North Hunterdon QB, Luke Martini drops back to pass in the second quarter of the Lions’ 25-14 victory over Morris Knolls in the 2022 NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2 Group 4 semifinals on Friday night at Singley Field. Martini threw for 231 yards and 2 TDs and rushed for a third score.
Lions Overcome 14-0 First Quarter Deficit to Advance to N2G4 Championship
ANNANDALE, NJ—Entering Friday night’s NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2 Group 4 semifinal with Morris Knolls, North Hunterdon was looking to not only to knock off Morris Knolls for first time in three meetings, but also reach its first sectional championship in 5 years. Initially, things didn’t look very good for the Lions as the Eagles appeared to be on its way to a third straight victory against their Hunterdon County foes.
However, after spotting Morris Knolls a 14 point first quarter lead, the top seeded Lions locked down on defense against the Golden Eagles tricky Veer offense, and scored the last 25 points of the game to win 25-14. The victory landed North Hunterdon in its first sectional final since 2017 when it knocked off West Jersey rival, Phillipsburg (21-20).
While the Lions’ defense was shutting down Morris Knolls potent rushing attack led by Dom DelleMonache, its offense, spearheaded by senior QB Luke Martini and WR Derek Vaddis went into another gear. Martini threw two TD strikes of 46 and 63 yards to Vaddis in the second quarter, and then put North Hunterdon up for good with a 15 yard QB keeper nearly four minutes into the third.
Senior running back, Kente Edwards then sealed the victory with a late fourth quarter TD run from a few yards out. Martini finished the game with 14 completions in 22 attempts for 231 yards and two TDs while rushing once for 15 yards and another score. Vaddis led all receivers with 137 yards receiving while matching Edwards with a team high 5 receptions.
Edwards, who caught his 5 passes for 47 yards, also rushed 17 times for another 103 yards. Anchoring the Lions’ stout defense over the final three quarters was Alex Uryniak, who had a game high 21 tackles including 12 solos while also contributing in the run game with 10 carries for 42 yards. Tyler Anderson was also a key contributor on defense with 15 total tackles including 11 solos.
Greg Rayl chipped in on defense as well with 9 total tackles including 6 solos and 2 sacks. Aaron Yarnell (1.5 sacks), Hunter Vos (0.5 sacks), and Kieran Sturges (0.5 sacks) helped North Hunterdon finish the contest with a total of 4.5 sacks. DelleMonache was running rampant all over Single Field early on as he accumulated his two TDs, and much of his 158 yards in the first period.
Morris Knolls ended up with 179 yards rushing on the night versus only 160 yards by North Hunterdon, but the Lions outgained the Golden Eagles through the air by 209 yards. In the end, the Lions defense’s ability to shut down their opponent combined with a more balanced offensive attack proved to be too much. North Hunterdon also came up with a huge fourth down stop with less than three minutes to go to set the stage for Edwards late score.
After both teams were forced to punt on their initial drives, Morris Knolls drew first blood with a solid drive consisting of a number of runs out of its Veer offense. DelleMonache capped the drive with a one yard run. Following a Jake Merlucci extra point, the Golden Eagles led 7-0 with 2:12 remaining in the opening stanza.
Moments later, the Golden Eagles were back in business thanks to its special teams as their kickoff team recovered an onsides kick in North Hunterdon territory. Morris Knolls, utilized its superb ability to conceal the football from the eyes of North Hunterdon’s defense, produced another scoring drive highlighted by a 35 yard run by DelleMonache to set up his second TD for a 14-0 lead with just under a minute to play in the first.
North Hunterdon did finally get the ball back, and moved it efficiently in the early second before turning the ball over near midfield. After stopping Morris Knolls and forcing a punt, the Lions struck back. With 5:59 to go in the first half, Martini completed a slant to Vaddis, who then bounced off a hit from a Golden Eagles receiver, and then scampered down the field for a 46 yard TD. Morris Knolls blocked the extra point to maintain a 14-6 lead.
Following another stop by the Lions’ defense, North Hunterdon scored again as Martini aired out a 63 yard bomb down the middle to Vaddis, who outraced Morris Knolls defenders to get underneath the pass for the catch, and score. North Hunterdon failed to convert on the two point conversion attempt, and still trailed 14-12 with 2:12 left in the first half. The Lions got the ball back in the waning moments, and threw a Hail Mary pass that was knocked down as time expired in the second.
Taking the second half kickoff, North Hunterdon put Edwards to work with a number of runs. In the red zone, Martini then looked back to pass, and then scrambled to his right, ran for the corner of the end zone and dove for the pylon to score. Morris Knolls managed to stop Martini on the QB sneak for the two point conversion, but now trailed the Lions 18-14 with 8:17 to go in the third.
The defenses of both teams were able to stop the opposing offenses on the next two possessions. North Hunterdon was forced to punt late in the third, and Morris Knolls got another big play from its special teams. Golden Eagles’ punt returner, Kyle Hardie, who caught his team’s only pass in the game, returned a Martini punt some 30 yards deep into Lions’ territory.
Unfortunately, Morris Knolls was unable to take advantage and convert. After an apparent score off a gadget play was negated by a penalty, the Golden Eagles were stopped on downs. The fourth quarter saw North Hunterdon continue to put the clamps on Morris Knolls’ rushing attack, and force the Golden Eagles to pass, where they weren’t very effective.
With under four minutes to play, the Lions forced Morris Knolls to go for it on fourth down near its own 30 yard line. North Hunterdon was able to get the stop after the chain gang revealed that the Golden Eagles were several chain lengths short of the first down. The Lions then utilized Uryniak and Edwards to chew up some yardage as well as some clock before Edwards went over the left side of the line for a 3 yard TD run with just 1:57 left to play.
Vaddis then sealed the victory by intercepting a pass off of a deflection with 24 seconds to play. Martini then took a knee to close out the hard fought 25-14 victory. North Hunterdon, which lost to Morris Knolls in 2020 and 2021 by a combined margin of 70-35, improved to 10-1 overall, and advanced to the 2022 North Jersey Section 2 Group 4 Championship versus Randolph next Friday night at Singley Field at 7:00 PM.