Junior fullback Josh Mercado recovered from a nearly disastrous fumble to punch in a one-yard score with 13 seconds left and give Hoboken a 13-7 win against Shabazz in the state sectional final Saturday at Kean University.
Mercado, who finished with 79 yards on 29 carries, told the Star-Ledger that being stripped of the ball on the drive's penultimate play was "like a nightmare," but that as soon as he recovered his own fumble, he "knew all was good from there."
"They know that once that play's over, there's nothing they can do about that play, but they can do something about the next play," Redwings coach Lou Taglieri told the Star-Ledger. "(Josh) did that by winning the game."
Mercado's score culminated a 78-yard game-winning fourth quarter drive that secured Hoboken's repeat as North Jersey Section 2, Group 1 state champions.
On the game's deciding drive, the Redwings took over on their own 22-yard line following a defensive stop deep inside their own territory and immediately reversed field position on a 68-yard catch-and-run by 6-foot-2 senior tight end De'Shawn Reed.
Two runs and two defensive encroachment penalties later, Mercado ran it in to the end zone from one yard out for the winning score.
"You have to always have a positive state of mind and keep fighting no matter what," Mercado told MSG Varsity. "We had to find a way...We had to do it."
The last-minute score was the game's only offensive touchdown.
Shabazz opened up the game's scoring in the first quarter on a 29-yard interception return. Hoboken then tied it in the second on an errant snap that flew over the Shabazz punter's head and Jarius Mills recovered for a touchdown.
Despite threatening deep inside Hoboken territory twice in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs failed to score the rest of the way.
"In a state championship game, to have two scoring opportunities down inside the 20 and come away with nothing, that always hurts," Shabazz coach Darnell Grant told the Star-Ledger. "And then that long pass at the end, that killed us. You can't make those crucial mistakes. It was us. We had our chances. We had the game won, we had it in hand. We just didn't finish."