CLARK, NJ -  The Arthur L. Johnson High School varsity football Crusaders had a lot on their agenda Friday night as they took it to Nolan Field. After two straight losses at Hillside and Somerville, they were determined to get back on track and fight for a standing in the state playoffs.

After honoring their seniors, they got the job done, defeating the North Plainfield Canucks, 28-14, in their first home game in a month.

Johnson struck first, when senior quarterback Vin Crisafi ran through the open holes in the North Plainfield defense and sped towards the end zone for the game’s opening score. Following junior Mike Casalino’s extra point, Johnson led 7-0.

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The Canucks responded quickly.  NP senior quarterback Nick Cherasaro found junior wide receiver Tony Godwin for a 33-yard touchdown reception. Following a successful 2-point conversion, North Plainfield took an 8-7 lead.

That’s where the score stood at the half, but Johnson turned it back around in the third quarter.

The Crusader defense came up big in the second half, holding the high-powered Canucks offense at bay. Cherasero’s pass on the first drive of the second half was intercepted by ALJ junior Joe Turek in Crusaders territory, giving Johnson the opportunity they needed.

Turek came through on the defense, and then lit it up on offense in Johnson’s next drive. He capitalized with a 12-yard rushing touchdown to give the Crusaders a 13-8 lead. Turek ended the game with 63 rushing yards on ten carries in the victory.

North Plainfield stormed back as junior Brandon Smith came through on the special teams to give his team the lead back. He returned the subsequent kickoff for 81 yards. He then ran it in for a four-yard rushing touchdown, making it a 14-13 lead for the Canucks.

In what is arguably their most crucial drive of the season so far, the Crusaders offense responded in a big way.

With 6:24 left in the third quarter, the Crusaders started on their own 25-yard line and slowly chipped their way into Canucks territory with several rushing plays.

ALJ senior Jon Duffy gave the Crusaders the lead with a five-yard rushing touchdown to end the drive. Following a successful two-point conversion, the Crusaders were ahead by a score of 21-14 to end the quarter, a lead they would not again give up.

A 33-yard rushing touchdown by Crisafi in the final quarter put the game out of reach for North Plainfield.  Following the extra point from Casalino, Johnson led North Plainfield by a score of 28-14.

On the night, Crisafi ran for 163 yards on 25 carries, along with his touchdown rushes of 32 and 33 yards.

Overall, Johnson had 462 rushing yards in the victory.

The Johnson defense exploded for three huge sacks in the fourth quarter, knocking down Chesasero for losses of six yards, 14 yards and 13 near the end of the game. The first two sacks, which were back-to-back, stalled North Plainfield’s momentum in their attempt to tie the game.

ALJ junior Brandon Rapp got the second interception of the game for the Crusaders.

The Crusader seniors reflected on the win and their time on the Crusader team:

  • “It means more than anything to me. I grew up playing football with all these nine seniors and to see us come out victorious at the end of today brings a lot of confidence going into next week, knowing that we can continue to win football games and be ready when it comes to the playoffs.” -Vin Crisafi
  • “We did exactly what Coach [DelConte] said in the two weeks of practice and everything, to get the train back on the tracks and that’s exactly what we did. Now, we’re rolling right into GL, and hopefully into the playoffs.” -Jon Duffy
  • “It was just a time to battle back. Over the past two weeks, it’s been kind of down. We had two losses, we lost after the bye week. We fought back, we fought through adversity and we came back as a team and got that W.” -Brett Roessle
  • “This win means so much. I feel like the team finally pulled together. We had a great week of practice and we’ve got to get Governor Livingston next week.”-Mike Brennan
  • “It was a real big win and it was needed for this football team to get back on track. It showed how we can overcome adversity. But, by no means is this where it ends. We just got to keep getting back each week and working together.”-Vin Campbell

Fischetti ran for 133 yards on 16 carries and achieved a milestone in the victory. He reached 1,000 rushing yards on his career with a ten-yard rush in the fourth quarter.

“The defense really pulled through,” Fischetti said. “If we didn’t stop them on defense, they would’ve ran it up on us.”

To add to the two interceptions, the Crusaders defense forced and recovered two Canucks fumbles.

“Our guys really stepped up big-time tonight. They did a really good job of just sticking together and it’s not easy for us to be in the situation that we were in,” Johnson head coach Anthony DelConte said. “When you look back at it, with the loss to Hillside, our bye week and then the loss to Somerville, it was a month since we’ve won a football game. These guys really took that to heart and pulled together, worked hard and bought into fixing the little things.”

He also reflected on his thoughts of coaching the nine seniors, who entered the varsity team as sophomores in 2014, the year DelConte took over as head coach.

“I always hate Senior Night because it’s an emotional night for myself,” DelConte said. “All these guys, I love them to death. I don’t have any kids, and I treat them all as if they were my own kids. Having them, being able to get this win is very special and these nine guys here believe in what I’m telling them. They have my back and that’s the number one thing I really appreciate. With our backs to the wall, it’s easy to point the finger, but these guys pull everyone together and it’s awesome.”

North Plainfield managed to keep the game close, but their defense struggled to hold the leads in the second half, something that has stood out all season long.

The NP defense has allowed 270 points on the season (including 28 in Friday’s game), and gave up 21 points in the second half, which the Crusaders used to finish off the Canucks.

This is also North Plainfield’s sixth consecutive loss. They haven’t won since their home opener against Delaware Valley HS 28-7.

“You’ve got to play a whole game,” North Plainfield head coach Mark Ciccotelli said. “You’ve got to play with passion, emotion and toughness. They out-toughed us. It seemed like they [Johnson Crusaders] wanted it more than us.”

“There’s nothing else I can say, they do a great job,” he added. “Coach DelConte and his players are ready to play, and they played the game the right way.”

The Johnson Crusaders (4-3) take it to the road on Saturday, November 5 at Governor Livingston HS at 2:00 p.m.

The North Plainfield Canucks (1-6) head out on the road next week on Saturday, November 5 to take on Rahway HS at 2:00 p.m.

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