HILLSIDE – The host Comets had to make the fourth quarter their own if they wanted to reach one of their goals.
Give Manasquan head coach Jay Price and his staff a ton of credit. The Warriors limited Hillside’s offense to just four plays in the third quarter.
Manasquan trailed the Comets by just four going into the fourth.
For three quarters a less-talented Warriors squad went toe-to-toe with the undefeated Comets as Manasquan continually – following its strategy – slowed the game down.
However, the Shore Conference squad – which captured the 2016 CJ, G2 title – was not good enough to accomplish what it set out to do for four quarters.
Top-seeded and defending champion Hillside scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter – the middle one a 48-yard interception return by senior Shadon Willis – and ended up scoring the game’s final 22 points en route to producing a convincing 36-10 triumph over second-seeded Manasquan in Saturday’s Central Jersey, Group 2 state championship game played at Hillside’s John Zappulla Field.
It was only the second state championship game played at Hillside and the first the Comets ever won there.
Hillside, now 11-0, repeat CJ, G2 state champions, and winners of a Union County-best 15 straight, will play in one of the first-ever Bowl Games the weekend of Nov. 30-Dec. 1 at MetLife Stadium. The Comets will face undefeated Haddonfield (11-0), the South Jersey, Group 2 state champion, for the Central-South, Group 2 state title.
Haddonfield defeated Camden, 23-12, in the South Jersey, Group 2 sectional final, and the West Jersey Football League member also hosts local rival Haddon Heights (2-7) this Thursday in their annual Thanksgiving Day clash before beginning preparations to face Hillside in a Bowl Game the following week.
Manasquan, now 8-2, will conclude its season on Thanksgiving at home against Wall.
Willis scored on offense and defense for Hillside, which is the only school from Union County to win a state championship in a Central Jersey section.
Hillside repeated as state champions for the first time and captured its third state title in the playoff era.
So how do you get to 11-0 and win a state championship?
“Hard work, team work and dedication,” said a jubilant, teary-eyed Willis moments after the game.
Willis on his 23-yard touchdown reception that extended Hillside’s lead to 12-3 in the second quarter (he broke a head tackle after the catch): “we do a lot of weight lifting and I should be able to shake off my man.”
Willis on his 48-yard interception return: “On fourth-and-one we figured they would throw there. We were in cover-2 and I saw the ball right away. I saw a clear track ahead of me and no way was anyone going to stop me.”
Manasquan running back Canyon Birch carried the ball 27 times for 86 yards.
Hillside senior running back Brian Ugwu carried the ball seven times for just eight yards until his last rushing attempt saw him break loose for a 79-yard touchdown run down the right sideline for the game’s final touchdown.
Ugwu’s touchdown came just one play after fellow senior teammate Nahree Biggins returned an interception exactly 100 yards down the left sideline. The interception counted, but Hillside was flagged for a holding penalty, so it was only good for a 21-yard return.
Hillside senior defensive end Aboubakar Diaby had a big sack for a 12-yard loss in the fourth quarter.
A crowd of just over 1,000 was announced, also in the fourth.
2018 CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 2
STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
2-Manasquan (8-2) 03 07 00 00 – 10
1-Hillside (11-0) 06 08 00 22 – 36
Manasquan – FG Luke Butkus 32 (M 3-0)
4 plays, from Hillside 19 to Hillside 15, 1:29 used
Manasquan capitalized on a turnover – a fumble recovery by No. 10
after Canyon Birch stripped Brian Ugwu of the ball.
Hillside – Gavin Melendez 2 run, kick failed (H 6-3)
5 plays, 45 yards, 1:48 used
Hillside – Shadon Willis 23 pass from Gavin Melendez, James Louis run
11 plays, 71 yards, 5:56 used
Manasquan – John Foreman 1 pass from No. 12, Luke Butkus kick
Hillside – Jahon Moore 8 run, kick failed (H 20-10)
6 plays, 68 yards, 2:35 used
Hillside – Shadon Willis 48 interception return, Jahon Moore run (H 28-10)
Hillside – Brian Ugwu 79 run, Boris Nicolas-Paul run (H 36-10)
1 play, 79 yards, :16 used
(All Manasquan names in this agate obtained from maxpreps roster.)