BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Gov. Livingston sophomore back Jayson Schmidt ran for three scores and senior defensive back Noah Truncale broke open a close game with a fourth quarter pick six as the home team Highlanders defeated North Plainfield 32-16, Friday night in Berkeley Heights.
Schmidt who racked up 211 yards on 20 carries brought the over flowing "Friday Night Lights” crowd to their feet with a thrilling second quarter 68 yard run which gave the Highlanders their first lead of the game. The Gov. Livingston defense made sure that Schmidt’s touchdowns runs of 68,19, and 14 yards stood up as they kept North Plainfield out of the end zone with several big plays and key stops after the Canuks had taken an 8-0 first quarter lead.
Gov. Livingston’s victory evened their season record at 2-2 as the Highlanders will now have the unenviable task of taking on one of the states most powerful teams when they host the Somerville Pioneers next Saturday afternoon in Berkeley Heights. Somerville (4-0) the states 7th ranked team is led by QB Jalahn Dabney, who has passed and run for an incredible 19 touchdowns in the Pioneers' four games this season.
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If Gov. Livingston had any hopes of putting together their first winning season in 10 years, the North Plainfield game was circled as a must win on their very challenging 2018 schedule. The Canuks who dropped their first three games of the season by a combined score of 129-20 made it obvious early on that they were not going to make things easy for Highlanders. After a first possession drive by Gov. Livingston stalled at midfield, the Canucks blocked a Highlander punt and recovered the ball at the Gov. Livingston 30 yard line. It took only three plays for North Plainfiled’s Jah’Quan Allen (4-35, TD) to run it in from 19 yards out to give his team a 6-0 lead. A subsequent two point conversion from Al-Naisr Robinson (9-111) to Jared Gardner (12-78) extended the Canuk lead to 8-0 with four minutes to go in the first quarter.
Gov. Livingston answered the Canuks score with a nice 8 play drive. With Schmidt, Matt Richel ( 4-20) and Chris Bruno (4-29) all grinding out yards as the Highlanders moved the ball down to the Canuk 14 yard line. On the first play of the second quarter, Schmidt running right cut back left against the flow, and scampered in for his teams first score. The ensuing extra point was missed, leaving Gov. Livingston down by an 8-6 margin.
After the defense forced the Canuks to punt on their next set of downs, the Highlanders took over on their own 30 yard line. On second down Schmidt burst through a seam on the right side of the line and then out ran the North Plainfield defense for a career long 68 yard TD run. Schmidt’s second score of the game would give Gov. Livingston a lead that they would never surrender. Gov. Livingston opted to go for two but once again failed to convert a point after.
Clinging to a 12-8 lead, Gov. Livingston allowed North Plainfield to run 15 plays over the last 5:54 of the half, but the Highlander defense managed to keep the Canuks out of the end zone. Big plays from senior lineman Matt Elmblad and Diego Lopez made sure the Highlanders went into the break still holding onto their slim lead.
Unfortunately after taking the second half kickoff, the Gov. Livingston offense coughed up the ball at midfield and also let the game's momentum slip back in favor of the Canuks. North Plainfield looking to capitalize on the Highlanders only turnover of the game quickly moved the ball down field and were now looking to take back the lead with a first and goal from the Gov. Livingston five yard line. The Gov. Livingston defense dug in, and on fourth down linebacker Drew Riitmnan sliced through the Canuk line and dropped QB Jared Gardner in the backfield for a loss.
The stout goal line stand by Gov. Livingston still left them pinned down on their own six yard line. At the very least on this possession, the Highlander offense needed to win back favorable field position. The Highlanders did manage to move the ball, but a third down run by Schmidt came up inches short of a first down at their own 25. On fourth and short Schmidt took a direct snap showing that he may try to run for the first down. However, moving to his right, he quickly punted the ball on the run. The result of Schmidt’s punt only yielded a net gain of 12 yards and sent the North Plainfield offense out with a short field as they went to work at the Highlander 37 yard line.
Once again the Gov. Livingston defense came through when sophomore Victor Chait stepped in from of a pass headed for the the end zone and picked it off at the five. Chait, who caught the ball in stride, returned it 50 yards to the North Plainfield 45.
Chait’s second interception of the season would prove to be the play that clearly gave the game's momentum back to the Highlanders. It took Gov. Livingston only five plays to reach the end zone with Schmidt running it in from 19 yards out. Andrew Cahill then drilled the point after and Gov. Livingston held a 19-8 lead with 10:48 left in the contest.
If Chait’s pick was a momentum changer, his fellow defensive back Truncale then made the play that crushed any hope that North Plainfield had of going home with their first win of the season. Looking to possibly catch the Highlanders off guard, North Plainfield QB Naji Campbell dropped back to pass on 1st down from his own 40. Campbell looked for a quick hitter to wideout Amiyn Hanks but Truncale had him sized up all the way. The senior corner then broke in front of Hanks for the pick and raced down the sideline into the end zone for the game breaker. Truncale’s great play turned a reasonably suspenseful game into a “Friday Night Lights “ Highlander blow out.
Chris Bruno added a 10 yard touchdown run with three minutes left in the game as the Highlander lead now ballooned to 32-8. North Plainfield's Campbell closed out the games scoring with an 11 yard TD run to make the final score 32-16.
Once again the trio of senior linebackers Jake Pencek (11Tack), Drew Rittman (12 Tack), and Chris Bruno (11 Tack) led the Highlander defensive charge, limiting North Plainfield to only one score while the first team was on the field. The Governor Livingston defense will be meeting their biggest challenge of the season when they square off against the prolific Somerville offense next Saturday afternoon in Berkeley Heights. Kick off is set for 1 p.m.
The Gov. Livingston offense rebounded after being shutout by Cranford last week. The Highlanders generated 322 yards of offense, all on the ground. They attempted only one pass against North Plainfield, which was incomplete.
Next week's opponent Somerville has now achieved its highest state regular season ranking ever at No. 6. The Pioneers have had an incredible run having won 25 of their last 27 games. The defending Central, Group 3 champs are averaging a stunning 45 points per game this season. The Pioneers have too many offensive weapons to mention but clearly standing out is their dual threat QB Jalahn Dabey, who had a 312 rushing day against Rahway and a four touchdowns passing performance against Delbarton.
Common Gov. Livingston/Somerville opponents this season to date are North Plainfield and Voorhees. Somerville crushed North Plainfield 50-0 and buried Voorhees last week by a score of 54-14. The Highlanders lost to Voorhees 14-7 in week 2 and knocked off North Plainfield last Friday 32-16.
Jayson Schmidt has now scored five touchdowns in his four varsity games to lead the Gov. Livingston offense.
Highlander linebacker Jake Pencek is averaging a whopping 14 tackles per game to lead the defense.
Noah Truncale leads the team in take aways with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Gov. Livingston has won the take over battle in all four games they have played this season.
Governor Livingston will have a bye week after they face Somerville which will give them some additional time to prepare for Scotch Plains when they host the Raiders on October 13.
Photo credits: Jacki Ippolito