LIVINGSTON, NJ- Behind an opportunistic offense, and some timely second half stops on defense, the Randolph Rams football team opened the 2019 season with a 20-6 win over Livingston.
Junior Jimmy Pepe was the sparkplug on offense, showing his versatility by scoring all three TD’s, but on three dramatically different plays, a short run, a long pass, and a very long run.
“I have been waiting for this game for a long time, and we as a team have been working all summer to prepare for the season,” said Pepe. “There is nothing better than coming out here and getting a big win in the first game.”
The Rams struck first, with a drive that featured a key play on a completion from QB Matt Kleiven to senior Dylan Glincman. A few short plays later Randolph was on the board when Pepe finished a short TD run to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.
Early in the second quarter, Livingston answered back with a 25-yard TD pass in the right corner of the end zone. The kick failed and left the Rams ahead 7-6.
On the ensuing possession, Randolph again displayed some big play ability. On a third and long, Kleiven dropped back and hit Pepe streaking down the middle of the field. Pepe hauled in the pass and raced the final 30 yards for a 65-yard TD.
“Pepe is a ‘football player’, that’s the only way to describe him,” said Coach Will Nahan. “You can put Jimmy at any position. We had guys’ going down with cramps on defense, and I just said Jimmy go cover that guy, and he did.”
The point after failed; and after trading possessions the teams enter the locker room with Randolph up 13-6.
In the second half, the Rams defense then took their turn to flex their muscles and make an impact on the game.
“We build a culture here of 'never give up', you always have to keep on fighting, and the defense really did that today, said Captain Alex Pernicaro. “Especially the D-line, we have a new young group and they came out hungry and ready to play.”
On one Lancer drive, a deep pass looked as though it would be caught for a 45-yard TD, but Aden Koenigsburg closed the gap at the last second and broke up the play in the back of the end zone. Dylan Sheehan followed that up with a sack on the next play to force a punt.
While the Rams offense largely stalled in the second half, Livingston continued to move the ball and threaten, but the Rams defense was in a ‘bend don’t break’ mode, and rose up time after time whenever things got tight.
Every Lancer drive was interrupted by key defensive plays, starting with sacks from Jake Blumenthal and Darian Ghahary, and multiple pressures from Anthony Raiello. Corey Naclerio broke up a 4th down pass in the end zone, and Justin Townsend came up with a big 4th down stop with an open field tackle. Both of those 4th down stops came on possessions when the Lancers had reached the Rams 15 yard line before the door was slammed shut.
With the Rams trying to run out the clock, Pepe struck again to burry Livingston. On third and 8 from their own 15, Pepe took the ball left, made a tackler miss and outran everyone 85 yards down the sideline for a game ending touchdown.
“We had run that play the drive before and I screwed up my footwork on it,” said Pepe. “So coach said we are running it again, and I want you to take the right steps, be patient, and follow Justin. That’s what I did and next thing I knew I was on my way into the end zone.”
With the pressure and expectations high after last years’ success, the players and coaches all seemed relieved to get the first game over with a win.
“It felt amazing tonight getting this win, this was a hard game and Livingston is a tough team,” said Nahan. “Our offensive line played well, and what they did blocking for that 80 yard TD in the fourth quarter, when everyone is tired - was great to see. I would have just taken a first down to end the game but they got us 80, that was awesome.”
While the line was certainly an area of focus with so many new starters, all eyes have been watching the QB spot where the Rams are looking to Matt Kleiven to replace the huge production they got from Anthony Sofia last year.
“In Matt’s first varsity start tonight, he did everything right and I am proud of him,” said Nahan. “He always prepared last year in case he needed to play when he was backing up Anthony, so I am not surprised he was ready tonight, and I think he is only going to get better as the season goes on.”
The Rams play next at Morristown, on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 1:00 pm.