LINDEN – Although Linden sported a two-touchdown lead heading into the second half against visiting Plainfield, the Tigers were coming off two quarters of not-so-crisp football.They still needed a spark to get them going.
Just four plays into the third quarter Linden produced such a momentum swing.
Back to punt from inside his own end zone on a fourth-and-nine from the Plainfield nine, first-year punter Moneta-Kai Price – who played drums in the band last year – did his best to get his second punt off.
However, just moments after the Linden coaches were challenging their defensive players by shouting, “go get it, go get it,” junior linebacker Khalil Burns did just that by bursting through the line and was there to block Price’s punt.
Burns can now say that there was at least one time that he listened to what the coaches told him to do.
As an added bonus, the ball bounced straight back into Burns’ chest as he had no choice but to catch the ball and then run one yard into the end zone for six points.
It was a play – with the ball taking a favorable bounce – that electrified the Linden fans and rejuvenated a Tiger squad that fumbled the ball four times in the first half and lost two of them.
“I knew I had to make a play there,” said Burns of his first blocked punt and first touchdown off one. “I was trying to block it all the way. It bounced in the air and I picked it up and scored.”
That play might have been the one that deflated any hopes Plainfield had for coming back and posting its first win in nearly two years.
Instead, Linden went on to score two more touchdowns in the third quarter en route to a decisive 34-0 triumph in Saturday afternoon’s Mid-State 38 Conference-Watchung Division game at Cooper Field.
Linden, with aspirations of qualifying for the North 2, Group 5 playoffs, improved to 1-1 overall and 1-1 in the Watchung Division. Plainfield, which has now lost 11 straight including last year’s 0-9 finish, fell to 0-2 overall and 0-2 in the Watchung. The Cardinals have yet to score a point this season.
“We wanted to pin them back right away once the second half started,” Linden head coach Deon Candia said. “Our coaches wanted the kids to put the pressure on and it was a good call.”
Burns also had one of four Linden sacks, with senior linebacker Sha-QuanChampagne producing two of the other three.
“Khalil is a long kid (6-0, 190), with long arms,” Candia said. “It was just a question of his confidence to go get it. It definitely got us going.”
Linden scored on its first possession to take the lead for good, with senior quarterback Dazzmen Johnson capping a six-play, 55-yard drive by scoring from two yards out.
Following a fumble recovery by senior defensive lineman Wesley Clervoyant, Linden went ahead 13-0 after Johnson tossed a 20-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Tykir West right before the end zone.
On Linden’s first touchdown drive, Johnson threw what turned out to be a 40-yard completion to junior wide receiver Corey Ampey, who made a nice, two-handed catch over the middle and then reached the Plainfield nine for first-and-goal.
However, Johnson lost two fumbles in the first half – he was stripped once and then dropped the ball another time – and then lost another one in the second.
Johnson carried 11 times for 31 yards and completed 7-of-11 passes for 75 yards.
“We did not play good football last week (20-7 home loss to North Hunterdon) and we still made a lot of mistakes today,” Candia said. “We did make progress as far as our effort being good and out mentality being a lot better.”
Standout junior running back Juwan Dolbrice scored the game’s final two touchdowns, the first on a 26-yard run where he found a hole in the middle and then ran down the right sideline.
Four plays later, Dolbrice fielded a punt at his own 40, immediately broke a tackle and then reversed field, finding room on the right side to reach the end zone once again.
Dolbrice carried five times for 61 yards, his first four attempts coming in the first half.
“We came out focused and were much more disciplined,” Burns said.
For Plainfield, senior running back Steve Jones led all rushers with 104 yards on 20 carries.
Linden will now prepare for a big Watchung Division game at Ridge next Friday night. Ridge, also situated in North 2, Group 5, leads the division at 2-0 after whipping Montgomery 55-14 at home last week and winning at Immaculata 31-7 Friday night.
NOTES: This was Linden’s first shutout since winning at Plainfield 31-0 on Nov. 5, 2011. It was Linden’s first home shutout since blanking Warren Hills 35-0 on Oct. 1, 2011.
Linden junior running back Kyle Phipps had a 95-yard touchdown run called back in the fourth quarter because of a holding penalty.
Linden senior linebacker Izaia Bullock intercepted a pass in the second half.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION GAME
PLAINFIELD (0-2, 0-2) 0 0 0 0 – 0
LINDEN (1-1, 1-1) 13 0 21 0 – 34
LINDEN – Dazzmen Johnson 2 run, Corey Ampey kick (L 7-0)
6 plays, 55 yards, 3:19 used
LINDEN – Tykir West 20 pass from Dazzmen Johnson, kick failed (L 13-0)
3 plays, 32 yards, 1:09 used
Linden capitalized on a turnover – a fumble recovery by Wesley Clervoyant
LINDEN – Khalil Burns blocks punt, recovers at the 1 and runs into end zone, Corey Ampey kick (L 20-0)
LINDEN – Juwan Dolbrice 26 run, Corey Ampey kick (L 27-0)
4 plays, 40 yards, 2:25 used
LINDEN – Juwan Dolbrice 60 punt return, Corey Ampey kick (L 34-0)
SATURDAY’S UNION COUNTY SCOREBOARD:
Linden 34, Plainfield 0 – at Linden
Hillside 28, Scotch Plains 24 – at Scotch Plains
Rahway 26, Delaware Valley 6 – at Rahway
Westfield 29, Hillsborough 8 – at Westfield
FRIDAY NIGHT’S UNION COUNTY SCOREBOARD:
Union 33, Elizabeth 14 – at Union
Brearley 33, Bernards 13 – at Brearley
Cranford 20, Somerville 14 – at Cranford
Dayton 55, Bound Brook 28 – at Dayton
New Providence 34, Belvidere 7 – at Belvidere
Voorhees 31, Gov. Livingston 14 – at Voorhees
Roselle Park 61, Manville 13 – at Roselle Park
Summit 48, Johnson 23 – at Johnson
North Plainfield 19, Roselle 0 – at North Plainfield