UNION – The Union football team defeated Linden 14-7 in overtime in Friday night season-opening Mid-State 36 Conference-Watchung Division action at Cooke Memorial Field.
Linden scored first in the second quarter and then Union tied the game with 49 seconds left.
Union had the ball first in overtime and took the lead on a running play, its third snap from scrimmage.
Linden was then thwarted on fourth-and-27 when a completed pass to the left side fell way short of the end zone.
Union (1-0) will host Elizabeth (1-0) next Friday night. Elizabeth also won by a touchdown in its season-opener at home Friday night, downing Bridgewater-Raritan 35-28.
Linden (0-1) will host Westfield (0-0) next Friday night. It will be Westfield’s first game. Westfield has a state-leading 37-game winning streak.
Westfield’s last loss came at Linden in the 2014 North 2, Group 5 semifinals.
Linden scored on its third possession, driving 66 yards in 10 plays. Junior quarterback Zion Marshall capped the possession by scoring on a six-yard run on the right side. That gave him 30 yards rushing on five carries at the time. Marshall finished with 56 on 13. Rafael Martinez kicked the extra point.
Union’s first possession of the second half ended when the Farmers fumbled the ball away at the Linden nine.
In the fourth quarter on third-and-eight from its own 46, Marshall was tackled for a one-yard loss, prompting Union to call its second timeout to stop the clock with 2:22 to go. Linden got off a good punt that was downed at the Union 12.
The Farmers needed to go 88 yards with just 2:12 left and one timeout remaining.
Returning junior quarterback Andrew Sanborn made it happen. Before Union’s final fourth quarter possession Sanborn completed seven of 16 passes for 80 yards.
On the game-tying drive Sanborn completed four of five passes for 66 yards and had an important run that was impacted with a Linden penalty.
Here’s the drive: on first and 10 from the Union 12 Sanborn completed a pass to junior wide receiver Ahmirr Robinson on the left that got the ball to the 30. After an illegal procedure call against Union pushed the Farmers back five yards, Sanborn hit Robinson again over the middle, this time for 16 yards to the 41 and a first down. Sanborn’s next pass was incomplete, his final incompletion of the game, which stopped the clock.
On second-and-10 from his own 41, Sanborn got out of the pocket and ran to the right side toward the Union sideline. Not only did Sanborn get out of bounds and pick up a few yards along the way, he was hit late by a Linden player. That gave Union 15 more yards and an automatic first down on the Linden 39 with 1:35 remaining. Union still had its one timeout.
Sanborn then connected with Robinson again, good for a seven-yard completion to the Linden 32. Moving the offense forward quickly and saving the team’s final timeout, Sanborn then threw a pass high over the middle to senior wide receiver Isaiah Stewart, who jumped up and with both hands came down with the reception in front of double coverage. That gave Union a first down at the Linden 11.
That was Stewart’s first reception as a Union Farmer after he transferred from Scotch Plains. Stewart was the second-leading receiver in the state last season.
It was announced during the game that his father Tony won the 50-50 raffle.
Sanborn then went back to pass again on the next play and threw the ball to the left side at the three, seeking to complete a pass against single coverage. The pass then deflected off, what looked like, both the Union receiver and the Linden player covering him.
The ball then popped up in the air and then fell into the arms of Union sophomore wide receiver Jalen Carter, who was all alone in the end zone to make the dramatic touchdown grab. Carter was simply in the right place at the right time.
Last year Union lost three straight games by one point. That was not to be the case Friday night as first-year placekicker Ricardo Casas, a junior, was perfect with the game-tying extra point.
“The Union Drive” – as I will call it – covered 88 yards in seven plays and took 1:23. The Farmers never had to use their final timeout, thanks to the smooth and highly-effective play of Sanborn, who was clutch big-time – along with his receivers – under pressure.
Linden got the ball back with just over 40 seconds to go and one carry by senior running back BJ George was stuffed for only a one-yard gain. George finished regulation with 49 yards on 26 attempts.
Overtime was next.
Union got the ball first and this time moved forward with a running attack up the middle that saw senior running back Justin Peterman gain 20 yards, four more on his next carry to the one and then fellow senior running back Michel Lucien taking it into the end zone to give Union its first lead. Casas again came through with a solid extra point to make the score 14-7 in favor of the Farmers.
When Linden got the ball George was held for no gain on first down. Then after an illegal procedure call against the Tigers this time, George bounced back to gain 10 yards to the Union 20. George was then stopped for a seven-yard loss by Union junior defensive end Sean Simmons and senior defensive back Jacqu’e Cook. On fourth-and-12 from the Union 27, Marshall completed a pass to the left side, but Union was quick to swarm to the receiver that caught it and brought him down to clinch a very satisfying comeback victory.
Union defeated Linden for the third straight year and now leads the series 39-32-5.
Sanborn completed 11of-21 passes for 146 yards and one touchdown. He did not throw an interception and showed great poise in leading Union down the field for the tying touchdown.
Coming up with fumble recoveries for the Farmers in the first half were Simmons and Cook.
Producing two solid solo tackles for losses in the first half for Linden was junior defensive end Dami Awoyinfa.