CRANFORD - Connor Katz combined for three touchdowns to lead Cranford past Montgomery, 31-16, in its season-opener on Friday night at Memorial Field.
Cranford trailed 10-3 at the end of the first quarter but went on to score three consecutive touchdowns. Katz connected with Tom Korzeneski on a 30-yard TD pass to tie the game 10-10 early in the second quarter. On Montgomery's next drive, Jake Chapman intercepted a tipped-pass on Montgomery's 35-yard line, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty backed them up to the 50. Nine plays later, Katz scored on a 10-yard quarterback keeper.
Montgomery had a chance to swing the momentum as Dylan McFadden returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown but it was waved-off due to a block in the back flag. On the next play, Kevin Keogh intercepted a pass and took it 15 yards to the end zone, and after a Diar Dautaga extra point, Cranford held a 24-10 lead with less than a minute until halftime.
With what looked to be a two-score lead before the half, McFadden again made something happen with a kickoff return to his own 47-yard line. Two plays later, with just six seconds left on the clock, Marco Lainez connected with Alex Benitez on a 38-yard TD pass to make it a one score game.
Cranford's defense forced four straight punts to open the second-half but the nail in the coffin was when Chapman blew through the line and blocked a 30-yard field goal attempt to end Montgomery's final threat. As Cranford looked to run out the clock from their own 37, Mike Kalnins broke off a 27-yard run, setting up a 35-yard QB keeper TD run to put Cranford up 31-16.
Cranford had plenty of opportunities to put the game away earlier but failed to convert on a 4th-and-inches from Montgomery's two in the first quarter, a forced Katz pass was intercepted on Montgomery's one-yard line in the third, and a bad snap resulted in a lost fumble on Montgomery's six in the fourth.
"That's on me," said Katz. "I lead the offense and I have to do a better job protecting the ball in those situations."
Despite the turnovers, Katz finished with 20 rushes for 152 yards and two touchdowns while also completing 12 of 19 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown and interception. Katz gave credit to his o-line, despite the inexperience.
Cranford also allowed Montgomery to hang around by committing three 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. When asked if Cranford was overzealous due to it being the first game, Pat Blowe explained that there is a sour taste in their mouths on how last season ended.
"We've been waiting to get back on the field since that 21-0 loss to Phillipsburg last year," Blowe said. "We just wanted to get back out there."
Blowe, a senior captain, was a man on a mission and had three of Cranford's six sacks. Michael Anzalone had two sacks on Montgomery's fourth second-half possession, and Keogh, along with his interception return for a touchdown, also had a sack.
Though Montgomery's offense never had a drive last longer than eight plays, it was able to stay alive on broken tackles and blown coverage plays for big yardage.
"It was our first real game-play today," said Blowe. "(Montgomery) has already played games and this is our first so we can just learn and improve from here."
Cranford will next take the field on Saturday, September 21 on the road against Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School at 1 p.m.
Editor's Notes: Stats may defer from NJ.com, Hudl, and other high school sports sources
Cranford Offense Stats:
Passing: Connor Katz 12-19 134 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int.
Rushing: Katz 20-152 2 TDs, Dennis DeMarino 13-38, Kalnins - 2-30, Marcus Johnson 7-21.
Receiving: Jake DiClerico 5-59, Korzeneski 2-52, 1 TD, Kalnins 3-22, Cole Blazek 1-7, Anthony DeCostello 1-5
Cranford Defense Stats:
Matt Coates: 11 Tackles
Evan Kanterman: 10 Tackles
Cranford Special Teams Stats:
Dautaga: 4-4 PATs, 1-1 FG (long 27)
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