Cougars Balanced Attack Too Much for Mustangs
ISELIN, NJ—On Friday night, Big Central Gridiron opened its season with a trip to Lou Bartha Stadium in the Iselin section of Woodbridge Township to see the John F. Kennedy Mustangs begin their season against Cranford of Union County in a Big Central Football Conference match-up. It was only the third time ever that these two schools met on the football field.
Cranford, which won the previous two meetings over Kennedy in 2002 and 2003 by a combined total of 90-9, made it three straight in the series with a balanced running game that produced a 44-7 victory in this opener. The Cougars, which lost to Irvington 22-21 in the opening round of the 2019 North Jersey Section 1 Group 4 playoffs and finished 5-4 overall, lost the likes of Connor Katz to graduation, but still had a solid group of players returning.
Led by the likes of QB Dennis DeMarino, and RBs Marcus Johnson and Jake Chapman, the Cougars broke away from a 2-0 first quarter lead with a 21-7 showing in the 2nd and a 14-0 effort in the 3rd won easily. Following a safety at the 6:51 mark of the first period, the Cougars added a 14 yard TD run by Chapman at the 9:49 mark of the 2nd, and a 25 yard TD scamper by Johnson at the 5:34 mark of the 2nd to take a 16-0 lead.
Kennedy showed some life with a jet sweep by Kimani Carrington for a 70 yard touchdown run with 3:49 remaining in the first half to close the gap to 16-7, but Cranford struck back before halftime with a 13 yard TD run by DeMarino with 1:32 to play in the second for a 23-7 lead at the intermission. Then, Chapman took the second half kickoff 70 yards for another score and a 30-7 Cranford advantage with 11:47 to go in the 3rd.
DeMarino then added another rushing touchdown of his own when he scrambled to his left, and eluded tacklers during a 21 yard run to the end zone to increase the Cougar lead to 37-7 with 7:56 to play in the third period. Colin Murray wrapped up the scoring with a touchdown run at the 8:50 mark for the 44-7 final score.
Johnson ran 9 times for 93 yards along with his scoring run while DeMarino also rushed 9 times for 61 yards with his two scores. Murray ran 8 times for 50 yards and his fourth quarter score while Chapman rushed 4 times for 31 yards. Matt Coates led the Cougars in tackles with 9 while Lucca Limeira collected 8, Nick Librera and Nate Caldwell added 7, and Chapman picked up 6.
The Cougars played well in all three phases of its game. The offense produced 5 rushing touchdowns. The defense recorded a safety and an interception along with numerous tackles. And, the special teams also contributed with a fake punt that was run for a first down, a punt that pinned Kennedy deep in its own territory and eventually produced the game’s first points on a safety, and a kickoff return for another score.
Cranford rushed 31 times for 308 yards, or an average of 9.9 yards per carry. With the victory, the Cougars opened their season at 1-0 while Kennedy began its campaign at 0-1. Cranford, which was originally scheduled to play Scotch Plains in Week 2, ended up taking on Ridge after both the Cougars and Red Devils opponents, Scotch Plains-Fanwood and Elizabeth were forced to cancel due to COVID-19 cases reported on their respective teams.
Kennedy, also affected by the impact of COVID after its second week opponent Linden, was forced to cancel, rescheduled a game with Red Bank Regional of the Shore Conference. The Mustangs, only 1-9 a year ago, have only gone 11-38 since qualifying for the North 2 Group 4 State Playoffs in 2014, which ended with a semifinal loss to Colonia (28-18) to end that season at 7-4 overall.