SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Heartbreaker. That's the word that best describes the game between Scotch Plains-Fanwood and Cranford on Saturday afternoon at Tyson Field.
In an exhilarating offensive showdown, the Raiders, fighting for their first win of the season, battled the Cougars to overtime and fell two points short of walking away with a victory in a regular season game for the first time since 2014.
After a wild first four quarters, the score was knotted up at 36 entering the overtime. Cranford struck first when it scored seven points on Anthony Araujo’s run and Valentino Ambrosio’s PAT. But as they had all afternoon, the Raiders stormed right back and scored on quarterback Cooper Heisey’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Stewart, who corralled the ball after it bounced off the hands of a Cranford defender. The Raiders were now down a point and had two options: Kick the PAT and tie the game at 43, or go for two and try to outright win the game.
They chose to go for two, and Heisey became forced to scramble before eventually being brought down about five yards short of reaching the goal line, ending the game with a final score of 43-42, Cranford.
“I’ve been fortunate to have won seven state titles, and I was as proud today as I was then,” Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Mark Ciccotelli told TAPinto.net. “I’m proud of the effort, the toughness and how they fought. Couldn’t be more proud.”
“We were getting to the point where we were exhausted, the field is a little shorter in overtime, and we were struggling stopping the run,” Ciccotelli explained. “I thought Cranford had the advantage at that point — not only that they’re a running team — but the field’s a little shorter, and we’re a vertical passing team sometimes. I thought it was the time to take a shot and win the game.”
While Scotch Plains-Fanwood fell to 0-5 on the season with the loss, the Raiders played the most complete game of football they have all season. The offense was once again thriving with Heisey throwing for 447 yards, the defense was getting huge stops on Cranford’s strong running game, and the Raiders were playing with a next-level grit and toughness. For sure, it appeared that the Raiders deserved to win.
“It’s tough having this come out a loss, but I’m proud of the way we fought,” said Heisey. “It was emotional. I’m upset, because this team deserves a win.”
Fight was the common theme for the Raiders, who came back from multiple deficits during the afternoon. In the fourth quarter after Cranford had jumped out to a 36-29 lead, Justin Sanders hauled in a 52-yard touchdown reception, which brought the house down, as the Raiders evened up the score at 36. Similarly, after Cranford had scored 14 points to open up the game, the Raiders marched right down the field and rallied to take a 15-14 lead into halftime -- the team’s first lead of the season.
“It’s definitely ecstatic to play in a game like this. I’ve never played in a game like it myself,” Sanders, who caught a total of 123 receiving yards, said. “We started off like we were supposed to this time. Although we were down two touchdowns, I think that ‘fight or flight’ kicked in. Our toughness definitely grew over Cranford."
Also growing over Cranford at one point was the Raiders’ lead. Coming out of halftime, the Raiders didn’t miss a beat and opened up the third quarter with Heisey finding Dwight Laylor on a 24-yard touchdown pass. Laylor caught in the ball in the corner of the endzone with a defender in his face and after Max Toll’s PAT, Scotch Plains’ lead grew to 22-14.
Cranford came back and tied the game at 22, which is where the back-and-forth action began. It was also where Cooper Heisey took over.
The Raiders’ star quarterback methodically led the team to two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. Heisey connected with Sanders on the 52-yard TD route and later powered his way through a Cranford goal-line stand for a one-yard score after Sanders kept the drive alive by hauling in a first down reception on a 4th and 11.
After a 533-passing yard performance last week, Heisey threw for a total of 447 with four TDs on Saturday, while completing 31 of 49 attempts and owning a passer rating of 111.5.
“That old cliche about being in a foxhole with somebody? I’ll take Cooper every time,” Ciccotelli said. “He’s my first pick. He’s as tough as nails; he’s as tough as they come.”
Heisey’s toughness epitomized the Raiders’ fight in Saturday’s game. Getting knocked around multiple times, having to leave the game for a snap and playing the entire fourth quarter and overtime with a bloody nose, the signal caller continued to power through and lead his team.
“No matter what, I’m not coming off the field. This is my last time here, and I just want to win, to turn the program around,” Heisey said. “The only way I’m coming off the field is on a stretcher.”
Allowing Heisey and the offense the chance to win the game was the defense. While it allowed 43 points, the Raiders’ D vastly improved from its previous performances. Highlights included shutting out Cranford in the second quarter and coming up with a huge stop at midfield in the fourth right before Sanders’ game-tying touchdown grab.
“I do [think the defense stepped up], but the depth issue hurt is,” said Ciccotelli. “Guys were going both ways on a day where, it was October — I’m not making an excuse — but it was hot and humid. Losing other guys for the game took a toll on us a little bit, but guys really played their hearts out.”
In addition to his OT touchdown, Isaiah Stewart led the team with 10 catches for 142 yards. Alex Oslislo rushed for a team-high 57 yards, with one of those yards accounting for the Raiders' first touchdown with :27 left in the first quarter.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood has now proven that it has the ability to win a football game. The Raiders will look to finally put a W on the board on Saturday, Oct. 14, when they host undefeated North Hunterdon at 1 p.m.
“This is definitely not the last chance to get a win here,” says Heisey. “Anyone on the schedule we can beat — even Westfield. We’ve got a special group of kids -- we’ve just got to put it all together and we’ll be alright.”