RAHWAY, NJ – The Somerville HS Pioneers came out on top in their biggest test of the year Friday night, beating the Rahway Indians 59-35 to extend their unbeaten streak to five games.
Coming into this matchup, many members of the local media labeled the game as a de facto division title game and the outcome did not disappoint.
Coming into the matchup, the coaches preached that this game would be a slugfest, a game won in the trenches. This belief would manifest itself in the first quarter as the Indians came out and hammered the football down the middle. With 10 minutes left in the first, Rahway would run the ball into the end zone for a touchdown. With the subsequent PAT clanking off the upright, the Indians would hold the early 6-0 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, the short kick would be muffed by the Pioneers leading to Rahway taking possession on the Somerville side of the field. Rahway would capitalize on the mistake by scoring on a 21-yard touchdown pass.
The Pioneers would step up on the Indians' two-point attempt, leaving the score at 12-0.
One of the newest additions to the team, sophomore transfer Duke McDuffie made his Pioneers debut and made an instant impact.
With 4:51 left in the quarter, McDuffie hauled in a pass from QB Nick Couzzi and weaved his way into the end zone for his first touchdown of the year. With senior WR Chris Ciempola converting the PAT, the score would be slashed to 12-7.
With time expiring in the first quarter, Rahway would score and convert on a two-point conversation extending their lead to 20-7.
However, the Pioneers would rally in the second quarter led mainly by a defensive unit that would only give up eight points in the quarter. This lockdown performance would allow for the Somerville offense to slowly chip away at an Indians lead.
The Pioneer offense would score on a five-yard run by senior RB Keyshawn Newton. Just like the Pioneers, the Indians would cough up a kickoff after a score and give the ball back to the Pioneers.
Somerville capitalized on the turnover. Couzzi soon connected with senior WR Nas Petties-Jackson on a 10-yard pass that resulted in a touchdown and a converted PAT.
With a 21-20 lead and 5:13 left in the half, Rahway would answer the Pioneer surge with a touchdown of its own. The back-and-forth game would continue as Somerville fired back with a touchdown pass to sophomore WR Joe Ciempola. The score going into halftime would be knotted up at 28 apiece.
Somerville would strike first in the third quarter and score on a 33-yard touchdown strike to WR Chris Ciempola, making the game 34-28. Determined not to give any ground, the Indians would respond by scoring their own touchdown and converting the PAT to make the game 35-34 in favor of the hosts.
With 1:38 remaining senior wideout, Chris Ciempola would snag a bomb from Couzzi and score an 80-yard touchdown. Somerville would convert the two-point try as McDuffie snagged a pass from Couzzi and scrambled into the end zone.
The fourth quarter would begin with both defenses forcing punts. The Pioneers would again strike first in the quarter and set the tone for the rest of the game.
Couzzi, a threat all day with his arm, would scramble and score a touchdown onm the ground on a 17-yard run. The Pioneers would extend the lead when senior WR Chris Ciempola kicked a 17-yard field goal to make the score 52-35.
The Pioneers scored another touchdown, this one courtesy of senior RB Ahmed Lee, making the score 59-35 with 2:30 remaining.
The Pioneers would get key sacks from AJ Akins and Luke Genise, stifling the Indians attempt at a last-minute comeback.
After the game, SomervilleFootball.com's David Rubin caught up with McDuffie and AJ Akins. McDuffie spoke with Rubin about making his debut for the Pioneers saying, "It feels great. I had a great experience with my new team… came out here, got the [win] and on to the next game."
It was a tale of two halves for the defense as they gave up 28 points in the first half but then played lockdown defense in the second. "We just had to wake up, we started out really slow," said Akins "we're a second half team though, so we came and played Somerville football [in the second half]."
The Pioneers travel to Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights next Saturday looking for their sixth straight win. Kickoff is scheduled at 1 pm.
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