North Plainfield sputters early but then rolls past South River to stay unbeaten

The North Plainfield offense could not have looked more out of sync in the first 20 minutes of the game. An interception, a fumble and a blocked field goal had the Canucks wondering if their undefeated season was going to slip through their fingers.

Then North Plainfield turned to their two most dynamic playmakers, Keiahn Grenald and Khan-Yae Stevens, and magic began to happen.

Grenald’s first snap under center in relief of starting quarterback Michael Knight was a touchdown pass to Stevens. Then, after a South River fumble, North Plainfield used some razzle-dazzle to resuscitate the offense. On the first play after the fumble recovery, Grenald pitched to Stevens, who then threw downfield to Jihad Dudley for another score.

With Grenald and Stevens helping to manufacture two TDs in just 37 seconds, the North Plainfield motor began humming again, and the Canucks went on to cruise to a 35-14 victory in a Big Central Football Conference, Division 2A contest on Friday evening at Krausche Field in North Plainfield.

“When I take over the offense, I know I have the boys behind me and it’s time to lead the team, and go down and score,” said Grenald, a junior who completed 2 of 5 passes for 65 yards and a score and carried the ball nine times for 42 yards and two TDs. “Once my boy Yae caught the TD and he threw one to Jihad, I knew we would be rolling from there.”

The Canucks (5-0) are enjoying their first winning season in 10 years, since a NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 playoff berth in 2010. They will close out the regular season Nov. 5 at West Milford.

Quite a change from a 4-6 season in 2019 and averaging two wins per season since 2014.

“I’m really close with all my seniors and it really means a lot to help them have the best reason possible,” Stevens said. “We turned it around because we all had faith. We knew from the jump we had a chance to beat everyone we played as long as we played our hearts out every night.”

Stevens, a senior, enjoyed quite a performance, catching a TD pass, throwing for a score and returning an interception 60 yards for a TD as well. Stevens now has five picks on the season and three have been returned for touchdowns.

But it was the TD catch and then the pass, the first of his career, which flipped the script for North Plainfield.

“In practice, at first I didn’t trust myself throwing the ball, but after a while I got used to it and in the game it worked,” Stevens said. “I’m not the throwing type. I’m not a quarterback at all. When I rolled out I was thinking he (Dudley) better go get it cause I’m gonna just throw it.”

“We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds early, but those two plays absolutely changed the momentum, and I felt like our guys responded,” North Plainfield coach Jim DiPaolo said. “We needed our playmakers to step up. Once they did that things got rolling. We always tell our kids let’s worry about going 1-0 this week, but we’re awfully proud of them for going 5-0.”

South River tied the game at 14-14 in the third quarter when Ryan Kurtz connected with Tiago Silva, who made a nice diving catch in the left corner of the end zone with 8:12 left in the period.

North Plainfield’s Elijah Roselle recovered a South River fumble at the Rams 11, but the Canucks were unable to convert a 26-yard field goal. But another South River turnover, an interception by Gio Threatt at the Rams’ 19, set up Grenald’s first TD run, a 1-yard bolt which gave the Canucks a 21-14 lead with 1:49 left in the third.

Stevens added a 60-yard pick-6 in the fourth quarter, and Grenald added another 1-yard TD run with 2:40 to play.

For South River (2-2), Austin Soares rushed 19 times for 97 yards and a touchdown. Kurtz completed 7 of 16 passes for 41 yards, a TD and three INTs.

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