NEWARK – Linden running backs Juwan Dolbrice and Stefan Hill were confident the holes would be there to run through.
“We just had to stay focused,” Dolbrice said. “The offensive line worked hard all week and came through when the game was on the line.”
Linden entered the second half against Barringer down by two touchdowns. The Tiger offense, minus one play, was held in check during the first 24 minutes.
“We just had to keep on fighting,” Hill said. “We told the line how important they are to us.
“We tightened up. Once our offense gets going, it sets the tempo.”
Sparked by the chain-moving blocking of linemen including senior Joseph LaBlanc, junior Abdul Shawir and senior Varney Kollie winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and providing the necessary running room for Linden backs, the visiting Tigers rushed for 132 yards in the second half after gaining 96 in the first.
As a result, Dolbrice found the end zone two more times – once in each of the third and fourth quarters – while his three-touchdown performance sparked seventh-seeded Linden to a come-from-behind 19-18 win over second-seeded Barringer in Saturday’s North 2, Group 4 quarterfinal at Schools Stadium.
Linden – which is now 3-6, is on a two-game winning streak and has won its three games by a total of five points – will play at sixth-seeded Warren Hills in the semifinals in two weeks. Warren Hills (4-6) won at third-seeded Scotch Plains 34-7 Saturday.
Linden blanked Warren Hills 35-0 at home last year in a Mid-State 39 Conference-interdivision clash at Cooper Field. Warren Hills does not play on Thanksgiving.
Before facing Warren Hills again, the Tigers have their annual Thanksgiving Day game against Union Thursday, set for a 10:30 a.m. kickoff at Union’s Cooke Memorial Field. Union (5-3) lost at Franklin 38-14 Saturday in a North 2, Group 5 quarterfinal.
Dolbrice led all rushers with 143 yards on 16 carries, scoring on a 64-yard run in the second quarter to tie the game, on a 25-yard jaunt in the third quarter to pull Linden to within six points and on a three-yard run in the fourth quarter to give Linden its first lead and put the Tigers ahead for good.
“Our offensive line deserves the credit, this game is on them,” Dolbrice said.
Hill finished with 53 yards on nine carries.
“Our offensive line fought hard the entire game.
“We’re young up front,” fifth-year Linden head coach Deon Candia said. “What they did for us was big. We can be a second half team and we stressed that to our kids again today.”
Barringer, besieged by penalties throughout the whole game, especially in the second half when the momentum turned, was held to 32 yards rushing and just 43 yards of total offense in the second half. Barringer had seven penalties for 35 yards in the first half and six more for 45 in the second.
It took Linden nine weekends to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in six years, with the Tigers doing so with only a 2-6 record. Conversely, Linden did not make it in North 2, Group 4 in 2010 with a 6-2 record at the cutoff.
After Dolbrice scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown with 6:59 remaining, it took Linden nearly three-and-a-half quarters to take the lead vs. Barringer.
Linden may have become the first team in New Jersey to win a playoff game with just two wins. Teams were eligible to qualify this year with records under .500.
“Football is football and there will always be critics,” Candia said. “The game still has to be won on the field and that’s what we were able to do today.”
Barringer had success through the air in the first half over on the left side of the field, with senior quarterback Trinidad Luciano completing well-executed, over-the-shoulder passes to senior end Rastacy Beam and junior wide receiver Shaquan Hall. Beam hauled in one for a 20-yard touchdown, which was Barringer’s first score. Hall caught one for 30 yards during Barringer’s second scoring drive, while his second one was a 21-yard touchdown reception he came down with while falling down.
In between Beam and Hall beating single coverage, Barringer senior running back Kier Minor broke free for a 33-yard touchdown run to give Barringer back the lead at 12-6 with 7:38 left before intermission.
Linden received the second half kickoff, but after two first downs had to punt the ball back and was aided by a Barringer clip, with the Blue Bears starting on their own 15. Barringer was then called for five-yard penalties on its next two snaps, being pushed back to its own five-yard line.
Two plays after Barringer quick-kicked from its own end zone on third down, Dolbrice reached the end zone for a second time, finding a hole and racing – untouched – into the end zone from 25 yards out. Corey Ampey’s extra point pulled Linden to within 18-13 as the momentum was shifting the way of the Tigers.
At halftime, probably nobody thought that Linden’s offense was capable of driving the length of the field for a score. Nobody except for Linden, that is.
That’s exactly what Linden did in order to win the game. The Tigers marched 84 yards in 11 plays, taking 6:06 off the clock to gain their first lead.
The biggest play of the drive was a fake on fourth-and-eight from the Barringer 37 with less than eight minutes to go. Linden punter Ampey took the snap and instead of kicking the ball, rolled right.
Ampey then threw the ball to the right side of the field to a wide open junior receiver Tykir West, who hauled in the pass at the 24 and then ran five more yards to give Linden a huge first down at the Barringer 19.
Dolbrice then gained 16 yards to the three and on the next play found the end zone for a third time.
Linden junior defensive back Antoine Morgan then came up with the game’s only interception, hauling in a pass that tipped off Hall’s hands. That also turned out to be the only turnover for either team.
Morgan also caught two second-half Dazzmen Johnson passes that totaled nine yards.
“Antoine is a heck of an athlete,” Candia said. “We had to adjust a bit on defense. Their guys, like No. 81 (Beam), were tough to cover.”
NOTES: Producing quarterback sacks for Linden in the first half were LaBlanc for an eight-yard loss and junior linebacker Sha-Quan Champagne for a 10-yard setback.
Linden had a lineman ejected from the game and the team assessed with a 15-yard personal foul in the fourth quarter. That player may not be able to compete in Linden’s next playoff game.
Luciano completed six-of-12 passes for 110 yards in the first half, but completed only one of nine for just 11 yards and one interception in the second.
Johnson, Linden’s junior quarterback, completed four-of-nine passes for five yards and carried nine times for 16.
Linden’s previous playoff win was also by one point and on the road. In the 2006 North 2, Group 4 quarterfinals, Linden won at Piscataway 13-12. In the 2004 N2, G4 semifinals, Linden lost at Piscataway 27-0 and then in the 2005 quarterfinals the Tigers lost again at Piscataway 45-0.
Barringer came oh so close to winning its fourth playoff game and first since 1977.
During the second year of playoffs in New Jersey in 1975 – which was the first year that four teams in each section made it based on a power points system – Barringer captured North 2, Group 4 for its only title during the playoff era. The second-seeded Blue Bears beat third-seeded Irvington 7-6 at home in the semifinals and then won at top-seeded Livingston 14-13 in the final.
Linden has only won three playoff games since 2000. The Tigers have captured one championship in the playoff era, winning North 2, Group 3 in 1985.
Linden will be seeking to reach its third championship game, with its first two coming in N2, G3 in 1983 and 1985.
Since the playoffs were expanded from four teams to eight in each section in 1998, Linden has reached the North 2, Group 4 semifinals three times.
Here are the results:
2006: lost at Elizabeth 21-0
2004: lost at Piscataway 27-0
2000: lost at home to Montclair 20-14 in overtime
All three of those years Linden won quarterfinal games on the road. In 2000, the sixth-seeded Tigers won at third-seeded Union 31-24 and in 2004 fifth-seeded Linden won at fourth-seeded Irvington 14-6. Linden lost to Union in the 2000 regular season and to Irvington in the 2004 regular season.
Linden then won at Piscataway 13-12 in the 2006 quarterfinals.
Linden’s first of only two home playoff wins was over Warren Hills 21-7 in a North 2, Group 3 semifinal in 1983. Linden, coached then by Joe Martino, was the top seed and Warren Hills the fourth.
Linden’s other home playoff win was in the 1985 North 2, Group 3 semifinals when the second-seeded Tigers defeated third-seeded Scotch Plains 17-0 under first-year head coach Bucky McDonald, who was previously an assistant on Martino’s staff.
Linden’s playoff record is now 7-12, with five road wins and two home victories, while Barringer’s is 3-6.
NORTH 2, GROUP 4 QUARTERFINAL AT SCHOOLS STADIUM
7-LINDEN (3-6) 0 6 7 6 – 19
2-BARRINGER (4-5) 0 18 0 0 – 18
BARRINGER – Rastacy Beam 20 pass from Trinidad Luciano, kick fails
(B 6-0) 5 plays, 48 yards, 2:24 used
LINDEN – Juwan Dolbrice 64 run, kick failed (6-6)
1 play, 64 yards, :12 used
BARRINGER – Kier Minor 33 run, pass failed (B 12-6)
7 plays, 76 yards, 3:12 used
BARRINGER – Shaquan Hall 21 pass from Trinidad Luciano, run failed
(B 18-6) 6 plays, 30 yards, 2:52 used
LINDEN – Juwan Dolbrice 25 run, Corey Ampey kick (B 18-13)
2 plays, 38 yards, :34 used
LINDEN – Juwan Dolbrice 3 run, pass failed (L 19-18)
11 plays, 84 yards, 6:06 used
SATURDAY’S UNION COUNTY SCOREBOARD:
Union County teams went 2-2,
1-1 at home and 1-1 on the road.
North 2, Group 5
Franklin 38, Union 14 – at Franklin
North 2, Group 4
Warren Hills 34, Scotch Plains 7 – at Scotch Plains
Linden 19, Barringer 18 – at Barringer
North 2, Group 3
Summit 44, Newark West Side 6 – at Summit
Mendham 28, Plainfield 18 – at Mendham
Roselle 24, Collingswood 22 – at Roselle
Hillside 25, Wood-Ridge 9 – at Wood-Ridge
FRIDAY’S UNION COUNTY SCOREBOARD:
Union County teams went 4-3, with the four home squads
winning and the three road teams losing.
North 2, Group 5
Elizabeth 41, Edison 18 – at Elizabeth
North 2, Group 3
Cranford 37, South Plainfield 12 – at Cranford
Palisades Park 21, Rahway 14 – at Palisades Park
North 2, Group 1
Hoboken 54, Dayton 14 – at Hoboken
New Providence 33, Bound Brook 0 – at New Providence
Roselle Park 25, Secaucus 7 – at Roselle Park
Central Jersey, Group 2
Carteret 24, Johnson 21 – at Carteret
Gov. Livingston 41, Raritan 13 – at Raritan
Brearley 52, Montclair Immaculate 14 – at Brearley
J.P. Stevens 33, Westfield 21 – at J.P. Stevens
NOTES: Union County went 6-5 in 11 playoff games
and 4-2 in six consolation contests.