Rutherford clinches NJIC playoff berth with win over rival Lyndhurst

Chris Gioia went 73 yards untouched on the first play of the third quarter as Rutherford pulled way from Lydhurst, 35-14, and secured a spot in the NJIC playoffs.

RUTHERFORD – Through the first four games of the season, Rutherford had rolled over its competition. To remain NJIC champions and make a run at a section title, the Bulldogs might be well served to be put in an adverse situation. Rival Lyndhurst came into town also 4-0 and looking to make a statement. It appeared the Bulldogs were in control going into halftime until Lyndhurst covered 80 yards in two plays in the waning seconds of the half to get in the end zone and make it a game.

Getting the ball to start the second half, senior quarterback Chris Gioia took it upon himself to set the tone and get Rutherford back on track.

On the first play of the third quarter, Gioia kept the ball on a quarterback draw and went untouched 73 yards to paydirt as Rutherford regained its rhythm and kept its record unblemished with a 35-14 victory over Lyndhurst on Saturday in front of a Homecoming Day crown at Tryon Field..

“This game taught us a lot about ourselves,” said Gioia. “We played hard and did some good things. But we have to cut down on the mistakes with a big game ahead next week against Pompton Lakes in the NJIC semifinals.”

Lyndhurst had a strong opening drive that took over six minutes, but it stalled out on the Rutherford 14. The Golden Bears seemed to catch a break on the ensuing drive when on a fourth-and-one from the Lyndhurst 22, the center-quarterback exchange was mishandled and the Golden  Bears took over on downs. Despite the lost opportunity, another one would come just two plays later when Matt Schiebe, a four-year starter, notched his first career interception. On the final play of the first quarter, Cole Goumas ran off left tackle for a 14-yard touchdown to put the Bulldogs ahead, 7-0.

Quarterback Shawn Bellenger had led and Lyndhurst to a 4-1 record in what has been a bounce back season for the Bears.

The Bulldogs ability to run the ball opened up the play action passing game. On one of those plays, UNC-bound tight end Ryan Ward ran right up the seam and Gioia hit him in stride for a 66-yard scoring strike to make it 14-0. They looked to pad that lead in the final minute of the half until their drive stalled out at the Lyndhurst 20 with 26 seconds left in the half. The Golden Bears could have sat on the ball and kneeled it to halftime, but instead they took a chance and were rewarded for their aggressiveness. Quarterback Shawn Bellenger threw a deep pass up the right side that Anthony Pizzuti hauled in for a 58-yard gain. On the next play, Bellenger stepped up in the pocket to evade the rush and hit Matt Jarvis for a 22-yard TD with 10 seconds left to trim Rutherford’s lead to 14-7 at the half.

Lyndhurst (4-1) came out with tons of adrenaline, but it was quickly countered by the calm demeanor of the Bulldogs. On the QB draw to open the third quarter, Gioia used huge blocks from Louis Morella and Ward to get to the second level. He did the rest with his legs in racing all the way to the end zone to give Rutherford some breathing room. Later in the quarter, he ran for a 30-yard score to give the Bulldogs a commanding 28-7 lead.

“I had some great blocks up front, I just had to take advantage of it,” added Gioia. “I had to trust my line and they did a great job. Sitting behind Van (Weber) last year I learned a lot about having to count on the guys blocking in front of you. I saw their safeties were wide and I had the chance to make a big play. After giving up a touchdown in the last few seconds of the half, we had to execute on that first drive of the second half and punch one in.”

Drew Carney caught a TD and kick 5 PATs for Rutherford.

Drew Carney connected on all five of his PAT attempts and also caught a TD pass from Gioia for Rutherford (6-0). Morella and Schiebe led the way defensively, making plays all over the field.

Rutherford was happy to get tested before heading into the NJIC playoffs. However, they knew there is still plenty of work left to do if they plan on making it a three-peat.

“I love our kids’ mentality and we needed that with the way things were going in the first half,” said Rutherford head coach Steve Dunn. “Lyndhurst was well prepared and took it to us at times in the first half. It was the first time all year we went to halftime being challenged. This is kind of the calm before the storm. Our schedule gets tougher from here on out. It’s always easier to correct those mistakes off of a win and we’ll be ready for next week.”