CLARK, NJ- The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity football team knew a major task was on hand when they went up against the Roselle-Abraham Clark High School Rams team that defeated the Crusaders by a final score of 56-41 in an offensive shootout last year. Both teams came into Friday night’s competition with 2-0 records.
Despite trailing through three-quarters, the Crusaders stormed back in the fourth quarter, fighting against the Rams defense with their running game and securing the win with a final score of 23-13, marking the Crusaders first win against Roselle since 2015. It is also the first time since 2007 that Johnson has started the season off with a 3-0 record.
The Crusaders opened the scoring when senior quarterback Mike Bruno found Rapp for a 25-yard touchdown pass to give Johnson the 7-0 lead.
Just as quickly as Johnson scored, Roselle found a way to respond.
Rams senior Nasir Cherry delivered on a kickoff return deep into Johnson territory, getting to the Johnson 30-yard line. On that drive, Rams senior Craig McRae took it to the end zone, a ten-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
The next drive saw the Crusaders starting at their own 15-yard line. Bruno spiked the Crusaders on the ground with a 46-yard rush that put Johnson into Roselle territory. He finished the night with 122 rushing yards on ten carries.
The offense stalled and senior kicker Mike Casalino connected for a 30-yard field goal to put his team ahead 10-7, the score after one quarter of play.
Roselle would punch back as the second quarter went along, with junior Khair Pendleton giving the Rams their first lead of the game, 13-10 after the extra point was blocked. This would be the score at halftime.
The third quarter featured no points, but both teams battling at each other on defense, the complete opposite from a year ago.
Near the end of the third quarter, the Crusaders defense kept them in the game. They slowed down Roselle on offense, but for the Crusaders, all it took was a great read of a pass-play to change the tone of the game heading into the final quarter.
Rams junior quarterback Quraan Dixon threw a deep pass but was intercepted by Johnson senior Brandon Rapp, setting up the Crusaders as the third quarter ended, with his team trailing 13-10.
“We’ve been expecting the bubble-and-go the entire time,” Rapp said. “As soon as they did it, [Quraan Dixon] chucked it up, I knew I was going to get it.”
Following Rapp’s interception, the Crusaders embarked on a drive that ended with a rushing touchdown by Kevin Metz, coming on third-down-and-goal, to give Johnson the 16-13 lead with 8:47 left in the fourth quarter.
“[Coach DelConte] told us to stay disciplined, stick to the game plan and keep running the ball hard,” Metz said. “We did and that’s how it worked.”
Johnson took control of the game by milking the clock with multiple running plays, often short gains of yards. Turek pounded his way to the end zone for the final touchdown of the game, to put Johnson ahead 23-13 with 2:31 left in the fourth quarter.
Turek had 183 rushing yards on 30 carries to go along with his touchdown.
“This team is so resilient,” Turek said. “If we’re down by ten points, you’d still believe we’d win every other football game. We just stay together and I’m just so happy we won this game.”
In total, Johnson’s running game put up 388 total yards on 50 carries in the win.
Johnson defensive coordinator Chris Di Nucci, in his first year holding the position, praised his players for making the key stops and slowing down Roselle throughout the entire game.
“We knew we had to be assignment-sound and stick to our game plan,” Di Nucci said. “Our kids came out tonight and executed very, very well.”
This game marks Roselle’s first regular-season loss since October 24, 2015, against David Brearley HS (Kenilworth).
“We couldn’t get much on [Johnson],” Roselle head coach James Williams said. “We couldn’t get on offense; the defense was staying out on the field the whole second half. We couldn’t generate anything on offense.”
“[The kids] did their job tonight,” Di Nucci added. “We took care of business.”
The Johnson Crusaders (3-0) will head out on the road to play at Delaware Valley HS on Friday, September 29 at 7:00 p.m.
The Roselle-Abraham Clark Rams (2-1) will take on Hillside HS on Friday, September 29 at 7:00 p.m. at Rahway River Park.