BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- Trailing by a touchdown after being shut out in the first half, New Providence rallied for two scores in the second half, then had to sweat out a Gov. Livingston drive inside the 10-yard line in the final seconds.
Not until Gov. Livingston's final pass from the 7-yard line was broken up as the clock hit :00 were the Pioneers in the clear, as New Providence held on for a thrilling 14-7 Thanksgiving Day victory over the Highlanders for the Mayor's Cup after a five year drought.
"For us the Thanksgiving game vs. New Providence is about pride for our community, our school and our family," said Gov. Livingston head football coach Dan Guyton. "It is a great tradition where our players, especially our Seniors in their last game, get to experience a game that has a championship caliber feel and atmosphere to it. Carl [D'Emilio] explained it perfect in his speech to our team five years ago. Thanksgiving is a game that players, coaches and alumni from both communities really care about."
On a day to celebrate tradition, the seniors were also honored in a ceremony with their families and teammates by their side.
Gov. Livingston seniors honored:
Football: Brendan Curran, Blaine Gyory, Peyton Hopeck, Blake Johnson, Alex Raimi, Joseph Roenbeck, Lucas Rucynsi, Andrew Sciezka, John Silva, Justin VanOostendorp, Devin Veron and Peter Woo.
Cheerleaders: Daniella Aiello, Amanda Anthenelli, Taylor Charles, Jocelyn Chen, Weronika Chojnowska, Lauren Cronin, Emma DiNunzio, Lexi Gonnelli, Chrissy Internoscia, Ciana Joseph, Megan Knecht, Sara McGlynn, Olivia Rudgard and Victoria Wojcik.
Highlander Marching Band: Alex Buono, Alex Beke, Victoria Beke, Raul Carhuyano, Sohum Agnihotri, Arden Foster, George Skinner, Jace Ettermann, Meaghan Buckley, Daniel Sternberg, Allie Zimmermann, Jill Zimmermann, Ben Cook, Adam Woo, Al Germansky, Jackson Osborn, Stephanie Parma, Taylor Onelli, Maria Rivero, and Drum Major Emily Scheibe.
Sophomore Charlie Barth rushed for 159 yards and the game-winning touchdown on 24 carries for New Providence, which broke a 7-7 tie on Barth's 3-yard TD run off left tackle with 9:44 left in the game.
Junior halfback Jayson Schmidt rushed for 141 yards and a TD on 27 carries for Gov. Livingston. His 56-yard TD run and Connor Tracy's extra point gave the Highlanders a 7-0 lead with 3:13 left in the first quarter.
New Providence was shut out until senior quarterback Owen Kovacs scored on a 1-yard sneak with 2:59 left in the third quarter and then kicked the extra point for a 7-7 tie. Kovacs, at defensive back, also came up with a huge interception on the New Providence 13-yard line with 2:35 left in the game to short-circuit a GL drive.
"We were in a zone on that play, and I saw the quarterback's eyes and where he was looking, so I just drifted in that direction," Kovacs said of his interception.
That may have appeared to be the Highlanders' last chance, but GL, playing as well as it has all season, held its ground defensively, forced the Pioneers to go three-and-out and got the ball back with 46.5 seconds left on the New Providence 25-yard line.
Gov. Livingston QB Victor Chait completed an 11-yard pass to Peyton Hopeck to the 14. With 7.5 seconds left, Chait connected with Hopeck on a 12-yard pass to the 2. And, though GL was penalized 5 yards on the next play, the Highlanders still came whisker-close to tying the game, as Chait's second-down pass to Schmidt into a strong crosswind was just wide and off the receiver's fingertips at the 4-yard line with 0.6 seconds left.
Gov. Livingston may have come into the game with just one victory this season, and New Providence may have come in with just three losses, but GL has had the recent upper hand in this border war, winning the last five Thanksgiving meetings over the Pioneers before New Providence ended that streak Thursday.
So, while Thanksgiving football may have become a vestige of the past in many parts of New Jersey, it still means plenty to these two communities, and it's no wonder the Pioneers treated Thursday's hard-fought victory as if they'd won a state championship.
It looked, however, like GL might find a way to win. The Highlanders came into this game having scored 63 points in their last two games, and then they moved 95 yards in just six plays to score on their first drive Thursday. Chait had a 25-yard completion to Hopeck two plays before Schmidt took a direct snap and ran 56 yards for a TD. Gov. Livingston did a lot of multiple pre-snap shifting and then gave New Providence early problems with direct snaps to Schmidt.
Chait completed nine of 19 passes for 100 yards for Gov. Livingston.
Guyton told him team he was proud of them for never giving up and for fighting all the way to the end. "We learned many valuable lessons during this adversity filled season that will help them earn more success down the road, in life and football," said Guyton. "Remember the pain and bad taste of this loss and to do something about it this off season in the weight room and on other GL playing fields, mats and courts."