Bears fall to Mustangs in state playoff opener


East Brunswick High School football coach Marcus Borden wasn’t at a loss for words when it came to explaining why his team let a 7-0 lead evaporate into a 35- 7 loss to Brick Memorial on Friday night.

He had plenty to say about the major reason for the defeat in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs. And it centered around penalties — lots of them. But one in particular caused the most damage, enabling the home team Mustangs to forge into the lead with nine minutes left in the game.

The play was a roughing the kicker call on East Brunswick when Brick Memorial was forced to punt from its own territory after the Bear defense had stopped the Mustangs. What appeared to be running into the kicker, which would have penalized East Brunswick five yards and still fourth down, was judged roughing. The Bears were penalized 15 yards, and Brick Memorial found itself with a first down inside East Brunswick territory. The Mustangs capitalized on their good fortune by driving to the end zone for the touchdown that would nail down the game.

With the lead, Brick Memorial’s defense ramped up the pressure on East Brunswick quarterback Mike Cia, turning an errant snap into a fumble recovery that was returned for a touchdown. Then, forced to play catch-up, Cia opened up the offense by passing, something he did infrequently this year, and ended up throwing two interceptions that led to scores.

With the scored tied 7-7 after a spirited first half, East Brunswick failed to take advantage of field position twice early in the third quarter.

“For some reason,” said Borden, “we lost our composure then and didn’t execute like we had earlier. Plus, we had penalties at the wrong times. That cost us opportunities to put points on the board.”

East Brunswick’s lone score came on the opening drive when Jared Lynch (12 carries, 128 yards) crashed through the left tackle and veered right into the open field for a 57-yard touchdown that gave them a 7-0 lead. Brick Memorial did not respond until less than four minutes remained in the first half, when the Mustangs capitalized on an 85-yard drive that resulted in the score that knotted the game.

The defeat ended the Bears’ chances of defending their sectional crown, and brought their record to 5-4 with traditional Thanksgiving Day rival Old Bridge remaining.

“I gave our staff off until Tuesday,” Borden said. “As for me, I’m always working to improve the program. Our focus will now be on ending the regular season on a high note against a traditional rival.”

South River High School’s attempt at reversing the regular-season result (34-7) against Dunellen proved futile as the Rams were shut out, 40-0, in the Central Jersey Group I opening round on Saturday. The loss ends the season for South River, which finishes at 5-5.

In state playoff consolation games involving area teams, Monroe elevated its record to 5-4 with a win at Marlboro, 37-13, and concludes the season with a visit to Bishop Ahr (5- 4) on Thanksgiving Eve.

Spotswood’s season ended with a 35-0 defeat at Raritan. The Chargers finished at 6-4.