EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The new Bowl Games at MetLife Stadium offer sectional championship teams one more shot – at victory, at glory, at a memory that might last a lifetime.
They also provide the opportunity for heartbreak.
Williamstown was the first South Jersey champion to take the field on the home of the NFL's New York Giants and New York Jets in the NJSIAA's first season of super-sectional competition.
The Braves won't ever forget it.
A fumble in the end zone on a punt in the final minute doomed Williamstown to a 14-7 loss to Sayreville in the Group 5 South/Central Bowl Game on a cold Friday night in the Meadowlands.
"Unforgettable pain that will never go away," is how Williamstown senior star Wade Inge described the stunning setback.
For most the game, Williamstown seemed on the brink of becoming the first 13-0 team in South Jersey history.
The Braves took a quick 7-0 lead on Inge's 43-yard touchdown run on the Braves' second play from scrimmage. Then they settled into a fierce defensive battle with the Central Jersey champions.
"Our defense played great," Williamstown coach Frank Fucetola said.
But it all came apart in the final minute. Lining up to punt from their own six-yard line while holding a 7-6 lead, the Braves lost possession in the end zone, and Sayreville's Connor Holmes recovered the football with 41 seconds on the clock.
The Bombers, who finished 11-1, made it 14-7 on a two-point conversion pass from Jacari Carter to Antwan Golson.
"This is very tough," Williamstown senior quarterback J.C. Collins said. "We put all the work in to get here, to win this game, and for it to end this way, it's just really tough."
Collins said it was "fantastic" to play in an NFL stadium.
"That's what makes it so hard," Collins said. "This was a great experience. But for it to end this way, it's just really hard."
Inge said playing in an NFL stadium was the experience of a lifetime.
"The energy was amazing," Inge said. "You felt like a superstar out on that turf. It was just a great atmosphere. Every kid should get to be able to do this one day."
Junior lineman Aaron Lewis and junior linebacker Brandon Perkins led the defensive effort for Williamstown, which finished 12-1. The Braves tied the school record for victories in a season, set by the team that went 12-0 in 2012.
But this team had a chance to become the school's – and South Jersey's – first 13-0 team.
The Braves broke on top quickly as Inge took a pitch from Collins, skirted left end, cut back and raced 45 yards for a touchdown on team's second play from scrimmage.
After Nick Pomerleau's placement, Williamstown was in front, 7-0, and seemingly on its way to another comfortable victory.
"The blocking was beautiful," Inge said. "That was amazing. You felt on top of the world."
But Sayreville settled down, tightening its run defense and gradually improving field position. The Bombers got a big play midway in the second quarter when Zuriel Wright bounced outside and raced 57 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown.
A missed extra-point kick by Sayreville left Williamstown in front, 7-6.
The Braves sustained a major blow with 3 minutes, 26 seconds left in the first half when Inge was tackled after taking a pitch around the left side.
Inge said after the game he dislocated his right shoulder. He had undergone surgery for a torn labrum after last season.
"No way I wasn't coming back," Inge said. "I had to finish with my brothers, my family. There's nobody else I wanted to be out on the field with."
Williamstown took the long ride on Friday afternoon up to Exit 16 W on the New Jersey Turnpike with the chance to make history, to secure one more victory, to make one more grab at glory.
But the Braves also were taking a risk: That they could lose as well and end their dream season with a defeat.
They just never could have imagined the manner in which they would lose for the first and only time all season.
"It's the toughest pill to swallow," Inge said, standing in a hallway just outside the Williamstown locker room. "Everybody in here has worked and worked and worked. We did everything we had to do. We fought together as a team. We fought together as a family.
"Today just wasn't in our cards but this group of guys are champions. We'll go down in history as champions."
Williamstown 7 0 0 0 — 7
Sayreville 0 6 0 8 — 14
W: Wade Inge 45 run (Nick Pomerleau kick)
S: Zuriel Wright 57 run (kick fail)