CLARK – While Johnson’s fourth consecutive victory was not perfect or even up to the coaching staff’s standards, the Crusaders did extend their winning streak and moved one step closer to clinching a second straight playoff berth in Central Jersey, Group 2.
Johnson scored single touchdowns in three of the four quarters and took care of business Friday, downing Belvidere 21-7 in a Mid-State 38 Conference-crossover contest during Seniors Night at Nolan Field.
Johnson increased its winning streak to four and improved to 4-3, while Belvidere had a five-game winning streak snapped and fell to 5-3. Last year Johnson snapped a six-game Belvidere winning streak (winning 28-14 at Belvidere) en route to making the grade in CJ, G2 after 0-3 and 1-4 starts.
Belvidere will qualify for the playoffs in North 2, Group 1, its eight qualifying games are complete.
Johnson, most likely, will need to win at Somerville next weekend to clinch one of the eight berths in CJ, G2. Somerville lost at Bernards 35-7 Friday night and is 2-6.
Last year Johnson defeated a 0-8 Somerville team 43-0 on Seniors Night. The Crusaders expect this year’s Somerville squad to put up much more of a challenge.
“This won’t get it done next week,” second-year Johnson head coach Anthony DelConte told his team after the game, referring to its overall effort vs. Belvidere. “We escaped tonight.”
Johnson did get off to a good start, which was key, and played in front the entire game.
After holding Belvidere to a three-and-out, Johnson took over at its own 33 and quickly began to move the chains behind senior quarterback Anthony Rizzuto leading the team’s triple-option threat.
The Crusaders marched 67 yards in 12 plays with five different ball-carriers getting touches. Senior back Eddie Bergen completed the drive by scoring from four yards out on second-and-goal.
Senior Andrew Sanchez carried three times for 27 yards, junior Nick Fischetti two times for 13, Bergin four times for 12, junior Jon Duffy one time for eight and Rizzuto two times for seven.
“We got a great push from our offensive line,” Bergin said.
“We stopped them, got the ball and scored, which was big for us,” DelConte said. “To start off on a good note was important.”
Johnson halted a Belvidere drive at its own 12 early in the second quarter to keep its 7-0 advantage.
Johnson’s fourth possession saw Bergin burst through a huge hole on the left side and race 66 yards – untouched – into the end zone for his second score.
“It was an outside veer,” Bergin said. “Everyone blocked well. It was perfect execution.”
“That’s the glory of our offense,” DelConte said. “They made a mistake and we capitalized on it. Eddie is tough once he gets going in the open field.”
Later in the second quarter Bergin left the game a bit woozy from taking a hit on defense and did not return. He carried the ball seven times for 80 yards and his two touchdowns.
An interception by Belvidere’s Bailey Castner gave the County Seaters the ball at the Johnson 45 with 42 seconds left before halftime. The Crusaders almost came up with an interception on the second play of the drive.
Completions by quarterback Jake Thortnon to junior running back Zack DeLuca and Castner moved the ball to the Johnson 10 with just two seconds remaining.
After a deadball, half-the-distance penalty by Johnson, the County Seaters had one more shot at scoring before intermission. Thornton first rolled right, saw nobody open to throw the ball to, and then reversed field and found and opening on the left side where he was able to reach the end zone.
Johnson rushed for 155 yards on 25 attempts in the first 24 minutes, while DeLuca led Belvidere with 28 yards rushing on six carries.
Sanchez capped Johnson’s second possession of the second half by taking the option pitch from Rizzuto and running down the right sideline 10 yards for a touchdown.
Johnson then recovered an onsides kick, with its ensuing drive halted at the Belvidere 24.
Sanchez and sophomore Kevin Metz came up with interceptions in the second half.
Duffy and Sanchez almost came up with interceptions in the second quarter.
“We know next week will be tougher,” Bergin said. “We didn’t really play as a playoff team tonight. We need to fix the little things.”
Johnson rushed for 101 yards on 32 carries in the second half for a total of 256 yards on 57 attempts (4.5 yards average). The Crusaders did not attempt a pass.
DeLuca again carried the ball six times for 28 yards in the second half to finish with 56 yards on 12 attempts.
“We saw him (DeLuca) at an East Stroudsburg camp,” DelConte said. “He’s a tough runner.
“At halftime we knew we were in a battle. The biggest thing for us was sticking to our game plan, which was to keep plugging along and to stay together as a team.”
Johnson was in the eighth position in power points in CJ, G2 going into the Belvidere game. Somerville is in Central Jersey, Group 3 this season and will be playing a sectional consolation game in two weeks.
“The Somerville game is huge, it’s our Super Bowl,” DelConte said. “They’re a well-coached team, with tough players. This is another game we will really have to prepare ourselves for and play much better in.”
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-CROSSOVER GAME
BELVIDERE (5-3) 0 7 0 0 – 7
JOHNSON (4-3) 7 7 0 7 – 21
JOHNSON – Eddie Bergin 4 run, Mike Casalino kick (J 14-0)
12 plays, 67 yards, 4:18 used
JOHNSON – Eddie Bergin 66 run, Mike Casalino kick (J 14-0)
5 plays, 83 yards, 2:48 used
BELVIDERE – Jake Thornton 5 run, No. 20 kick (J 14-7)
7 plays, 45 yards, :42 used
County Seaters capitalized on a turnover, an interception by Bailey Castner.
JOHNSON – Andrew Sanchez 10 run, Mike Casalino kick (J 21-7)
8 plays, 56 yards, 3:42 used
1995 JOHNSON REGIONAL TEAM HONORED AT HALFTIME
The 1995 Johnson Regional football team, comprised of kids from Clark and Kenilworth, produced a season to remember 20 years ago.
The Crusaders went 11-0 and captured their first state championship in the playoff era by winning North 2, Group 2.
Johnson outscored its 11 opponents by an impressive 424-24 margin, with the starting defense giving up only one touchdown, which came in the North 2, Group 2 championship game.
Johnson only yielded four six-point touchdowns the entire season, three of them in the regular season and one in the playoffs.
Johnson was the third seed in a four-team North 2, Group 2 field and won at second-seeded Caldwell 14-0 in the semifinals and then at two-time defending champion and top-seeded Summit 21-6 in the final. The starting defense gave up just six points, which was the touchdown Summit scored in the sectional final.
Head coach Bob Taylor was in his third season at the helm of the Crusaders that year. Two of his assistant coaches – Carl Peterson and Steve Shofi – were on hand Friday night, along with several of the players from that team. Among them were Frank Mentzel and Dan Guzevich.
Johnson, which began that season with three straight shutouts and later had another three-game shutout streak, captured the Mountain Valley Conference’s Mountain Division title for the first time.
Johnson’s other state championship in the playoff era was also in North 2, Group 2 and came in 2002 when the Crusaders won at defending champion West Essex 29-7 in the championship game.
1995 FOOTBALL SEASON
(A) Johnson 23, Immaculata 0
(H) Johnson 42, Roselle 0
(H) Johnson 52, Dayton 0
(A) Johnson 47, Hillside 6
(H) Johnson 51, Middlesex 0
(H) Johnson 48, Manville 0
(A) Johnson 46, Gov. Livingston 0
(H) Johnson 26, Roselle Park 6
(A) Johnson 14, Caldwell 0
(A) Johnson 54, Newark Central 6
(A) Johnson 21, Summit 6
Points for: 424
Points against: 24