By: Alex Melillo
SOMERVILLE, NJ — For the second consecutive year, the Somerville Pioneers defeated the Cranford Cougars on the opening night of the season. After a tight, back and forth battle, the Pioneers prevailed at Brooks Field by a score of 36-16.
The first quarter would prove to be a defensive chess match with both teams making key stops to limit their opponents. The first big defensive play came from junior WR/LB Joe Ciempola when he intercepted a pass and returned it 10 yards to the Cougar 18-yard line. However, the Pioneer offense could not capitalize as they, in turn, were picked off at the 2-yard line. The first quarter continued to be a stalemate despite key sacks from Somerville players senior OL/DL Ryan Hrabinski and sophomore Sean Aira- Spiess.
The first breakthrough would not come until the second quarter when the Somerville special teams capitalized on a Cougar mistake. Early in the second quarter, still scoreless, the Pioneer special teams blocked a punt. It was quickly scooped up by senior DL Hamza Akel who scored on the play. A successful two-point conversion made the game 8-0 in favor of the home team. The Pioneer defense would continue to stand tall late in the first half. Faced with a first and goal, the Somerville Pioneers got key stops from their defense and forced the Cougars to settle for the field goal. The score going into halftime would stand at 8-3.
The Pioneer defense would continue to stand tall late in the first half. Faced with a first and goal, the Somerville Pioneers got key stops from their defense and forced the Cougars to settle for the field goal. The score going into halftime would stand at 8-3.
In the second half, both offensive units would show up and make some noise. First, it was the Pioneers' turn. After a 54-yard screen pass to junior WR/DB Duke McDuffie, senior QB Ryan Kovacs found junior WR/DB Da'Shaun Smith in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. A missed point after attempt (PAT) pushed the Somerville lead up by 11, to a score of 14-3 with 4:02 remaining in the third quarter.
The Cougar response looked promising for the visiting team until Ryan Hrabinski came up big again, this time intercepting a pass in Somerville territory. Kovacs and the offense then marched down the field and added more points to the board. McDuffie, from the Wildcat formation, took the ball right for a 3-yard score. After McDuffie, again from the Wildcat, found a teammate in the end zone for the two-point conversion, the Pioneers headed into the final quarter up 22-3.
In the fourth quarter, the Cougars mounted a late comeback attempt. Midway through the final frame, Cranford scored, cutting into the Pioneer lead. However, after the Cougars failed to connect on the two-point conversion, the Pioneers still held on to a 22-9 lead over their opponents.
Cranford would strike again at the 4:12 mark, making the score 22-16 after a successful PAT. Backed up deep in their own territory, facing a third and 30, junior RB/LB Robert Fiorentino caught a screen pass and went 27 yards, setting up a manageable fourth down scenario. Once again, in a crucial spot, McDuffie lined up in the Wildcat formation. The junior converted on fourth down and kept the drive alive for the Pioneers, taking precious seconds off the clock.
Later during that same drive, with 2:50 left on the clock, McDuffie ran for a Pioneer touchdown, making the score 29-16 after a successful PAT. Still clinging to hope, Cranford looked to put together a quick scoring drive and mounted a last-minute comeback. But the Pioneer defense, which had been solid all night long, stepped up once again and put the nail in the coffin.
With 1:16 left in the game, junior WR/DB Tyjir Williams intercepted a pass and brought it all the way back to the house for the pick six. A PAT converted by junior K Bobby Wortman would seal the game and the first victory of the season for the Pioneers.
Final score: 36-16. Somerville wins their season opener over the Cranford Cougars at Brooks Field.
The Pioneers are back in action this Friday night, as they visit the North Plainfield Canucks. Kickoff is set for 7 pm. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@VilleFootball) for all up-to-date info and scores. Visit our website at www.somervillefootball.com