EAST RUTHERFORD – Reuben Pillai touched the ball just three times in the first half.
Granted one of those times was good for a 60-yard run that set up Ridgewood’s second score.
At intermission the senior running back was sitting at three carries for 70 yards. His team was trailing by 12.
His best was yet to come.
Pillai rushed for 111 yards on just 10 carries in the second half and scored two touchdowns, including the game-winner with just 28 seconds remaining.
He got through the line of scrimmage and then put the moves on a Union defense that simply ran out of gas.
Pillai’s monster second half performance helped propel repeat North 1, Group 5 state champion Ridgewood past first-time North 2, Group 5 state champ Union 41-37 in Friday night’s wild, back-and-forth North, Group 5 Regional Championship Game at MetLife Stadium.
There were five lead changes, all of them taking place in the fourth quarter: three go-ahead scores by Ridgewood and two by Union.
Ridgewood, which finished 10-2 and won the game for injured, not in attendance head coach Chuck Johnson, lost to Piscataway 31-21 in last year’s inaugural North, Group 5 Regional Championship Game at MetLife.
Union has never won a game at MetLife and last won a playoff game at Giants Stadium way back in 1981. The Farmers, who never trailed in any of their three sectional playoff victories en route to their first state championship in 26 years, concluded one of the most successful seasons in program history at 12-1.
Union produced one of the best spread offenses to step on a field in New Jersey. The Farmers scored six touchdowns Friday night. However, it wasn’t enough.
That’s because Ridgewood also scored six touchdowns, but fared better on its extra points.
The 41 points the Maroons scored was the most they put on a scoreboard this year. It was also the most points the Farmers yielded.
Ridgewood won the turnover battle 3-0, all of Union’s mistakes coming in the second half. There were lost fumbles that halted Union’s first two drives of the second half and then an interception on the final play of the game.
Union senior quarterback Andrew Sanborn was precision passing at his best right down to the final moments of his last high school game. Twice Sanborn drove Union the length of the field to give the Farmers back the lead, the second and last time with less than three minutes to go.
Sanborn completed 25-of-39 passes for 365 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He surpassed 7,000 career passing yards, becoming one of only a handful of quarterbacks in state history to do so.
NOTES: Pillai finished with 181 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns.
Ridgewood senior quarterback Liam Tarleton rushed for 51 yards on five carries in the first half and two scores. He ran in for the first three Maroon touchdowns.
Union junior Desmond Igbinosun dazzled with a 50-yard touchdown run for Union’s second score. On defense he also had several bone-rattling hits. Expect to see him ranked as high as one of the top 10 seniors in the state for 2020.
Union senior defensive lineman JaQuan Robinson led a charge of preventing Ridgewood from taking the lead early in the second quarter. His first hit helped the Farmers stuff a fourth down Maroon running play at the Union 5. The Farmers then went all the way down the field to score to take their first two-touchdown lead.
NORTH, GROUP 5 REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
N1-Ridgewood (10-2) 06 07 06 22 – 41
N2-Union (12-1) 06 19 00 12 – 37
Union – Jalen Carter 23 pass from Andrew Sanborn, kick failed (U 6-0)
11 plays, 80 yards, 4:28 used
Union scores on the game’s first possession. Jack Wittmaack blocks extra point.
Ridgewood won coin toss and deferred to second half.
Ridgewood – Liam Tarleton 41 run, kick failed (6-6)
9 plays, 70 yards, 4:53 used
Ridgewood answers by scoring on its first possession. Kayir McBride blocks extra point.
Union – Desmond Igbinosun 50 run, Ricardo Casas kick (U 13-6)
7 plays, 95 yards, 2:54 used
Union – Elijah White 68 pass from Andrew Sanborn, kick failed (U 19-6)
3 plays, 71 yards, :59 used
Ridgewood – Liam Tarleton 1 run, Ryan Chmiel kick (U 19-13)
4 plays, 66 yards, 1:58 used
Union – Kayir McBride 5 pass from Andrew Sanborn, pass failed (U 25-13)
10 plays, 70 yards, 1:28 used
Union scores the final points of the first half with just nine seconds remaining in the second quarter. John Kearney intercepts two-point pass.
Ridgewood – Liam Tarleton 9 run, pass failed (U 25-19)
7 plays, 66 yards, 2:51 used
Ridgewood scores on its first possession of the second half after receiving the third quarter kickoff. Jared Durand intercepted the two-point pass.
Ridgewood – Reuben Pillai 5 run, Ryan Chmiel kick (R 26-25)
6 plays, 81 yards, 1:50 used
Ridgewood capitalizes on a turnover – a Union fumble. Jack Wittmaack hit Christian Murrell and Harrison Roberts recovered the fumble. This was the second turnover of the game. The first was Union losing a fumble on a bad quarterback-running back exchange, with Ridgewood’s Andrew Messineo recovering. Ridgewood did not score afterwards, with Kayir McBride hitting Reuben Pillai in the left corner of the end zone to knock the ball out of his hands on an attempted touchdown reception. The play came on fourth-and-15 from the Union 19 on Ridgewood’s second possession of the second half.
Union – Christian Murrell 2 run, pass failed (U 31-26)
8 plays, 59 yards, 2:53 used
Ridgewood – Sean Emmanuel 1 run, Liam Tarleton pass to Reuben Pillai (R 34-31)
5 plays, 70 yards, 1:34 used
Union – Elijah White 11 pass from Andrew Sanborn, kick failed (U 37-34)
9 plays, 70 yards, 4:10 used
There was 2:26 remaining when Sanborn for the second time drove Union down
the field to give the Farmers back the lead after they trailed.
Ridgewood – Reuben Pillai 5 run, Ryan Chmiel kick (R 41-37)
5 plays, 73 yards, 1:52 used
There was 28 seconds left when Ridgewood scored the winning touchdown.
The game ended when on third-and-10 from his own 40 with just 13 seconds remaining Sanborn threw deep over the middle and was intercepted by Tom Bourque.