GLEN GARDNER, NJ - The Gov. Livingston Highlanders put together a total team effort against the Voorhees Vikings and came away with a hard earned 21-13 victory Friday night in Glen Gardner.
The thrilling contest was not decided until GL senior linebacker Billy Qu intercepted a Viking pass at the goal line in the last minute of the game to secure the Highlander win. A stingy big play defense coupled with a dominating run game enabled the Highlanders to break a four game losing streak against the Vikings and record their first opening season win since 2009.
The stifling humid evening saw multiple players from both teams succumb to cramping and dehydration but Highlander coach Dan Guyton was able to employ the full compliment of his roster to hold off the charging Vikings.
"I am very proud of our players, specifically the toughness and resiliency they showed Friday night vs. a well coached hard-nosed Voorhees team," said Guyton. "Both teams gave everything they had and because of the heat were forced to call on back-ups and underclassmen to step up and play."
Guyton has preached the “one step at a time” mentality throughout preseason. During Friday night's match up, the GL team took this mentality to heart and focused on each play as it came and remained in the moment. The Highlanders got out to an early lead and never trailed in this game. The offense finished the game with a huge advantage in time of possession and grinded out 262 rushing yards, utilizing 9 different ball carriers. The defense also came up with big plays, intercepting three passes and closed out the game after Voorhees had advanced to their 7 yard line.
"As always, we stressed discipline and composure in the face of adversity all pre-season and it was great seeing our team respond so well in our first game," said Guyton.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Highlanders took the lead with Will Nicholson (15-64) scoring on a six yard run. The Highlanders big boys up front Dan Tomlinson, Brian Biskaduros, Mike Magliacano,and DJ Gonnelli began to dominate the line of scrimmage. Nicholson was joined by Quinn Haddad (20-100) and Pat DeAngelis (8-21) carrying the ball, culminating with Nicholson scoring from 6 yards out to give GL a 7-0 lead.
The Vikings were not having much success with the stout Highlander defense but managed to move the ball. Their last two possessions of the half ended with GL defensive back Jonathan Wong picking off passes. The Voorhees offense finished the half with just 45 total yards.
After a three and out for the Highlanders to start the second half, John Ronocorini took over as the Vikings QB and he quickly made his presence felt. Ronocorini quickly found some holes in the Highlander pass defense and finished off a 64 yard drive with a six yard pass for a touchdown, knotting the score at 7-7.
Remembering the GL 2016 season mantra ”one step at a time, one play at a time,” the GL offense went back to work and responded with a 13 play 70 yard drive capped off with Jonathan Wong running wide for a six yard touchdown putting the Highlanders back on top 14-7 with 1:06 left in the third quarter.
Just a single play after GL regained the lead, Ronocorini and the Vikings struck again. He took the snap and pitched back to the Viking backup QB and place kicker George Elberle to fake a run, but instead threw a deep pass to wide open Viking receiver Will Rodenberger (5,153) who had gotten behind the GL pass defense for a 70 yard touchdown pass.
What appeared to be a monumental shift in momentum to the Vikings was very short lived. On the ensuing Viking extra point try, GL senior corner Doug Anderson came off the right edge fully extended to block the extra point enabling the Highlanders to hold onto their 14-13 lead. --- “One step at a time,one play at a time.”
The Highlanders opened the 4th quarter with another lengthy drive which had plenty of drama. The 17 play drive covered 57 yards and took 9 minutes off the clock ending with the game's leading rusher Quinn Haddad (20-100) scoring from one yard out. Along the way Quinn's older brother Turner Haddad ( 8-46) gained some much needed tough yards. However, the biggest play of the drive came from GL senior fullback Jason Coldon (2-25) after the Highlanders were facing a 2nd and 17 after a holding penalty. Coldon took a direct snap, ran over a Viking defender, and rumbled 16 yards putting the Highlanders in position for an easy first down. The Haddads did the rest with Quinn scoring from a yard out after Turner took it to the goal line for a 20-13 lead. GL senior kicker Doug Anderson added the extra point and converted all three of his extra points in the game.
Undaunted, the Vikings' offense went right back to work and quickly advanced the ball to the GL 7 yard line with just over a minute left in the game. In desperate need of a big defensive play, Highlander linebacker Billy Qu (8 tackles) gave his team just that as he snatched Ronocorini's pass out of the thick humid air sealing the big win for his team.
There is a lot the Highlanders want to accomplish this season and first up was taking down Voorhees after losing 3 straight years .Brian Biskaduros, a member of the varsity squad for the past three seasons, attributed this victory to hard off season work.
“Preparation started in the off-season with working out and hard training sessions,” Biskaduros said, “We’ve been waiting for this game. We haven’t beat Voorhees in three years, so it was a great opening statement and shows all that we’ve worked for. Now it’s onto Rahway.”
The Highlanders will be back in action on Saturday, Sept. 17 when they host the Rahway Indians, game time 1 p.m.