By Phil Anastasia
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Eli Cain made a solemn vow.
"We'll be back," Cain said in a hushed interview room after Medford Tech's 56-44 loss to Newark Tech on Sunday in the Group 2 state championship game.
Cain and the rest of the upstart Jaguars pushed Newark Tech to the limit through the first half of the South Jersey champions' first appearance in the state finals.
But Newark Tech used its experience, size and strength to pull away in the second half at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Cain, a junior swingman, scored 14 points and sophomore guard Myles Powell added 15 for Medford Tech (20-11).
Senior forwards Rakwan Kelly (20 points), Dwayne Murril (16 points, all in the second half) and Kemoko Turay, a Rutgers football recruit, led the way for Newark Tech (22-8).
"They started to push us around a little bit," said Medford Tech coach Nick Powell, who is no relation to Myles. "We just wore down in the second half."
The appearance in the state finals was the high point of Medford Tech's remarkable rise in their six seasons under Powell, a former assistant coach at Willingboro.
The Jaguars won their first state playoff game in 2010. They won their first South Jersey title this season, then stunned Central Jersey champion Lakewood in the state semifinals.
Eight minutes into Sunday's game, Medford Tech looked on the verge of the program's first state title as the Jaguars built a 16-6 lead.
"We were nervous," Newark Tech coach Joe Jordan said of his team's slow start.
The Terriers outscored the Jaguars, 50-28 over the final 24 minutes -- and it was 50-25 before Medford Tech's DeAngelo Hilton ended the game with a three-pointer at the buzzer.
"We usually play defense the last four minutes," Jordan said. "This time, we played defense from the second quarter on."
Newark Tech broke the game open with a 24-10 surge in the third quarter. The 6-5 Murrill slashed his way to 12 points, including a pair of three-point jumpers.
The Terriers generated second chance after second chance. In one sequence, the muscular 6-6 Turay grabbed an offensive rebound, scored, was fouled, missed the free throw, grabbed that offensive rebound and made another layup.
"Their size took over," Nick Powell said.
With returning regulars such as Cain and Powell as well as sophomore forward Dennis Tunstall (four points, 11 rebounds), Medford Tech could be positioned to make another post-season run in 2014.
"I had no idea we could come this far," said Medford Tech forward Donta Ali, the team's lone senior starter. "It was great. And my teammates are going to be back and they are going to want to win it."
Medford Tech 16 5 10 13 -- 44
Newark Tech 6 12 24 14 -- 56
M: Derrick Jones 2, Myles Powell 15, Dennis Tunstall 4, Eli Cain 14, Dionta Ali 6, DeAngelo Hilton 3.
N: Mustafa Lawrence 5, Nasir White 2, Al-Taruq Halsey 4, Dwayne Murril 16, Rakwan Kelly 20, Kemoko Turay 8, Tyree Sykes 1.