Howell said of the defense. “We gave up the touchdown in the first drive of the third quarter and we gave up a crucial pick to set up the second drive. But from that point on we were pretty much lockdown. We settled in, doing what we’ve been practicing all week and making plays.”

On third down Russell connected with junior running back Abellany Mendez for 25 yards, down to the the Knights 18-yard line. Mendez ran three times and earned a first down. From there Russell tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Joe Ivanovic. “He made some really good throws in crucial situations,” Howell said of Russell. “He had a nice touchdown pass to [Joe] Ivanovic, where he wasn’t the initial read, but he found him. “He battled back from a crucial pick that set them up for a score early in the third quarter. But he responded well by making some big-time throws in crucial situations, where the first or second read might have been covered but he stepped up and found an open receiver. ”

Suddenly the Bulldogs had closed to within six, 27-21, with 10:16 to go in the game. “Coach told us, ‘this game isn’t over. Keep your heads up.’ And slowly we chipped away,” said Marques. “We knew that once we got a drive building we could keep the momentum going and that’s what we did.”

“We come out and we go down real quick in the third quarter and the momentum shifts,” said Howell. “It could have been easy for our guys to pack it in. They never stop believing; they never stop fighting and we made the plays in the end.” New Milford moved the ball downfield on its next possession, bolstered by a flea flicker in which running back Tyler Picinic took the handoff, rolled right and threw the ball downfield to wide receiver Nick Klein, good for 34 yards to the Bulldogs 29.
But the Rutherford defense stepped up, and junior linebacker Regan Landrigan sacked quarterback Ryan Picinic on a 3rd-and-4. On 4th-and-12 the Knights could only gain 11 yards and the ball went back to the Bulldogs.

Disaster struck for the comeback effort as Knights linebacker John DeSena intercepted a pass and ran it down to the Rutherford 10-yard line. But a block in the back brought the ball back to the 43, where New Milford took over with 6:18 to go in the game. The Knights were only able to keep the ball for about a minute, however, as senior cornerback Tyler Aponte intercepted a pass, giving Rutherford a first down at the New Milford 48 with 5:13 to go. On second down Russell lofted a pass downfield that Marques caught and ran down to the 15-yard line. Three plays later Russell and Marques combined for a 7-yard TD. Junior Matteo Sullivan kicked another extra point (he drilled six in the game) and Rutherford had come all the way back to take a 28-27 lead.

“I think we condition pretty hard at practice and I think that might have been the difference in the game,” said Howell. “We were still full of gas in the fourth quarter. We were able to step up and make plays like Tyler’s [Aponte] pick in the fourth quarter because we are so well-conditioned.” The Knights gave up the ball on downs at the 30-yard line on their next possession and Bulldogs senior Billy Finn burst through the middle on first down and rumbled for 21 yards. After an offside moved the ball five yards closer to the end zone Finn scored on a 4-yard run to boost the lead to 35-27. Marques closed out the scoring with a “pick-six,” racing 42 yards with an interception to make it 42-27.

“I had a feeling 4th-and-1 they were going to a quick out,” he said. “The tight end is a big target for that quarterback. I tried to bait him into throwing it. As soon as I saw it I jumped it and took it to the house.”

“He’s a playmaker,” Howell said of Marques. “We’re really glad he transferred in because he added a whole new element to this team because he’s so versatile. He returns kicks and punts, plays quarterback, plays wide-out, plays in the secondary. He does it all. He’s a nice weapon to have.” Rutherford scored first, taking the opening kickoff and going on a six play, 58-yard drive. Finn scored on a 20-yard run. The rest of the first half belonged to the Knights. The first time they touched the ball they went 70 yards on seven plays. Senior quarterback Ryan Picinic gained 29 yards on a quarterback draw and 28 more on a sweep around left end. The drive ended when he threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Matt McElroy.

The Knights missed the extra point so they trailed 7-6.  They took the lead, 13-7, when running back Bart Nativo ripped through the line, cut right and outran the Bulldogs defense for a 50-yard TD late in the first quarter. New Milford increased their lead to 20-7 on their first possession in the second half. Ryan Picinic found Rhys Farley with a seam pass and Farley went into the end zone untouched on the 36-yard play.

Three minutes later came the Silverio interception and the Ryan Picinic to Tommy Ryan touchdown pass. And right after that began the Bulldogs comeback.
Rutherford moves on to play Hasbrouck Heights, winner of the other NJIC semifinal next Friday.

“Another good team,” said Marques. “They’re going to be confident after their win against Wallington. Our confidence is sky high right now. It’s going to be a good, tough game. As I said last week, [we’ll] keep riding this momentum. What we’ve got going is something special. For a team that was doubted by everyone in the beginning of the year, [because we] lost key seniors, we’ve proved ourselves to be a serious threat in this conference.”

Article By JC Baumuller

 

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