NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On a hot and humid 91-degree night at Memorial Stadium, the New Brunswick Zebras football team hosted a packed house as they welcomed in the Piscataway Chiefs to begin their inaugural season in the Greater Middlesex Conference's Red Division.
For the Zebras to win games in this division, they need to be flawless. It's tough to pull this off for any team in week one, and on this particular Friday night, they were far from it.
Penalties incurred by the Zebras in the first half alone included: illegal substitution, delay of game, false start, personal foul, and defensive pass interference.
Along with the penalties, there were misjudged snaps, confusion regarding personnel, and a quick hand injury which left them without their starting left guard.
Despite these mishaps, the Zebras were only trailing 13-19 at halftime.
"The only thing we had was more players," said Dan Higgins, Piscataway's head coach.
"They just didn't have as many guys as we did. We were rotating like crazy. I had 12 different guys who played on the defensive line. That's I think where we had the huge advantage and what kind of hurt them."
Off to a shaky start, the Zebras found themselves up against a third down and 12 situation on the opening drive.
Head coach Donald Sofilkanich's use of an early timeout proved worthy, as German Pimentel proceeded to slant across the field allowing quarterback Jah'Bree Seawright-Jeffery, who was flushed in the pocket, to connect with Pimentel on a 30-yard pass to pick up the first down.
Unable to get their offense going, Kadas Reams set up on the Zebra five-yard line for a punt.
Keshawn Grant of Piscataway bolted after Reams, completely untouched, Grant blocked the punt and had the presence of mind to then locate the ball and score, putting the Chiefs up 7-0.
On the next drive, the Zebras committed another turnover as a Seawright-Jeffery pass was picked off for an interception.
After these first two drives, things did not look good for the Zebras, and it seemed as if the game was over as soon as it started.
However, on Piscataway's first drive, Kyell Lewis jumped the route to intercept a Danny Haus' pass and return it for a 52-yard touchdown, tying up the game at 7-7. Lewis finished the game with two interception.
On the ensuing kickoff Demarcus Hutchinson delivered a crushing hit, forcing a fumble, and the Samad James was there to recover it.
Not able to capitalize on the turnover, the Chiefs regained possession and looked to Elijah Barnwell on the ground.
Unable to be denied of the endzone, he soon finished off their next drive with a 14-yard touchdown, putting the Chiefs up 13-7.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Dylan Johnson blazed down the sideline and returned a 95-yard kickoff for a touchdown, tying the game back up.
Two drives later, quarterback Danny Haus of Piscataway took to the air with an accurate throw straight down the field and into the endzone where Nazhir James leaped over his defender to haul in a 29-yard touchdown pass.
After another failed conversion attempt, the Chiefs lead at the half 19-13.
In the second half, New Brunswick's players were suffering from the heat.
Seawrught-Jeffery came out for the rest of the game early in the third quarter after cramping up.
Other starters continued to play while cramping in the middle of the game, but this resulted in officials constantly stopping the game so the Zebras' athletic trainer could run out onto the field and help them out.
Tight-end and outside linebacker, German Pimentel could be seen in pain holding his ribs in between plays, eventually leaving the field in the third quarter.
With a deep roster and multiple starters missing from New Brunswick, Piscataway's offense was pounding the ball on the run game.
With an offensive and defensive line creating problems up front, the team got behind them and put the game out of reach for New Brunswick.
Juwon Jackson impressed with two touchdowns of 30 and 11 yards, 122 yards on six carries.
Elijah Barnwell finished 124 yards on 23 carries and one score. Nasir Best also chipped in with 45 yards and a touchdown, bringing the run total of the team over 300.
“We got worn down and they are a good football team,” said Coach Sofilkanich. “We didn’t capitalize on [the turnovers] and that hurt us. They came out and took care of business in the second half."
The Zebras return to action at home on September 16 at 7 p.m., where they will face South Brunswick.