CLARK – The visiting team hung tough the initial 24 minutes, first capitalizing on a turnover and second eventually moving the ball for a couple of first downs, including one made by the punter who saw open field and took advantage.
The host squad knew it performed below its usual standards the first two quarters, made some minor adjustments during intermission and then came out in the second half with a purpose.
That was to pummel the Pioneers.
That’s exactly – led by their star player – what the Crusaders accomplished.
Johnson scored four of its five touchdowns in the second half – reaching the end zone on all four possessions covering the third and fourth quarters – en route to producing a dominating 41-3 Mid-State 38 Conference-Valley Division triumph over New Providence in Friday night’s season-opener for both at Johnson High School’s Nolan Field.
However, Johnson did not dominate until the second half – give New Providence some credit for that.
The Crusaders were led on the ground by returning senior running back Joe Turek, whose debut included 158 yards on 17 carries (9.29 average) and three touchdowns – all of them coming in the second half.
“Joe is a runner with a purpose,” Johnson fourth-year head coach Anthony DelConte said.
He also put a jarring hit on New Providence sophomore quarterback Owen Kovacs in the second quarter, with the ball coming out and recovered by Johnson senior lineman Tom Bowen.
Turek was in on numerous tackles, with the Crusaders anxious to really show their ferocity when they came back out for the third quarter.
“We know we have a really good team,” said Turek, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards last year.
Johnson fumbled the opening kickoff, with New Providence senior Pat Trezza coming up with the recovery. Four plays later Trezza successfully kicked a 30-yard field goal to give New Providence an early 3-0 lead.
“We had some first-game jitters there, we were so pumped up to play this game,” Turek said. “We made the necessary adjustments at halftime, really about everything as a whole, and then settled in.”
New Providence did not total much offense in the first half – running back Chris Vass was limited to 13 yards on eight carries – but the Pioneers did get one drive going that included their first two non-penalty first downs.
Down just 10-3 with 9:49 left in the second quarter, New Providence began at its own 20. A 20-yard pass from Kovacs, who rolled right, to right end Joe D’Anna was New Providence’s first non-penalty first down and put the ball on its own 47.
Three plays later on fourth-and-nine from its 48, Trezza took the snap to punt, but then decided to do something else.
Trezza saw a good amount of real estate open on the right side, eluded one tackler full speed and then ran left for a 21-yard gain and another Pioneer first down at the Johnson 32 with 5:22 left before the break.
With less than two minutes remaining New Providence first-year head coach Chet Parlavecchio Jr. had Trezza line up for a 43-yard field goal attempt.
Trezza’s kick was long enough, but just wide right as the Pioneers sought to pull to within 10-6.
Johnson closed the game’s final possession with senior placekicker Mike Casalino hitting his second field goal, good from 40 yards out on the final play of the second quarter. His first one, which came earlier in the period, was from 25 yards out.
“Mike was huge for us tonight,” Turek said.
Casalino accounted for 11 of Johnson’s points, with all five extra-point attempts also solid.
“It’s nice having a kicker in high school,” DelConte said. “He really takes pride in that.”
Turek had 54 yards rushing on nine carries in the first half.
Brandon Rapp also had 54 yards rushing at intermission – on three carries – including one for 47 yards. He finished with 65 yards on five carries.
Johnson’s final possession consisted of five rushes totaling 68 yards – all by junior running back Sebastian Iakouchevitch. He capped the scoring drive by breaking contain, getting to the outside and running down the right sideline and into the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown run.
Johnson, which did not punt, scored on all seven of its possessions – three in the first half and four in the second.
Johnson rushed for 300 yards, with more than half of that number produced in the second half.
“Our offensive line really paved the way for us after halftime,” DelConte said.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-VALLEY DIVISION
NEW PROVIDENCE (0-1, 0-1) 03 00 00 00 – 03
JOHNSON (1-0, 1-0) 07 06 14 14 – 41
New Providence – FG Pat Trezza 30 (NP 3-0)
4 plays, from Johnson 20 to Johnson 13, 3:26 used
New Providence capitalized on a turnover, a fumble recovery by Pat Trezza on the opening kickoff.
Johnson – Mike Bruno 20 run, Mike Casalino kick (J 7-3)
6 plays, 56 yards, 3:03 used
Johnson – FG Mike Casalino 25 (J 10-3)
7 plays, from New Providence 23 to New Providence 9, 3:15 used
Johnson capitalized on a turnover, a fumble recovery by Tom Bowen after a jarring hit by Joe Turek on scrambling New Providence QB Owen Kovacs.
Johnson – FG Mike Casalino 40 (J 13-3)
7 plays, from own 20 to New Providence 23, 1:04 used
Johnson – Joe Turek 8 run, Mike Casalino kick (J 20-3)
4 plays, 56 yards, 1:56 used
Johnson – Joe Turek 2 run, Mike Casalino kick (J 27-3)
4 plays, 36 yards, 1:56 used
Johnson – Joe Turek 13 run, Mike Casalino kick (J 34-3)
3 plays, 40 yards, 1:25 used
Johnson – Sebastian Iakouchevitch 39 run, Mike Casalino kick (J 41-3)
5 plays – all runs by Iakouchevitch – 68 yards, 3:24 used