UNION – Seeking to be 8-0 again and clinching the top seed once more in North 2, Group 5 after completing its eighth and final playoff qualifying game, Bridgewater-Raritan traveled to Union County Friday night and was immediately focused once it got off the bus.
BR’s eventual 24-14 non-division Mid-State 38 Conference victory over Union at Union High School’s Cooke Memorial Field was not as close as the score indicated, considering the visiting Panthers scored the first four times they had the ball before Union was able to get on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.
If a team could play a perfect first 24 minutes, that’s what BR managed to accomplish in the first half.
The Panthers marched 76 yards in 15 plays and took 8:13 off the clock after receiving the opening kickoff to take the lead for good at 7-0.
After limiting host Union to just one first down, BR got the ball back and then went 75 yards in 11 plays, using up 5:27 to increase its lead to 14-0.
Following Union’s second possession that, again, included just one first down, the Panthers got the ball back and once more managed to move the chains in their favor, going 58 yards in nine plays in a time span of 3:57 to take a 21-0 advantage.
Three BR possessions – which were without a single penalty – totaled 209 yards, while Union’s offense was limited to just 59. At the half, the Panthers, which finished with a game total of 19, had an edge in first downs to the tune of 14-2.
BR had the ball for 17.5 of the 24 minutes.
All three Justin Davidovicz kicks went out of the end zone following BR’s three TDs.
Senior quarterback Nick Attanasio was almost perfect throwing the ball, completing seven-of-eight passes for 69 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
“It was the best two quarters we played in our life,” Attanasio said.
Attanasio completed a six-yard touchdown pass to junior running back David Usewick for his team’s first score, while Usewick ran in from three yards out for the third. The second TD was a one-yard run by senior running back Ray Bellaran.
Usewick carried 12 times for 82 yards and one score in the first half.
Junior linebacker Lawrence Nice produced two sacks and junior middle linebacker Justin Bryant had one interception.
BR could simply do no wrong in a first half that took only 50 minutes to play.
The Panthers methodically marched down the field three times in three tries, mixing the run – from quarterback Attanasio and running backs Usewick and senior Matt Alesandro– with the pass – to wide receivers Donny Kelton and Ricky Tate and tight end Brandon Myers.
“We were confident,” Attanasio said. “We just stuck to our game plan.
“We knew Union was good and had some big kids and one of them (Mike Tverdov) going to Rutgers, but our offensive line played amazing.”
Running room was opened east and west and up the middle, while Attanasio’s targets were open straight ahead as well as at both sidelines.
“It was definitely our best first half,” said 10th-year head coach Scott Bray. “It couldn’t have been scripted any better.”
BR defeated Union for the fourth year in a row and has now won 21 straight regular season games dating back to its 2014 campaign.
“Our kids came out ready to go and we preach a fast start,” Bray said. “Our offensive line was up to the challenge. We knew the wind would be a factor and that we had to build a running game.”
After stopping Union on a three-and-out, BR moved the ball again with its first second-half possession, reaching the Union five. From there on fourth down Davidovicz had plenty of leg in splitting the uprights from 22 yards out for a field goal that boosted the BR lead to 24-0.
Union, which fell to 4-3 after dropping its second straight game and third in its last four, didn’t quit. The Farmers kept their composure and struck for two scores in the fourth quarter, the first on a run and the second on a pass.
Following BR’s first punt, Union began at its own 45 with six minutes remaining. On third-and-three, senior back Al-Tariq Jones – who was contained pretty much up until that point – burst through two holes and then down the left sideline for a 68-yard touchdown run. Senior quarterback Justin Beckett, who on Union’s previous possession completed a 41-yard pass, hit senior wide receiver Kevin Willis in the left corner of the end zone for two more points to make the score 24-8.
With seven seconds to go, Beckett got the ball to senior wide receiver Hansley Cenescar in the right corner of the end zone for Union’s second and final score. Then trying to run the ball in for two points, Beckett was pressured and had to run out of bounds short of the end zone.
NOTES: With its fourth road win, it also appears that repeat Delaware Division champion BR will be the top seed in North 2, Group 5 for the second consecutive season. The Panthers lost to second-seeded Westfield 10-7 in last year’s championship game at MetLife.
“Being 8-0 again is a testament to these kids,” Bray said. “After the kids we lost to graduation the focus became on them and they have taken it this far.”
Union is at Hunterdon Central next Friday night for its eighth and final playoff qualifying game, the Farmers seeking to make the grade in North 2, Group 5 for the second straight season. HC defeated visiting Watchung Hills 28-14 Friday night to improve to 5-3 with its third straight win. The Red Devils are situated in Central Jersey, Group 5 this season.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-NON DIVISION
B-RARITAN (8-0) 07 14 03 00 – 24
UNION (4-3) 00 00 00 14 – 14
B-RARITAN – David Usewick 6 pass from Nick Attanasio,
Justin Davidovicz kick (BR 7-0)
15 plays, 76 yards, 8:13 used
B-RARITAN – Ray Bellaran 1 run, Justin Davidovicz kick (BR 14-0)
11 plays, 75 yards, 5:27 used
B-RARITAN – David Usewick 3 run, Justin Davidovicz kick (BR 21-0)
9 plays, 58 yards, 3:57 used
B-RARITAN – FG Justin Davidovicz 22 (BR 24-0)
7 plays, from Union 42 to Union 5, 3:16 used
UNION – Al-Tariq Jones 48 run, Kevin Willis pass from Justin Beckett
3 plays, 55 yards, :26 used
UNION – Hansley Cenescar 8 pass from Justin Beckett, run failed
6 plays, 18 yards, :42 used
Possession came after punt was snapped over punter’s head.