ROSELLE – Before Cranford had a chance to step on the field and begin defending the North 2, Group 3 championship it captured last December, the Cougars had to deal with injuries to several key players.
Two of them were seniors Jimmy Dwyer and Nick Diaz. Dwyer suffered a concussion in the pre-season, while Diaz was out for a short time with appendicitis.
Four weeks into the season the senior tandem proved to be quite valuable at a time when Cranford was without senior lineman Chris Folinusz, who was injured in last week’s Summit game.
In addition to senior Reggie Green also getting banged up a bit in Saturday’s clash vs. Roselle, Dwyer and Diaz came through with big-time performances offensively and defensively. Dwyer rushed for a career-high and game-high 176 yards on 28 carries and scored a career-high four touchdowns, while Diaz was all over the field from his linebacker position, coming up with a fumble recovery that led to a Cranford touchdown and an interception in the first half, while he also batted away a key fourth-down pass attempt in the second.
Diaz was also playing with a cast on his left hand after breaking his wrist against Summit.
“I would play with one arm if I had to,” Diaz said. “There are no excuses.”
“As long as he has a heartbeat he’s going to be out there,” Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier said. “There might not be a tougher player that I’ve ever coached.
“He actually broke the wrist in the second quarter of the Summit game and kept playing.”
Sparked by brilliant performances from Dwyer and Diaz, Cranford produced a convincing 35-21 triumph over Roselle last Saturday in Mid-State 38 Conference-Raritan Division action at Arminio Field.
Cranford improved to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the Raritan Division, while Roselle – which qualified for the playoffs the last two seasons – slipped to 0-3 overall and also 0-3 in the Raritan.
Dwyer scored twice in the first quarter, once in the second and clinched the game for Cranford by scoring his fourth touchdown on a 14-yard run up the middle – dragging several tacklers – with 1:28 to go.
Both of Cranford’s second-half touchdown drives consisted of 12 plays – all running – with neither team committing a penalty during each one.
“We ran our hammer foundation, which is pounding through the line,” said Dwyer, who carried 10 times for 63 yareds in the first half and 18 times for 113 in the second.
There were six interceptions in the first half – three by each team – and seven penalties that were not declined – two by Cranford and five by Roselle. Cranford turned the ball over three times and Roselle four.
In the second half, there were no turnovers, Cranford did not pass the ball and the only penalty was a delay of game call against Cranford’s offense on the game’s second-to-last play.
Roselle did not complete any of its six pass attempts in the final 24 minutes.
Although Roselle pulled to within one touchdown early in the fourth quarter after a 49-yard TD run around left end by sophomore Darryn Canady and the ensuing two-point run by senior Derrick Taylor, the Rams were held to just 65 yards of offense in the final two quarters.
Because of Cranford’s two, long, second-half scoring drives, Roselle only had the ball for 13 plays in the final two quarters. A 75-yard kickoff return by junior Jean Athis set up a two-yard touchdown run by Taylor for Roselle’s first second-half score.
On the second play of the fourth quarter with Cranford ahead 28-13, Diaz got his hand on a pass by Roselle quarterback Tyrone Crutchfield on fourth-and-12 from the Cranford 21. Diaz’s effort resulted in an incomplete pass, with the drive stalling.
“Coach (defensive coordinator Joe) Hubert gives us good looks and puts us in position, so when it’s time to play the game we’re ready and already know what’s coming,” Diaz said. “Then it’s time for us to be fearless.”
After Cranford went up 21-0 in the first half, Roselle continued to hang in there and reached the end zone in the second quarter when Crutchfield scored from one yard out with 4:22 to go before intermission.
“At halftime I told our kids to keep fighting and to stay positive,” Roselle head coach Lou Grasso Jr. said. “Against a good team like Cranford you have to take some chances.”
Immediately after Roselle pulled to within 28-21, Cranford began a drive on its own 20 that would take 7:51 off the clock. Dwyer carried the first five times, Green once and then Dwyer three more times.
Green than ran for two yards and on the next play – fourth-and-two from the Roselle 18 – he found a hole up the middle and gained four yards for an important first down with less than two minutes remaining.
“Cranford’s a good team and Dwyer had some game,” Grasso said. “They’re tough up front and very good offensively.
“It’s tough to start the season not the way you expect to. If our kids keep on fighting things will work out for us.”
NOTES: Green carried 17 times for 73 yards and a third-quarter touchdown run of seven yards that capped Cranford’s opening second-half march. He completed two-of-seven passes for 20 yards and three interceptions in the first half, with Daniel Harper, Jason McRae and Mikale Waller intercepting throws against single coverage.
Green came out for a bit in the second quarter, limping on his left leg. Doing a more-than-capable job of taking his place under center was junior John Oblachinski, who completed one-of-two passes for 12 yards and also caught a pass from his wide receiver position for three yards.
In Dwyer, Cranford has another go-to player, which is key.
“He’s someone else that has just stepped up,” Rosenmeier said. “Dwyer’s are next one. He’s tough and very physical.”
Cranford’s line continued to push Roselle in the second half, led by junior lineman Robert O’Shaughnessy, who also forced the fumble that Diaz recovered in the first half.
Also coming up with interceptions in the first half for the Cougars were Green, which set up Cranford’s first score, and Oblachinski.
Canady’s only carry of the second half was his 49-yard touchdown run. In the first half, he led all Roselle rushers with 25 yards on three carries.
Crutchfield completed eight-of-20 first-half passes for 110 yards.
Senior end James Womble caught four of them for 63 yards, senior Damon Haynes three for 35 and Athis one for 12.
Haynes only carried the ball two times for seven yards, while Taylor carried 11 times for 47 yards and his second-half score.
NOTES: Cranford is preparing for another team that is coming off a bye week – Mid-State 38 Conference-Raritan Division foe Delaware Valley.
The Terriors of Frenchtown are 1-0 in the Raritan Division and 3-0 overall.
Cranford is at Delaware Valley tomorrow night at 7.
Cranford defeated Delaware Valley 41-7 at home last year, so the Terriors will be ready to go Friday night.
Roselle will seek to get in the win column again when it plays at Johnson tomorrow night at 7 at Nolan Field in Clark.
Johnson is also coming off a bye week after blanking Hillside 26-0 in its home-opener two weeks ago.
The Crusaders, because of inclement weather, needed two days to complete their opener, defeating North Plainfield 14-7.
Like Cranford, Johnson almost defeated Summit, falling 17-13 at Summit’s Tatlock Field.
Cranford and Johnson are scheduled to play each other Oct. 26 in Clark.