CLARK – Heading into the playoffs for the third straight season and for the eighth time in the last nine years, Rahway knew it was in for a helmet-to-helmet clash with neighborhood rival Roselle.
Seeking to fine tune its game one final time before next week’s playoffs, Rahway set the tone immediately by driving 73 yards for a touchdown during its first possession.
Sparked by a Gabril Gross 103-yard rushing effort on 18 carries that included one touchdown, the host Indians scored a touchdown in each quarter in posting a decisive 29-6 Mid-State 38 Conference-interdivision triumph at Johnson High School’s Nolan Field.
This game was originally scheduled to be played Nov. 3 at 1 p.m. at Rahway’s Veterans Field before it was wiped out by Hurricane Sandy. The contest was then moved to this Saturday at noon at Rahway before it was moved again to Nolan Field for a Friday night kickoff.
Because of Hurricane Sandy, Rahway High School was closed last week and this week, while a good portion of the city is still without power.
No stranger to playing at Johnson after devastating storms, Rahway opened last year at Nolan Field against North Plainfield – winning 26-13 – after Hurricane Irene struck the area. Then the Indians had another home game moved to Johnson, which was played on the Monday afternoon following last October’s snowstorm, with Rahway downing Governor Livingston 41-6.
A Nor’Easter a couple of days ago added to the many problems first created by Hurricane Sandy.
“It’s something else,” Rahway head coach Gary Mobley said. “Nobody lost their homes and all of our kids are safe. There’s a toughness that comes through in times like this.
“Some of our kids and coaches are without power, but have generators. We’ve been blessed. Our kids have come together again during difficult times.”
Rahway bounced back from a tough 14-13 loss at Voorhees two weeks ago, which gave the Camden County school the Mountain Division title over the Indians.
Rahway improved to 5-3 overall and finished 4-1 in the Mountain Division for second place.
The Indians are projected to get the sixth seed in North 2, Group 3 and play at third-seeded Palisades Park next Friday night. The Tigers improved to 7-2 with a 6-0 win Friday night at Ridgefield.
“We play for this challenge,” Mobley said. “We got a birds-eye view of Palisades Park vs. North Arlington.
“One of our goals is to play meaningful games when it’s cold and that means excelling in the playoffs.”
Roselle, which made the playoffs the last two years under third-year head coach Lou Grasso, Jr., fell for the second straight time, slipping to 1-7. The Rams finished 0-6 and in last place in the Raritan Division.
Many fans said there was bad blood between the two schools. You could tell that was true by the heavy police presence at Johnson High, including the parking lots.
“This is an old school, town rivalry,” Mobley said.
The schools met on the gridiron for the first time since Nov. 14, 2009 when in a Central Jersey, Group 2 consolation game at Rahway’s Veterans Field, the host Indians came away with a 7-0 victory.
Rahway then defeated Johnson 19-13 at home to finish 7-3. That is the only season Rahway did not make the playoffs under Mobley’s tenure as head coach, which began in 2004.
Roselle bounced back to beat Roselle Park 35-0 at home for a 5-5 finish in 2009.
On Friday night, Rahway dominated in the trenches, allowing for plenty of running room for Gross, who darted and dashed his way to 80 yards on 14 carries by halftime. Rahway rushed for 135 yards in the first half and another 75 in the second.
Junior quarterback Jeffery Bost concluded his team’s opening drive by scoring on a five-yard run. On the march, Rahway ran the ball eight times and passed once, with Gross gaining 50 yards on six carries.
Bost completed five of nine passes for 72 yards, with senior tight end Colin Quinn catching four for 68.
“With Roselle playing a 6-2, their front invites you to play the flat,” Mobley said. “That’s just another weapon we have on offense.”
Gross came out of the game early in the third quarter after it appeared one of his legs got twisted a bit. He walked to the bench without assistance.
“It looks like an ankle sprain,” Mobley said. “He’s walking on it. He should be ready to go next week.”
Rahway held Roselle to just 25 yards rushing, forcing the Rams to throw. Junior signal-caller Tyrone Crutchfield had success at times, whether it was completing passes to senior end James Womble or junior receiver Jah’Quill Crutchfield, who caught a 40-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter for his team’s only points.
Getting to Tyrone Crutchfield and sacking him for a nine-yard loss in the fourth quarter was Rahway senior tackle Ruben Pierre.
“We didn’t want to back in,” Mobley said. “We wanted to come out here tonight and play with the mentality of being in the playoffs already.”
NOTES: Rahway has now won its game before the playoffs for the seventh straight time under Mobley’s tenure.
Here’s a closer look:
RAHWAY THE WEEK BEFORE THE PLAYOFFS
UNDER HEAD COACH GARY MOBLEY
2012: defeated Roselle 29-6 at Johnson
2011: won at Watchung Hills 34-6
2010: defeated Watchung Hills 21-7 at home
2008: defeated Newark Central 43-6 at home
2007: won at Newark Central 47-12
2006: defeated Newark Central 49-8 at home
2005: defeated North Plainfield 35-15 at home
2004: lost at North Plainfield 13-7
The only time Rahway lost the week before a playoff game under Mobley was during his first season as the head coach – in 2004 – when the Indians fell at North Plainfield 13-7.
Coming up with fumble recoveries were junior lineman Joel Fortune for Roselle in the first half and junior nose tackle Stephan Watkis-Davis for Rahway in the second. Jah’Quill Crutchfield caused the fumble recovery that Fortune had.
Interceptions were produced by Bost in the first half and in the second half by Roselle junior linebacker Jason McRae.
Rahway is now 66-29 (.695) under Mobley, including 7-8 in the playoffs. The Indians are 6-1 in the quarterfinals under Mobley, with the only loss coming last year at Rumson-Fair Haven 29-0 in a Central Jersey, Group 2 quarterfinal clash.
The Indians, who will wrap their regular season on Thanksgiving at Johnson on Nov. 22, need one more victory to clinch a ninth straight winning season under Mobley. Rahway has never finished at .500 or below during his tenure as head coach.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-INTERDIVISION GAME
AT NOLAN FIELD
ROSELLE (1-7) 0 6 0 0 – 6
RAHWAY (5-3) 7 9 7 6 – 29
RAHWAY – Jeffery Bost 5 run, Tyler West kick (Rahway 7-0)
9 plays, 73 yards, 5:48 used
RAHWAY – FG Tyler West 26 (Rahway 10-0)
7 plays, from Roselle 23 to the Roselle 11, 3:09 used
ROSELLE – Jah’Quill Crutchfield 40 pass from Tyrone Crutchfield, pass failed (Rahway 10-6) 4 plays, 94 yards, :55 used
Roselle capitalized on a turnover – a Rahway fumble recovered by Joel Fortune.
RAHWAY – Gabril Gross 3 run, kick failed (Rahway 16-6)
5 plays, 46 yards, :50 used
RAHWAY – Willie Calloway 2 run, Tyler West kick (Rahway 23-6)
3 plays, 7 yards, 1:22 used
RAHWAY – Michael Stradford 5 run, kick failed (Rahway 29-6)
1 play, 5 yards, :09 used
Set up by a 43-yard punt return by Willie Calloway.