ROSELLE – While the home team was just 24 minutes away from playing in a state championship game for the first time in 24 years, it was the visiting team that seized the opportunity to compete for a ring.
Down by five points at intermission, which was the same deficit it lost by when the teams faced each other in Mid-State 38 Conference-Mountain Division play more than a month ago, visiting Delaware Valley immediately took advantage of a Roselle turnover to turn the game around.
Also sparked by the running of senior back Dominick Benedetto and two defensive stands that halted Roselle drives on fourth down plays, fifth-seeded Delaware Valley came back in the second half to stop top-seeded Roselle 28-12 in Saturday’s Central Jersey, Group 2 semifinal played at Arminio Field.
As a result, the Single-Wing Terriers will be playing in their first-ever state championship game.
Delaware Valley, which won its third straight to improve to 7-3, had only two playoff victories before winning last week and Saturday. The Terriers will face second-seeded and defending champion Rumson-Fair Haven in the sectional final.
Delaware Valley was still able to come out on top minus three key players who were out with injuries, including leading scorer (23 touchdowns) and rusher, junior running back Corey Shedlock; and Ryan Romaine and Derek Kugelman. Shedlock suffered a concussion in last week’s playoff win at Spotswood.
Roselle, which captured the Mountain Division championship with a 5-0 record including a 34-29 win at Delaware Valley on Oct. 3 – a victory aided by a DV turnover late in the game – had a four-game winning streak snapped and fell to 7-3.
Roselle turned the ball over six times, including five times in the second half – the first four of those times on fumbles. Delaware Valley scored 14 points off those turnovers, one touchdown in each half.
Both teams play this coming week, Roselle at Roselle Park on Thanksgiving and Delaware Valley at home against Bernards Friday night. Roselle is 4-0 on the road and Delaware Valley is 3-1 at home.
Roselle, which last week won its first playoff game since 1998, struck first and had two leads in a first half it closed with an interception by senior cornerback Jordy Moise. Sophomore southpaw first-year quarterback Gerald Hairston III threw a touchdown pass to Rashad Pendleton and senior running back Darryn Canady scored on a three-yard run.
In between, Delaware Valley quarterback Joey Donnelly completed an eight-yard touchdown pass to Jesse Neighbour. It was an interception by Neighbour that set up the scoring drive.
Roselle was also plagued by penalties again, including a couple of times when it was drawn off sides. On its first possession of the second half, after two incomplete passes, Hairston completed a first-down pass to Pendleton that was called back because of holding.
On Roselle’s next possession, Hairston ran 20 yards for a first down that was called back because of holding again. Two plays later, Delaware Valley recovered a fumble inside the Roselle 10.
On third-and-goal from the Roselle 4, Donnelly hit Trett Shepperd with what turned out to be the winning touchdown pass, putting the Terriers ahead for good at 13-12.
Roselle overcame its next turnover, stopping Delaware Valley at the Ram 28. Roselle then drove to the 50 and was faced with fourth-and-one. Hairston attempted to get the first down by driving up the middle, but didn’t get quite enough momentum to follow his blockers.
Delaware Valley prevailed on the play, preventing Hairston from getting the necessary yard to move the chains.
The Terriers then drove 50 yards to their next score, which was the first of two touchdowns Benedetto scored in the second half.
“In the first half we came out and did what we do, our offensive line was pushing them around up front and that opened up the lanes for me and all I had to do was move my feet,” Benedetto said. “In the second half we had a small adjustment in our coverage and on offense we came out and did the same thing, grind, grind, grind. That’s what we do.”
Canady was held to just 12 yards rushing on seven attempts in the first half and not much else in the second. Also in the first half, Hairston completed seven-of-nine passes for 73 yards, one interception and one touchdown and Donnelly four-of-eight for 40 yards, one interception and one touchdown.
“We were angry about the (regular season) loss, it was a real heartbreaker,” Benedetto said. “We knew that we had to limit their possessions because they’re an explosive team.”
Very few teams, even at home and with a slim lead, can overcome five second-half turnovers and still come out on top.
“We came out in the second half and didn’t execute as well as we did in the first half,” Canady said. “They capitalized on our mistakes.”
Benedetto rushed for 157 yards on 22 carries, including a big 51-yard run on the first play of his team’s initial scoring drive.
“He (Benedetto) was a very tough runner, it was hard to find him between with all those big guys,” Canady said. “He played a great game.”
While in the first half Hairston was completing passes to Pendleton and other receivers, in the second half Delaware Valley made it much more difficult for him to have the same success.
“When we sent a blitzing back we had to cover for No. 11, their big-time quarterback,” Benedetto said. “We covered up what we needed to.”
Delaware Valley head coach Mike Columbo, at the helm of the Terriers since 2004, has seen his share of ups and downs the past decade. He lost his first eight games as the team’s head coach – and that was just one year after Delaware Valley went 9-1 – and also had a team, his 2010 squad, that did not have enough power points to qualify for the CJ, G2 playoffs with a 6-2 record at the cutoff.
“Obviously, without Corey, others had to step up,” said Columbo, who prior to coaching at Delaware Valley was the head coach at Summit. “We knew we were going to have to do some other things and the guy that did it for us last year, Dominick Benedetto, played great, as well as our offensive line.
“Most important, though, was that our defense was outstanding. Delaware Valley is known for offense, but our defense, time after time, came up with big stops. We got a pass rush in the second half and our kids in the secondary held up.
“The field (muddy) played in our favor, but what a day it was for Del Val. Our coaches and players worked their butts off. I can’t say enough about the job everyone did to make this happen.”
Benedetto and the rest of his teammates can now relish the fact that they will be preparing for the program’s first-ever state championship game.
“All the hard work really paid off,” Benedetto said. “For this to happen my senior year, this is just a great feeling.”
CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 2 SEMIFINAL
5-Delaware Valley (7-3) 0 7 14 7 – 28
1-Roselle (7-3) 6 6 0 0 – 12
Roselle – Rashad Pendleton 17 pass from Gerald Hairston III,
kick failed (R 6-0)
8 plays, 92 yards, 3:38 used
Delaware Valley – Jesse Neighbour 8 pass from Joey Donnelly,
Sean Lessig kick (DV 7-6)
7 plays, 68 yards, 4:04 used
Capitalized on turnover – an interception by Jess Neighbour
Roselle – Darryn Canady 3 run, kick failed (R 12-7)
11 plays, 55 yards, 6:46 used
Delaware Valley – Trett Sheppard 4 pass from Joey Donnelly,
pass failed (DV 13-12)
3 plays, 5 yards, 1:40 used
Capitalized on turnover – a Delaware Valley fumble recovery.
Delaware Valley – Dominick Benedetto 13 run,
Jesse Neighbour pass from Joey Donnelly (DV 21-12)
6 plays, 50 yards, 2:09 used
Delaware Valley – Dominick Benedetto 3 run, Sean Lessig kick
7 plays, 33 yards, 2:28 used
UNION COUNTY SCOREBOARD
SATURDAY, NOV. 22
NORTH 2, GROUP 5
Elizabeth 16, Piscataway 6 – at Piscataway
NORTH 2, GROUP 3
Parsippany Hills 14, Summit 0 – at Summit
CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 2
Delaware Valley 28, Roselle 12 – at Roselle