For the second year in a row a three-game winning streak has evened Johnson’s record following another tough 0-3 start.
The Crusaders of Clark just notched their first road win and have scored the same amount of points – 110 – as they have surrendered.
Johnson’s next goal is to prove that it is better than average as the Crusaders are preparing for a big Seniors Night home game this Friday against a very challenging 5-2 Group 1 Belvidere squad.
Johnson is back in the playoff picture in Central Jersey, Group 2 and with wins in its final two qualifying games against Belvidere this weekend and at Somerville next week, the Crusaders should make the grade for the second straight season.
Johnson overcame last year’s 0-3 start by winning four of its next five games to qualify with a 4-4 record at the cutoff.
The Crusaders, who finished 5-5 last year including a CJ, G2 quarterfinal loss at eventual champion Rumson-Fair Haven, no longer wants to be considered just mediocre.
Johnson, which won at Belvidere 28-14 last year – and Belvidere reached the North 2, Group 1 semifinals a year ago – is seeking its first winning season since finishing 6-4 in 2012.
“We had to find ourselves,” second-year head coach Anthony DelConte said. “Our offense sputtered. We were making too many mistakes and that was holding us back.”
Johnson, which again began the season with losses to Bernards, Voorhees and Delaware Valley, managed 41 points in its first three games, averaging two touchdowns per contest.
The Crusaders just scored more than 30 for the first time in Saturday’s big 34-15 win at 3-3 league foe Hillside. Senior quarterback Anthony Rizzuto scored two of the five touchdowns, with senior fullback Eddie Bergin, junior Nick Fischetti and sophomore Joe Turek scoring the others.
“It’s important for us to spread it out, that’s what the Triple Option is all about,” DelConte said. “Nobody here cares who the star is.
“It’s a matter of who steps up and who takes it away. Our kids just want to win.”
Johnson knew it was going to have its hands full with a Hillside team that had just come off a tough 51-17 non-league loss at undefeated Cranford. Returning at quarterback for the Hilltoppers was junior Kevin Miller, who suffered a foot injury and had to leave the Cranford game.
“It was a battle,” DelConte said. “We talked all week about how they had good athletes. It was a matter of both wanting it badly and both having discipline and the ability to play together.
“Both did. We just happened to capitalize off of their mistakes. It was a good team win for us.”
Fischetti gave credit to his entire defense for its solid performance against a Hillside team that just two weeks ago nearly scored 50 in a 49-34 league triumph at Bernards.
Leading that unit was senior end Justin Falke (6-1, 230).
“Justin has such a passion for the game,” DelConte said.
Johnson’s defense, also led by the likes of senior free safety Andrew Sanchez, sophomore strong safety Kevin Metz, junior free safety Vin Crisafi and other linemen including sophomore tackle Dan Olenick, junior tackle Brett Roessle and junior Mike Brennan (who is also listed as an outside linebacker), sparked a 12-0 home shutout win over Governor Livingston on Oct. 2, which was the beginning of the present Crusader three-game winning streak.
Standing at 3-3 overall, Johnson is tied for second in the Mountain Division of the Mid-State 38 Conference with a 2-2 record. Delaware Valley leads at 3-0, while defending champion Roselle is in last place at 1-3.
Johnson’s second victory was a 23-14 triumph at home over Roselle last weekend.
Although the Belvidere game is not a division contest it’s still extremely important to Johnson’s playoff fortunes. Even though the Valley Division member County Seaters are only a Group 1 school, they do have five wins, still presenting a large number of power points for the Crusaders to gain.
Johnson presently moved up to the eighth and final qualifying spot in CJ, G2, one power point ahead – 57-56 – of 2-5 Roselle.
“Belvidere will be another battle,” DelConte said.
Belvidere was 6-1 and on a six-game winning streak when the Crusaders ventured to Warren County 12 months ago and came away with a 28-14 triumph. Belvidere finished 8-3.
This time Belvidere is on a five-game winning streak – winning all of the games by double digits – after starting 0-2. The most impressive win is a 33-14 triumph over Roselle Park, which is 4-2 and its only other loss coming to Brearley, which is 7-0.
“Our motto is, ‘all 45 guys for all 48 minutes,’” DelConte said.
UNDEFEATED TEAMS CONTINUE TO EXCEL AT HIGH LEVEL
Union County still has four undefeated teams, with two of them winning by one touchdown Friday night – Cranford (7-0) and New Providence (6-0) – and the other two – Westfield (6-0) and Brearley (7-0) – by double digits Saturday.
Two of them – Cranford in North 2, Group 3 and Brearley in North 2, Group 1 – are top seeds at the moment.
Westfield moved up to No. 2 in North 2, Group 5 and New Providence moved up to sixth in Central Jersey, Group 2, a section the Pioneers are in for the first time.
Brearley, which won at Roselle 35-21 Saturday, has outscored the opposition 214-71, with one shutout.
Cranford, which scored late at non-division foe Delaware Valley to win a 6-0 vs. 6-0 battle Friday night by the score of 28-21, has outscored the opposition 276-106 and also has one shutout. Cranford defeated Delaware Valley for the fifth straight season.
Westfield, which is off to a 6-0 start for the first time during head coach Jim DeSarno’s 10-season tenure, boasts of the biggest positive point differential of any team in Union County. The Blue Devils have scored 203 points and yielded just 48. Westfield dominated visiting North Hunterdon 45-6 Saturday, winning its fifth game by double digits and scoring the most points so far this season.
New Providence, which came back in the second half to down visiting division foe Bound Brook 28-20 Friday night, has outscored its first six foes by a 185-59 margin that includes one shutout.
Defending champion Cranford leads the Raritan Division at 6-0, with league games remaining at home against Governor Livingston and at North Plainfield.
Brearley and New Providence are tied for the Valley Division lead at 6-0. Brearley has league games at Bound Brook and home vs. New Providence, while New Providence will wrap with league games at Roselle Park and at Brearley.
Westfield leads the Watchung Division at 6-0 and has one league game remaining at home against Thanksgiving Day rival Plainfield.
Other Union County teams that are on their way to making the playoffs include Elizabeth (5-2) in North 2, Group 5; Summit (4-3) in North 2, Group 4 and Roselle Park (4-2) in North 2, Group 1.
Elizabeth, like Johnson, has scored the same amount of points as it has given up so far, 127. The Minutemen won in overtime Friday night, downing visiting Hillsborough 28-21 at Williams Field.
Summit snapped its first three-game losing streak since 2008 by downing visiting Voorhees 38-16 Saturday at Tatlock Field.
Roselle Park has won two straight and has outscored the opposition 170-80, including two shutouts. The Panthers blanked visiting Dayton 44-0 at Herm Shaw Field Friday night.
Union and defending champion Linden, both 3-4, will most likely need to win their final qualifying games to make it in North 2, Group 5. Union’s last qualifying game is at Ridge this Friday night, while Linden’s final one is at home against Elizabeth Nov. 7.
Linden will host Union at Cooper Field on the night of Nov. 25, Thanksgiving Eve.