By LARRY HENRY JR.
AUDUBON — Having one dangerous offensive weapon on a football team is key, but having a slew of players who can deliver for your team just makes your chances of winning that much higher. The Audubon Green Wave knows a thing or two about having multiple offensive weapons.
Dan Reed’s squad claimed its first playoff win in 38 years on Saturday afternoon, rolling past Gateway, 34-14, in the Central Jersey Group 1 opener. Quarterback Scott Lynch threw for 274 yards and accounted for four touchdowns (three passing) while tailback Derrick Bryant and wide receiver Luke Hoke each finished with more than 100 all-purpose yards and a touchdown apiece.
“It feels amazing to get this win today in front of the home fans,” Hoke said. “Last time we played Gateway our defense didn’t play as well as we would’ve liked, but we really came out hungry and were able to keep this season going.”
“It’s an awesome feeling, these guys have been working since the beginning of the year,” Reed said. “It’s a special group of guys and I can’t be more happy for them because this is a great experience.”
The Audubon defense stepped up from the opening whistle, forcing a turnover on downs for the Gators offense and ending what looked like a promising 15-play drive. Lynch and the offense wasted little time grabbing an early lead, with the senior quarterback finding wide receiver Billy Lindemuth down the middle of the field for a 61-yard bomb on the team’s first play from scrimmage.
“Anytime you fall down 14-0 off the bat, it’s going to be tough to get back into it, but I give our guys a lot of credit, they didn’t hang their heads and fought until the final whistle,” Gateway head coach Nick Pulli said. “This is a good Audubon team and their quarterback is a special player. He made a lot of good throws into tight windows today. We just didn’t have enough good things go our way today.”
It was two straight touchdown drives for Audubon, extending its lead to 14-0 as Lynch’s 2-yard sneak up the middle capped off a 9-play, 66-yard drive. The signal-caller called his own number and powered his way into the end zone to put the Gators further under pressure on the road.
Back-to-back punts from the Gateway offense saw Audubon take advantage just before halftime, as Hoke scampered his way down the left sideline and scored from 21 yards out for a 21-0 Green wave lead. Gateway quarterback Michael Scambia gave the Gators some life with 17 seconds left in the second quarter, dancing by several Green Wave defenders and into the end zone on a 43-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-7.
“Gateway made some adjustments defensively from the last time we played them, but offensively we knew No. 7 (Scambia) was going to be in charge of their offense,” Reed said. “He made a lot of smart plays for them and certainly made it difficult for our defense. We hope to clean a lot of that up for next week.”
The Green Wave received the second-half kickoff and kept their foot on the gas, watching Lynch connect with a diving Lindemuth for a 4-yard touchdown, the second scoring connection between the teammates.
“As an offense, we have a lot of trust in one another and today you saw that, everyone made plays when we needed them,” Lynch said. “It just frustrates the defense because you don’t know who is going to get the ball and we just try our best to spread it around and keep teams unbalanced. Everyone stepped up big today and we got a huge victory.”
Gateway cut the deficit to 15 points after Scambia’s 20-yard pass to wide receiver Payton Folger made it a 28-13 score with 3:37 to play, but Audubon had the final say to ice its seventh win of the season. Hoke’s 13-yard run helped set up Bryant’s 37-yard touchdown, giving the Green Wave their third skill position player to record more than 100 yards on the afternoon — and truly put Gateway away for good.
“Any play that we run, we know that one player can make a play and everyone on our side of the field is ready for it,” Hoke said. “It helps take the pressure off a lot, and it’s a good feeling to see a lot of guys help contribute this season. We’re going to need everyone ready for Salem, but we’re very confident in ourselves and as long as everyone does their job, we should be alright.”
Audubon finished with 457 total yards of offense, 200 more than its counterparts on the other side of the field, a testament to the amount of talent Reed has at his disposal this season. The Green Wave (7-1) have already tied last season’s win total, and with an upset victory over No. 2 seed Salem on Saturday would reach a sectional final for the fourth time in school history. Salem’s 51-0 win over No. 7 Keyport on Saturday will have the Rams as favorites to advance, but Audubon’s confidence remains high to keep its dream run going.
“They are a really good team, they’re fast, athletic, and big — but I told the guys at the end of today if we can control what we can control and do our jobs, we can hang with any team in the state,” Reed said. “Any Group 1 team they put in front of us, we will hang with them.”
“If we play well, we can beat any team we go up against, so we just have to focus on ourselves and the rest will take care of itself,” Lynch said.
Gateway (3-6) concludes its season on Thanksgiving against crosstown rival Woodbury, and Pulli is excited to see his players go out there one last time in 2021.
“We still have the biggest game on our schedule and that’s Woodbury, these kids will be ready to go and a lot of the seniors will want to go out and beat them to end their careers here,” Pulli said. “You’re going to see a lot of smiles going into that game.”
Larry Henry Jr. covers Burlington County sports for Glory Days Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @lhenry019.