ROSELLE – Should I stay or should I go?
That was the decision first-year quarterback Gerald Hairston III was faced with after he took the snap at the Bernards 2 with just 17 seconds left.
With the game tied and it being only moments away from possibly being decided in overtime, Hairston dropped back for a split second and found no receiver open in the end zone. He then mustered up all of the energy he had remaining and burst through the middle and into the end zone to give his team its first lead and the advantage for good.
It took Roselle nearly the game’s full 48 minutes to pull in front, but it was well worth it.
It was No. 11- Hairston III – scoring the game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds remaining to help Roselle defeat a 7-0 Bernards team by seven points.
It was 11-7 instead of 7-11.
Whatever it was, it was good enough to propel the host Rams to a more-than-thrilling, come-from-behind 35-28 Mid-State 38 Conference-Mountain Division victory over Bernards Saturday afternoon at Arminio Field.
Not many teams are able to come back from 14-point deficits twice to beat an undefeated team, but that’s exactly what Roselle accomplished.
As a result, Roselle clinched the Mountain Division championship outright with a final perfect 5-0 league mark. The Rams also improved to 6-2 overall with their third straight win and clinched the top seed for next week’s Central Jersey, Group 2 playoffs.
Winning division titles and earning No. 1 playoff seeds rarely happen at Roselle, which shows you how far this team has come.
Bernards fell to 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the division. The Mountaineers will wrap division play at Delaware Valley Nov. 28. Still seeking its first state championship in the playoff era, Bernards will be competing in the North 2, Group 2 playoffs next weekend.
Roselle has captured only one championship since the playoffs began in New Jersey in 1974. The Rams won North 2, Group 2 in 1989.
Next week Roselle will be seeking to win its first playoff game since 1998. The Rams are two home wins away from reaching just the fourth state championship game in program history. Roselle last reached a sectional final in 1990 when it played in the North 2, Group 2 title game for the second straight season.
Saturday’s game was chock full of huge plays by both teams that could be discussed for a very long time.
One of them was Bernards scoring a short touchdown after the Roselle punter was downed at his one 3 after not being able to get a punt off.
Here is Hairston III discussing his TD, which proved to be the winning points: “I was looking for the slant coming across, then I saw the middle wide open and I took it right there and scored.”
Perhaps no play was bigger than the 95-yard interception return for a touchdown by Roselle junior Shaquan Nelson with just four seconds left in the first half. The pass – a bit wobbly and floating up in the air- was intended for junior running back Sebastian.
Nelson stepped up and caught the ball in front of Sanchez and then ran down the left sideline – untouched – and into the end zone to pull Roselle to within one touchdown after Bernards was seeking to go up by three scores before intermission.
“Once I caught it I knew I was going to score,” Nelson said.
Then on the ensuing kickoff it appeared that Roselle might have returned a fumble for another touchdown. There was so much confusion on the play that the refs had Roselle kick off again, with Bernards downing the ball for the final play of the half.
The game not being pushed back to a 2 p.m. like most others were Saturday because of students taking the SAT affected Roselle’s best player, senior running back-linebacker Darryn Canady, who missed playing on offense during Roselle’s first possession, which resulted in no points after a touchdown was called back because of a penalty.
There were 21 penalties called in the first half and 29 total.
“I got here (to the game) late because I took the SAT, that’s why I wasn’t in there right away,” Canady said.
Canady made up for his excusable tardiness by scoring two touchdowns – one in each half – with the first one being set up by a fumble recovery he produced from his linebacker position.
“This is what we’ve all worked for beginning in the summer,” Canady said. “We knew Bernards was going to be tough. Getting the interception, the pick 6, right before the half gave us the momentum.
“We just then had to stop them in the second half, which we did.”
That included containing talented Bernards junior tailback Sebastian Sanchez, who was limited to one touchdown, that coming in the first half.
Second-year Roselle head coach James Williams said everyone saw the true Roselle team in the second half.
“The first half, that wasn’t us,” Williams said. “We made some adjustments and played real Roselle football in the second half. The interception before the half was really big.
“The kids really wanted this. They deserve all the credit.”
NOTES: Defensive standouts – players in on many key tackles – for Roselle included Nelson, senior Isaiah Matthews, Andre Viyodachi and Ed Accinot.
Hairston III completed 17-of-29 passes for 258 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Junior wide receiver Rahad Pendleton caught 10 passes, six in the first half including a touchdown, and four in the second half.
Hairston III was 9-of-16 for 142 yards and one score in the first half and also completed a two-point pass. He was 8-for-13 with an interception in the second half, good for 116 yards.
Nelson caught a huge slant pass that was good for 10 yards and got the ball to the Bernards 12 for a first down during Roselle’s game-winning drive.
Here’s the play-by-play of Roselle’s 10-play, game-tying drive, which began on its own 31 – following a Benards punt – with 8:48 to go.
First and 10 on own 31: Canady 6 run up the middle
Second and 4 on own 37: Canady 0 run up the middle
Third and 4 on own 37: Hairston III 21 run
First and 10 on Bernards 42: Nelson 5 loss run
First and 15 on Bernards 47: Valensky Valeus 3 run
Second and 15 on Bernards 44: Pendleton 21 pass from Hairston III
as Hairston III avoids getting sacked.
First and 10 on Bernards 21: Incomplete pass in end zone
Second and 10 on Bernards 21: Incomplete pass over the middle
Third and 10 on Bernards 21: No. 19, who makes a nifty move to the outside on the right side after catching the ball over the middle, catches an 18-yard pass from Hairston III.
First and 10 on Bernards 3: Canady 3 TD run up the middle
10 plays, 69 yards, 4:07 used and no penalties for a change
Here’s the play-by-play of Roselle’s 9-play, game-winning drive, which began at its own 43 – following another Bernards punt – with 1:33 remaining:
First and 10 on own 43: Canady 4 run
Second and 4 on own 47: Incomplete pass
Third and 4 on own 47: Pendleton 10 pass from Hairston III and Pendleton gets out of bounds to stop the clock
First and 10 on Bernards 43: Hairston 11 run to the right and gets out of bounds
First and 10 on Bernards 32: Incomplete pass to Pendleton in right corner of end zone, ball just overthrown
Second and 10 on Bernards 32: Slant pass at left to Nelson for 20 yards, with Nelson getting out of bounds to stop the clock with 35 seconds left
First and 10 on Bernards 12: Hairston III 4 run up the middle
Timeout Roselle, its second, with 26 seconds left.
Second and 6 on Bernards 8: Hairston III 6 run to Bernards 2, just shy of first down. Clock stopped because of measurement.
Third and inches on Bernards 2: Hairston III drops back then runs up the middle for game-winning 5-yard touchdown run
9 plays, 57 yards, 1:22 used
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-MOUNTAIN DIVISION GAME
Bernards (7-1, 3-1) 14 14 0 0 – 28
Roselle (6-2, 5-0) 6 15 0 14 – 35
Bernards – Tyler Baum 64 run, Ryan DeLeon kick (B 7-0)
6 plays, 80 yards, 1:36 used
Bernards – Jordan Tantleff 62 pass from Tyler Baum,
Ryan DeLeon kick (B 14-0)
6 plays, 85 yards, 1:47 used
Roselle – Rashad Pendleton 30 pass from Gerald Hairston III,
kick failed (B 14-6)
7 plays, 80 yards, 2:03 used
Roselle – Darryn Canady 1 run,
Rashad Pendleton pass from Gerald Hairston III (14-14)
7 plays, 49 yards, 2:35 used
Roselle capitalizes on a turnover – a fumble recovery by Darryn Canady.
Bernards – Luke Bowerbank 13 pass from Tyler Baum,
Ryan DeLeon kick (B 21-14)
8 plays, 43 yards, 2:13 used
Bernards – Sebastian Sanchez 3 run, Ryan DeLeon kick (B 28-14)
Bernards capitalizes after the Roselle punter was downed at the Roselle 3.
Roselle – Shaquan Nelson 95 interception return,
Andre Viyodachi kick (B 28-21)
Roselle – Darryn Canady 3 run, Andre Viyodachi kick (28-28)
10 plays, 69 yards, 4:07 used
Roselle – Gerald Hairston III 2 run, Andre Viyodachi kick (R 35-28)
9 plays, 57 yards, 1:22 used
UNION COUNTY SCOREBOARD
SATURDAY, NOV. 8
Roselle 35, Bernards 28 – at Roselle
Hunterdon Central 7, Westfield 6 – at Westfield
Summit 35, Hillside 20 – at Hillside
Gov. Livingston 21, Rahway 7 – at Rahway