LINDEN – Arguably the two biggest plays – in a Friday night division clash that featured plenty – came just three snaps apart early in the fourth quarter with the game deadlocked for the third time.
The first came on fourth-and-five at the Linden 25, with the Tigers desperately trying to bring down shifty running North Hunterdon senior quarterback Ryan McDonald, who up to that point – and even after – proved to be very elusive, in addition to having quite an arm and receivers who could catch his passes.
Senior linebacker Khalil Burns got to him first to slow him down and then junior lineman Zyshonne Small made a pretty big play by finishing the tackle off, limiting the talented signal-caller to just a one yard gain that fell four yards short.
“We had to contain the outside,” Small said. “He’s (McDonald) such a great runner.”
“We knew he had a strong arm, but he really hurt us with his feet too,” Burns said. “We had to adjust because we knew it was going to be a dogfight until the end.”
Then on third-and-six from its own 28, Linden went to what head coach Deon Candia described as a waggle play. Senior quarterback Juwan Dolbrice first moved right and then reversed field left, taking with him the entire North Hunterdon defensive front.
Dolbrice then fired a perfect pass to his left that led senior wide receiver Donte Waldron, who beat single coverage to catch the ball at the North Hunterdon 48. Waldon continued to run down the left sideline until he was tackled by Lion junior defensive back Robert Marron at the North Hunterdon seven for what turned out to be a 65-yard pass completion.
On the very next play, Linden senior running back Kyle Phipps scored his game-leading third touchdown, with his seven-yard TD proving to be the game-winning points.
Linden cemented an eventual 35-21 Mid-State 38 Conference-Watchung Division victory over visiting North Hunterdon by outscoring the Lions 14-0 in the all-important fourth quarter. Linden also scored the game’s final 21 points.
Last week Linden came back from down 14-0 at Scotch Plains to win 20-14. Friday night, the Tigers came back from two single touchdown deficits they faced in the third quarter, the second after Linden coughed up the ball in North Hunterdon territory.
“Our defense came out weak and at halftime we had to adjust and come out strong,” Small said.
“Work ethic, the will to win and staying focused have been the keys so far,” Burns said.
Linden improved to 6-0 overall, won its seventh straight dating back to last year and clinched the Watchung Division, owners of a 6-0 league mark. Linden will host Ridge next Friday night, which is its final division game. Ridge is the last team to beat Linden, with the Red Devils downing the Tigers 28-14 in Basking Ridge in last year’s North 2, Group 5 semifinals.
Ridge, which plays at 0-4 Plainfield Saturday, also defeated Linden in the regular season last year, winning 20-14 at home in overtime. The defending North 2, Group 5 champs, hit hard by graduation, are presently 1-4.
Linden’s division title was its first in a very long time. The Tigers are 6-0 for the first time – and were probably also 5-0 for the first time – since starting the 1987 season 8-0.
North Hunterdon, with its only other loss to Montgomery, slipped to 4-2 overall and 4-2 in the Watchung.
With the game still scoreless, North Hunterdon junior placekicker Ryan Beadle missed a 27-yard field goal attempt, wide right, early in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, Dolbrice came back from losing a fumble earlier in the period to score his only touchdown on a 16-yard run, which tied the game for the final time at 21-21. Dolbrice only played on offense.
Linden senior defensive back Jatece Wright picked off tipped passes near the end of both halves for a game-high two interceptions.
Linden senior running back Tymir Hinton came down with an impressive two-handed catch at the North Hunterdon 28 for a 25-yard gain after the pass had been tipped by a Lion defender.
Linden swarmed North Hunterdon’s Kyle Busher on his team’s second-to-last possession and prevented him from gaining a first down on a fourth-down fake punt attempt.
Waldron also prevented a slant pass attempt over the middle in the fourth quarter, which was the play before the Small and Burns stop of McDonald.
Linden was getting burned early on by the slant pass, with McDonald completing three of them for first downs on his team’s first scoring drive.
Candia on the huge stop by Small and Burns: “Their quarterback was legit. He was poised and he knew exactly what to do at all times. We had to contain him and our guys stepped up there.
“We had to be more aggressive in the second half. He was completing too many passes, yet we had to grab a hold of him when he started to run as well. Our coaches did a great job, I thought.”
Candia on the waggle pass play that was good for 65 yards, a first down and came right before the winning score: “Juwan dragged the post and saw Donte open. Donte was another one of our players who stepped up and made a big play there.”
Candia on being 6-0 and clinching a division title: “I think we’ve now proven to be relentless these past two weeks and against good quality teams.
“The most important thing is that we’re learning how to win and understanding the game. No matter what, teams will still play their best against us and we have to be ready.”
NOTES: Linden continues to have the most power points in North 2, Group 5 and is now one of only two undefeated teams remaining in the section now that Elizabeth lost at home to Phillipsburg 19-6 Friday night. Piscataway improved to 5-0 Friday night with an easy 42-0 home win over North Brunswick.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION GAME
NORTH HUNTERDON (4-2, 4-2) 0 7 14 0 – 21
LINDEN (6-0, 6-0) 0 7 14 14 – 35
Linden – Kyle Phipps 13 run, Corey Ampey kick (L 7-0)
9 plays, 80 yards, 4:03 used
North Hunterdon – Ryan McDonald 2 run, Ryan Beadle kick (7-7)
12 plays, 67 yards, 3:21 used
North Hunterdon – Jordan Ditzel 3 run, Ryan Beadle kick (NH 14-7)
5 plays, 62 yards, 1:27 used
Linden – Kyle Phipps 46 run, Corey Ampey kick (14-14)
3 plays, 70 yards, :58 used
North Hunterdon – Jordan Ditzel 80 run, Ryan Beadle kick (NH 21-14)
2 plays, 80 yards, :29 used
Capitalized on a turnover – a Linden fumble.
Linden – Juwan Dolbrice 16 run, Corey Ampey kick (21-21)
5 plays, 78 yards, 2:26 used
Linden – Kyle Phipps 7 run, Corey Ampey kick (L 28-21)
4 plays, 76 yards, 1:30 used
Linden – Guirvenson Guillaume 18 run, Corey Ampey kick (L 35-21)
6 plays, 59 yards, 2:26 used
UNION COUNTY SCOREBOARD
FRIDAY NIGHT, OCT. 17:
Linden 35, North Hunterdon 21 – at Linden
Hillsborough 45, Union 12 – at Hillsborough
Summit 42, Somerville 9 – at Summit
South Hunterdon 42, Roselle Park 14 – at Roselle Park
Voorhees 31, Rahway 14 – at Voorhees
Phillipsburg 19, Elizabeth 6 – at Elizabeth
Warren Hills 28, Gov. Livingston 18 – at Warren Hills
New Providence 36, Dayton 35 – at Dayton