LINDEN – “No matter what happens, I’m proud of my kids,” second-year Linden head coach Al Chiola said.
Favored Linden took care of business Friday night, topping winless Franklin 38-21 at Cooper Field to even its record at 4-4.
A three-game winning streak, which may or may not get the Tigers into the playoffs in North 2, Group 5, was bolstered by a rushing attack sparked by sophomore tailback Brandon George and bruising junior fullback Jayden Johnson.
George led all rushers with 158 yards on 17 carries, with three of them reaching the end zone.
Johnson rushed for 115 yards on 19 attempts, including one touchdown. Johnson also had a 44-yard touchdown run down the right sideline called back because of a Linden block-in-the-back penalty. Linden ended up missing a field goal on that third quarter possession.
George rushed for most of his yardage in the first half, eight carries for 122 yards; and Johnson for most of his in the second after gaining just 16 yards on four carries in the first 24 minutes.
“Our offensive line has been outstanding lately, giving me five seconds in the pocket,” said Linden senior quarterback Joey Krempa, who threw a touchdown pass in the first quarter and a two-point pass in the second to increase Linden’s lead to 21-7.
Those offensive linemen, also lauded by Chiola, include senior Robert Gaudenzi (LT), senior Wilner Louis (LG), senior Isaiah Alejo (Center), senior Amir Bryant (RG) and senior Kameron Yeldell (RT).
Franklin, now 0-8, came to Linden to obtain its first victory of the season and never gave up. The Warriors went ahead 7-6 in the second quarter after the first of three touchdown passes thrown by junior Antonio Scott.
Franklin then capitalized on a Linden turnover – a fumble by the Linden offense – by scoring its third touchdown to pull to within three at 24-21 very early in the fourth quarter.
Linden’s running game wore down Franklin the rest of the way.
“We challenged all of our players and our offensive line really played well, opening up the running game for us,” Chiola said. “I knew Franklin was not going to be easy and I tip my cap to them.
“I told my kids at halftime that they were not going to just lay down and roll over. It got to be a tight game and we needed every yard.”
Once Linden went ahead 21-7 with two touchdowns in the second quarter, it appeared that the Tigers might pull ahead even more.
They had a chance to in the third quarter when Steven Ortiz attempted a 32-yard field goal. After just making a 39-yarder in the second quarter, this time the kick by Ortiz was not high enough to go past the crossbar.
“This was a weird game,” Krempa said. “We had some mental mistakes, some fumbles and a missed kick, but we had our stable of horses in George and Johnson running the ball for us.”
Coming up with interceptions for Linden were senior Traivon Hodge, a senior who returned his 60 yards and which led to a score; and junior Dirage Parker, whose catch came at game’s end.
“Our defense has always been strong,” Krempa said.
Should Linden not qualify for the N2, G5 playoffs, the Tigers will most likely host a section consolation game next weekend, probably against Watchung Hills or Dickinson of Jersey City.
Also with a game at Union on Thanksgiving, Linden – whether it makes the playoffs or not – has a chance now to produce a winning season.
“We can only control what we can do,” Chiola said. “I’m proud of the way our kids responded after we were 1-4.”
Linden began with Westfield, Ridge, Elizabeth and Bridgewater-Raritan among its first five games. All of those teams qualified, once again, for the N2, G5 field.
“Our schedule was top-heavy,” Krempa said. “We’re now focusing on a goal of finishing the season strong. We were in a similar situation last year.”
Linden won its last two games and four of its final six last season to overcome a 1-3 start and finish a non-playoff year even at .500.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-NON DIVISION GAME
FRANKLIN (0-8) 00 07 07 07 – 21
LINDEN (4-4) 06 18 00 14 – 38
LINDEN – DeAndre Clark 22 pass from Joey Krempa, kick failed (L 6-0)
5 plays, 70 yards, 2:55 used
FRANKLIN – Marlon Boston 35 pass from Antonio Scott, Helal Helal kick (F 7-6)
2 plays, 45 yards, :40 used
LINDEN – Brandon George 3 run, Traivon Hodge pass from Joey Krempa (L 14-7)
3 plays, 15 yards, 1:11 used
Linden capitalized on a turnover – an interception by Traivon Hodge.
LINDEN – Brandon George 72 run, Steven Ortiz kick (L 21-7)
1 play, 72 yards, :13 used
LINDEN – FG Steven Ortiz 39 (L 24-7)
6 plays, from own 20 to Linden 22, 1:44 used
FRANKLIN – Tyler Howard 46 pass from Antonio Scott, Helal Helal kick
FRANKLIN – Clayborne Fields 18 pass from Antonio Scott, Helal Helal kick
Franklin capitalized on a turnover – a fumble the Linden offense lost.
LINDEN – Jayden Johnson 10 run, Steven Ortiz kick (L 31-21)
6 plays, 75 yards, 3:22 used
LINDEN – Brandon George 10 run, Steven Ortiz kick (L 38-21)
8 plays, 46 yards, 4:36 used