HomeNews TranscriptNews Transcript SportsMustangs rally past Washington Twp., 21-17, in SJ Group V playoffs

Mustangs rally past Washington Twp., 21-17, in SJ Group V playoffs

MARLBORO — The first state playoff football game to be played in Marlboro since 1994 had an unforgettable ending to it on Oct. 29 because of the resiliency of the Marlboro High School football team.

Trailing 17-7 entering the fourth quarter, No. 4 seed Marlboro rallied to defeat No. 5 seed Washington Township High School, 21-17, in a South Jersey Group V playoff game.

Marlboro (6-3) will travel to play No. 1 seed Toms River North High School in a South Jersey Group V semifinal game on Nov. 4.

The comeback victory to claim the program’s first state playoff win since 1994 was indicative of how the players have responded to adversity all season to qualify for the state playoffs for the first time since 1999, Coach Jason Dagato said.

“It has been one adverse situation after another adverse situation and we have found a way to punch back and dig ourselves out of those difficult situations,” Dagato said. “It’s a testament to how far our program has come. The team just keeps fighting and finds ways to get a victory.”

The Mustangs rallied for the win over the visitors from Gloucester County without standout running back Matt Cassidy, who left the game near the end of the first quarter with an arm injury.

Cassidy accounted for 53 of the 80 yards on Marlboro’s drive to open the contest. He finished the drive with a 17-yard touchdown run as the Mustangs took a 7-0 lead with 6:58 to play in the first quarter after junior Luke Rubin kicked the extra point.

After Cassidy left the game, Washington Township took control in the second quarter and scored 17 unanswered points to take a 17-7 halftime lead.

Neither team scored in the third quarter and the teams began final 12:00 with Marlboro still trailing the Minutemen by 10 points.

The defense kick-started the Mustangs on the comeback trail as senior defensive back Jake Houston intercepted a pass and returned it to the Washington Township 7 with 9:03 to play.

Two plays later, senior running back Christian LaFonte ran for a one-yard score as the Mustangs closed the deficit to 17-14 with 8:27 to play after Rubin added the PAT.

“That was the turning point right there,” said Houston. “Our offense started moving the ball. We kept playing lockdown defense and got the win.”

Marlboro had the momentum and the defense forced Washington Township to go three and out on its next possession.

The Mustangs took possession at their own 48 with 6:36 to play.

On the first play of the drive, junior quarterback Brayden Klein threw a backward pass to wide receiver Alex Frank.

After catching Klein’s pass, Frank fired a pass to a wide open Ryan Mendes, who scampered down the sideline to the end zone to complete a 52-yard touchdown as Marlboro took a 21-17 lead with 6:27 to play after Rubin converted his third extra point of the contest.

“It felt great just to walk into the end zone and give us the lead,” Mendes said. “We have been working on that play in practice all year, but we haven’t run it yet in a game. We thought a playoff game was the perfect time to run it.”

Mendes also blocked a field goal attempt by the Minutemen in the second half.

Just like that, the Mustangs had come all the way back to take the lead and they made sure not to give it away again.

Junior defensive back Nick Scaff intercepted a pass on Washington Township’s next drive and Marlboro took possession with 5:33 to play. Scaff finished the contest with two interceptions.

Marlboro’s defense intercepted Washington Township quarterback Jared Dzierzgowski five times in the second half, including four picks in the fourth quarter.

“Everyone on defense stepped up and made plays,” Scaff said. “We knew the game was in our hands and we just had to finish it off.”

After Marlboro gave the ball back to Washington Township with 2:33 to play at the Minutemen’s 33, Houston struck again two plays later as he made his second interception of the game.

On Marlboro’s ensuing possession, the Minutemen used all three of their timeouts.

Washington Township got the ball back at its own 18 with 1:56 to play. The Minutemen drove down the field and set themselves up inside the Marlboro 40 with 1:08 to play, but heavy pressure by the defense stopped the drive from going any further.

Dzierzgowski was called for intentional grounding and Washington Township was pushed back to its own 45 with :41 to play.

On fourth and 19, junior linebacker Anthony Tropeano recorded the fifth and final interception of the afternoon for the Mustangs to seal the victory.

Just one year removed from its first winning season in more than 10 years, the Mustangs have checked off another milestone with their first state playoff victory in 28 years and are continuing to change the narrative of Marlboro football.

“These guys have put Marlboro football on the map in the Shore Conference and the state. Marlboro has arrived and we are here to stay,” Dagato said.

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