P.J. Mulcahy didn't go into Madison's state sectional final game expecting to emerge a hero.
The junior back for the Dodgers didn't even harbor those thoughts at halftime.
But when the contest was over, Mulcahy was at the center of a championship celebration at MetLife Stadium.
The 5-8, 175-pounder ran successfully and extensively out of the Wildcat formation over the final two quarters, supplying two touchdowns in the process, as Madison won the program's ninth playoff title with a 27-6 victory over Rutherford on Thursday night in the North 2, Group 2 championship game.
Mulcahy ended with 103 yards on 23 carries for the fourth-seeded Dodgers (10-2), who closed out the campaign with a nine-game winning streak to earn the school's first sectional crown since 2012 and fourth this decade.
"I knew that If I got the opportunity, I had it in me," Mulcahy said. "I was ready for anything, and the coaches trusted me. Every time we ran it, the line opened great holes.
"I had a bigger role toward the end of the season," he said. "But nothing like that. It was a lot of fun."
It all came after he gained 20 yards on five carries over the first half, which ended with Madison ahead, 7-6, following a 7-yard TD run by Dom Luppino with 39 seconds remaining before the break.
Mulcahy was far from the only star for the Dodgers, who've thrived all year on their overall balance.
The Dodgers had 17 first downs to Rutherford's five, and most glaringly, rushed for 179 yards while limiting the Bulldogs to minus 21 yards on the ground. Madison also sacked Rutherford QB Nick Birchby five times, with Max Downing involved in three of those tackles.
The line, featuring guys like Downing, Petar Haboj, Jake Ducey, Griffin Meister, Santiago Arango, Shane Horn, Dante DiIonno, Chris Rabel and Yiakos Kostidakis, was dominant on both sides.
Joe Mobley, meanwhile, was involved in two big first-down conversions in the TD drive to end the half, and then returned an interception 36 yards for a score on the first play of the third quarter.
The impressive display came after a inauspicious start for the Dodgers.
Madison received the opening kick, and ran six plays before punting from its own 36.
Rutherford then started at its own 31, and stunned Madison with a perfectly-executed trick play.
Tom Reid, who hadn't thrown a pass all season, took a handoff and then aired out an option pass to Laris Mulic, who was wide open downfield and scored for a 69-yard TD and 6-0 lead with 8:16 left in the quarter. The extra point attempt was no good.
Madison, however, was not fazed.
"We weren't going to let that happen again," Mulcahy said. "We looked at it as a one-time thing."
The Dodgers got the break they needed with just over six minutes left in the half.
Rutherford had a third-and-1 at its own 43, but standout back Kevin Kosakowski was stopped at the line for no gain.
Rather than punt, Rutherford went for the first down. Kosakowski again was stopped for no gain and the Dodgers took over with 6:06 remaining in the half.
Madison soon had a third-and-11 from the Bulldogs' 44, but Mobley -- in his only carry of the night -- ran 11 yards on a fake reverse to the right side to move the chains.
Three plays later, Madison was stuck with a third-and-14 from the 37. Quarterback Nick Coviello (4-of-5, 38 yards) threw a pass intended for Mike Dalena that went through his hands but was caught by Mobley farther down field for a first down at the 18 near the three-minute mark.
Luppino, who ended with 44 yards on 13 carries, scored his touchdown five plays later. Isaac Zapata hit the extra point for the one-point lead.
It was during the half that the Madison coaches made some adjustments in the locker room.
The changes paid an immediate dividend when Birchby, who was under pressure, threw a pass that was intercepted by Mobley near line of scrimmage on the right sideline. He returned it 36 yards for a TD and 14-6 advantage only 15 seconds in.
"That was a great job by the line to force him to throw," Mobley said. "It was a little high and I got it."
Rutherford quickly had a third-and-14, and Birchby was sacked by Downing and Zach Shupe for an 11-yard loss. The Bulldogs then got off a 16-yard punt that allowed Madison to start at the Rutherford 45.
The Dodgers then began to give to Mulcahy on direct snaps, and it resulted in an 8-play drive that ended with Mulcahy scoring on a 3-yard run for a 21-6 spread with 4:49 left in the period. Mulcahy ran six times for 27 yards along the way.
"At halftime, one of our coaches up top had noticed something," Mulcahy said. "The way they lined up specifically, we thought we could hit a couple of gaps."
Rutherford then picked up nine yards on first down, but the next two plays resulted in sacks by Downing and Haboj for an overall loss of 22 yards back to the Bulldogs' 22.
Madison then took over at the Rutherford 48 after a punt with 2:33 left in the quarter. Mulcahy once again sparked a nine play drive that ended on his 1-yard run off a direct snap with 10:04 left in the game. He carried seven times for 26 yards on the drive, all out of the Wildcat.
Madison ended the night by controlling the clock for 32:36 of the 48 minutes.
"We have multiple guys who can do things," Mobley, a senior, said. "I knew our guys would step up on the biggest stage."
The team also earned plenty of praise from coach Chris Kubik, who has now won four sectional titles in his nine years at the helm. But those other teams were all unbeaten squads with star players. This group started 1-2, and had no single go-to standout during its turnaround.
"We're just a good team," Kubik said. "That's all that we need. They're awesome. We have no superstars, we just won it with a team concept. P.J. played a great game, but we're not shocked by it. We had to adjust a couple of blocking schemes at halftime, and make a few other adjustments, and then we got the interception. You need a break sometimes, and that fueled it."
12/3/15, 5:00 PM
North 2, Group 2 Championship
RFD: Laris Mulic 69 yd Pass from Tom Reid (TD) 0-6
MAD: Dom Luppino 7 yd Rush (TD) 6-6
MAD: Isaac Zapata (PAT) 7-6
MAD: Interception Joe Mobley 36 yd Return (TD) 13-6
MAD: Isaac Zapata (PAT) 14-6
MAD: PJ Mulcahy 3 yd Rush (TD) 20-6
MAD: Isaac Zapata (PAT) 21-6
MAD: PJ Mulcahy 1 yd Rush (TD) 27-6
|3rd Down Conv||5||14||1||12|
|4th Down Conv||4||5||2||9|
|Tackles for loss||7.0||5.0|
|Time of Possession||32:36||15:24|
|24||PJ Mulcahy||24||103||2||0||8||Kevin Kosakowski||8||26||0||0|
|3||Dom Luppino||13||44||1||0||14||Nick Vicente||1||-4||0||0|
|5||Zach Shupe||8||23||0||0||7||Nick Birchby||7||-43||0||0|
|13||Nick Coviello||4||5||38||0||0||17||Tom Reid||1||1||69||1||0|
|14||Michael Kearney||0||1||0||0||0||7||Nick Birchby||8||20||54||0||1|
|2||Joe Mobley||2||25||0||81||Laris Mulic||5||107||1|
|24||PJ Mulcahy||1||11||0||17||Tom Reid||1||18||0|
|7||Mike Dalena||1||2||0||1||Sebastian Medina||2||4||0|
|FIELD GOAL LEADERS:|
|17||Isaac Zapata||1||12.0||12||17||Tom Reid||4||31.5||46|
|KICKOFF RETURN LEADERS:|
|7||Mike Dalena||3||37||0||81||Laris Mulic||2||5||0|
|PUNT RETURN LEADERS:|
|7||Mike Dalena||2||11||0||8||Kevin Kosakowski||1||7||0|
|No.||Player||Tackles for loss||Sacks||Yards||INT||No.||Player||Tackles for loss||Sacks||Yards||INT|
|2||Joe Mobley||0.0||0.0||36||1||52||Dante Dilonno||0.0||1.0||0||0|
|82||Peter Haboj||0.0||1.0||0||0||8||Kevin Kosakowski||1.0||0.0||0||0|
|75||Griffin Meister||0.0||1.0||0||0||60||Shawn Williams||3.0||0.0||0||0|