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2nd half rally sparks Rutherford to 42-27 win over New Milford in NJIC Semifinals

Rutherford Bulldogs Head Coach Andrew Howell was almost left speechles after his team reeled off 35 unanswered points in the second half against New Milford in the NJIC Playoff Semifinals at New Milford High School.

“What do you want me to say man?” said Howell. “Up and down rollercoaster there and defined our character right there. We’re tough and resilient and never going to back down from adversity. When adversity strikes, we’re going to dig down deep and keep fighting and so proud of these guys.”

New Milford came out firing on all cylinders starting the second half scoring two touchdowns in the first 3:12. Knights quarterback Ryan Picinic fired a 36-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rhys Farley. After Tomas Silviero picked off a pass by Rutherford quarterback Kyle Russell, Picinic cashed in on the opportunity, scoring on a 16-yard QB keeper.

Sparked by a solid kickoff return by Rich Marques to the 43-yard line, Russell found a groove running and passing the ball. Facing a 3rd and goal at the three, Russell connected on a fade pass to Marques. Yielding huge chunks of yardage on the ground in the first half, Rutherford’s defense started winning the battle in the trenches forcing a quick three-and out.

Early in the fourth quarter, Russell completed a 27-yard pass to Abelleny Mendez advancing the ball deep into New Milford territory. On first and goal at the 17, Russell zipped a pass to a wide-open Joe Ivanovic trimming the deficit to 27-21 with 10:16 left. Attempting to turn the tide, New Milford dialed up a trick play as Tyler Picinic completed a 30-yard halfback pass to Nick Klein. Once again, the Bulldogs defense dialed up the pressure with Regan Landigran dropping Ryan Picinic for a nine-yard loss and on fourth down stopping Picinic short of the first down marker.

However, Rutherford was unable to take advantage of the opportunity as Knights linebacker John DeSena picked off Marques. Needing a game changer, Tyler Aponte delivered that play intercepting Picinic and returning the ball to the New Milford 48. Russell did not waste anytime launching a 33-yard pass to Marques. On 3rd and goal at the two, Russell and Marqus combined again on the winning score in the left corner of the end zone with 3:27 remaining.

“Coach told us it’s not over and keep you heads up and slowly we chipped away,” said Marques. “Once we knew we had a drive building that kept the momentum going and have confidence in each other and know what we’re doing and how he (Kyle Russell) can place the ball and I can catch it and dynamic duo right now. We’re persistent and don’t quit and motto from day one. Our team is not that big and competing against these big schools and really from the heart and a lot of toughness on our team that sparked that comeback.”

“You have to have confidence in yourself and put your mind to it,” Russell said. “Every time you score builds up confidence and these receivers are great. I connect with them and it’s something special and they know what to do.”

Nursing a one-possession lead, Rutherford’s defense stepped up to the plate again forcing a turnover on downs. Having scored a touchdown in the first quarter, running back Bill Finn tacked on his second score with 1:32 on the clock. Marques made his presence on the defensive side of the ball, picking off Picnic and returning it 42 yards to the house with 35 seconds left.

“Rich (Marques) is a playmaker and glad he transferred in and add a whole element to this team because he is versatile and does everything,” Howell said. “Returning kicks, punts, playing quarterback, wideout and secondary and nice weapon to have.”

“Believed in each other and if we play like this we could so some good things this year. Very easy for the kids to pack it in and persisted and never stopped believing. We conditioned pretty hard in practice and might have been difference in the game. Still full of gas in the fourth quarter and able to step up and make the plays.”

Rutherford (7-0) faces another challenge, next Friday hosting undefeated Hasbrouck Heights (7-0) in the NJIC Championship Game at Rutherford High School at 7 p.m. Last season the Aviators won the North 1 Group1 state title defeating New Milford at MetLife Stadium.

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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