MILLTOWN – Newark raced out to a 19-0 lead over homestanding St. Mark’s on Friday night, then held off a furious comeback attempt by the Spartans. The Yellow Jackets, the preseason No. 8 in Division I football, escaped “The Graveyard” with a 19-14 victory in the season opener.
The Spartans, ranked between Nos. 1 and 3 in various preseason Division II rankings, trailed by five entering the fourth quarter and took over after stopping Newark on downs at midfield with 8:08 to go. They steadily progressed toward the end zone, including converting a fourth and two on a run by senior Peyton Schultz. Quarterback Billy Sullivan, starting his first varsity game, kept the drive alive again on third-and-seven from the Jackets’ 37 with a screen pass to Schultz, who turned it into a 18-yard gain.
St. Mark’s was on the doorstep when Newark lineman Angel Guerrero made the play of the game. Sullivan looked to his right on second down and fired toward the end zone. The 6-3 Guerrero reached up and tipped the pass, then kept his eyes on the ball and made a diving interception.
“Great athletic play by him. He made a great play on the ball,” Sullivan said.
Newark appeared to have put the game away on the ensuing drive, but a 55-yard touchdown run by Brendan Sherman was wiped out by a holding penalty. St. Mark’s forced a punt and took over at its own five-yard line with 1:17 to go, but the team could not solve the Newark defense.
St. Mark’s coach John Wilson was encouraged by his team’s performance despite the turnovers and some confusion on the offense. He said the squad needs time to mesh.
“It’s a young team, and we keep growing each week,” he said. “We got better from our scrimmages, and we hope to get better from this as well.”
Wilson said his team only has five starters back from last year, but he didn’t want to take away from Newark’s performance. “No excuses. Newark, they came out prepared in the first half ready to play.”
Newark showed some offensive weapons, particularly on the ground, in the first half. Beginning their first drive on their own 35, the Yellow Jackets stuck to a ground attack to take a 7-0 lead. The drive included a direct snap to senior receiver Bryce Ciarlo, who gained 15 yards up the middle. Junior running back Dequan Woods completed the drive, splitting the Spartans’ defense for a 10-yard score with 6:31 to go in the first quarter.
St. Mark’s responded with a nice drive of its own. Senior Jamai Rice took the kickoff return 34 yards to the Spartans’ 40. The drive included a 19-yard pass from Sullivan to Rice and several nice runs by senior Tyler Kaczmarczyk. The Spartans scored on a field goal, but when Newark was called for a penalty, Wilson decided to go for it on fourth-and-two. Kaczmarczyk was stopped short of a first down.
St. Mark’s suffered a crucial loss shortly thereafter when Kaczmarczyk suffered an apparent arm injury. He did not return.
Newark added its second touchdown midway through the second quarter when Ciarlo stepped in front of a Sullivan pass and took it 34 yards to the end zone. A fake extra point conversion attempt failed, and the Yellow Jackets held a 13-0 lead.
On their next possession, the Jackets found paydirt for the final time. This time, they scored through the air on a pass from junior quarterback Andrew DelPercio to senior Brendan Sherman, who made a leaping catch over his defender. Again, the two-point conversion failed.
The Spartans scored on its second drive of the second half, capitalizing on a Newark fumble. Senior Peyton Schultz capped the 27-yard drive with a two-yard burst up the middle to get the home crowd back in the game.
St. Mark’s created another opportunity just a few plays later, forcing a Newark fumble four plays into the next drive and taking over at the Jackets’ 32. Senior tight end Eric Cella made the Spartans’ play of the game on this drive, hauling in a pass from Sullivan with a spectacular diving effort on fourth down. Schultz took the next handoff to the 2, and Sullivan completed the drive with a two-yard keeper.
Newark would hold with its impressive defensive effort, however. The Yellow Jackets (1-0) will stay on the road next week, battling Division I newcomer Mount Pleasant on Saturday at 10:30 a.m., while St. Mark’s (0-1) travels to Felton on Friday night to take on Lake Forest at 7:30 p.m.