UNION – Phillip Walker threw an interception in the final minute of last year’s championship game vs. Piscataway.
In the final minute of Friday night’s championship game, he more than made up for that by throwing a touchdown pass for the game-winning points.
You can say it was the ultimate display of the agony of defeat to – 12 months later – the joy of victory.
Walker’s fourth touchdown pass, good for 49 yards to senior running back Jahad Thomas, with 36 seconds remaining lifted top-seeded Elizabeth to a thrilling, come-from-behind, 37-33 victory over third-seeded Piscataway in the first-ever North 2, Group 5 final held Friday night at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium.
Thomas caught the ball over the middle, ran to the right sideline and then reversed field back over the middle as he outraced every Piscataway defensive player on his way into the end zone.
Elizabeth, which lost to Piscataway 41-34 in last year’s North 2, Group 4 final at Rutgers, won its eighth championship in the playoff era and finished 11-0 for the first time since 1989 when it repeated as N2, G4 champs. This year and 1989 are the only two seasons that Elizabeth has finished undefeated during the playoff era, which began in 1974.
In addition, Elizabeth won its first championship and Piscataway lost to a Union County opponent in the playoffs – both for the first time since 2006. Piscataway entered with a 24-4 playoff record since 2002, which included an 8-1 mark against Union County foes since 2003.
Piscataway, which was led by senior Cameron Nash’s four touchdowns and 222 yards rushing in 28 carries, finished 8-3. The Chiefs, who captured North 2, Group 4 the past two seasons, had an eight-game playoff winning streak snapped.
Elizabeth’s defense had to stop Piscataway first before it could drive for the winning touchdown. On fourth-and-goal from the Elizabeth two-yard line with 2:01 to go, Nash was stopped by a host of Elizabeth defensive players, with senior Akram March-Williams leading the way.
“We had to settle down and play assignment football,” Williams said. “I had to mirror their fullback, No. 13 (Kevin Butler), and then I saw Nash and shot through the gap to get to him.”
Elizabeth, behind Walker, then went 98 yards in three plays to score the winning points. The drive started with 1:15 to go and both teams out of timeouts.
“This is very satisfying,” said Elizabeth senior wide receiver Kason Campbell, who rushed for a touchdown and caught a TD pass. “After last year’s game we knew we could play with them and beat them. PJ just played outstanding and made so many great throws.”
Walker – once again on the biggest stage – completed 13-of-23 passes for 351 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Elizabeth head coach John Quinn – who has now won playoff championships with three teams, including two with New Brunswick and one with Roxbury – said the Temple-bound Walker was “the best player in the state, bar none.”
Walker proved that again and now he leaves Elizabeth with a state championship. Walker started every varsity game since the very beginning of his freshman season in 2009, finishing with a 26-17 record that includes a 5-1 playoff mark, one undefeated season, two championship games and one championship.
It might also include Player of the Year and/or Team of the Year honors.
Walker, who also rushed nine times for 68 yards, threw a touchdown pass on the third play of the game, connecting with Thomas on a 51-yard completion.
Walker’s touchdown pass to Campbell was good for 30 yards and came with 8:08 to go.
The only turnover and sack came on the very last play of the game when Williams tackled Piscataway senior quarterback Nadir Barnwell, with the ball coming loose and sophomore David Tobe recovering. Piscataway’s final play started from the Elizabeth 31, with 13 seconds to go.
NOTES: Elizabeth produced 494 yards of total offense and Piscataway 470 for a whopping combined total of 964.
There was only one punt in the game, by Piscataway in the first half.
Elizabeth had the ball just once in the third quarter.
Elizabeth scored the game’s final 13 points – all in the fourth quarter – to win by four. In the 2006 North 2, Group 4 final at Rutgers on Dec. 1 of that year – also a rainy Friday night – Elizabeth scored the game’s final 14 points, all in the fourth quarter, to beat defending champion Phillipsburg by five – 14-9.
There was one tie and then four lead changes.
Nash scored one touchdown in each quarter.
NORTH JERSEY, SECTION 2, GROUP 5 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
AT KEAN UNIVERSITY’S ALUMNI STADIUM, UNION
3-PISCATAWAY (8-3) 7 13 6 7 – 33
1-ELIZABETH (11-0) 10 6 8 13 – 37
ELIZABETH – Jahad Thomas 51 pass from Phillip Walker, Gustavo Briones kick
(E 7-0) 3 plays, 60 yards, 1:41 used
PISCATAWAY – Cameron Nash 72 run, Chris Mosier kick (7-7) – first tie
2 plays, 75 yards, :29 used
ELIZABETH – FG Gustavo Briones 31 (E 10-7)
6 plays, from own 31 to Piscataway 15, 3:01 used
PISCATAWAY – Cameron Nash 10 run, kick failed (P 13-10)
12 plays, 74 yards, 7:13 used – first lead change
ELIZABETH – Kason Campbell 14 run, kick failed (E 16-13)
6 plays, 57 yards, 2:29 used – second lead change
PISCATAWAY – David Claybrook 59 pass from Nadir Barnwell,
Chris Mosier kick (P 20-16)
3 plays, 65 yards, :57 used – third lead change
PISCATAWAY – Cameron Nash 1 run, run failed (P 26-16)
11 plays, 71 yards, 6:50 used
ELIZABETH – Jahad Thomas 58 pass from Phillip Walker,
Phillip Walker run (P 26-24)
3 plays, 72 yards, 1:40 used
PISCATAWAY – Cameron Nash 10 run, Chris Mosier kick (P 33-24)
6 plays, 77 yards, 3:26 used
ELIZABETH – Kason Campbell 30 pass from Phillip Walker,
Gustavo Briones kick (P 33-31)
9 plays, 85 yards, 3:39 used
ELIZABETH – Jahad Thomas 49 pass from Phillip Walker, pass failed
(E 37-33) – fourth lead change
3 plays, 98 yards, :39 used