CLARK, NJ — Although the calendar will say that Arthur L. Johnson High School won its football game on Saturday, Oct. 14, the Crusaders may beg to differ.
Head coach Anthony DelConte said that the game was won during the week, on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.
“We preach here that you play like you practice,” said DelConte, who played at Arthur L. Johnson and who has been the head coach of the Crusaders since 2014.
It must have been one heck of a week of practice for the Crusaders. They traveled to Middlesex County on Saturday, Oct. 14, to face a 7-0 Spotswood High School team that had yielded only 22 points and had shut out five of its seven opponents, including its last four.
After 48 minutes of play, Arthur L. Johnson got on the bus and headed back to Clark with a huge 48-0 victory that clinched a second straight playoff season.
Arthur L. Johnson, now 5-2 and winner of five of its last six after opening on Thursday, Aug. 31, with a disappointing 33-21 setback at Governor Livingston High School, is now preparing for a home game on Friday night, Oct. 20, against 0-7 South River High School, which will be ALJ’s final playoff-qualifying contest. South River has scored only 38 points in its seven games and has been shut out twice. Arthur L. Johnson won at South River, 35-9, a year ago.
The playoffs commence around the state on Friday, Oct. 27.
The Crusaders scored more than twice as many points as the Spotswood Chargers had yielded in their previous seven battles.
“Spotswood is similar to us in that they like to run the ball,” DelConte said.
Arthur L. Johnson rushed for nearly 300 yards and scored three touchdowns in each of the first two quarters to take a 42-0 lead at the break. The entire second half was played with the mercy-rule running clock.
“They have some really good players and we just did whatever we could to throw them off in the beginning,” DelConte said. “I was also happy later that we were able to get some of our younger players in.”
Spotswood was shut out for the first time since Arthur L. Johnson blanked the Chargers 44-0 in Clark last year. Spotswood went 7-3 last year, but did not qualify out of South, Group 2, the way Arthur L. Johnson did. After the loss to ALJ, the Chargers closed with wins against J.P. Stevens and Metuchen high schools.
Arthur L. Johnson produced a season-high 48 points primarily behind the exceptional play of returning junior quarterback Robert Gallagher, junior running back Ryan George and junior receiver Joshua Maltez-Torres.
Gallagher completed five-of-six passes for 132 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. George carried the ball 12 times for 169 yards and scored four touchdowns, three rushing and one receiving. Maltez-Torres caught two passes for 62 yards and one touchdown receiving.
Maltez-Torres began the scoring with a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, with George adding the extra point. The final points, scored in the fourth quarter, came on a two-yard touchdown run by Dylan Mulroy.
“Stats is not what this team is about,” DelConte said. “We share a ‘we atmosphere.’ The kids are doing what’s best for the team, in order to win.”
Whether they are prepping for a 7-0 team such as Spotswood or an 0-7 squad such as South River, Arthur L. Johnson remains even-keeled, when it comes to directing its attention toward the next opponent.
“We respect everyone,” DelConte said. “We need to have another good week of practice for South River. It’s a matter of doing it the right way.”
As for the No. 1 thing that propelled Arthur L. Johnson to come away with a seven-touchdown victory against undefeated Spotswood, DelConte said this: “The kids’ heart and desire. Wanting to get the job done and winning.”
Notes: Arthur L. Johnson made quite a jump in South, Group 2. Last week, the Crusaders were 17th and on the outside looking in at 4-2. Now, they are ninth and firmly entrenched in qualifying, regardless of the outcome vs. South River.
Spotswood, 7-1, should make it this time out of South, Group 2 and is presently 13th. The top 16 teams in each group section qualify for the playoffs.
Out of South, Group 2, Arthur L. Johnson was the fifth seed in South Jersey, Group 2 last year and lost at fourth-seeded Pleasantville High School, 25-7, in a first-round contest.
Right now, the top two teams in South, Group 2 are Point Pleasant Borough High School, first, and Rumson-Fair Haven High School, second. Last year, the two No. 1 seeds out of South, Group 2 were Raritan High School in Central Jersey, Group 2 and Point Pleasant Borough in South Jersey, Group 2.
Ironically, the fifth seed at the moment in South, Group 2 is New Providence High School, 4-4, which Arthur L. Johnson defeated, 24-19, at home on Friday, Sept. 29.
Photos Courtesy of Tom Jolly of Tom Jolly Photography