RAHWAY, NJ- The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity football team started Friday night's game with a 0-2 record following their home opener on September 7. The seniors knew it would be now-or-never to keep the team working hard and playing hard to get to a .500 record before the upcoming bye week.
Standing in the way of Johnson’s task to get to a .500 record was Mid-State 38 Valley Division rivals, the Roselle-Abraham Clark High School Rams, a team which Johnson clashed with in battles over the past four seasons, with Johnson winning two of the last three meetings coming into action. Seniors Sebastian Iakouchevitch and Federico Veltre made their presence be felt in this game.
Sophomore quarterback Joe Greenbush went 2-for-7 with 61 yards and a 49-yard touchdown pass to senior Federico Veltre, while Iakouchevitch came up with a game-sealing interception in the final three minutes as the Crusaders defeated the Rams 7-0 Friday night at Rahway River Park.
With Johnson facing 3rd-Down-and-Seven from the Roselle 49-yard line, Greenbush lobbed a pass deep down the field for Veltre, who with enough room on the field, hauled in the football and got into the end zone for the score.
“It felt amazing, it was awesome,” Greenbush said of the play that led to the touchdown. “That’s what won us the game.”
Senior Nick Serpe’s extra point was good, making the score 7-0 Crusaders with 5:00 left in the third quarter.
Veltre, who did not play in the Week 2 win over Metuchen HS the previous week, led a physical Crusaders defense, in addition to his touchdown reception.
“To be honest, forget about the touchdown, this was a team win,” Veltre said. “I did that for my boys. We worked too hard to go out there into the bye week with a loss. That [touchdown] was for the family.”
He met Roselle sophomore quarterback Cameron Chatham-Rice with a jarring hit earlier in the third quarter. Just as Chatham-Rice delivered a handoff to senior running back Khair Pendleton, Veltre plowed through the Roselle line and belted him right to the ground.
Chatham-Rice struggled to get up after the hit before leaving the game and did not return due to injury.
Johnson led Roselle 7-0 after the third quarter and with the lead and with 9:26 left, they appeared poised to drive into Rams territory to seal the game, but near the end of an almost five-minute drive, the tone changed instantly.
A bad snap late in the fourth quarter led to a lost fumble for Johnson and a chance for Roselle with 3:38 left, starting at their own 46-yard line, looking for the game-tying score.
“We talk about dealing with adversity all the time. We said at halftime that something bad was going to happen [and said], ‘How are you going to handle it when it happens?’” Johnson assistant coach/defensive coordinator Chris Di Nucci said. “We rallied the troops by telling them to play together, flying and swarming to the football.”
“We had a defensive battle most of the game,” he added. “Sometimes you win [45-44] and sometimes, it’s 7-0, but we play together. It’s always a team effort.”
On the second play, Roselle sophomore quarterback Evin Rosario, who was inserted in place of Chatham-Rice, dropped back to throw a slant pass and then Iakouchevitch took charge of what followed on the field.
He raced to the area of the pass and grabbed the ball in the air for the game-saving interception. He ran down the Johnson sideline before being tackled down with 2:59 left in the fourth quarter, making their goal of a win more of a reality once the offense took back to the field.
“I did what Coach [DelConte] told me to do,” Iakouchevitch said. “I saw a bubble [play], I moved over because that’s my guy. Then, I saw a slant play. I sat under it, [caught it] and everything came true.”
“[Sebastian and Federico] are our two senior captains, so they lead the way,” Di Nucci said. “We’re going to go as far as our senior class will take us. It’s their team and tonight, they played a full 48-minute game of football, together-football and both those guys had tremendous nights from start to finish.”
Iakouchevitch finished the night with 116 yards on 16 carries, while Greenbush ran for 66 yards on 17 carries.
The Crusaders pushed through the Roselle side of the field in the final drive, just enough to burn down the clock and capture their second consecutive win, one that has the players and coaches beaming with the off week coming up.
“That’s a good Roselle team,” Di Nucci said. “Their record is not indicative of how good they actually are.”
The Johnson Crusaders (2-2) head into their bye week next week. They return from the bye week to take on Hillside HS on Friday, October 5 at 7:00 p.m.
“It shows that we are getting better and we’re finally playing together,” Iakouchevitch said of his team’s turnaround win. “If we keep working hard, we’ll keep getting better and once we get there, people will be scared.”
The Roselle-Abraham Clark Rams (0-4) will take on Metuchen HS on Friday, September 28 at 7:00 p.m. at Rahway River Park.