After producing its first win and then getting a week off, Johnson is ready for the second half of its playoff qualifying games, with the Crusaders (1-3) seeking to make the grade in Central Jersey, Group 2 for the first time since 2012.
Johnson’s first win, after an 0-3 start that included three losses by a combined total of just 14 points, came in overtime at Governor Livingston 28-21.
It was also the initial victory for first-year head coach Anthony DelConte, who is a 2006 Johnson graduate.
“I’m happy for the kids, they’ve been through a lot the last few months,” said DelConte, who was previously an assistant coach at Johnson after playing his college ball at FDU-Florham.
DelConte and his staff are now preparing the Crusaders for a tough Mid-State 38 Conference-Mountain Division clash at Roselle this Saturday.
The Rams (3-2) have yet to win a home game so far this year at Arminio Field, but are tied with Bernards for the Mountain Division lead at 3-0.
Roselle has defeated Mountain Division foes Rahway, Hillside and Delaware Valley on the road, while falling to Raritan Division squads Cranford and Summit at home, both by just one touchdown.
“We already know that Roselle is going to be a battle, a team that has a lot of weapons,” DelConte said.
With Roselle, you can start with senior running back Darryn Canady and then there is first-year starting quarterback Gerald Hairston III.
Roselle produced a combined total of 60 points against Cranford and Summit teams that have a combined record of 9-1.
In Berkeley Heights the first weekend in October it was a touchdown in the first overtime by senior fullback Matt Pedicine and then a defensive stand by the Crusaders that finally put them in the win column after one-touchdown setbacks at Bernards and at home to Voorhees and a one-point loss at home to Delaware Valley.
Johnson is 0-2 in the Mountain Division and seeking its first division win.
“Against GL we found a way to finish,” said DelConte.
Johnson led GL by two touchdowns at halftime before the Highlanders – who have now won two of their last three after a 0-2 start – came back to tie the game and send it to overtime.
“In other games we had leads against good teams, but couldn’t hold them,” DelConte said. “Sometimes you have to learn how to win.”
Johnson will be extra motivated to win its first division game against a team that has yet to lose a division encounter. A win over Roselle would also be a huge boost toward Johnson’s playoff hopes.
“We have a tight-knit group here,” DelConte said. “The kids continue to work hard and represent the community and program the way they should.”
Scoring points, obviously, will be important against Roselle. Maybe more so will be preventing a high-octane Rams offense from reaching the end zone.
Roselle has scored 148 points in five games for an average of 29.6 per contest. That’s four touchdowns a game for the much-improved Rams, which is what most coaches will take.
Against GL, Johnson’s defense was sparked by senior middle linebacker and captain Mike Labianca, who produced 12 tackles; and by senior end Jacob Lopez, who had a big sack and a bunch of tackles, according to DelConte.
Other key players in that unit that game were Pedicine in the middle, junior Justin Falke up front and senior Mark Barranger in the back.
“We held GL to only 160 yards of total offense,” DelConte said. “We knew going in that GL was going to be tough and well-coached.”
Senior running back Jason Brougham scored twice and Barranger once for Johnson in regulation vs. GL. They will be counted on to try to move the chains on Arminio Field’s always-challenging grass surface.
“We’re looking forward to this game and hoping to keep our momentum going,” DelConte said.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE’S
MOUNTAIN DIVISION STANDINGS:
3-Delaware Valley (2-1)