EAST RUTHERFORD – Adam McDaniel had to watch his teammates win a state championship last year as he missed the season with a broken collarbone.
Twelve months later he was as big a reason as any why the Westfield Blue Devils repeated as state champions.
McDaniel, a junior free safety on defense and wide receiver on offense, produced two interceptions in the first half, with his first one going 39 yards untouched for a touchdown.
The six points off that interception touchdown return stood up as Westfield’s defense, especially its most dominating front line, sparked the second-seeded Blue Devils past top-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan 15-13 in Saturday afternoon’s fifth annual North 2, Group 5 state championship game, played for the third straight year at MetLife Stadium.
Westfield finished 12-0 for the second straight season and extended the state’s present longest winning streak at 25.
BR finished 11-1 for the second straight season.
Westfield held on to defeat BR 10-7 in last year’s final at MetLife.
The Blue Devils never trailed in either game.
Westfield has now won four state championships in the playoff era and the Blue Devils are the first to repeat in North 2, Group 4 (1976 and 1977) and North 2, Group 5 (2015, 2016).
BR is now 0-2 in state championship games. The former Bridgewater-East was 2-0.
McDaniel’s pick-6 came with 1:47 left in the first half, putting Westfield ahead 15-7.
“I saw it coming,” said McDaniel, who also had a key interception in Westfield’s semifinal home playoff win over Union. “I jumped in, caught it and just saw green.”
“I can’t be prouder of Adam, who had to sit out all of last year,” Westfield head coach Jim DeSarno said.
Westfield limited BR to just 85 yards of total offense in the first half, 50 of them coming on a touchdown run in the second quarter by talented senior quarterback Nick Attanasio.
The Panthers pulled to within two when Attanasio, after scrambling away from Jake Dayon and Owen Kessler, found senior running back David Usewick open on the left side, with Usewick taking the ball down the left sideline for a 25-yard touchdown pass.
“We had to stop Attanasio and Usewick,” DeSarno said.
On the ensuing two-point conversion for the tie, Attanasio moved left and looked like he was headed for the end zone. However, junior middle linebacker Shea Elliott and senior cornerback Conor Scanlon were there to stop Attanasio and keep Westfield’s lead at 15-13.
“Our defense was just lights out,” DeSarno said. “It was just defense, defense, defense.
“You have two really good teams here and Bridgewater played their hearts out. Our offensive line also picked a good time to play their best game of the year.”
Westfield, throughout the game, had constant pressure on Attanasio. The Blue Devil defensive line of seniors Owen Kessler, Nicholas Maher, Jeffrey Gagum and Jake Vall-Llobera will go down as one of the best in Westfield history.
“The defensive line was our heart and soul,” said longtime Westfield defensive coordinator Ken Miller.
Westfield senior Mike Moriarty fought off an injury to kick a key 28-yard field goal for the only points of the first quarter.
Vall-Llobera scored Westfield’s only offensive touchdown on a fourth down, three-yard run in the second quarter.
“This is just amazing, repeating as state champs,” McDaniel said. “I’m coming back next year, so I want to do this one more time.”
FIRST QUARTER HIGHLIGHTS:
Philip Martini 29 run to BR 10.
Lawrence Nice sack for 6-yard loss.
Mike Moriarty 28 field goal – 3-0 Westfield.
Westfield defense causes and recovers fumble on last play.
Westfield holds BR to 4 yards of total offense.
SECOND QUARTER HIGHLIGHTS:
On fourth-and-1 from BR 3, Jake Vall-Llobera follows blockers right into end zone for game’s first touchdown. Extra point wide right, Westfield leads 9-0.
BR quarterback Nick Attanasio breaks free for 51-yard touchdown with 8:45 remaining. Westfield leads 9-7.
Justin Bryant fumble recovery after Nick Celli hit, gives BR ball
On own 32 with 2 minutes left.
Adam McDaniel returns an interception 39 yards left to give Westfield a 15-7 lead. McDaniel also had one of Westfield’s two interceptions in its semifinal win over Union.
Adam McDaniel again, in front of Ricky Tate, intercepts a pass, this time at Westfield 2-yard line.
Westfield 15-7 at the half.
The first half took 52 minutes.
NORTH 2, GROUP 5 FINAL AT METLIFE STADIUM
2-WESTFIELD (12-0) 03 12 00 00 – 15
1-B-RARITAN (11-1) 00 07 00 06 – 13
WESTFIELD – FG Mike Moriarty 28 (W 3-0)
12 plays, from own 22 to BR 11, 6:24 used
WESTFIELD – Jake Vall-Llobera 3 run, kick failed (W 9-0)
4 plays, 12 yards, 1:34 used
Westfield capitalized on a turnover – defense forced and recovered fumble.
B-RARITAN – Nick Attanasio 50 run, Justin Davidovicz kick (W 9-7)
4 plays, 63 yards, 1:30 used
WESTFIELD – Adam McDaniel 39 interception return,
kick failed (W 15-7)
B-RARITAN – David Usewick 25 pass from Nick Attanasio,
run failed (W 15-13)
13 plays, 80 yards, 6:17 used
NORTH 2, GROUP 5 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES:
2016: Westfield 15, Bridgewater-Raritan 13 – at MetLife
2015: Westfield 10, Bridgewater-Raritan 7 – at MetLife
2014: Linden 27, Elizabeth 20 – at MetLife
2013: Ridge 48, Union 13 – at Rutgers
2012: Elizabeth 37, Piscataway 33 – at Kean