JERSEY CITY, NJ - The No. 5 ranked Johnson Crusaders varsity football team took it on the road at Cochrane Field against the No. 1 ranked Lincoln Lions in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 state tournament semifinals, and in a back-and-forth battle, fell short to Lincoln Saturday afternoon in Jersey City. The final score was 40-26.
The game started with the Lions winning the coin toss, and electing to receive, but the Crusaders made an onside kick, and recovered it successfully.
After each of the teams’ first drives produced nothing, the Lions struck on their second drive, with a seven yard touchdown rush by Lions senior Jason Harrison. After a failed two-point conversion, Lincoln led 6-0.
The Lions struck again early in the second quarter, with senior quarterback Zymire Gordon throwing a pass to Harrison, an eight-yard receiving touchdown, putting Lincoln ahead 12-0.
The Crusaders’ next drive went ten plays and 64 yards, aided by a Lions facemask penalty. Crusader sophomore Joe Turek scored on a three-yard rush, and after sophomore Mike Casalino’s extra point, the Crusaders trimmed the Lions’ lead to 12-7.
Lincoln responded with Gordon throwing a deep pass to senior Frank Darby, who took it to the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown pass. On a successful two-point conversion, it was 20-7 Lions.
The Crusaders, on their next possession, responded in a huge way. Facing 3rd and 13 from their own 38-yard line, senior quarterback Anthony Rizzuto threw a side-pass to sophomore Jon Duffy, who escaped two Lions defenders, and took it into the end zone for a 62-yard touchdown reception to cut into the Lincoln lead.
The Lions led the Crusaders 20-13 at the half.
The Crusaders opened the second half with the football, and started the half at their own 35-yard line. Facing 4th and 1 from their own 44-yard line, Turek exploded for a 51-yard rush to get Johnson to the Lions five-yard line.
Four plays later, Turek would score his second touchdown of the game, and after Casalino’s extra point, the game was tied at 20.
The Lions got the ball, and had to punt after a holding penalty and three incomplete passes, but Johnson senior Justin Falke blocked the punt, setting up Johnson at the Lincoln 20-yard line.
Turek connected on a four yard rush, his third touchdown of the game, and the Crusaders led for the first time, up 26-20.
The Crusaders performed an onside kick, and successfully recovered it, to get the football back again, but were not able to move it much, and punted the ball away.
The Lincoln Lions changed the momentum with this drive, with junior Kamani Addison connecting on a 50-yard rush to set up Lincoln in Johnson territory.
Gordon connected on an eight-yard touchdown pass to Harrison, for his second touchdown of the game and they connected on a two-point conversion, and through three quarters, Lincoln led 28-26.
Johnson drove deep into Lincoln territory, but could not convert on a critical fourth down play, giving the ball back to the Lions.
With the football, the Lincoln Lions added to their lead with a four yard rush by Addison, his second of the game, putting Lincoln on top 34-26. The Crusaders were not able to drive the ball down on their next possession, and had to punt the football away, and the special teams for the Lions helped to seal away the game.
Harrison had a 66-yard punt return for the touchdown, putting the Lions ahead 40-26.
Rizzuto was intercepted on the Crusaders’ next drive, and the Lions ran out the clock, securing the win.
The Crusaders reflected on many positives throughout the season. Despite a rocky 0-3 start to the season, the team recovered, reaching the state tournament semifinals.
“I honestly could not be more proud of my team,” Rizzuto said. “Starting 0-3, we knew we would have to come together to get to where we wanted to, and the fact that we did makes it all worth it. It stinks that it ended the way it did, but I’m so proud of the way we fought the whole season.”
Rizzuto finished the afternoon 2-4 with 82 passing yards with the 62-yard touchdown pass to Duffy, and ran the ball 17 times for 50 yards.
Senior Andrew Sanchez finished the afternoon with four rushes for 22 yards.
Senior co-captain Wes Giannobile echoed Rizzuto’s words, expressing how proud he was of the team throughout the entire season.
“I’m proud of my team,” Giannobile said. “I’m proud of family, and I’m proud of my brothers. Our vision remained the same through our rough start. We battled, came together, and played as a family, and that’s what got us to the semifinals.”
Turek finished the day with 39 rushes for 207 yards, to go along with his three rushing touchdowns. He’s looking ahead to the Thanksgiving Day rivalry game against Rahway, and further on to next season.
“We played hard the entire game,” Turek said, “For next season, we have a great group of guys coming up, and next year, we’re just going to come stronger than ever.”
Head coach Anthony DelConte expressed echoed the players’ pride.
“I’m very proud of my guys,” DelConte said. “I really am, we didn’t have a doubt that we would be here. We didn’t have a doubt that we could do it. I’m proud of everything they do. They do everything and do everything that I ask of them. I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys in general.”
The No. 5 ranked Johnson Crusaders (6-4) finish off the 2015 season with their Thanksgiving Day game on the road against Rahway at 10:30 a.m.
“It’s all about them [the seniors] on Thanksgiving,” DelConte added. “We’ve got to get them a win, we’ve got to send them out with a win. We’ve got to keep going what they have turned around, and the mentality that they bring to the program. That is something that we’ve been missing in years-past. These guys are going to fight, I know they will, they’ll come to work. They want to win on Thanksgiving. There is no way they are going to end the season with a loss. We’re going to do whatever we can to win that game on Thanksgiving.”
The No. 1 ranked Lincoln Lions (11-0) advance to the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 state title game against the No. 6 seeded Raritan Rockets on Friday, December 4 at 7 p.m.
The site for this matchup is to be determined.