NEWARK – The Millburn High School football team defeated Barringer High School, 34-26, in triple overtime on Saturday, Oct. 7, at Schools Stadium in Newark.
It’s week 6 and the push for the 2023 New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s group state football championships has begun. Teams are jockeying for the coveted 16 spots in the playoffs for all seven Groups statewide in all five major conferences and it is making things quite interesting as some of the usual suspects are looking for the late-season change in luck with their current positioning. For those that don’t have a playoff qualifying record and combined power points, they will qualify for the NJSIAA regional invitational tournament. One of the more interesting races and must win-out situations is in the North Jersey, Group 5 race. There are a couple of teams that are eyeing the playoffs that will certainly make the RIT a super alternative if they were to go into the tournament this week. Teams like the Barringer Blue Bears and the Millburn Millers are such examples of this situation with the NJSIAA football playoffs qualifying cutoff race.
Barringer and Millburn were both coming off big losses this past week. Barringer had a two- game skid, losing to Orange in a 50-37 barn burner two weeks ago and was shocked with a 40-8 loss to the Snyder Tigers at Jersey City’s Caven Point. Millburn fared a little better in the past two games. The Millers were able to give Belleville a major stiff-arm with a 40-6 win, before running into the very same Orange Tornadoes the following week. The Millers lost that game, 30-14, setting up an all-important Super Football Conference cross divisional North, Group 4 showdown. Currently both teams need crucial power points to get into this year’s North, Group 4 playoffs or the Regional Invitational Tournament. Also on the line were the respective division championships. For the Bears, they were leading the Super Football Conference–Freedom Red Division, with both perennial threats East Orange and West Orange hot on their heals going to this past weekend’s game. A win for the Blue Bears would set the stage for a Turkey Day extravaganza with all the fixings when East Orange will switch sides as a visitor at Newark Schools Stadium. On the other hand, Millburn is currently chasing SFC–Patriot White Division foe West Essex and would need a win to gain some traction.
Barringer and Millburn, playing the first of a doubleheader this past weekend at a rain-soaked Newark Schools Stadium, would both trade punts on their first possessions to start the game. But the Blue Bears, who celebrated Homecoming with a parade on Bloomfield Avenue near Branch Brook Park, decided to take the first chomp of the Millers. Starting from the 2=yard line, Barringer senior QB Alexander Feliciano would spark the early bite into the Millers defensive unit with a 20-yard elusive blast for a big first down. He would continue to send more running punches with his running back corps led by Rakir Brown and Damien Ramirez, with the help of receivers Tyshawn Young, Quamain Young, Nyzir Kearney and Adonis Akande through the air. He sent Brown in for the 1-yard gut punch to seal the 10-play, 97-yard march to take a late first quarter 6-0 lead.
The Millers were forced to punt to start the second quarter where Barringer would sustain an 80- yard march in 11 plays, with Brown slipping through the front door for a 6-yard house call to put the Blue Bears up 12-0 after a failed 2-point conversion with 3:35 remaining in the first half. Millburn QB Cooper Titan continues to be a threat on the ground with the help of his crew running backs Quentin Kuehne, Brett Molka and Hayden Vo, along with receivers Jake Fishkin, Ryan Feldman, and William Davis. After attempting to play keep-away with Orange, the Millers decided to change their tactics and fight fire with roaring fire. The Millers proceeded to gather a head of steam with Titan as the engineer. Mixing a steady helping of runs with a sprinkle of passes, Titan would march the Millers 59 yards in 11 plays, which included his 20=yard escape up the Barringer sideline with under a minute left in the first half. He would set up his 1-yard sneak into the end zone to cut Barringer’s lead in half after a blocked field goal to close the half at 12-6.
The third quarter had Millburn picking up where it left off after a big kickoff return to open the second half. The Millers would set up shop at the Barringer 14-yard line and take full advantage of the short yardage in six plays. Titan fed Kuehne and Feldman the ball four straight times before being sacked like a bag of potatoes for a short loss by the Blue Bears defensive line, led by Adonis Akande. Titan just popped back up on the next play and threw a quick 8-yard dart to WR Brett Molka for the go-ahead 1312 score after the point-after kick.
Barringer, starting to feel the pressure the Millers were bringing, had to make some adjustments on the fly as the Bears had their star, Rakir Brown, on a pitch count during the game due to a knee injury that he suffered from his appearance against Orange two weeks ago. But his presence was very much felt, as his squad immediately responded to Millburn recovering a squib kick and an eventual interception of a Millburn pass by his teammate, DB Quamain Young, putting the Blue Bears squarely in ball control mode at the Millburn 43-yard line. Brown’s backfield mates Young and Ramirez along with QB Alex Feliciano found room to rumble and sprint as Millburn’s defense was looking to bring a brick wall to stop them. That only forced the Blue Bears to barrel through with chunk yards, setting up Brown’s second 1-yard punch into the house and Feliciano’s easy skip for the 2-point conversion, giving Barringer the 20-13 lead once again with 3:29 left in the third quarter.
The Millers resorted back to their keep-away mindset, as they flexed a nearly 10-minute drive spanning the remainder of the third quarter and going deep into the fourth. The drive started from the Millburn 20-yard line from where the Millers 10-miinute drive covered 80 yards in 16 plays, where Titan’s mobile expertise gave him the wiggle room to exploit the middle of the Barringer defense on a 12-yard scoring scamper, giving the Millers a choice to tie the game and force overtime or go for two points. The Millers opted for the extra point, tying the game 20-20 with 6:47 left in regulation.
Both teams traded fumbles during the remaining time left, essentially canceling any late-game scoring attempts and forcing overtime.
As a reminder, overtime rules on the high school level spot the ball on the 25-yard line after a coin toss to see who will take the ball first. Barringer won the toss, but elected to go on defense first, giving the Millers first crack at the end zone. But the first overtime resulted in an Interception by Barringer and a forced Millburn defensive stop to send the game into double overtime. Barringer’s Feliciano drew the first strike in the second OT. He orchestrated a five-play drive from the 25-yard line, splitting running duties between him and Ramirez, before tossing three passes and connecting on two of them. The third pass was a 15-yard heat-seeking missile to WR Tyshawn Young to put Barringer up 26-20.
But Millburn’s Titan would respond in kind, putting the team on his back and carried the ball four out of five times that Millers ran the ball. Titan would cap the drive with a 2-yard dive to paydirt, tying the game once more at 26-26 and forcing a heart-stopping triple overtime. Millburn would strike while the iron is hot, making it slightly more challenging for Barringer. Millburn RB Brett Molka was tapped to do the honors, as his quick 15-yard end round bull rush set up his 7-yard reception from Titan to give Millburn the 34-26 lead after the two-point conversion for the first time since the beginning of the third quarter in this knockout drag–out toe-to-toe battle. Barringer would find short yards on the ground when Feliciano decided to hit the airways for an attempted 20-yard scoring pass intended for Quamain Young, but Millburn’s LB Erik Davis would drop back in coverage and snag the game-saving interception.
“We fought hard and didn’t give up,” said Barringer head coach Dave McCombs to his players after the game, “We have to take this, learn from it and get ready for next week.” He also said that this wasn’t the first time Millburn did this. “The last time I was still coaching at Shabazz, and it was my last season there. Millburn played us down to the wire in overtime and won the 2 OT game 40-34 in similar rainy conditions at Millburn’s Dr. Keith A. Neigel Field back in 2009.” McCombs was fully aware that division rivals East Orange Campus and West Orange were in the crowd watching Millburn spoiling Barringer’s chance at the SFC–Freedom Red Division title, which would have been decided after this year’s Thanksgiving game was completed. The Barringer Bears will have a tough two weeks ahead of them as they will play both Bloomfield next week and Nutley the following week on the road in hopes of solidifying their playoff hopes. Millburn will have a similar tough two weeks. The Millers will head to Boverini Stadium to face Passaic High School, before coming home to tangle with the Hornets of Passaic Valley High School. Their game against Passaic Valley will give the Millers a chance to clinch a share in the SFC–Patriot White Division championship.