Linden football thwarted by last-minute field goal in home-opener; Watchung Hills moves to 3-0 for first time since 2013

Tigers sparked by Marshall passing, San-Clemente running

LINDEN – With just over seven minutes to go Linden sophomore Steeve Dorvil protected his team’s one-point lead by blocking a critical extra point.
“I hit it a little low,” Watchung Hills junior placekicker Spencer Ostroff said of the kick. “There was not enough air. I put that on me.”
“That was not on him,” fourth-year Watchung Hills head coach Rich Seubert said. “We got pushed in the middle.”
As fate would have it, Ostroff was afforded redemption.
On fourth-and-eight from the Linden 12 with just over a minute to go and the visiting Warriors still trailing by one, Seubert sent Ostroff out to attempt a 29-yard field goal. Ostroff, who became the team’s kicker last year, made a 34-yarder a year ago and connected on a 32-yard FG earlier this year.
Senior long snapper Brian Hayward (No. 16) delivered the ball perfectly to holder Shane Kelly (No. 14). All Ostroff had to do was get a strong leg on the kick and send it through.
That he did.
Ostroff’s kick not only split the uprights, but went through with plenty of room to spare.
“I was nervous, but I really wanted to make it for the team,” Ostroff said. “I was practicing on the sideline when we had the ball. I knew I hit a good ball.”
“We have all the faith in the world in Spencer,” Seubert said. “We’ve been blessed with good kickers here at Watchung Hills.”
Linden advanced to the Warren Hills 48 in the waning seconds before an incomplete pass on fourth down clinched another Warriors victory at the expense of Linden’s home-opener.
Watchung Hills came back from four deficits to defeat Linden 23-21 Friday night in Mid-State Conference-Watchung Division action at Cooper Field.
The Warriors, who have not had a winning season since 2012 and last year went 0-10, improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2013. Watchung Hills also moved to 2-0 in Watchung Division play.
Linden fell to 0-3 for the first time in a while and is now 0-2 in the Watchung Division. The Tigers have now lost five straight including a season-ending two-game losing streak last year.
Held to just 14 points and one offensive touchdown in its first two games, this time Linden’s offense reached the end zone three times, including a short run by Nashawn Holmes after a 62-yard jaunt by senior running back Christian San-Clemente and touchdown passes by senior quarterback Zion Marshall to Caleb Davis and Jaden Pierre.
Linden led 7-0, 14-8, 21-14 and 21-20, but Watchung Hills found ways to answer, not an easy task at all, especially on the road.
The second Watchung Hills touchdown came on a blocked punt by senior Alex Strehle, with Ryan Wolf returning the ball two yards for six points. Ostroff’s first extra point attempt went wide right, with the score at the time remaining 14-14.
Ostroff did not get to kick an extra point after his team’s first touchdown. Instead, a pass for two points was completed with holder Kelly throwing to the back of the end zone to John Bechtle to give the Warriors an 8-7 edge.
Leading the Watchung Hills offense was tall and lanky (6-5, 200) junior quarterback Chad Martini. He mixed it up pretty well with his receivers, completing 11 of 19 passes for 149 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Junior wide receiver Justin Drews (No. 84) caught five of his passes for 78 yards as he was able to get open near the sideline.
Senior wide receiver Terryn Stephens caught four passes for 57 yards, including one over the middle, just inside the end zone, for an 18-yard touchdown.
“They moved the chains with some really good receivers and their quarterback is outstanding,” Linden head coach Al Chiola said.
“Our line is back and we ran the ball well the past two weeks,” Seubert said. “Looking at Linden we figured we had to play catch tonight.
“For us, No. 15 (Martini) is calm, cool and collected.”
Marshall completed eight of 16 passes for 114 yards and two TDs.
Watchung Hills senior running back Jack Taub carried the ball 24 times for an even 100 yards, including one score. Fellow senior RB Michael Butrico carried nine times for 31 yards.
San-Clemente rushed for 106 yards on 11 attempts, including 89 on eight in the first half. Marshall carried three times for 23 yards by intermission.
“We blocked an extra point, but they made the field goal,” Chiola said. “It was hit solid. The kid made a play.
“Things went right for them. Good things are happening for them right now and not for us.”
Linden will remain at home for another Watchung Division clash against Elizabeth next Friday night. The Minutemen (0-2, 0-1)) are scheduled to play at Plainfield (1-1, 0-1) Saturday.
“I was happy with our effort and we got our offense untracked,” Chiola said. “We did minimize our mistakes, although we still did make a few. We have to continue to fight through this and get ready for Elizabeth.”
NOTES: The play before Marshall’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Pierre, Holmes broke free for a 63-yard touchdown run that was called back because of a holding penalty.
Onn Linden’s fourth possession of the first half, Marshall scampered down the left sideline for a 57-yard score that was negated because of holding. Linden still scored on the drive, with Marshall throwing a 16-yard touchdown pass to Davis.
On the 15th play of the first Watchung Hills possession Davis beat his man to the ball and intercepted Martini at the Linden 20. Two plays later the Tigers lost a fumble after a pass reception. Linden argued the pass should have been ruled incomplete.
Dorvil ended the first half with a sack of Martini at midfield.

Watchung Hills (3-0, 2-0) 00 08 06 09 – 23
Linden (0-3, 0-2) 00 14 00 07 – 21

Linden – Nashawn Holmes 3 run, Rafael Martinez kick (L 7-0)
4 plays, 69 yards, 2:06 used
Watchung Hills – Jack Taub 24 run, John Bechtle pass from Shane Kelly
(WH 8-7)
8 plays, 69 yards, 2:34 used
Linden – Caleb Davis 16 pass from Zion Marshall, Rafael Martinez kick
(L 14-8)
9 plays, 65 yards, 5:30 used

Watchung Hills – Ryan Wolf 2 return after blocked punt by Alex Strehle,
kick failed (14-14)

Linden – Jaden Pierre 54 pass from Zion Marshall, Rafael Martinez kick
(L 21-14)
2 plays 63 yards, :23 used
Watchung Hills – Terryn Stephens 18 pass from Chad Martini, kick failed
(L 21-20)
9 plays, 71 yards, 3:22 used

Watchung Hills – FG Spencer Ostroff 29 (WH 23-21)
9 plays, from the Watchung Hills 49 to the Linden 12, 4:32 used