LINDEN, NJ — Linden High School’s football team beat Elizabeth High School for the first time since 2019.
The Tigers then beat Rahway High School for the first time since 2009.
As a result, Linden is now 2-0 for the first time since 2021. However, that 2021 squad went 3-0 and then never won again, finishing 3-6.
This Tiger team has no interest in repeating that kind of history.
Linden would prefer to go on the kind of run that led to its last state championship nine years ago. The 2014 team was 7-0 before it lost and then went on to capture North 2, Group 5 for the first time, with a final mark of 10-2.
Challenge No. 3 is Friday night, Sept. 8, at Woodbridge High School (1-1), which will be the first Big Central Conference-Liberty Gold Division game for both.
Woodbridge has scored 64 points in its first two games, including its 46-36 setback at Summit High School on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 2.
“From what I saw, both Woodbridge and Summit have their offenses rolling right now,” said Al Chiola, who was an assistant coach on the 2014 state championship squad led by head coach Deon Candia and has been the head coach since 2015. “Woodbridge has talent all over the field, starting with quarterback Derek Anderson.”
Speaking of signal-callers, Linden has one of the top seniors in the state behind center in three-year performer Tequan Thomas. So far, in his first two games, Thomas has completed 13-of-16 passes for 90 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions and has rushed for 394 yards on 34 carries, including five touchdowns.
“Amazing is the word I start off with when talking about Tequan,” Chiola said. “He’s electric with the ball in his hands.
“He’s tough to defend, especially with the other weapons we have around him, and he’s lethal in open space.”
Linden capitalized on a bad Rahway punt in its Cooper Field opener on Friday, Sept. 1, against Rahway, resulting in Jordan Austin scoring from five yards out.
A pick-6 interception return by Messiah Findley gave Linden a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter.
After Rahway tied the game with two Andrew Avent touchdown runs in the second quarter, Thomas then found the end zone for the Tigers, right before halftime, to give them what would be the lead for good.
Down 21-14 at intermission, Rahway pulled to within four points at 21-17 on an Anthony Lopez 26-yard, third quarter field goal.
Thomas then found the end zone again in the third quarter, this time on a 69-yard run, to put Linden up 28-17. Lopez kicked a 28-yard field goal in the fourth quarter for the game’s final points and the final score of 28-20.
Linden’s defense, sparked by the play of senior linebacker Myles Hamilton, prevented Rahway from scoring a touchdown the entire second half.
“Rahway kept coming back, so I challenged Myles a bit at halftime,” Chiola said. “I wanted him to bring it a little more in the second half.”
Linden has now won four straight games, including last year’s final two against Barringer and Bergenfield high schools that resulted in the Tigers capturing the first North, Group 4 Regional Invitational Tournament championship.
Linden’s first two losses in last year’s 5-5 season were at Rahway High School, 21-20, in its season-opener and then at Colonia High School, two games later, by the score of 28-25.
“Part of the problem last year was that we had a young team and there were times we didn’t get over the hump, didn’t finish games,” Chiola said. “We’ve been in two dogfights so far and, early on, the kids are responding.”
Linden is Union County’s only 2-0 squad and is the only team in the BCC’s Liberty Gold Division that is 2-0 overall.
“When we get all of our kids to do the jobs they are supposed to do, we see positive results,” Chiola said.
Against Rahway, Semaj Irving had three receptions for 17 yards and Hamilton two for 25 for the Tigers. Trevor Delapara paced Linden with six solo tackles and nine assists for 15 total.
“Tequan leads our offense and Myles our defense, but when our supporting casts around them succeed, then we know we have something,” Chiola said.
Linden’s first victory last year was a 31-0 triumph at home against Woodbridge High School. The Barrons went 4-6 last year and only scored 13 points or less four times.
This year’s squad has already shown tremendous strides, as far as its offensive production has gone.
“We know that we’ll have our hands full against Woodbridge,” Chiola said.
Photo by JR Parachini