WOODSTOWN — Bridgeton High School’s football team fell just short of pulling off another upset Friday night.
Woodstown quarterback Jared Carney threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tariq Thomas with 50 seconds left in regulation to give the second-seeded Wolverines a 14-9 victory over the sixth-seeded Bulldogs in a South Jersey Group II semifinal.
Woodstown (10-0) will play for the championship on the weekend of Dec. 6-8 at Rowan University. The Bulldogs (8-3) ended their season, despite a terrific defensive performance and a clutch field goal that nearly gave them a win.
“I’m just so proud of the kids,” Bridgeton coach Dave Ellen said. “They love the game and they continued to fight the whole way. They left it all on the field and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
The Bulldogs, who won two sectional championships in 1997 and 1999, actually had one last chance at a win, but a Bridgeton receiver failed to hang onto Ronald Williams 11-yard pass into the end zone on the final play from scrimmage.
That touched off a wild celebration among Woodstown’s fans, who tossed baby powder into the air while giving their team a standing ovation.
Woodstown appeared headed to a 7-6 victory before Bridgeton junior defensive end Tavon Holman pounced on an errant pitchout to give the Bulldogs possession at the Woodstown 4-yard line.
Two runs and an incomplete pass left the Bulldogs with a fourth-and-goal. Williams booted a 20-yard field goal with 3:21 remaining to put Bridgeton ahead 9-7.
“I’ve never tried a field goal in a game before, but I’ve been kicking pretty well in practice,” Williams said. “When I lined up, coach just told me to block everything out and concentrate and that’s what I did.”
Woodstown converted a third-and-14 play to keep its next drive alive. Running back Semaj Thomas, who scored the Wolverines’ first TD, caught two passes for 50 yards to help Woodstown move to Bridgeton’s 14-yard line. Tariq Thomas, Semaj’s twin brother, outleaped a Bridgeton defender to score the winning TD.
Senior linebacker Quasheem Taylor led a terrific performance by Bridgeton’s defense. Taylor used his quickness and timing to repeatedly shoot the gaps and storm into Woodstown’s backfield. He registered two of the Bulldog’s four sacks, forced three fumbles while jarring the ball loose from Woodstown Carney and finished with five tackles for losses.
“Everybody seems to get down on Bridgeton, but we never get down on ourselves,” Taylor said. “We continued to fight the whole game and we gave it our all.”
Woodstown’s defense was just as impressive. Senior defensive tackle Kane Hiles spent a lot of time in Bridgeton’s backfield, notching a sack and three tackles for losses.
Woodstown led 7-0 before Bridgeton junior Cappadonna Miller scored on an electric, 42-yard punt return to cut the lead to 7-6 with one minute, eight seconds left in the second half.
Miller, one of the Cape-Atlantic League’s most versatile players, snagged the punt in the middle of the field, then ran behind a perfectly formed wall of blockers along the left sideline. Bridgeton’s sizeable fan base, which had hung a “Unity is Strength” banner, roared as Miller sped past them en route to his 14th touchdown of the season.
The Bulldogs chose to try to tie the game with an extra point, but the kick barely cleared the line of scrimmage and sailed wide right.
Bridgeton’s defense dominated the first half, but paid for an early mistake.
On Woodstown’s third play from scrimmage, senior running back Semaj Thomas burst into the Bulldogs’ secondary behind solid blocking, broke a tackle about 10 yards downfield, then raced up the left sideline for a 52-yard touchdown that put the Wolverines ahead 7-0 with 5 minutes, 35 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Led by Taylor, the Bulldogs’ defense contained Woodstown’s triple-option offense for the remainder of the half, holding the Wolverines to just 47 total yards.
“I thought our defense played great,” Ellen said. “And after we kicked that field goal, I thought we had the game. But give Woodstown credit. They made the plays when they had to make them.”
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