LINDEN – When North Hunterdon played at Linden a month ago, the game was still up for grabs in the second half, with the visiting Lions leading by a touchdown before the host Tigers came back to grab the Mid-State 38 Conference-Watchung Division clinching victory.
When the teams met a second time Friday night in a North 2, Group 5 quarterfinal – again at Linden’s Cooper Field – favored and higher-seeded Linden made sure right from the outset that the sequal would not be as close.
Linden – sparked by an outstanding performance from record-setting senior quarterback Juwan Dolbrice – drove down the field and scored touchdowns on its first two possessions.
The top-seeded Tigers never trailed en route to posting a convincing 39-17 victory over eighth-seeded North Hunterdon, which closed its season at 5-5.
North Hunterdon was 4-1 before it lost at Linden 35-21 back on Oct. 17. Linden scored the game’s final 21 points.
Coming off its first loss of the season, Linden bounced back to improve to 8-1.
The Tigers will host a N2, G5 semifinal next Friday night at 7. For the third year in a row Linden will be playing in a sectional semifinal.
Linden won a playoff game at home for only the third time in program history and for the first time since 1985. For the third year in a row Linden will be seeking to reach only the third state championship game in program history and first since 1985.
Linden reached the North 2, Group 3 finals in 1983, falling at home as the top seed to Randolph, and in 1985, winning at top-seeded West Morris.
Here’s a look at Linden’s three home playoff victories, with the Tigers hoping to attain a fourth one next week:
Linden’s 3 home playoff wins:
2014 North 2, Group 5 quarterfinal:
Linden 39, North Hunterdon 17
1985 North 2, Group 3 semifinal:
Linden 17, Scotch Plains 0
1983 North 2, Group 3 semifinal:
Linden 21, Warren Hills 7
Dolbrice passed for two touchdowns and ran for one in the first half, helping Linden get out to a 20-3 lead at intermission. Dolbrice carried the ball 11 times for 63 yards in the first 24 minutes and also completed all three of his passes in that time frame for 70 yards.
It was announced in the fourth quarter that Dolbrice, who played running back the past two seasons, became Linden’s all-time leading rusher with 2,795 yards.
“It was a lot of hard work,” Dolbrice said. “I want to thank God first and then I want to thank my coaches and my line, they did everything for me. It’s not just me.
“It was a team thing and I’m just so happy about it.”
Dolbrice said Linden fed off a comment made by North Hunterdon quarterback Ryan McDonald that Linden was “lucky” to have won last month’s encounter.
“They gave us motivation and we came out here and played extra hard,” Dolbrice said.
North Hunterdon, sparked by a two-touchdown performance by McDonald, took the second-half kickoff and drove down the field to cut the deficit to 20-10.
However, Linden answered with touchdowns on its next two possessions, including the first of two by senior Kyle Phipps and the second of two by junior Guirvenson Guillaume.
Phipps carried the ball 10 times for 84 yards in the first half and finished with 167 yards on 16 carries, including two touchdowns.
“We focused playing as a team and everybody made plays today,” Phipps said.
Defensively, Linden came up with three interceptions and then almost grabbed a fourth. The first two were produced by senior linebacker Tymir Hinton and the third by senior defensive back Jatece Wright.
“Our defense – our linebackers and defensive line – they played outstanding,” Phipps said. “In the first game it was just up to the defensive backs. We worked on sticking with our receivers and sticking on our slant routes because that’s what killed us the first game. This time we stopped them.”
The last two years Linden lost on the road in semifinals – to Warren Hills in North 2, Group 4 in 2012 and to eventual champion Ridge in North 2, Group 5 in 2013.
This time Linden will be at home in a semifinal for the first time since 2000, which was an overtime loss to Montclair.
“Our home crowd gives us a lot more hype,” Dolbrice said.
So what is it going to take for Linden to get over the hump and reach a championship game for the first time in 29 years?
“We have to be tough, like Coach (Deon) Candia always says, ‘we have to stay tough,’” Phipps said.
“It’s going to take everything out of everybody,” Dolbrice said. “It’s going to take a total team effort.
“Winning a championship is our ultimate goal, so we have to come to practice, work hard, do everything coach says and just focus.”
Linden’s only blemish so far was last week’s 28-19 setback at Elizabeth. If both teams win their semifinal games next weekend, they will meet again in the sectional final, which would be for the first time.
Elizabeth, the third seed, ousted sixth-seeded Barringer 37-6 Friday night.
NORTH 2, GROUP 5 QUARTERFINAL
North Hunterdon (5-5) 3 0 7 7 – 17
Linden (8-1) 7 13 12 7 – 39
Linden – Guirvenson Guillaume 8 pass from Juwan Dolbrice,
Corey Ampey kick (L 7-0)
14 plays, 74 yards, 7:26 used
North Hunterdon – FG Ryan Beadle 25 (L 7-3)
11 plays, from own 36 to Linden 8, 3:13 used
Linden – Juwan Dolbrice 10 run, Corey Ampey kick (L 14-3)
7 plays, 65 yards, 3:12 used
Linden – Donte Waldron 56 pass from Juwan Dolbrice, kick failed (L 20-3)
3 plays, 74 yards, :29 used
North Hunterdon – Ryan McDonald 5 run, Ryan Beadle kick (L 20-10)
7 plays, 66 yards, 2:23 used
Linden – Kyle Phipps 7 run, kick failed (L 26-10)
3 plays, 67 yards, 1:17 used
Linden – Guirvenson Guillaume 18 run, kick failed (L 32-10)
4 plays, 34 yards, 1:59 used
Linden – Kyle Phipps 21 run, Donte Waldron kick (L 39-10)
5 plays, 84 yards, 3:19 used
North Hunterdon – Ryan McDonald 1 run, Ryan Beadle kick (L 39-17)
UNION COUNTY SCOREBOARD:
NJSIAA PLAYOFFS FROM FRIDAY NIGHT, NOV. 14
North 2, Group 5
Linden 39, North Hunterdon 17 – at Linden
Elizabeth 37, Barringer 6 – at Elizabeth
North 2, Group 4
Colonia 48, Scotch Plains 13 – at Colonia
North 2, Group 3
Cranford 46, North Plainfield 6 – at Cranford
North 2, Group 1
Belvidere 19, Brearley 8 – at Belvidere
Central Jersey, Group 2
Rumson-Fair Haven 35, Johnson 7 – at RFH