Governor Livingston football off to a 3-1 start

Governor Livingston High School’s football team captains for 2023 are shown standing with second-year head coach Pete Ramiccio, center. From left are seniors James Campbell, No. 52; Owen Chait, No. 4; Matt Shaffer, No. 2; and John Fajardo, No. 5.

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ — In order to succeed on the football field, you need to perform with a certain amount of confidence.

It is imperative for those who don the shoulder pads and lace up their cleats to have a strong belief in their abilities once they line up for battle.

Winning breeds confidence, but you first need to play with a certain amount of that very necessary ingredient in order to, well, win.

Governor Livingston High School made some strides last year with first-year head coach Pete Ramiccio and won four games, including a three-game winning streak in September, to show marked improvement from the previous season.

Season two under Ramiccio has already included the current three-game winning streak and continued confidence from the Highlanders, who have taken to the field the year-round guidance they have accrued from Ramiccio and staff.

“It was difficult last year, because we started late,” Ramiccio said. “Having a full off-season has made a world of difference.”

Meanwhile, Governor Livingston shut out J.P. Stevens High School 34-0 at home on Thursday, Sept. 14, for its second straight shutout. The last time the Highlanders achieved that feat was in 2008.

Here’s a closer look:

• Sept. 27, 2008: Governor Livingston High School 21, John F. Kennedy High School, Iselin 0 – at Governor Livingston High School; and

• Oct. 4, 2008: Governor Livingston High School 35, Central High School, Newark 0 – at Governor Livingston High School.

Two weeks ago, the Highlanders produced a rare 2-0 victory, shutting out North Plainfield High School at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium in Union. That was Governor Livingston’s first shutout since blanking New Providence High School 10-0 at home on Thanksgiving 2015.

Holding J.P. Stevens to no points at home was Governor Livingston’s first shutout at its own Frey Field since that same game against neighborhood rival New Providence eight years ago.

The Highlanders are in a position to do something else this weekend for the first time since the 2008 season. The last time Governor Livingston won four straight was 15 years ago. That 2008 campaign saw the Highlanders reach the North 2, Group 2 sectional state championship game and finish 7-5.

Here’s a closer look at Governor Livingston’s last four-game winning streak, which occurred during the 2008 season:

• Nov. 1, 2008: Governor Livingston High School 27, Cranford High School 19 – at Cranford High School;

• Nov. 7, 2008: Governor Livingston High School 19, North Plainfield High School 13 – at North Plainfield High School;

• Nov. 15, 2008: Governor Livingston High School 14, Hackettstown High School 7 – North 2, Group 2 first round at Governor Livingston High School; and

• Nov. 22, 2008: Governor Livingston High School 32, Summit High School 28 – North 2, Group 2 semifinal at Governor Livingston High School.

The last time Governor Livingston won four straight regular season games was in 2006.

“We’re pretty excited,” Ramiccio said. “The process is starting to pay off. We’re building something here to be very competitive.”

Governor Livingston opened with a 14-7 setback at home to New Providence High School, which is also 3-1, and then rebounded with a 33-21 win at home against Arthur L. Johnson High School – a team that went 6-3 last year, beat Governor Livingston, made the state playoffs and returned its quarterback among other top players.

“Against New Providence, we were hit by the big play and then had to face a Johnson team that really went after us last year punch for punch,” Ramiccio said. “They ran right through us last year.”

Arthur L. Johnson handed Governor Livingston a 42-6 loss last season at Nolan Field in Clark, which put the Highlander record at 0-2 to start 2022. Governor Livingston responded with a three-game winning streak, the first victory in that span being the program’s initial win in the new Ramiccio regime.

Now the Highlanders are achieving heights not realized in their history for more than a decade.

“We escaped North Plainfield and came out with a win and it was the kind of game we would not have won last year,” Ramiccio said. “Against J.P. Stevens, we had a six-and-a-half-minute drive that we finished off with a touchdown. Again, that was the kind of possession we would not have been able to produce a year ago.”

Governor Livingston is preparing now for the Big Central Conference-crossover clash at John F. Kennedy High School, Iselin (0-3), on Friday night, Sept. 22, which has lost all three of its games by double digits and has been outscored 110-20.

Governor Livingston presently leads the BCC’s United Silver Division standings at 2-0. Remaining league games include South Plainfield and Carteret high schools, following the John F. Kennedy contest.

“The morale is much higher,” Ramiccio said. “We talked all winter and all summer about how important that is.”

Junior quarterback Lucciano Santamaria has completed more than 50% of his passes, 37-for-67, throwing for 490 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.

“It was a difficult decision, but Lucciano has been able to take our offense to another gear,” Ramiccio said. “He’s shown us that he can make plays when the play has broken down. He gives us another dimension.”

Jack Dally is Governor Livingston’s leading rusher with 330 yards on 44 carries and who also has a team-leading five rushing touchdowns.

“He was part of the quarterback competition, but he’s such a strong downhill runner for us,” Ramiccio said. “He took not being the quarterback in stride and has grown as a leader. He just wants to win and really plays with an edge.”

Dally, at linebacker, is also Governor Livingston’s leading tackler at the moment with 28 of them, more specifically 18 solo and 10 assists. Five of his tackles have been for losses.

“Our defensive line is also so far ahead of where we were last year,” Ramiccio said. “We have anywhere from six, seven to eight players all contributing.”

A team captain and one of the leaders of that unit is senior James Campbell, who has 12 solo and 10 assisted tackles, including a team-high six for losses.

“Since Jan. 3, James hasn’t missed a day,” Ramiccio said.

Ramiccio also cited the play of junior lineman Noah Brown, who Ramiccio said was in there only on third down last year compared to every down this season, and fellow linemen Ryan Vapenik, a junior, and Sean Seccamanie, a sophomore.

Last year, Governor Livingston was in a dogfight with John F. Kennedy, Iselin, before prevailing 16-10 at home. The Mustangs, who finished 2-8 in 2022, have lost four straight going back to last year’s season-finale setback.

“They’re in a bit of a tough stretch now, but they have a lot of talented players,” Ramiccio said of his next opponent.

Governor Livingston is right now among the top 16 schools in North, Group 3 vying to make the playoffs in that section. The Highlanders are presently 15th, just ahead of Montville at 16.

Photo by JR Parachini