squeaks by Metuchen
BY SHAWN LAYTON
METUCHEN — The high school football team hosted the Dunellen Destroyers in a Saturday matchup of 1-4 teams.
As their records indicate, the Bulldogs and Destroyers were evenly matched and left the outcome hanging in the balance until the final whistle.
Unfortunately for Metuchen, the absence of its leading rusher, junior Stephon Cooper, would prove too difficult to overcome as the Bulldogs fell to Dunellen, 26-21. Cooper is one of Middlesex County’s leading rushers this season with 811 yards and was out of the lineup due to a broken jaw he suffered in the previous week’s contest against Spotswood.
With his star running back watching the action from the sidelines, Bulldogs coach Bob Ulmer called upon two freshman backs to rise to the challenge. In his first varsity start, Justin Smoot gave the Metuchen faithful much to cheer about with his 83 yards on 15 carries. Teammate Jon Brown picked up 20 yards on five carries.
"I wasn’t asking my freshman running backs to be saviors for us today," Ulmer said. "We have a lot of young kids on this team and we have had to overcome some key injuries this season. Dunellen is a good team, and don’t be fooled by their record. They are on a roll and they have played all the big guns in the conference."
In front of an enthusiastic crowd on "Senior Day," it was another underclassman who kept the Bulldogs fighting the Destroyers on every play. Junior quarterback Marcus Farris led all players in total yards with 104 on the ground and 135 in the air. Farris also snatched an interception from his defensive back position.
"We played tough but we didn’t get any breaks. We needed to convert more third-down plays and take better care of the ball," Farris said.
"Marcus is a great player to coach," Ulmer said. "He plays with his heart and soul, and he is one of the true leaders on this team."
Despite a worthy effort from his backfield, Ulmer’s Bulldogs would prove to be their own worst enemy. The Dunellen Destroyers’ offense proved to be a well-balanced attack, with running back Keon Campbell leading the way with 126 yards on 18 carries, but the Bulldogs surpassed the opponent in total yards. It was missed opportunities and a big special team play that caused the loss.
In the closing seconds of the first half, Metuchen failed to put points on the board when it turned the ball over inside the Destroyers’ 5-yard line. Instead of going into the locker room deadlocked at 14, the Bulldogs trailed the Destroyers by a touchdown.
At the start of the second half, coach Ulmer’s defensive adjustments paid immediate dividends when the Destroyers turned the ball over on each of their first two possessions. The second turnover resulted in a 40-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Bulldogs’ senior linebacker Brett Augustine. Augustine’s score was the equalizer with 2:23 in the third quarter. However, the ensuing kickoff resulted in a 90-yard return by Dunellen’s Matt Byrnes.
Metuchen ignited the crowd again with another first and goal opportunity in the fourth quarter, but walked away without a score, trailing 20-14. Dunellen quarterback Matt Ferreri tacked on six more with a 39-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
By the time the Bulldogs put more points on the scoreboard, the 26-21 deficit proved too much to overcome.
"I am proud of my guys and their effort today," Ulmer said. "They never gave up and that is all I can ask of them."
Metuchen will look to get win No. 2 on Saturday when it takes on a strong South River squad coming off a 36-132 win over Middlesex. Game time is 1 p.m. in South River.
The Bishop Ahr Trojans, Edison, lost a defensive battle to East Brunswick Friday, 7-2, to fall to 0-5. The Trojans got their only points of the night in the fourth quarter when East Brunswick was called for intentional grounding in its own end zone. Other than that, the Trojans had their shot in the third quarter when they has a first-and-goal from the Bears’ 5-yard line. The Bear defense rose to the occasion and stopped Bishop Ahr on the ensuing four plays to preserve the win.
Bishop Ahr will look for its first win on Friday when it travels to Staten Island, N.Y., to take on St. Joseph’s. Game time is 7 p.m.
The Edison Eagles will be back in action Friday when they travel to Piscataway to take on a Chiefs team that is still smarting from its 17-14 overtime loss to Woodbridge Friday. That loss snapped a 16-game winning streak for Piscataway. Game time is 7 p.m.
The J.P. Stevens Hawks will look to get to 5-1 against an Old Bridge team coming off a 40-7 win over Perth Amboy.