BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ — The Governor Livingston Highlanders needed something to feel good about immediately following a one-win season in 2019.
So, when October 2020 came around and Gov. Livingston passed all the COVID-19 protocols, the Highlanders traveled south and came away with a two-touchdown victory over Keyport.
The best was yet to come.
GL then produced a home opener like no other. In came 1-0 Hillside, winners of 13 straight and on the heels of three consecutive state championships.
“We fought hard through adversity,” GL head coach Dan Guyton said. “The kids hung in there and continued to practice hard.”
GL was primed for a bounce-back season.
“When the coronavirus hit it became a ‘be ready if’ situation,” Guyton said. “I give the kids a ton of credit.”
Against Hillside, senior Jayson Schmidt — who last year became GL’s first four-sport athlete in one school year by lettering in football, basketball, wrestling and baseball — returned the opening kickoff 91 yards to put the Highlanders in front immediately.
After surrendering the lead, Hillside scored two touchdowns in the second half, to offset a field goal made by GL’s Liam Quigley, who is a returning junior this year.
Then the Highlanders were able to produce when it counted the most.
Connor Tracy completed a sidearm pass to Victor Chait on third-and-16 to get a first down. Then Schmidt reached the end zone again. Schmidt’s second touchdown, coming late in the fourth quarter, gave his team the game-winning points.
In April, Schmidt signed a letter-of-intent to play football at The College of New Jersey.
Tracy is GL’s returning senior quarterback. His father, Bill Tracy, former Ridge head coach, joined Guyton’s staff last season.
“We had momentum right from the beginning,” Guyton said. “Jayson really got us going.”
GL came away with a hard-fought 16-14 victory, to hand Hillside its first regular-season setback in three years. “We played extremely well defensively,” Guyton said of his team’s winning performance against Hillside.
“At the end, a pass went off the fingertips of a Hillside receiver,” Guyton said. “It really was an exciting game. We were fortunate enough to coach in it, and our players responded.”
That win put GL at 2-0 for the first time since 2009.
“Hillside’s defense was really physical and gave our offense fits,” Guyton said. “We only had something like a couple of first downs before our last drive.”
“We didn’t expect that,” Hillside head coach Barris Grant said. “Our kids had not experienced a loss in the regular season in a long time.”
Hillside’s only other defeat in last year’s 4-2 season was in overtime to Delaware Valley.
The Highlanders ended up winning four of six games last season, including all three at home.
GL, which opens its 2021 season Sept. 10 at Voorhees, hopes to produce a few more memorable victories in 2021.
GL is scheduled to host Hillside again on Oct. 2.
Major improvement from a year ago
“We had major improvement during the 2020 season, where our No. 1 senior captain, Jayson Schmidt, RB/LB, led a strong senior team to one of the state’s biggest upsets against Hillside and a three-way share of the lead in our Big Central Conference 2B division,” Guyton said. “The BCC made the difficult decision not to name champions last year due to the COVID-interrupted season.
“This decision negated our program of the first football championship of any kind, albeit shared, since 1989. We were 4-1 heading into playing a strong Brearley team when our football program and school was hit with a post-Halloween outbreak that shut us down for three weeks prior to our traditional Thanksgiving Day game vs. New Providence,” Guyton continued.
“Our players put up an admirable performance in the first half, being tied 14-14 against a very well-coached and talented New Providence team,” he added. “We did not put up the performance we had hoped for in the second half and fell to our crosstown rival for the second straight year last season, by the score of 35-14.”
This season, according to Guyton, GL returns only four position starters from last season: running back/defensive back Joe Riggi, quarterback/defensive back Connor Tracy, offensive lineman/defensive lineman Frankie DiMuzio and offensive lineman/defensive lineman Tyler Prado.
“On offense, Riggi has exceptional maneuverability and vision and will start at fullback and will be our featured running back this season. Tracy, who showed great composure and toughness last year as our starter, will once again be our signal-caller at quarterback,” Guyton said. “On defense, Riggi will lead the unit from free safety. He was an All-Group 3 selection as a sophomore in 2019.
“Our team is led by an extremely high character, hard-working senior class, and we have added some great young talent at multiple positions,” he continued. “Although we are young, we are doing everything possible as a program to continue to raise ourselves to a higher standard and to a greater level of excellence.”
GL HIGHLANDERS 2021
Sept. 10 at Voorhees, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 vs. Bernards, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 at Delaware Valley, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 vs. Hillside, 2 p.m.
Oct. 8 at Summit, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 vs. North Plainfield, 1 p.m.
Oct. 22 at St. Thomas Aquinas, 6 p.m.
Oct. 30 vs. Johnson, 1 p.m.
Nov. 25 vs. New Providence, 10:30 a.m.
Head coach: Dan Guyton, ninth season
OFFENSIVE FORMATION: Wing-T
DEFENSIVE FORMATION: 4-3, 3-3
RB-DB Joe Riggi, senior (5-8, 165)
QB-DB Connor Tracy, senior (6-0, 165)
OL-DL Frank DiMuzio, senior (6-0, 230)
OL-DL Tyler Prado, senior (5-9, 220)
OL-DL Tristan Mikiewicz, senior (5-10, 250)
RB-LB-K Liam Quigley, junior (5-10, 180)
OL-LB Anastasios Kanellos, senior (5-8, 185)
RB-LB Jake Woods, senior (5-9, 190)
RB-LB Rocco Menoni, senior (5-10, 150)
Ol-OL Rocco Ditizio, junior (5-11, 280)
TE-DB Vincent Fabio, junior (5-10, 170)
OL-DL Patrick Sheehan, junior (6-8, 300)
RB-DB Owen Chait, sophomore (5-9, 150)
QB-LB Michael Geertsma, sophomore (6-0, 180)
TE-DB Patrick Kingsley, sophomore (6-0, 155)
TE-LB William Sottosanti, sophomore (6-3, 200)
OL-LB John Fajardo, sophomore (6-0, 180)
RB-DB Matthew Shaffer, sophomore (5-8, 150)
RB-LB Terrence Hanratty, freshman (5-11, 185)
OL-DL Matthew Diskin, freshman (6-1, 215)
Head coach: Dan Guyton
Offensive coordinator: Bill Tracy
Defensive coordinator: Carmen Scuderi
RB-DB: Joe Riggi
OL-DL: Mike Alleman
RB-TE-LB, special teams coordinator: Ben Collins
OL-DB: Michael Ceceri
2020 GL HIGHLANDERS (4-2)
Oct. 3 (A): GL 36, Keyport 21
Oct. 10 (H): GL 16, Hillside 14
Oct. 17 (A): Bernards 34, GL 7
Oct. 24 (H): GL 27, Johnson 7
Oct. 31 (H): GL 29, Roselle 8
Nov. 25 (A): New Providence 35, GL 14
Head coach: Dan Guyton, eighth season
Section: North Group 3
Conference: Big Central
Points for: 129
Points against: 119