West Morris Central quarterback John Gutowski doesn’t need to throw passes very often, but on Saturday the Wolfpack found an opportunity to fling one they couldn’t pass up.
Gutowski’s 73-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Amandos was a catalyst for West Morris’ 35-7 rout of Warren Hills in the North II, Group IV state championship game at High Point Solution Stadium on the campus of Rutgers University.
Senior back Austin Roland rushed for 173 yards and three touchdowns and his teammate Adam Caruso rushed for 109 yards and another score for West Morris, which captured its seventh state title in school history and its first in four years.
“It’s the greatest feeling,’’ Roland said. “I’ve always dreamed of an opportunity to play in a state championship and actually win. It’s kind of sad (as a senior) because it’s the end but it’s a great way to end a career.’’
“It’s awesome,’’ Gutowski said. “I was here (watching) when we won in 2004. I was 8 years old. We did it here. It’s just an awesome feeling when everything you work for finally comes true. You work and sweat for this moment. You feel relieved. It feels great.’’
Roland had a tremendous day, scoring on runs of 10, 21 and 26 yards. West Morris built a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter before surrendering a Warren Hills touchdown on a 21-yard passing play from Zach Martin to Tai Adetula midway through the period. It would be the Blue Streaks’ only score. West Morris had a 28-7 halftime advantage and buckled down defensively in the second half to secure the win.
West Morris outrushed Warren Hills 335 to 45, but it was the success of the pass play that seemed to stoke the Wolfpack’s fire. With a 7-0 lead and the ball on its own 27-yard line, it was safe to believe Warren Hills wasn’t expecting Gutowski to launch a pass to the middle of the field that Amandos caught over his shoulder. He sprinted to the end zone with 5:06 left in the first quarter as his teammates went wild.
“We put that play in earlier in the week,’’ Gutowski said. “Coach guaranteed me it would be a touchdown pass and it worked. It was great, getting up by two scores and getting momentum. They are a good team and we knew we had to get on them early.’’
Before the game West Morris might have thought it would work but during the first quarter Wolfpack head coach Kevin Hennelly wasn’t so sure. However, he decided to go with it anyway.
“The truth is the entire staff liked it,’’ Hennelly said. “They were all big fans of it and I was letting them have some fun and then when it came time to call it, I didn’t like it and I was thinking we’re not going to do it, but you have to trust the coaches because they work so hard. It was wide open.’’
The score created a buzz on the West Morris sideline. A long-distance passing touchdown like that gave the Wolfpack a surge of adrenaline and the belief that today would be their day.
West Morris did its damage on both sides of the ball. The Wolfpack pulled together long sustainable rushing drives with Roland and Caruso banging away at the Warren Hills line. Roland did a lot of his damage running to his right side where Rob Hughes, Caruso and many others toil. Two of his three touchdowns were made on that side.
“It’s all about our line,’’ Roland said. “Our boys have been working since June 18 hitting the boards, hitting the sleds, in the chutes, working their butts off every single day. They are the reason why we are here today, they helped the offense, they make things go.’’
On defense, the Wolpack limited the Blue Streaks to 45 yards on the ground and kept their opponents in front of them most of the morning. That forced Warren Hills to throw and West Morris was ready with interceptions by Roland, Gutowski and Kevin Sears that ended potential Blue Streak drives.
West Morris was especially cognizant of Travis Hepworth; a back that is coming back from injury and has a penchant for the big play.
“We were worried about everybody,’’ lineman Kenneth Curet said. “We just tried to watch our film, get our work done, study each player, prepare and do everything that we are taught to do.’’
Curet was sensational. He had four solo tackles, including two of them for sacks.
“Curet has been solid for us all year defensively,’’ Hennelly said. “We watch film and (sometimes) we will tease him about a play—him and Hughes—but they played like men possessed today.’’
West Morris was in control from the beginning. It started the drive with a 69-yard, 10-play drive highlighted by a 27-yard run by Kevin Hennelly in the opening play from scrimmage. Roland dashed in from the 10-yard line and Amandos kicked the first of five extra points to make it 7-0 after four minutes of play.
“He’s an awesome back,’’ Gutowski said of the 5-foot-7 athlete. “Everyone thinks he’s too small. He’s got the biggest heart. He plays like he’s 6-foot-4, 200-pounds. I love him to death.’’
Warren Hills launched one of its best drives of the day in their first possession and got as far as the West Morris 4-yard-line but they were stopped on downs when Curet and Jake Butkus tackled Hapworth on a fourth down play.
Caruso had a 23-yard dash to get West Morris out of danger. On the next play, Gutowski and Amandos hooked up to make it 14-0 and the game was on.
Warren Hills was able to move the ball on their next possession but the West Morris defense stiffened again and the Blue Streaks were stalled on the opposition's 32.
The Wolfpack took over and went 68 yards in three rushing plays. Caruso rushed for eight yards, and then Roland went on a 39-yard dash. He barely had time to catch his breath before his number was called again. He found an opening for a 21-yard touchdown run to make it 21-0 with 11:51 left in the second quarter.
“We just played Wolfpack football,’’ Roland said. “We go out there, run the ball, establish the run and we rely on our hogs and they determine where we are.”
The teams exchanged scores before halftime. After Warren Hills’ score West Morris responded with a grinding 10-play, 61-yard drive that ended with Caruso’s nine-yard run with 2:38. It sent the Wolfpack into halftime leading 28-7.
Warren Hills got the ball to start the second half but their possession went nowhere and they punted it away. The Wolfpack got the ball on the Blue Streaks 43-yard line.
Seven plays later, Roland punched it in on a 26-yard run that included a couple of nifty fakes to elude Warren Hills tacklers. The 35-7 third-quarter lead would stick and the Wolfpack were able to celebrate their season-long efforts on the Rutgers turf.
“They are a completely different group than the team we had here four years ago,’’ Hennelly said. “They are so easy to coach and they work so hard. You have no idea how happy I am for them.’’