LINDEN – Executing the game plan, staying disciplined and showing improvement by game’s end were basic goals the Linden Tigers sought during Saturday’s home-opener at Cooper Field.
It also didn’t hurt that Linden had returning starter Kyle Phipps running the ball.
The 5-8 senior back carried 15 times for 216 yards and scored three touchdowns, helping lead Linden to a commanding 35-6 win over Plainfield in Mid-State 38 Conference-Watchung Division play.
Phipps already had 140 yards on just seven carries after Linden’s first two drives produced an early 14-0 advantage.
“I ran hard, ran behind my blockers and my linemen did an excellent job for the second week in a row,” Phipps said.
Linden improved to 2-0 overall and 2-0 in the Watchung Division. Plainfield is 0-2 overall and 0-2 in the Watchung.
Linden, which last lost to Plainfield in 2008, has now defeated the Cardinals six straight seasons.
Linden is also 2-0 for the first time since 2009 when the Tigers started 4-0 in a non-playoff season that concluded at 5-5.
The last time Linden began 2-0 and made the playoffs was in 2006 during Muhammad Wilkerson’s senior season when the Tigers reached the North 2, Group 4 semifinals.
Taking the opening kickoff at their own 20, Phipps sprinted down the left sideline for a 62-yard gain on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
“Sometimes the holes close up quickly, so I try to use my speed to get to the outside and do what I have to do,” Phipps said.
Phipps capped Linden’s first 80-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run and then concluded Linden’s next 80-yard scoring drive with a 55-yard jaunt down the right sideline.
Juwan Dolbrice, getting more comfortable under center as Linden’s first-year quarterback this season, carried five times for 35 yards in the first 24 minutes.
“I’ll let him (Kyle) be the running back now and I’ll try to be a leader of the team and get everybody focused and ready to play every game,” said Dolbrice, who is one of the top senior talents, along with Phipps, in Union County.
Linden also marched 76 yards in five plays in the second quarter, finishing this scoring drive with an eight-yard touchdown run from junior Guirvenson Guillaume.
An interception by Plainfield’s Elijah Belle gave the Cardinals a first down at the Linden 12 with 40 seconds remaining before halftime. Two plays later, quarterback Jayson Bryant escaped pressure from three Linden defenders and found Joshua Washington moving over from the middle for a 12-yard touchdown pass.
With the score, Plainfield prevented beginning a second straight season with consecutive shutout setbacks. Plainfield lost at Linden 34-0 last year in the second game of the season for both.
Linden was up 21-6 at intermission Saturday, but not dominating the way the Tigers were earlier in the afternoon.
“We kind of got away from Linden football and it showed,” Linden head coach Deon Candia said. “We went into the locker room at halftime and told the kids and they knew.”
“We don’t take anything for granted, so we came out (in the second half) and tried to play hard all the way through the fourth quarte,” Dolbrice said. “We’ll have some mistakes, but we came through after some adversity.”
After halting a 13-play Plainfield drive that took over seven minutes off the third quarter clock, Linden took over at its own 22. This time the Tigers went 78 yards in 14 plays, using one second more than nine minutes.
Linden produced scoring drives of 80, 80, 76 and 78 yards, showing offensive consistency in that department.
“I think the kids responded pretty well in the second half,” Candia said.
Linden’s fifth and final touchdown came from its special teams. Senior linebacker Tymir Hinton found his way through the line and with his heavy rush managed to get his right hand on a Plainfield punt from the Plainfield end zone. Guillaume fell on the loose ball in the end zone for six points.
On Plainfield’s final possession, Dolbrice – from his position on defense – sprinted down field to catch up with Washington, who zig-zagged his way to a gain of about 25 yards.
When Dolbrice caught Washington he was able to strip the ball away from him, with Linden recovering.
Dolbrice still went all out when the game was 35-6 and there was less than three minutes remaining.
“You have to finish every play,” Dolbrice said. “The coaches didn’t want to give up another touchdown and I didn’t want to either.”
“The hardest thing, sometimes, is having that mentality where you just have to devour your opponent,” Candia said. “We got a little bit content, but we’ll get better at that. That’s something I know we can correct, it’s a mental thing.
“I’m glad we came out in the second half and had the urgency we needed to have.”
Plainfield, guided by first-year head coach Jason Glezman, had running back DJ Kennedy rush for 30 yards on five carries in the first half. Kennedy’s father, Darryl, starred on the 1997 and 1998 Cardinal teams that reached the North 2, Group 4 finals his junior and senior seasons.
Bryant completed five-of-11 passes for 61 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the first two quarters.
Guilliame also produced a quarterback sack for a nine-yard loss in the fourth quarter.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION
PLAINFIELD (0-2, 0-2) 0 6 0 0 – 6
LINDEN (2-0, 2-0) 14 7 0 14 – 35
LINDEN – Kyle Phipps 4 run, kick failed (L 6-0)
6 plays, 80 yards, 4:18 used
LINDEN – Kyle Phipps 55 run, Juwan Dolbrice run (L 14-0)
5 plays, 80 yards, 1:58 used
LINDEN – Guirvenson Guillaume 8 run, Corey Ampey kick (L 21-0)
5 plays, 76 yards, 1:58 used
PLAINFIELD – Joshua Washington 12 pass from Jayson Bryant,
kick failed (L 21-6)
2 plays, 12 yards, :15 used
Plainfield capitalized on a turnover – an interception by Elijah Belle.
LINDEN – Kyle Phipps 2 run, kick failed (L 27-6)
14 plays, 78 yards, 9:01 used
LINDEN – Guirvenson Guillaume recovers blocked punt in end zone
for touchdown, Tymir Hinton pass from Tyreece Johnson (L 35-6)
Tymir Hinton blocked the punt.
UNION COUNTY SCOREBOARD
FOR SATURDAY, SEPT. 20
Linden 35, Plainfield 6 – at Linden
Summit 31, Gov. Livingston 7 – at GL
Westfield 26, Scotch Plains 6 – at Scotch Plains
Roselle 21, Hillside 14 – at Hillside