Photos by Steve Ellmore. Irvington (blue uniforms) vs. Linden, state playoffs, Nov 10.
IRVINGTON, NJ (updated Monday Nov. 13, 9:59 a.m.) – The Irvington High School varsity football team kept alive its mission to win its first-ever state playoff championship with a stunning fourth-quarter rally.
After being held scoreless for three quarters, the fourth-seeded Blue Knights scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to turn back upset-minded Linden, 16-13, in the quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 4 state playoffs on Friday night, Nov. 10, at the IHS Sports Complex.
On a frigid night, the Blue Knights, under second-year head coach “Smoke” Pierre, won their sixth straight game to improve to an 8-2 record. Irvington will visit undefeated Phillipsburg in the semifinals on Friday night, Nov. 17. Phillipsburg defeated No. 8 seed Millburn, 48-14, to improve to 9-0.
After a scoreless first quarter, fifth-seeded Linden recovered an Irvington fumble that led to a short TD run in the second quarter for a 7-0 halftime lead.
Linden extended the lead to 13-0 after intercepting a pass and scoring on another short TD run with 3:47 remaining in the third quarter.
The Blue Knights then took control in the fourth quarter. Senior running back Nim Salaam scored on a short TD run, followed by the two-point conversion, to cut it to 13-8 with 7:45 left in regulation.
Senior quarterback Brandon Robinson scored the game-winner on a QB sneak with 1:30 left to complete the thrilling comeback. The two-point conversion was good.
It marked the Blue Knights’ first state playoff win since 2012 when they defeated Ferris of Jersey City, 47-0, in the quarterfinals of the Section 2, Group 4 playoffs. The win over Linden also broke the Blue Knights’ four-game losing streak in the playoffs, with all those losses at home.c
Indeed, coach Pierre was elated for his team.
“Good win for the program, the families, and the community,” said Pierre a day after the victory. “Those kids showed effort and toughness yesterday.”
Pierre has emphasized the importance of his players remaining focused and getting better in practice as they gear up for the semifinal game against Phillipsburg.
“We are focused on getting better as a team and cleaning some things up,” Pierre said. ”Phillipsburg is another opponent on the schedule.”
Pierre mentioned how his assistant coaches, Nhemie Theodore and Tyshon Gurley, also say to their players that “it’s always about us and never about them,” stressing the mindset that they shouldn’t worry about their opponents, but only about what they need to do to get the job done.
Last season, the second-seeded Blue Knights lost at home to Randolph, 13-12, in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group 4 playoffs to end their season at 8-2. Irvington was moved back to Section 2, Group 4 this year.
The playoff losing streak began when they lost to West Morris, 26-0, in the 2012 semifinals.
Irvington fell in the quarterfinals to Iselin Kennedy, 14-12, and Woodbridge, 34-33, in 2013 and 2014, respectively, of the Section 2, Group 4 playoffs.
In 2008, top-seeded Irvington, led by then-senior Josh Evans, lost to Phillipsburg, 13-6, in the semifinals of the North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 playoffs at Untermann Field at Weequahic HS in Newark on a cold Saturday afternoon. The game was moved to Untermann due to unplayable field conditions at IHS. The Blue Knights finished 10-1 that season. It was the only time the teams met in the playoffs. Phillipsburg went on to defeat Rahway, 20-6, in the final at Rutgers. Evans, the Blue Knights’ starting quarterback and safety, starred at safety at the University of Florida and played in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins.
The only time the Blue Knights have reached a state playoff championship was in 2006 when they lost to New Brunswick, 18-14, in the Section 2, Group 3 title game at Rutgers in Piscataway.
NJSIAA NORTH JERSEY SECTION 2, GROUP 4 STATE PLAYOFFS
1-Phillipsburg def. 8-Millburn, 48-14
4-Irvington def. 5-Linden, 16-13
6-Sayreville def. 3-Colonia, 31-0
2-North Hunterdon def. 7-Orange, 26-9
Semifinals, Friday, Nov. 17
4-Irvington (8-2) at 1-Phillipsburg (9-0)
6-Sayreville (6-4) at 2-North Hunterdon (9-1)
Sept. 8, Won, Lincoln, of Jersey City, 38-0
Sept. 15, Won, at West Orange, 28-7
Sept. 22, Loss, at Smyrna, Del., 30-18
Sept. 30, Loss, at Nutley, 34-12
Oct. 6, Won, Millburn, 46-12
Oct. 13, Won, at Wayne Valley, 30-27
Oct. 21, Won, Belleville, 84-0
Oct. 28, Won, at Passaic Valley, 26-21
Nov. 3, Won, Wayne Hills, 30-20
Nov. 10, Won, Linden, 16-13*
*North Jersey Section 2,Group 4 playoffs
Phillipsburg playoff history
By JR Parachini
Since 2004, Phillipsburg is 7-0 at home (Bellis Field at Maloney Stadium) in semifinal games – all in North 2, Group 4.
Phillipsburg last lost at home in the playoffs last year in the first round to Sayreville 21-7 in North 2, Group 4 and before that in 2003 in the first round to eventual champion Ridge 31-27 in North 2, Group 3. Phillipsburg semifinal wins (all in North 2, Group 4) at home since 2004:
- 2004 – Elizabeth 14-12
- 2005 – Union 56-14
- 2006 – Union 42-20
- 2009 – Westfield 35-7
- 2013 – Iselin Kennedy 42-14
- 2014 – Woodbridge 34-13
- 2015 – Colonia 28-13
Phillipsburg has won seven state championships in the playoff era and 13 overall.
Phillipsburg has won 13 state titles, according to the Phillipsburg football website:
(from 1974-1981 and 1995-2013…*not eligible for state playoffs from 1982-1994)
- 1918, 1935, 1941,1942, 1949, 1960 (best team in the state)
- 1977, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014 (state sectional champion)