BERKELEY HEIGHTS — In a game that will go down as one of the strangest for every player and coach involved, the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School football team walked away a 20-14 winner over Governor Livingston in a contest that started Thursday afternoon, was postponed due to lightning and concluded Friday, more than 24 hours after the initial whistle blew.
The two teams were forced to leave the field with 5:31 remaining in the fourth quarter on Thursday night when the skies opened up bringing large bolts of lightning and heavy rain on the area. The Raiders had a 20-7 lead at the time of the weather delay, and having to go home and sleep on it was not something Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Jon Stack enjoyed.
“For me, it was a nightmare; I was very frustrated and I think I slept about an hour Thursday night,” he said. “But for the players, you can’t talk to them that way. We talked about how this is another varsity football game. And we treated it like it was another full game; we came out and did our warm-up and ran in like it was the start of a new game.”
The Raiders only needed to defend the final five and a half minutes to secure a season opening victory, but Governor Livingston made sure that it wasn’t easy. Faced with a second-and-20 from their own 36 to resume play on Friday, the Highlanders marched down the field in seven plays, taking just 1:23 off the clock, with quarterback John Wills throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jensen Butler for the score. After the PAT cut the lead to 20-14, Governor Livingston kicked the ball deep, intending to use their final two timeouts to get the football back with a chance to win the game.
“All the credit to coach Guyton, his boys came out and put the scare of the world into us,” Stack said. “We’re not battled tested, so I hope a game like this will go a long way for us.”
The Raiders took over at their own 30 with 4:02 on the clock and proceeded to use all but two seconds of the remaining time to secure the victory. But it didn’t come easily. After quarterback Marquel Taylor picked up a first down and forced Governor Livingston to use their final timeout, the Highlanders defense held up and brought up 4th down. Jordan Jones, who had returned a punt 41 yards for a touchdown on in the third quarter on Thursday night, dropped back to punt it away, but the snap was low. Alertly, Jones picked up the ball, ran around for a good 10 seconds and kicked the ball down the field, eating precious seconds off the clock. The Highlanders eventually scooped up the ball and were granted one play from their own 25 to win the game, but a hook-and-ladder pass fell well short.
The star on offense for Scotch Plains-Fanwood was junior tailback Kobe White, who rushed for a career-high 170 yards on 23 carries, including a 65-yard touchdown run. In 2012, White rushed for just 200 yards in the entire season. After the game, he was quick to deflect praise to his blockers.
“I thank the offensive line for everything,” he said. “I’m not as big as everyone else, but I found a way to get around blocks.”
Taylor gained 95 yards on 12 carries, with a 45-yard touchdown run mixed in for the Raiders, who gained 292 yards on the ground.
Governor Livingston scored on their fifth play of the season on Thursday night, when tailback Ryan Jennings plunged in from 1 yard out. Jennings, who had 77 yards on 22 carries before the rain came, had all 28 yards on the Highlanders’ opening drive.
GL – Jennings 1 run (Mahoney kick)
SPF – Jones 41 punt return (Ciccarino kick)
SPF – White 65 run (kick failed)
SPF – Taylor 45 run (Ciccarino kick)
GL – Jensen 20 pass from Wills (kick)
RUSHING: SPF – White 23-170, Taylor 12-95, Maxwell 4-16, Smith, C. 1-5, McQuoid 1-5, Smith, M. 1-0; GL – Jennings 22-77, Butler 2-36, Boyd 2-1, Mahoney 1-1, Jamolawicz 1-1, Barone 1-0, Rhodes 1-minus 1, Wills 2-minus-7.
PASSING: SPF – Taylor 2-10-20; GL – Wills 6-11-95, Mahoney 1-8-10.
RECEIVING: SPF –Monahan 2-20; GL – Butler 6-79, Ragazzo 2-19, Jamolawicz 1-7.