BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Gov. Livingston Highlander football team (3-5) dropped a 35-20 decision to the visiting Johnson Crusaders (5-3) in a game that both teams really wanted as they looked to improve their respective state playoff position.
The Highlander faithful turned out en masse for the graduating senior football players, cheerleaders, student managers, student statisticians, and Highlander Band members and their families, to celebrate and acknowledge their excellence, dedication and commitment to Gov. Livingston High School and Highlander football. Unfortunately, the home team could not overtake a strong Crusader squad that consistently came up with big plays every time the Highlanders attempted to wrestle back the momentum of the game.
Despite the loss, Gov. Livingston maintained their 6th seed in the North II, Group 3 playoffs and will travel to Morris Hills (Rockaway) to take on the number 3 seed Knights on Saturday, Nov. 12. Johnson, with the win, moved up to a sixth seed in Central ,Group 2 and will meet the Manasquan Warriors in Manasquan on Saturday.
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The one thing the Highlanders didn’t want to do was get down early to Johnson and their potent veer offense which has averaged just over 30 points a game. Unfortunately, the Highlanders did just, as the Crusaders first possession covered 80 yards on 8 plays, scoring when QB Vin Crisafi threw a 29 yard touchdown pass to a wide open Nick Fischetti down the middle of the field.
The Crusaders average less than five passes a game, but the passing of Crisafi would prove to be the difference in this game. Crisafi threw just three passes on the day, completing all three for 129 yards and two touchdowns. The Crusaders run first offense effectively, used the pass to confuse and keep the Highlanders defense off balance. On the other hand, the Highlanders run oriented offense not only in this game but throughout the season has just not found a way to successfully pass the ball down field to compliment their strong running game.
After falling behind 7-0, the Highlanders put together an impressive scoring drive of their own the first time they had the ball. Gov. Livingston QB Pat DeAngelis (16-105) and back Will Nicholson (14-102), who both had 100 yard games, did most of the work as the Highlanders marched 69 yards with DeAngelis running it in from the two on the 9th play of the drive to knot the game at 7-7.
Johnson’s Jon Duffy who rushed for 129 yards and two scores took the ensuing kickoff back 45 yards setting up the Crusaders with great field positions. The Crusaders once again found themselves in the red zone but GL linebacker Turner Haddad was able to strip Crisafi of the ball and teammate Matt Schuman scoped it up on the Highlander 10 yard line.
The Highlanders seemed to have seized back the momentum of the game following the fumble as they advanced the ball to midfield, but the drive and their momentum ended quickly. First, a penalty put them in a hole and then on a third and long DeAngelis had his first pass of the game picked off and the Crusaders were back in business.The remainder of the half belonged to the Crusaders. After Kevin Metz returned his interception to the Highlander 30 yard line the Crusaders power back Joe Turek (13-55) found the end zone from two yards out putting Johnson back up 14-7.
The Highlanders with 8:01 left in the second quarter took over, looking to grind out a long scoring drive and get the game tied as the half ended. The GL offense again looked like they were going to answer the last Johnson score. On a third and long. DeAngelis connected on a short pass to fullback Mike Magliacano who made a nice grab and rumbled 17 yards down to the Johnson 45. After losing yardage on a second down run, the Highlanders faced a 3rd and a long 7. The Highlanders choose to run the ball with DeAngelis on a keeper but the Johnson defense led by linebacker Franco Scalzulli stopped him well short of a first down.
The Highlanders then again fell victim to the arm of Crisafi late in the second quarter. A combination of a great play call and another blown coverage by the Gov. Livingston secondary resulted in a 70 yard touchdown pass to Ryan Koppel, upping the Johnson lead to 21-7. On the TD pass the Crusaders were facing a 2nd down and 11 and once again Crisafi caught the GL defense cheating on the run as he lofted a pass over the Highlander defense to Koppel who was 10 yards behind the defense. The Highlanders still had 2:42 to try to answer the Crusaders last score but the Highlanders seemed content running the ball on their first 2 downs. The Crusaders then gave the Highlanders a gift as a face mask called gave the Highlanders first down at their own 45 yard line. However, after a short gain on a first down run the Highlanders next two pass plays were predictable and ineffective as it appeared that Johnson had them perfectly scouted. The half came to an end with Johnson up 2 scores.
it was do or die time as the Gov. Livingston took the opening kickoff to start the second half. To their credit the Highlanders responded with a great 67 yard scoring drive.Will Nicholson working out of a new formation took back to back direct snaps advancing the ball 42 yards down to the Crusader 27 yard line. Turner Haddad and Chris Bruno then gained some tough yardage before DeAngelis hit Turner Haddad for a 11 yard touchdown pass bringing the Highlanders back to within one score at 21-14.
The Crusaders first possession of the second half almost yielded the difference maker that the Highlanders defense was desperately looking for all afternoon. The running of the Crusader veer offense has been expertly handled by QB Crisafi all season, but the one area of the triple option they have had trouble with is executing the pitch to their backs . On the Crusaders first play of the half, Highlander linebacker Turner Haddad hit Crisafi just as he attempted to pitch the ball to back Nick Fischertti (10-78) resulting in the ball being put on the ground. Fortunately for Johnson the ball took a gratuitous bounce right to Fischetti who was able cover the fumble. If the Highlanders had been able to secure that turnover they would have a sent their pumped up offense back on the field on the Crusader 30 yard line. Unfazed by the previous play Fischetti ripped off an 11 yard run and the Crusaders were on their way to 12 play drive with Duffy scoring his first of 2 touchdowns on an 8 yard run. Along the way the Highlander defense had forced the Crusaders into two 4th downs but they managed to covert both keeping the drive alive.The frustrated Highlander defense just could not come up with the big play as they now again trailed by 2 scores, 28-14.
A three and out by the Highlanders offense gave the ball back to the Crusaders as the fourth quarter began. The Crusaders had not yet punted in the game and had scored on four of their five possessions. They made it five of six as they put the game out of reach when Duffy scored his second rushing touchdown of the half putting the game out of reach at 35-14. Once again, on that final Crusader scoring drive the Highlander defense came close, but just could not make the big play they needed to make. First, they forced another pitched ball to be fumbled but did not recover the ball. Next, they had the Crusaders facing a 4th and 11 but allowed Duffy to make a catch on the same play they scored their first touchdown on. However, this time, the secondary had the play well covered, but Duffy was able haul in the pass in between three Highlander defenders scoring the knockout blow.
The Highlanders then went on an 80 yard drive as DeAngelis scored his second touchdown of the game on a seven yard run. However, that drive consumed the last 9:27 of the game and as DeAngelis crossed the goal line the game ended. It was strange that a team who was down by three scores would choose not to put the ball in the air and attempt to score quickly. The Highlanders have simply not been able incorporate a passing attack into their offense this season and that was evident on the game's last drive.
Vin Crisafi and the Crusaders gave the Highlanders a lesson on why a run first offense always needs to be prepared to throw the ball field. In a game where both offenses rushed for more than 200 yards, clearly the difference in the game was the Crusaders ability to go to the air when the opportunity presented itself.
If this Gov. Livingston team wants to secure that elusive winning season (2009), they are going to have to win the North II, Group 3 championship. That would include 3 playoff wins and a regular season victory over New Providence on Thanksgiving. One step at a time as the Highlanders need to first get by Morris Hills (6-3) on Saturday.