It was a a bitterly cold night that awaited long time rivals Ridge and Bridgewater-Rartian high schools for their first round state playoff game Friday night at Ridge High School.
The seventh-seeded Panthers roared back from a 14-point deficit to post a 23-22 win over No. 2 Ridge and advance to the North Jersey Section 2, Group 5 semifinals against third-seeded Piscataway, which beat Watchung Hills Friday night.1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT FINAL Bridgewater (5-5) 2 0 14 0 7 23 Ridge (7-2) 6 7 3 0 6 22
Trailing 16-2 in the third quarter, Bridgewater-Raritan scored a pair of touchdowns in the final five minutes of the quarter to tie the game at 16 heading into the fourth.
A scoreless fourth sent the game into overtime.
Ridge got the first opportunity in overtime and quarterback Hughes called his own number bumping and bruising his way into the end zone. His extra point attempt went missed, however, leaving the door open for Bridgewater.
Bridgewater quarterback Donny Stires kept looking for his 6-foot-4 target Tommy Goodberlet and found him near the 11-yard line for a first down. And Stires looked for Goodberlet again, whose catch brought another first down and landed the ball inside the 1-yard line. The call went to Bridgewater's Mike Pellella, who flew over the top of the the line and into the end zone. Panther kicker Anthony Balliro split the uprights to lift Bridgewater.
"From watching film all week, and we have played Ridge in the past, they are a familiar team," Stires said. "We knew that we had a chance. We studied their offense, we had a great week of practice, the scout offense and defense ran well. We went down early 13-2, but we knew we had it and we took the 'W.'"
Bridgewater started the game on rocky ground when it turned over a fumble on its first play from scrimage. Conor Hughes turned that into a touchdown for Ridge. Hughes would miss the extra point. Late in the quarter, the Panthers—led by Ryan Moran and Jonathan Capra—sacked Hughes on successive downs and recorded a safety.
In the second quarter, Evan Skea ran a touchdown for Ridge and, following the extra point, the score gave Ridge a comfortable 13-2 lead at the half.
It looked like the luck was going to the home team when Hughes connected on a field goal that hit off the inside of the left upright.
But the tide turned in the last five minutes of the third quarter.
Bridgewater staged a comeback when Stires put up a pass to Tommy Goodberlet that went 50 yards for a touchdown. Just three minutes later, Skea was stripped of the ball and Panther Chris Carter scooped it up and ran in for a score.
The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth battle with no neither team able to lock down a win, sending the game into overtime.
"We knew they were a good team. They are a bigger school than us, they always have good players. And Scott (Bray) always does a great job with his coaching staff. We knew it would be a good game," Ridge coach Bill Tracy said.
It is a shame it ended like this. They really are an amazing group of guys. I wouldn't want any other group of guys. My only regret is I couldn't find a way to get them more points tonight. It would have been really nice to see them advance through the states. Right now my mind is on Watchung Hills so we can send these seniors off [next Wednesday at home] with the win they deserve."
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Donny Stires — Stires was 17-37 for 220 yards with one TD and one interception as quarterback for Bridgewater.
Tommy Goodberlet — The Panthers' wide receiver had nine receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown.
"Ridge is always a great team and they are well coached. Three years ago we were on that side (in a playoff game in 2009, Ridge beat Bridgewater by one point to go on to the championship game). You need some luck and you need some breaks. Tonight, the kids that stepped up had to and we a lot of kids that stepped up that put us in this position." — Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Scott Bray
THEY SAID IT
"This is awesome. I am lost for words. This is a great feeling. Everyone of those eleven guys that was out there, Tommy Goodberlet making that great play, Donny (Stires) making that great throw, I did what I had to do. Great job to the offensive line." - Mike Pennella