CARTERET, NJ - The Gov. Livingston football team may have been disappointed that they didn’t qualify for the newly formatted NJISAA state playoffs last weekend, but they made the most of their crossover consolation matchup against the Carteret Ramblers on Thursday night at iconic Overholt Stadium in Carteret. The Highlanders (4-5) clinging to a 28-25 lead with just over a minute to play kept the Ramblers out of the end zone by stopping them on four consecutive plays inside their 10 yard line to close out a 28-25 comeback victory over their Group 3 Middlesex County opponent.
A depleted (injuries) Gov. Livingston squad led by double duty seniors Jake Pencek (14 Tk), Drew Rittman (10 Tk), and Chris Bruno (9 Tk) came up big when it counted the most as Carteret veteran coach Matt Yascko opted to go for the win on 4th down rather than attempting to kick a game tying field goal from about 30 yards. Bruno (4-31, TD) had put the Highlanders back on top by three when he scampered in from 21 yards out before the Ramblers would embark on their final drive. On the last play of the game, defensive back Noah Truncale and safety Brendon Fenton were in perfect position to defend Camron McCrargo's pass to Stephon Kelley-Gordon in the end zone as the ball was tipped away to seal the Highlanders fourth win of the season. Gov. Livingston sophomore Jayson Schmidt (23-157, 2 TD) continued his outstanding offensive play with two touchdowns, which included an 84 yard pass reception out of the backfield for a score.
The small contingent of loyal Highlander fans that battled Thursday nights NJ Turnpike rush hour traffic as they made their way down to Carteret's newly renovated Overholt Stadium were not only treated to a thrilling game but one played in a great atmosphere for NJ high school football fans. Overholt Stadium (1929) one of New Jersey's oldest scholastic sports venues is a rare home field with character. Affectionately known as "The Pit" the stadium underwent a two million dollar renovation this season, but the character of the long grandstand with wide cement seating under a big roof top overhang was kept in place. When the talented Rambling marching band plays under that overhang the pounding music gets the home town fans pumped and ready for football.
The Gov. Livingston’s defense got off to a quick start as they were able to pressure starting Carteret sophomore QB Zaire Crutchfield into an overthrow on a 3rd and 10 forcing a Rambler punt. The Highlanders then went to work after return man Truncale called for a fair catch on his own 28 yard line. A 12 play scoring drive followed with Schmidt and QB Rittman (3-5, 105 yds, 1TD) doing most of the work. Rittman took it in from the 5 yard line to give the visitors the games first lead at 7-0 after Andrew Cahill ( 4 PAT) hit the extra point.
Carteret produced the game's first turnover on Gov. Livingston’s next possession when a pair of Rambler defenders combined on a spectacular interception. Rittman was looking for the home run ball when on first down he rolled right and found Cahill 25 yards yards down field. Carteret D-Backs Crutchfield and James Henderson converged on Cahill as he looked to bring in slightly under thrown pass. As Cahill and Crutchfield fought for the ball it popped in the air. Henderson, as he was rolling to the turf, was able to snatch the ball out of the air to complete the interception at midfield.
Carteret Coach Yascko then rewarded three-year starter Henderson (26-234, 2TD) by calling his number 6 of the next 7 plays. The senior back gained 50 yards and finished off the drive with a 10 yard TD run, which tied up the game at 7 with 7:07 left in the half.
It suddenly looked like the Ramblers were starting to roll as they clearly seized the games momentum. After capitalizing on the turnover, the ensuing Rambler kickoff was misplayed by the Highlanders on their own 12 yard line. The next next two plays netted just four yards as the Rambler defense was now swarming to the ball. However, just as quickly as the games momentum had shifted to the Ramblers it bounced right back to the Highlanders. Now facing a third and long Gov. Livingston Coach Dan Guyton caught the Carteret defense off guard when he moved Schmidt into the slot, with Rittman now taking the snap in an empty backfield. Rittman quickly hit Schmidt with a swing pass three yards behind the line of scrimmage. Schmidt picked up a block from wide out Jake Faulkner allowing him to get to the edge, but the fleet footed sophomore did the rest on his own as he made two defenders miss as he raced up the sideline 80 yards for the score.
Carteret managed to close to within 14-10 at the half when kicker Luis Galindo connected on a 34 yard field goal.
Gov. Livingston took the second half kick off but surrendered the ball after reaching the Carteret 25 yard line. A costly offside penalty on fourth down killed the drive as the Highlanders then lost additional yards on a failed screen pass ending the potential scoring threat.
After taking over at their own 31 yard line, it didn't take Carteret long to grab their first lead of the game. Once again it was Henderson doing the damage as he broke two tackles at the point of attack, bounced outside on his way to a 39 yard TD run. Galindo then added the extra point and the Ramblers led 17-14 with 4:52 left in the 3rd quarter.
To the Highlanders credit, they answered Carteret's score as they forged back into the lead after putting together another sustained drive (10 plays). Workhorse Schmidt did most of the heavy lifting, carrying six times for 55 yards before he pushed his way into the end zone from the one yard line. Schmidt's second TD of the game on the first play of the fourth quarter put the Highlanders back in front at 21-17.
Slasher Henderson went right back to work as he amped-up the home town crowd when he continued to run by and over the Highlander defense. It became obvious, once again, that late in games the Highlander defense was feeling the effects of the majority players going both ways. The depleted defense was struggling to bring down Henderson but it was QB McCargo who used a bit of ball deception to score the go ahead touchdown for the Ramblers. After three consecutive Henderson carries times brought the ball down to the Gov. Livingston 22 yard line, McCargo faked a hand off to Henderson and took the ball back against the flow 22 yards into to the end zone. Sophomore McCargo, who transferred back home from perennial power St. Johns Vianney took over the QB duties from Crutchfield late in the first quarter. He did a nice job with a beautiful ball fake as he slipped in for the go ahead score. Carteret caught a break when a bad snap on the extra point was scooped up by the holder who was able to run it in for two points, which increased the Rambler lead to 25-21.
As the clock was beginning to wind down in the fourth quarter, it was quickly becoming do or die time for the Highlanders as they faced a critical third and 8 from their own 28. Once again, Schmidt came through as he popped through the line for 9 yards and a first down. He then picked up 26 yards on his next carry as the Highlanders made their way to the Carteret 37. With the Rambler defense now keying on Schmidt, the Highlanders ran a counter with Bruno who sprinted into the end zone. Cahill added the critical PAT, his 4th of the game, to put the Highlanders up by 3 at 28-25.
Once again, it was gut check time for Gov. Livingston as Carteret and Henderson had plenty of time to work with to win or tie the game. Methodically moving the ball down the field with a combination of Henderson runs and short passes the Ramblers found themselves at the Highlander 10 with just over a minute to play
A tired and shorthanded Gov. Livingston defense needed to make four plays or that long ride back up the turnpike was going to seem like an eternity. On first down it was Henderson going for five yards before he went down just past the five. Gov. Livingston middle linebacker Pencek then made a huge play when he sliced through the line of scrimmage and dropped Henderson for a three yard loss. McCargo’s third down pass into the end zone fell incomplete as the Highlander defense now forced Carteret's Yascko to make a decision, to kick or go for the win outright. Opting to tie the game, Yascko sent out his field goal unit onto the field looking to take his chances in overtime.
Unfortunately, for the Ramblers they were flagged for too many players and the field and the field goal attempt got just a little bit more difficult. A subsequent time out by Gov. Livingston to possibly ice the kicker actually resulted in Yascko changing his mind as he sized up the kicks distance even though his kicker Galindo had hit from a greater distance earlier in the game. Now, down to their last offensive play, the Ramblers set three receivers wide as McCargo took the snap. The young mobil QB chose to sit in the pocket rather than roll which let the Highlander defenders stay true to their assignments. Truncale and Fenton had things under control in the end zone as McCargo’s pass sailed high cementing the win for Gov. Livingston.
Gov. Livingston will be looking to even its record at 5-5 when they host Spotswood in a 2nd round regional crossover game on Thursday afternoon in Berkeley Heights (Noon kickoff). The Highlanders will close the season when they travel to New Providence’s Lieder Field on Thanksgiving to take on the Pioneers. The rivals will both be concluding the 2018 season on Turkey Day with the Highlanders looking for their fifth consecutive holiday victory. New Providence was last in action on Friday night as the 7th seed in the North II Group 1 sectionals playing at No. 2 seed Hasbrouck Heights. The previously undefeated and untested Pioneers got spanked by the Aviators 42-0 in that opening round game. New Providence is now 8-1 after winning just two games the past two seasons.
Pencek and Rittman both notched another double digit tackling game with 14 and 10, respectively. Pencek leads the team in tackles with 113 this season.
Against Carteret, Rittman, in addition to standing out on defense, had his best career game on offense. The senior QB was 3-5 for 105 passing yards and a TD. He also carried the ball six times for 25 yards and scored on a 5-yard run.
Schmidt recorded his first career receiving touchdown. He now has scored 10 touchdowns this year, 9 rushing and one receiving. The sophomore back has an outside chance of reaching 1000 yards for the season, needing about 250 yards in the Highlanders two remaining games.
Gov. Livingston lineman Charlie Wojtczak, Dylan DeFronzo, and Diego Lopez all played on both sides of the ball. In addition, O-Linemen Colin Dooley, Brendan Curran, and Aidan Quigley paved the way for the Highlander ground game to generate 245 yards on the ground.
The last time Gov. Livingston played Carteret was in the opening round of the 2006 playoffs with the Highlander defeating the Ramblers 28-7.
Next week's opponent Spotswood and Gov. Livingston have shared only one common opponent this season, that being Johnson. Johnson defeated Spotswood twice -- once in the regular season(35-14) and once in the consolation playoffs (40-6). Gov, Livingston beat Johnson 21-14 to open the season.
All five losses the Highlanders suffered this season were to playoff teams (Voorhees, Cranford, Somerville, Del Val, and Rahway). Still alive in the state championship hunt are Somerville, Cranford, and Rahway.