MANASQUAN, NJ -  The No. 6 seeded Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders came into the playoffs for the third consecutive season, determined to make a statement following two straight victories to get into the state tournament, but lost the back-and-forth battle with the No. 3 seeded Manasquan Warriors by a final score of 33-29 Saturday afternoon at Vic Kubu Field.

Manasquan struck first late in the first quarter, with junior running back Curtis Morgan completing a Warriors 58-yard drive with a five-yard rushing touchdown to go up by a score of 7-0 after the first quarter.

The Johnson Crusaders defense would hold Manasquan, and strike back immediately as the second quarter began.

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Senior quarterback and co-captain Vin Crisafi sprinted through the defense and ran for the 70-yard touchdown, and following the extra point from junior kick Mike Casalino, the game was tied up at seven.

On the afternoon, Crisafi ran the ball 14 times for 95 yards with his one touchdown.

The Warriors would come right back to score, as sophomore Canyon Birch took it in for a three-yard rush to give Manasquan the 13-7 lead.

The next drive featured the Johnson Crusaders storming down the field from their own 35-yard line, a drive that gained momentum from a Manasquan personal foul that resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Senior and co-captain Jon Duffy capped off the drive with a nine-yard rushing touchdown, and with the extra point, Johnson went ahead 14-13.

Manasquan couldn’t move the ball and had to punt, but something unexpected happened to it. The snap went over the punter’s head, bouncing into the end zone for a safety, putting Johnson ahead 16-13. They would lead by that score at halftime.

Following a punt from Manasquan, Duffy was at it again. He got the ball and was off to the end zone for a 65-yard rushing touchdown. After the extra point, the Crusaders led the Manasquan Warriors 23-13.

Manasquan would begin to chew away at the Johnson lead with a five and a half minute drive, as Warriors senior quarterback Jerry Maher took it in from ten yards out for the score. Following the extra point, the Johnson lead was cut to 23-20.

On the first play in the next drive for the Crusaders, junior Joe Turek sprinted through the defense and opens, racing into Manasquan territory, before being taken down at the Warriors nine-yard line.

Three plays later, Crisafi took it in for a four-yard rushing touchdown, his second of the game, and Johnson went up 29-20. Manasquan would strike back, this time, on the special teams.

Manasquan senior Damiano Jaime took the kickoff that followed to the end zone for an 80-yard score, cutting the lead to 29-27, the score of the game through three quarters.

Manasquan would force Johnson to punt, and thanks to key plays, took the lead, with Mayer completing a ten-yard passing touchdown to Jaime, putting the Warriors ahead of the Crusaders 33-29.

Johnson would get the ball back, but Crisafi’s pass with four minutes left was intercepted, and Manasquan ran out the clock, securing the victory.

The seniors reflected on the season and how the team battled, giving everything the Crusaders had to fight through, especially with the stretch of games against Hillside HS and Somerville HS.

  • “I’m extremely proud. There isn't any other team I’d want to be a part of. The way we battled all season and fought for every inch was phenomenal. I love these guys and I’m real proud of every one of them.”-Vin Crisafi
  • “I’m so proud of how the team battled today. The whole team faught hard and if the ball bounced our way just once we would have come out on top. The season has been great and wouldn't be the same without the other eight seniors.”-Jon Duffy
  • “I thought we fought as hard as we could. There were parts of this team that came out today that no one had seen before. No matter what, I will always be proud of this team and what we accomplished. We still have one game and we got to get the job done on Turkey Day.” -Brett Roessle
  • “I'm so proud of everyone's performance today, we all fought so hard and left everything on the field. It pretty much just came down to the ball not bouncing our way in the end. This feeling really stinks but we have to pull together and get the win on Turkey Day.”-Mike Brennan

On the afternoon, Duffy ran the ball 14 times for 86 yards with his two touchdowns. Senior Nick Fischetti ran the ball five times for 33 yards.

“I’m really proud of my guys of the way they fought,” ALJ head coach Anthony DelConte said. “They battled, they showed no-quit. I wouldn’t expect anything less of them because that’s the type of kids that they are. I love them to death.”

“I know the scoreboard says different [33-29], I still don’t think they were the better team,” he added. “I thought that we were the better team, but we made too many mistakes and quite frankly, it comes down to special teams, they are the component. If they don’t get that kickoff return, we win the game.”

The No. 6 seeded Johnson Crusaders (5-4) finish up their 2016 season on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 24 at home against Rahway HS at 10:30 a.m.

DelConte also stressed how important it is to finish off the season with a win for all the 2016 seniors.

“6-4, we have to be 6-4, this team cannot be 5-5,” DelConte said. “It’s our game, it’s home, it’s for the seniors, we got to get the win for the seniors and be 6-4 [on the season].”

The No. 3 seeded Manasquan Warriors (8-1) advance to the NJSIAA Central, Group 2 Semifinals on Saturday, November 19 at No. 2 seeded Roselle Abraham-Clark HS at 1:00 p.m.

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NJSIAA Central, Group 2 Semifinals on Saturday, November 19 at No. 2 seeded Roselle Abraham-Clark HS at 1:00 p.m.