Shabazz HS football team falls to Randolph in wild game

NEWARK, NJ — Picture this, an all-out shootout with firepower to change the momentum in both halves of the game. On one sideline, one team was playing without their head coach and defensive coordinator in attendance, while on the other sideline, the other team featured a new quarterback as they were playing their notorious second half brand of football. 

Yes, this would go down as one of the high-powered games featuring the Pride of the South Side of Newark and a former state record setter for undefeated wins where all playoff stories become factual legends out in Randolph. 

If you didn’t catch those hints, it was the Bulldogs of Malcolm X. Shabazz High School out of the city of Newark’s South Ward, taking the 35-minute drive up Route 24 and Route 10 to open up their season against perennial Group 4 power Randolph High School Rams at John J. Bauer Stadium. 

The Bulldogs, however, had to wait for the debut of their new head coach, Nyshier “Naz” Oliver. He had to serve a one-game suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct at a recent scrimmage. Randolph, on the other side, recently picked up a senior quarterback in Josh Anderson, who transferred in from North Carolina. 

The Rams would take the opening kickoff immediately and marched 58 yards before throwing the first punch with star running back Jesse Wilfong slipping through the front door and sprinting 15 yards to go up 7-0 in the opening minutes of the game. 

Shabazz was not fazed at all. The perennial Group 1 power has never shied away from stiff competition as they counterpunched right back for a 10-yard connection from Nazir Smith to Daveion Porter two minutes later, but missed the two-point conversion to trail 7-6 at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter was all Bulldog Nation as they went on a 28-point tear. They made quick work of the mistakes that the Rams were making. Smith took his squad nearly the length of the field where he closed out the drive with a 6-yard dart to Nyad Walker to start the second quarter. On the ensuing Randolph possession, Josh Andrews had a pack of Bulldogs on his heels when he was looking for wide receiver Mason Wilson, but instead, got unceremoniously intercepted by Shabazz DB Kezah Hall, who immediately found clear sailing down the Randolph sideline for a 55-yard pick-6. The two-point conversion put Shabazz up 20-6. 

Randolph couldn’t help but turn the ball over after a costly fumble which se tup Shabazz’s next quick bite. RB Daveion Porter rumbled 45 yards up the middle, breaking six tackles along the way before being forced out of bounds. The very next play Smith would call his own number and squeezed outside for the next score to give his Bulldogs a 26-6 lead midway through the quarter. Smith would flex his dominance as he set the pace of the Bulldogs’ next drive where he found Lennox Bonsu in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown pass, capping a 7-play, 56-yard drive to stretch the lead 34-7 with just over two minutes left in the half. Anderson had enough of everything. He did a version of Patrick Mahomes II as he stretched plays with his feet, finding his wide receivers in tight windows, then jump-started the Rams’ scoring comeback with a 20-yard wiggling and breaking arm tackles to the house, making it a 34-14 game at the half. 

Randolph head coach Will Nahan said, “At halftime we didn’t have to say much to the team because we knew we weren’t playing our brand of football. We have a nine-man council and we asked them directly if we were playing up to our potential, which the answer was an emphatic no from the team.” From that point on, Randolph pulled out their rally hats early and left them on where they were on their own 28-point stretch, which included holding the Shabazz scoring machine to a single touchdown for the rest of the game. Randolph’s dynamic duo of Anderson and Wilfong went to work on the tight defensive coverage of Shabazz as they led their squad on a 72-yard march with Wilfong diving in from a yard out and putting the score at 34-20. Anderson would follow suit on the next possession, capping a 54-yard run with a 25 yard scamper as he escaped the Bulldog defensive pressure for the Rams’ next score, bringing Randolph within striking distance of the reeling Bulldogs 34-26. But Shabazz wasn’t happy with this development as they opened the playbook and dialed up some key runs by Porter and Walker. Smith would make a costly mistake when the pressure forced him out of the pocket. He was looking for one of his receivers downfield when he released a pass in the direction of wide receiver Nyad Walker, but Randolph’s DB Mason Wilson got his mini retribution by snagging the interception that would set up Randolph’s next possession on their own 20-yard line and killing Shabazz’s chance at adding an insurance touchdown with a touchback. Fortunately, the Bulldogs were able to snap back with a Smith-and-Walker hookup with a 43-yard express that put the Bulldogs up 40-26 with 9:33 to go in the game. B

But Anderson and Wilfong both had something to say about the way things looked. Anderson struck first with a 2-yard skip into the house, capping a 53-yard drive that made it possible to pull within a score 40-34 and the Bulldogs looking to play keepaway with the ball. Shabazz assistant head coach Markell Williams had to pull his squad together during a late timeout and told them to get it together and close out the game. “We need to leave here with a win for Coach Naz.” But Wilfong had other ideas as he swept outside for a blistering 17-yard touchdown to put Randolph up 42-40. Big-time plays were made by big-time players on both sidelines giving the fans a very entertaining game to watch and attend. Shabazz will have their home opener on Friday evening, Sept.1, at 7 p.m  against crosstown rival Newark West Side High School, which opens its season as well, in the newly-renovated Shabazz Stadium in the Brick City’s South Ward. On the same day and time, Randolph will travel 25 minutes up the Sussex Turnpike to Mount Olive to take on old Iron Hills foe Mount Olive High School Marauders who defeated Chatham 46-14 in their Week 0 debut.