Football – Southern Bounces Back, Holds Off Central
BERKLEY TOWNSHIP - Looking to bounce back from a shutout loss to St. John Vianney, secure the second home playoff game in team history and beat rival Central Regional on the road, the Southern Regional football team rode its sophomore workhorse on exactly half of its offensive plays.
For their biggest plays of the game, though, the Rams turned to their birthday boy.
Senior quarterback Cole Robinson celebrated his 18th birthday by throwing for a touchdown and running for two others to complement sophomore Jaiden Brown's 156 rushing yards in leading the Rams to a 21-16 win over the Golden Eagles.
The win comes on the heels of a 21-0 loss to St. John Vianney last week and likely sews up a first-round home game for Southern in the upcoming NJSIAA Group V Playoffs. Southern has played just one other home playoff game in its history, which it did in 2011.
"We knew it would be tough considering it was their Senior Night and they were playing for a playoff spot," Robinson said. "We knew we had to come in determined and focused and I think, especially coming off a loss, we were looking to prove ourselves."
Southern was its most potent at the beginning of each half, scoring on each of its first two drives of the game and again to open the third quarter. Robinson had a hand in all three scoring plays and the first was the longest play of the game.
On 3rd-and-7 from his team's own 41 yard line, Robinson took the shotgun snap, hung in the pocket and unleashed a 59-yard bomb over the middle to junior wide receiver Xavier Hendricks, who pulled in the pass and outran the last defender to the end zone.
"Jaiden has been doing a great job all year long so we knew they would probably stack the box against us to try to stop him," Robinson said. "When we got a chance, we wanted to take advantage by throwing the ball and that's what we did."
Southern quickly got the ball back after a Central three-and-out and moved from its own 42 to Central's 22 with a mix of runs by Brown and senior Will DeVane - the latter of whom kicked off the drive with a 17-yard sweep.
Once again, Robinson came through on third down, this time calling his own number on 3rd-and-5 and scampering down the middle of the field for a 22-yard score. With the extra point by Hank Gallacher, Southern led 14-0 with 1:41 left in the first quarter.
Robinson finished 3-for-6 for 109 yards through the air and on the one interception he threw, the senior raced down the field to make the tackle just nine yards after sophomore Danny Morris picked it off.
"He made some good throws today and he is going to have to make more of those," Southern coach Chuck Donohue Sr. said. "When you get to the playoffs, you have to be able to make plays in the passing game and he has shown he is capable of making plays down the field like he did today."
After Central cut the deficit to 14-9 by halftime, Southern reasserted control to open the half by driving 72 yards on 10 plays to once again reach the end zone on a third-down touchdown run by Robinson - this time on a one-yard plunge. The key play on the drive was a 54-yard touchdown burst by Brown on 2nd-and-15 to move the ball from the Rams 23 to the Golden Eagles 23.
Each time Southern came out strong, Central adjusted and quieted the Rams offense for the remainder of the half to give itself a chance to rally.
On the first play of the second quarter, senior Gunnar Nemeth tracked down Robinson in the end zone for a sack and a safety to get Central on the board at 14-2. The ensuing kickoff gave the Golden Eagles the ball at midfield and at that point, the home team road its own horse out of the backfield.
Senior Landon Richardson carried the ball nine straight times, capping the drive with a one-yard touchdown burst to cut Southern's lead to 14-9 after Sean Hurley's extra point. Richardson's longest run of the drive was an 18-yard pickup on 3rd-and-3 to advance the ball to Southern's 13 yard line.
Central appeared poised to cut the deficit to one score in the third quarter after senior quarterback Gavin Whelan hit junior Danny Taris for a 36-yard play-action pass down to the Southern 16. On the next play, however, Richardson fumbled the ball and Hendrick's picked it up on the 21 to notch a crucial red zone turnover.
Despite the momentum-killing fumble, Central forced a three-and-out and got the ball back in Southern territory after a punt. Once again, however, the Golden Eagles could not turn the field position in the points as they turned it over on downs at the 27.
The defense delivered another three-and-out and after a botched snap and zero-yard punt by Southern, the third time was the charm for Central. Richardson capped the 35-yard drive with his second one-yard touchdown run to pull the Golden Eagles within 21-16. Whelan completed two passes for the two longest plays of the drive - one a 10-yard connection with sophomore Anthony Musso on the first play and the other a nine-yard completion to junior Mike Prasad to get the ball down to the five yard line.
Richardson finished the game with 112 yards on 28 carries to lead the Central offense.
A block-in-the-back penalty on the ensuing kickoff backed Southern up to its own five yard-line but Robinson and Hendricks immediately dug their team out of that hole. Robinson rifled a pass over the middle and Hendricks elevated over a defender to pull in a 40-yard catch that flipped the field position the rest of the way. Central kept Southern off the board but by the time the Golden Eagles got the ball back, it was on their own 23 with 2:21 remaining.
"We had a couple of bad snaps with out punt team and we felt that we had to get it away from our end zone," Donohue said. "We felt we had to throw it when we gave up the safety. We took a chance there and it didn't work out but the second time we tried it, it worked out for us."
After a false start and an incomplete pass, Whelan had to come off the field when his helmet came off and Central fumbled the snap on the very next play to set up 3rd-and-17. Whelan fired two incomplete passes to give Southern the ball back and effectively end the game.
Central's chances to clinch a spot in the Group IV playoffs took a major hit with Friday's loss while a win would have most likely clinched a spot for the Golden Eagles.
"I really hope they get in," Donohue said of Central. "They are playing really well later in the season here and I think they are deserving. I really like the way they play football. It's always a good, competitive game when we play them and we're glad to be able to leave here with a win."
Southern 21, Central 16
S - Xavier Hendricks 59-yard pass from Cole Robinson (Hank Gallacher kick)
S - Cole Robinson 22-yard run (Hank Gallacher kick)
C - Safety
C - Landon Richardson 1-yard run (Sean Hurley kick)
S - Cole Robinson 1-yard run (Hank Gallacher kick)
C - Landon Richardson 1-yard run (Sean Hurley kick)
Rushing - S: Jaiden Brown 28-156, Will DeVane 4-40, Cole Robinson 16-23, J.P. Ricciardi 2-3; C: Landon Richardson 28-112, Gavin Whelan 2-7
Passing - S: Cole Robinson 3-6-1 109; C: Gavin Whelan 6-15-0 81
Receiving - S: Xavier Hendricks 2-99, Will DeVane 1-10; C: Danny Taris 1-36, Mike Prasad 2-20, Jared Harris 1-14, Anthony Musso 1-10, Nick Sura 1-1
Interceptions-Return Yards - C: Danny Morris 1-9