Quarterback Robbie Carcich piled up over 200 yards of tolal offense for Westwood, which won the North 1, Group 2 state sectional title with a 21-20 win over Rutherford in a playoff classic.
RUTHERFORD – All season Westwood and Rutherford have been eyeing each other up from afar. Both teams had dominant regular seasons and a pair of playoff wins. It was evident that they were on a collision course that would culminate with one game in a state sectional final.
When they finally squared off on Saturday afternoon, it lived up to the hype that had been built throughout the season. Hard-nosed runs, huge hits, clutch pass plays, this game had virtually everything one could ask for in a championship tilt.
After Rutherford’s Van Weber capped a late drive with a TD pass to Cole Goumas to cut Westwood’s lead to one with 22 seconds left, the Bulldogs looked to win on a two-point conversion. An offsides penalty moved the ball to the one-yard line. It was do-or-die time for the Cardinals. Although their defense was exhausted, Westwood dug deep to get one more push up front.
On the two-point conversion attempt, Westwood ganged up on Goumas and stopped him just before the goal line. Jack Dugan, who scored the go-ahead touchdown, fell on the ensuing onsides kick to secure the North 1, Group 2 title for No. 2 seed Westwood with a classic 21-20 triumph over top-seeded Rutherford at Tryon Field in Rutherford.
“We knew this was going to be a battle and we were ready for it,” said Dugan. “It was the first time we were trailing all year and we had to turn it on in the second half. Our O-line was fantastic all day in creating holes for us to run through and our D-line came up with the biggest play of the game.”
Rutherford's Van Weber concluded one of the most efficient seasons in the history of Bergen County football from the quarterback position by going 16-for-21 for 217 yards and two TDs for Rutherford
Westwood got the ball to start the game and embarked on a 13-play drive. However, some big tackles and a pass break-up by Rutherford’s Matt Scheibe helped stall the drive and keep the game scoreless. It would stay that way into the second quarter when the Cardinals recovered a fumble at the Rutherford 31. The Bulldogs appeared to get another stop on a Scheibe pass break-up on fourth down, but a flag was thrown and defensive pass interference was called. This allowed the Cardinals to extend the drive. Colby Loughton cashed in on the very next play by sweeping to the left and getting the edge on his way to a 14-yard TD and a 6-0 lead.
Rutherford answered back late in the half on a masterful job by Weber and his offensive line. Weber connected with Ryan Ward for a 20-yard gain and then Danny Carr for another 20-yard chunk play. Weber then called his own number rolling all the way to his right before making a mad dash for the pilon and getting into the end zone with 21 seconds left in the half. Drew Carney booted the PAT that gave Rutherford momentum and a 7-6 lead heading into the locker room for halftime.
The Bulldogs received the ball to start the second half. That possession barely lasted over a minute as the Cardinals forced a three-and-out. On the ensuing series, Westwood was faced with a third-and-8. The Cardinals executed the perfect trick play at the right time. They ran a double reverse with Dugan pitching the ball back to Carcich. The safety came up to protect against the run with Loughton slipping behind the everyone and Carcich throwing a perfect strike down the middle of the field for a 46-yard gain. Dugan took the ball on the next play and shook off several would-be tacklers on a 16-yard TD run with Carcich running in the two-point conversion to put Westwood back in front, 14-7.
“As soon as that play got called my heart started beating a little faster because I knew what I had to do,” said Carcich. “The line gave me time and I just focused on hitting (Loughton) in stride.”
Justin Singer and the Westwood line deserve much of the credit for the Cardinals' ability to move the ball.
Every time Westwood scored, the Bulldogs had an immediate answer. Weber once again engineered a TD drive, capping it by throwing a fade up the right side that Ward hauled in over a defender in the end zone with 8:49 to play to knot the score at 14.
An underlying theme to the game was the Cardinals’ ability to convert on third down, regardless of distance or how much pressure they were under. This was highlighted on the fourth-quarter drive where Westwood scored the eventual game-winning TD. On a third-and-long, Carcich escaped a potential sack. He then rolled back to his left and lofted a pass to a wide-open Loughton for an 18-yard gain to keep the chains moving. Later in the drive, Dugan broke a tackle for an eight-yard gain on a third-and-six play.
In order to win a close game of this magnitude, even a great team must catch a break or two along the way. Westwood got that break when Carcich was hit by Anthony Bonagura and Scheibe that caused a fumble. The ball barely squibbed out-of-bounds before Rutherford’s Chris Gioia could pounce on it. It was ruled out at the Bulldogs’ one-yard line with Westwood retaining possession. Dugan plunged in on the next play and kicked the PAT to give Westwood a 21-14 lead with 3:05 remaining in the game.
“I don’t know if it’s just growing up together or what, but we’re like brothers and we lean on each other to get the job done,” added Carcich. “This situation of being in a close game was not one we were used to. But we felt like on both sides of the ball were one play away from cutting it loose and making something happen. There’s no me on this team, it’s always we. We’re so close and it’s all about doing this together.”
Weber showed why he is one of New Jersey’s top pocket passers on the Bulldogs’ final possession. On the second play of the drive, Weber stepped up in the pocket to evade a strong rush from both sides and threw a laser up deep down the middle that was hauled in by Ward, who ran all the way down to the Westwood 5 for a 70-yard gain. The Bulldogs managed the clock down inside a minute until Weber rolled to his right then hit Goumas with a throwback screen to his left. Goumas strolled to the end zone untouched with 22 seconds left to slice the lead to a single point, 21-20, with 22 seconds remaining. As soon as Goumas scored there was no hesitation and the Bulldogs’ offense stayed on the field for the potential go-ahead two-point conversion.
After each team called timeout, Weber was back in the pistol when his hard count forced the Cardinals to jump offsides, moving the ball from the three-yard line to just outside the one. Rutherford then elected to go to Goumas in the wildcat. He took the snap and ran off the right side, but the Cardinals were ready and got a good push up front. Yianni Constantinides and Dario Mathurin were there just in time to stop Goumas a foot short of the goal line to preserve the lead. Any hopes of a Rutherford miracle were dashed when Dugan covered up the onsides kick and the Cardinals celebrated a win for the ages and a championship that will always bond this team together for life.
Carcich had over 220 yards of total offense for Westwood (11-0). Dugan has stepped up his game during the state playoffs. With two more touchdown runs in this game, he now has a state-leading 10 TDs in state tournament play this season.
Weber concluded one of the most efficient seasons in the history of Bergen County football from the quarterback position by going 16-for-21 for 217 yards and two TDs for Rutherford (10-1). He finished the season with eye-popping stats, completing 71.6 percent of his passes for 2,193 yards with 31 TD passes to just 1 INT. Ward hauled in five of those passes for 129 yards and a TD.
Westwood advances to the Group 2 state semifinals next weekend against the team with New Jersey’s longest winning streak, Caldwell. Dating back to November 2020, the Chiefs have won 26 games in a row, which includes a 35-7 win in the North 2 Group 2 title game on Saturday night. After a legendary win like this though, the Cardinals are content to bask in it before looking forward to another showdown.
“It’s a euphoric feeling to be in a game like this to beat a great team like Rutherford,” said Dugan. “This whole season was about getting to this game and winning a section title. I can’t barely think right now. I’m just so happy to be in this position on this team, I feel like I’m on top of the world right now.”