BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Joe Riggi strapped on the shoulder pads for the first time in two weeks and returned to the backfield to bolster the Gov. Livingston ground game.

The junior running back, injured during the first half in the victory over Hillside, was back in action on Saturday and finished with a team-high 88 yards on six carries and accounted for two touchdowns while quarterback Connor Tracy threw for two touchdowns to fullback Jayson Schmidt as the Highlanders swept to a 27-7 decision over Johnson.

The triumph allowed Gov. Livingston to improve to 3-1 and took a bit of the sting out of last week’s 34-7 setback against Bernards. The contest also carried some additional meaning for the Gov. Livingston sideline.

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“We did a lace-up fundraiser for pediatric cancer patients,” said Gov. Livingston coach Dan Guyton. “All of our players and coaches wore gold shoelaces to raise money for the young cancer patients, and it’s a very meaningful effort. We talked to our team beforehand about how we are all really blessed, and we can try to do something for children with cancer, and to try and make a positive impact and help others."

The Highlanders took the message to heart, then took it to their opponent on the gridiron.

“The kids played a great game against Johnson,” said Guyton. “As for last week, Bernards is an excellent team, and they brought their A-Game. I think we were still a little beat up after the Hillside win, and we didn’t play our best.

However, there was a different tone from the Highlanders against Johnson; and part of the reason was having Riggi back in the starting lineup.

Riggi showed few signs of rust as he got the Highlanders on the scoreboard first when he took a handoff from Tracy and went 32 yards to a touchdown. Liam Quigley added the first of three placements and it was a 7-0 advantage.

“Riggi was hurt in the first half against Hillside,” Guyton said. “He took a big hit and we kept him out last week against Bernards. But with him back in our backfield to complement Jayson (Schmidt) it was huge having him return. It gives our offense a lot more depth. He came back and had a super game on both sides of the ball.”

Johnson answered in the second quarter after Thomas Flanagan scored from six yards and Brett Makowsky’s PAT tied it at 7-7.

But that was all the opponent could muster against a stout Highlanders’ defense—keyed by solid efforts from Schmidt (11 tackles) and Riggi (seven solos). Aiding the stingy unit for Gov. Livingston were Jake Quandt, Luke Stallone and Peter Iossa (six tackles apiece); Zach Glenn, John Schmidt, Andrew Ciraco and Steven Manfreda (five tackles apiece); and Matt Quinn (four tackles).

In the second quarter Gov. Livingston pulled away for good with two touchdowns. Schmidt snared a pass from Tracy and took it 41 yards to a score before Quigley hit the placement for a 14-7 lead. Before the half the duo hooked up again as Tracy found Schmidt for a 25-yard TD. The PAT failed but the Highlanders took a 20-7 lead into the half.

Tracy, a junior, has emerged as a confident leader running the offense and finished with four completions on eight attempts for 94 yards, the two touchdowns passes and no interceptions. 

Riggi capped the scoring when he ran in from 13 yards and Quigley booted the extra point. 

Offensively, Schmidt added 67 yards on 12 carries while James Carbone accounted for 21 yards on three rushes. Schmidt also added a team-high 11 tackles and an interception at middle linebacker.

“Our defense played very well defending against Johnson’s option and our kids executed so well,” Guyton said. “With Riggi back and Schmidt continuing his superb season our offense came alive more. Connor Tracy has really excelled at quarterback, too, in his first season and he is gaining so much confidence every game. He’s getting better and better and more comfortable every week.”

“It was great to have Riggi back in action,” said Schmidt. “He’s an excellent tackler along with Being a great runner. He gave us life with two of his long runs and touchdowns. Overall, it was a great team win, but we are not content as we are ready for next week and a tough team in Roselle,” said Schmidt. 

The Highlanders will prepare for a Halloween showdown when they play host to Roselle on Oct. 31 at noon. Roselle dropped to 0-3 after a 40-22 loss to Bernards. Last season Gov. Livingston suffered a 42-20 defeat to Roselle in a game that saw Schmidt rush for 212 yards and score two touchdowns.

“We can’t have any letdown,” Guyton said. “All the seniors are fighting to get a winning record, and we still have a chance at sharing the conference championship. All of the goals we set at the beginning of the season are still out there. We talk each week about remaining focused, and we have to continue that against Roselle this week.”