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Missed field goals and severe thunderstorms that forced players, coaches, fans and media to scurry towards Harwood Arena were just part of the action in the first half of the 2017 Snapple Bowl between the Union County and Middlesex County All-Stars at Kean University Alumni Stadium on Thursday night.

Union County managed to put up the only score of the half on a 25-yard touchdown pass down from Roselle quarterback Gerald Hairston to fellow teammate and wide receiver Drew Stephens with 6:25 remaining in the second quarter. Stephens burst down the left sideline before hurdling across the pylon into the end zone.

After an hour-plus delay, both teams’ returned to the field with the length of the second half trimmed to 20 minutes instead of 24. After forcing Middlesex to a quick three-and-out starting the third quarter, Union went to work on its first possession of the second half as Cranford quarterback Brian Oblachinski heaved the ball down the right sideline with fellow Cranford teammate and wide receiver Ryan Bakie who made a nifty play stepping in front of a Middlesex defensive back for the catch and stretching across the goal line for the 28-yard score. The extra point attempt failed leaving the advantage at 13-0 with 5:03 left.

Just when you thought Middlesex County was out of the contest, a fortuitous bounce occurred on a punt with the ball deflecting off a Union County player and Dillon Harris of South Plainfield pouncing on the ball. Union quickly moved the ball down the field, highlighted by a 29-yard pass from Colonia quarterback Tyler Layton to South Plainfield wide receiver DeShai Smith. In the beginning stages of the fourth quarter, Sayreville running Michael Liberti plowed ahead for a 1-yard score.

Seizing the momentum, Jalen Harris of Carteret picked off Oblachinski, returning the ball to the Union 48-yard line. On a 3rd & 7 at the 22, Layton hit Smith in stride down the left sideline for the touchdown, putting Middlesex ahead for the first time, 14-13, with 5:09 remaining.  Union County wasted no time responding as Oblachinski found a favorite target in Michael Barletta of New Providence, completing back-to-back passes of 21 and 20 yards.

The aerial assault continued with Oblachinkski zipping a 25-yard pass to Union wide receiver Justin Beckett, setting up a first and goal situation. Nick Johnson of A.L. Johnson finished off the successful drive, taking a direct snap and striding into the end zone to put Union County back on top with 2:15 to go. Attempting the two-point conversion, Oblachinski rolled out of the pocket and found a wide open in Rahway wide receiver AJ Smith.

Oblachinski, who is headed to Montclair State University to play baseball, was seven-for-eight for 158 yards, earning him the MVP Award. After the game, he said, “We executed and ran all the plays effectively and good things happened. We knew we could score on them and came out and played hard. I have been throwing to Ryan Backie since third grade and coming back one last time throwing a touchdown to him was awesome.”

“Great coming out here and representing Union County, bunch of great kids and towns. They had a lot of momentum coming out and we knew we had to relax. Playing great all game and we knew we could get the ball into the end zone. Doing it one last on this field and had a lot of memories and won a state championship in 2015.”

Beckett sealed the victory for Union County, intercepting a pass and returning the ball to the Middlesex County 5-yard line. Terrence Anderson of Rahway capped off the scoring, bulldozing ahead for the score making it 27-14 with 1:50 left.

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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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