By Warren Rappleyea
Both the Sayreville War Memorial High School and Old Bridge High School football teams are preparing for their first-round games Nov. 11 in the NJSIAA sectionals.
Sayreville (7-2) enters the North Jersey, Section II, Group IV tournament on a high note after downing Old Bridge, 37-17, Nov. 4. The fifth-seeded Bombers will take the hour-long drive out on Route 78 to Phillipsburg High School to meet the fourth-seeded Stateliners (5-3).
The loss was a costly one for the Knights, who were in first place in the Greater Middlesex Conference’s Red Division. Old Bridge needed to beat Sayreville and then down East Brunswick High School on Thanksgiving Day to claim the title. The loss, however, gave the division crown to Piscataway Township High School.
Nevertheless, Old Bridge earned the third seed in Central Jersey, Group V and will host sixth-seeded Hillsborough High School (6-3) Nov. 11.
The visiting Bombers jumped out to a 7-0 lead just three minutes into the game after Jacari Carter intercepted an Old Bridge pass at the 50-yard line. Jayson DeMild’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Jahsim Floyd completed the short drive.
The Knights took the ensuing kickoff and marched into Bombers territory, but the drive stalled at the 17-yard line. Jon Sammarco’s 34-yard field goal, which kissed the crossbar and bounced over, made it 7-3 midway through the quarter.
Matthew Crowley answered back with a 30-yard field goal for Sayreville 15 seconds into the second quarter. Sayreville struck again before the half, as DeMild found Floyd again with a 13-yard scoring pass to make it 17-3 with 2:39 remaining. The Knights tried to rally before the break, but a pair of sacks by Bryce Christian halted the drive.
After kicking off to start the second half, Old Bridge got the ball near midfield after a fake punt by Sayreville failed to notch a first down. Knights quarterback Artur Sitkowski quickly hooked up with Liam Knowles for 32 yards and a touchdown.
Old Bridge then recovered an onside kick and appeared to have gained the momentum. A Knights fumble ended the drive, as Sayreville recovered at its own 28-yard line. The Bombers defense continually came up with big plays.
Prior to the game, Sayreville coach Chris Beagan said his team needed to contain Old Bridge’s offense and limit big plays. The Bombers did just that. Sayreville harassed Sitkowski throughout the night, recording five sacks and picking off three passes, including a pick-six by Floyd with 4:07 remaining in the game.
“Our defense did a great job containing them, but Old Bridge hung in and kept coming back and kept it close,” Beagan said. “I thought our guys played very well against an opponent that wouldn’t quit.”
Bombers fullback Ja’Que Carter had a big night, running for 93 yards and scoring on runs of 8 and 26 yards in the fourth quarter as Sayreville pulled away. DeMild completed 12 of 21 passes for 145 yards. Floyd caught five of those passes for 110 yards.
Despite the tough defense, Sitkowski managed to complete 17 of his 33 passes for 177 yards. Anthony Imbimbo led Old Bridge with nine catches for 91 yards. Imbimbo also tossed a 41-yard touchdown pass to Tyson Townsend late in the fourth quarter.
The big win should provide momentum for the trip to Phillipsburg. The Stateliners are coming off a 28-10 loss to Immaculata High School Nov. 4 that ended a three-game winning streak.
“We’re embracing the trip; it’s a playoff game and we want to make the most out of it,” Beagan said. “Phillipsburg likes to try and run the ball down your throat. We’ll be ready. We want to get an early lead and try and get them out of their game and make them do things they don’t usually do.”
Old Bridge (4-3-1), meanwhile, enters the playoffs on the heels of two straight losses. The Knights have shown resilience. Earlier in the year, Old Bridge fell, 41-0, to Manalapan High School and bounced back to tie Edison High School and defeat Piscataway.
Knights coach Anthony Lanzafama said his team ran into an opponent in Sayreville that was well-prepared and earned the win.
“We just have to move on,” the Old Bridge coach said. “Our goal all year is to be in the playoffs. Now they’re here. It’s good to be at home. We have a very talented team, and I’m confident they’ll be ready for Hillsborough.
Hillsborough comes to Old Bridge with a three-game winning streak, including a 20-12 victory against Montgomery High School Nov. 4.
“All year long our guys have shown an ability and willingness to come back,” Lanzafama said. “We lacked execution. That’s been been an issue for us at times this year. We need to be more consistent for four quarters. You can’t have that against Sayreville. They’re a good team and once they made it a two-score game, they knew we had to throw.”