BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP - The Bridgeton High School football team appeared in control the entire game, but the Bulldogs never got the insurance score they needed Wednesday night.
And it did them in.
Burlington Township shocked Bridgeton by tying the score with 49 seconds left in regulation and then converted a crucial two-point conversion in overtime to down the Bulldogs 14-12.
"We needed to put the game away," Bridgeton coach Dave Ellen said. "We just really stalled out offensively and you have to give them credit because they came up big defensively."
The Bulldogs used a strong ground game, led by freshman back Stefon Bowman's 107 yards on 27 carries and quarterback Tamar Jackson's 34 yards on 11 attempts, to control the clock and the contest.
But the only score Bridgeton (6-4) managed was Bowman's 33-yard sprint off the right side with 2 minutes, 7 seconds left in the first quarter. The point-after attempt was blocked and, despite Bridgeton eating up chunks of yards, the score remained 6-0 until the Falcons (7-3) tied it on Brandon Roche's 4-yard run. The extra point went off the cross bar, sending the game to OT.
There, things got wild.
Burlington Township scored on its first play, a 25-yard pass from Roche to Brian Verbitski. Then the Falcons faked the extra point and converted a two-point conversion pass.
Still, Ellen remained optimistic about the Bulldogs' chances.
"I felt confident the whole game, even when they scored, I thought we were going to score," he said. "These kids you don't think they're not going to make a play because they make plays."
Bridgeton responded with a 25-yard TD pass on its first play, with Damien McClough hauling in Jackson's tipped pass. Needing a two-point conversion to tie it, Jackson was forced out of the pocket and wasn't able to get the ball past the line of scrimmage.
"It hurts right now because we lost, but we still played a great game," Jackson, a senior, said. "I had fun playing with the young people, and I was just out here to help them.
"We had a successful season. We had a lot of young kids step up, work hard and this is where we are at."
One of the young players, of course, is Bowman who was a workhorse against the Falcons. He fought for extra yards on each carry and picked himself up after each tackle, finishing with a jersey that had turned brown from the muddy field.
Bowman said he was doing everything he could to send his senior teammates out on a winning note.
"It felt good playing with the seniors in the last game," he said. "I just tried to run hard and win the game for them."
Jackson appreciated the effort not just against the Falcons, but what Bowman gave all season.
"He stuck around with us the whole season," Jackson said. "He worked hard, showed the coaches he was made to be a running back. I'm just happy to play with him, and I want to see what he's going to do in the near future."
He showed flashes of greatness against Burlington Township, and toughness throughout. Bowman's touchdown run was set up when McClough and Mauricio Guitierrez combined to force a fumble after a 2-yard Roche run to give the visitors the ball on the Burlington 33.
Bowman took the handoff on the next play and burst outside for an easy score.
"I got around the end and I knew I was gone," he said.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, that would be all of their scoring in regulation despite controlling the game.
Bridgeton 6 0 0 0 6-12
Burlington Township 0 0 0 6 8-14
BR-Bowman 33 run (kick failed)
BT-Roche 4 run (kick failed)
BT-Verbitski 25 pass from Roche (Rouse 2 pass from Verbitski)
BR-McClough 25 pass from Jackson (pass failed)
TEAM STATS BR BT
First downs 6 6
Rushing 143 43
Passing 29 173
Turnovers 1 3
Rushing-Bowman 27-107, Jackson 11-34, Guitierrez 2-7, Miller 2-2, McClough 3-(-7) BR.Roche 6-32, Williams 2-13, Thomas 12-10, Verbitski 5-0, Palanchar 3-(-12) BT.
Passing-Jackson 1-6-1-25, Green III 1-1-0-4 BR. Palanchar 6-16-1-97, Roche 2-3-0-42, Verbitski 1-7-1-34 BT.
Receiving-McClough 1-25, Jackson 1-4 BR.Rouse 3-55, Verbitski 3-53, Rover 1-49, Turner 1-12, Pettway 1-4 BT.
Records-Bridgeton 6-4. Burlington Township 7-3.