NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Thanksgiving Day marked New Providence’s most anticipated game of the year and with a disappointing season, the Pioneers hoped to win big against their next-door rival, the Gov. Livingston Highlanders, who also ended their season on a low note with a stinging 47-7 defeat against Morris Hill Knights.
Before the game, Coach Mitch Goodstein said, “this is the local super bowl and the key to our success is playing together and never giving up.” The importance of the game was reflected with the amount of people attending, with nearly every seat in the stand occupied.
The Pioneers came out with one of their strongest offensive games of the year, taking up large chunks of yards through the air, but in the end, the Highlanders’ ground game was too much to handle. Running about 95 percent of the game and passing just two times, the Pioneers had little room for error.
New Providence started the first quarter with the ball and after a 3 and out, the Highlanders took over, establishing their ground game early, refusing to be denied a first by going for it on fourth, using the ground game for 11 straight plays for an opening drive touchdown, which took over five minutes off the clock.
After a lengthy Highlander drive, the Pioneers took over with 3:24 left in the first quarter and were forced to punt, for another 3 and out, but re-gained possession with 1:24 left after a forced fumble and recovery. The Pioneers would capitalize on the Highlanders’ early mistake, with Jackson Barletta connecting with Michael Barletta for a 20-yard pass. From the 11-yard line Jackson Barletta took off, picking up 10 yards on a QB run, bringing the Pioneers to the 1 yard line, and scoring on another run to start the second quarter, making the score 7 to 6, Highlanders, after a missed extra point attempt.
GL would take over with 11:43 left on the clock, and it was back to business as usual, relying heavily on the run game, passing once for a first down, and capping off the drive with a touchdown through the ground, shaving just over five minutes off the clock and bringing the score to 15 - 6, Highlanders, after a two-point conversion.
The Pioneers quickly returned possession to the Highlanders after a fumble from Jackson Barletta, which the Highlanders capitalized with a misdirection play, which left plenty terrain for their quickest touchdown of the game.
The Pioneers responded with just under four minutes to go in the first half with a successful drive through the air, ending with a flawless throw and catch from Jackson Barletta to Ryan Pope. Subsequently, the Pioneers' defense held the Highlanders to a field goal, giving hope in this hard-fought battle and bringing the score to 25-12, Highlanders.
The Highlanders showed no signs of slowing down in the second half, scoring on the kickoff return and converting on a two-point conversion to bring the score to 33-12.
The relentless Pioneers had the gumption to battle back, completing key first down passes and ending their opening second half drive with a QB run and touchdown. A blocked field goal brought the score to 33-18, Highlanders.
GL continued to control the clock, denying the Pioneers a chance to get back in the game, while simultaneously scoring on the ground. With just 10:44 left in the fourth quarter, the resilient Pioneers scored again through a successful drive in the air, ending with a touchdown to Joseph D’anna. However, the 40-25 deficit proved to be too much.