CLARK, NJ — The visiting South River High School football team went right after Arthur L. Johnson High School’s team by first going to a quick-hit running game that read the holes and then adding a passing attack that found the receiver open when it counted the most.
Although the Crusaders hung tough and played hard for 48 minutes, they could not withstand the Rams scoring the first two times they had the ball.
That set the tone as South River managed a convincing 26-7 triumph over Johnson in the Big Central Conference–Division 2B clash at Nolan Field on Friday, Sept. 17.
South River improved to 2-1 overall with its second straight win and to 2-0 in Division 2B, while Johnson fell to 1-2 overall and 1-1 in the same division.
The Crusaders scored their lone points on a touchdown inside the game’s final minute to avoid getting shut out for the second time this season and in their home opener.
South River senior running back De’Andre Morris almost broke his first carry from scrimmage, settling for 6 yards on his team’s first play of its initial possession.
On the very next play, Morris sped just a bit quicker through another hole and this time raced 72 yards before he was caught from behind by Johnson senior defensive back Jasen Hernandez at the Crusader 7.
Two plays later, South River scored the first of its four touchdowns to take the lead for good when senior quarterback Ryan Kurtz found senior slotback Jeffrey Ferriera in the right corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown pass.
“Scoring first after getting a big stop really put our spirits high,” said Morris, referring to the fact that Johnson had the ball first and, after producing one first down, was halted on its initial possession. Morris carried 15 times for a game-high 123 yards and one touchdown.
After limiting Johnson to a three-and-out on its second drive, South River went right back to work on offense. This time, the Rams put together a methodical, 13-play, 71-yard march that took almost nine minutes off the clock before Morris concluded it by bursting up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown run.
“On defense we came up on every play, and offensively we ran a lot of different plays that I think confused them,” Morris said. “This was a really good win.”
South River went ahead by three touchdowns to take a 19-0 lead at the break when four different players had their hands on the ball on a play with less than two minutes to go in the second quarter.
After Johnson gained possession by recovering a fumble, a vicious hit by junior defensive back Dylan Perrotto led to junior linebacker Vincent Pisano recovering the ball for the Crusaders. Johnson then gave the ball right back by losing a fumble of its own.
On first-and-10 from the Johnson 38, Kurtz handed off to Morris, who then flipped the ball to Ferriera, who then tossed the ball back to Kurtz. While all this ball movement was going on, 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior tight end Jordon Crawford slipped through the offense and was wide open over the middle.
Kurtz hit him at the Johnson 20 and then Crawford ran untouched with the ball into the end zone to add to his team’s already double-digit advantage.
Johnson was outgained 255-42 in total yards after the first 24 minutes.
“We made too many mistakes and shot ourselves in the foot,” Johnson head coach Anthony DelConte said. “On defense we were not sticking and doing what we needed to do.
“We weren’t reading our keys, and we were not lined up properly. You can’t make that many mistakes.”
South River received the ball first in the third quarter and went down the field to score what would be its final points. Kurtz again found Ferriera open, this time on the left side for an 8-yard touchdown pass that culminated an 80-yard drive that took nine plays and used up more than five minutes.
Kurtz completed seven-of-eight passes for 133 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He did have one pass go into the hands of Johnson junior linebacker Jason Greenbush on a failed 2-point pass attempt following his team’s third score.
With 6:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, Johnson put together a scoring drive it could be proud of, marching 80 yards in 12 plays and reaching the end zone with 33.8 seconds to go.
Hernandez, also Johnson’s quarterback, finished the drive by first going backward a bit and then moving forward behind his blockers to reach the end zone on a 1-yard run. Junior placekicker Brett Makowsky added the extra point.
Hernandez completed three-of-six passes for 38 yards. One of his completions was good for 17 yards on Johnson’s scoring drive.
Johnson sophomore running back Brandon Brown, who wore No. 34, rushed for 61 yards on 12 carries. His biggest gain was for 21 yards and a first down on Johnson’s scoring drive as he dragged numerous tacklers for several yards before being brought down.
Senior lineman Nicholas Pingor made his presence felt on defense by being among Johnson’s leading tacklers.
“It doesn’t reflect it on the scoreboard, but I felt we did move in the right direction,” DelConte said. “The hustle and the effort was there.
“The kids fought hard for 48 minutes, and I’m proud of them for that. We played better in the second half. We have yet to play a full game. We’re not there yet. We have to keep on grinding.”