Prior to the offseason, South Plainfield coach Gary Cassio asked his team if anyone wanted to serve as its kicker.
John Garcia, a reserve wide receiver with no kicking experience, volunteered to fill the void.
On Friday night, the junior was thrust into the spotlight.
Garcia nailed a 21-yard field goal with 0.2 seconds left to send South Plainfield to a dramatic 18-17 victory over Bishop Ahr and keep the Tigers’ undefeated season alive.
“I was a little nervous but wanted to do this for my team,” said Garcia, who worked with his father, Mauricio, over the summer. “They deserve it.”
South Plainfield (4-0) almost didn’t have this opportunity as the Tigers’ offense was inconsistent all night. Quarterback Kyle Moroney (6-of-22 attempts for 41 yards and an interception) didn’t have a typical game but managed to hit his targets on the final 12-play drive that put the ball at the Trojans’ 4.
The key play came on a fourth-and-4 at the Tigers’ 49 yard line when Jason Lee lunged to haul in a 7-yard pass from Moroney to gain the first down. On the same play, the Trojans were hit with a personal foul penalty that put the ball at the Bishop Ahr 29.
Moroney found John Chillemi for a 12-yard reception and Lee grabbed a second 15-yard pass to get the Tigers inside the 5. That helped set up Garcia’s try with five seconds remaining in the game.
“I relied on my quarterback to make that fourth down throw and he put it right in my hands,” Lee said. “It was impossible for me to drop that pass.”
South Plainfield faced a 14-7 deficit at halftime but notched its first lead courtesy of a 68-yard touchdown run by Roemello Monroe. Monroe, who finished with 190 yards on 28 carries, found a hole through the middle of the defense for the score with 9:08 left in the contest. South Plainfield elected to go for the two-point attempt and Moroney connected with Lee to give the Tigers a 15-14 advantage.
The Trojans (1-4) responded with a 12-play, 57-yard drive that put the ball at the Tigers’ 6. Bishop Ahr’s Justin Abd hit a 23-yard field goal to give the Trojans a 17-15 lead with 3:22 left before Moroney’s final game-winning drive.
“We were off for much of the game,” said Cassio, whose team is off to its best start in over three decades. “But we grew from this. Good teams find a way to win and that’s what we did.”
Running back Tim Howard guided the offense with 105 yards rushing on just eight carries for Bishop Ahr, who lost its second-straight game. The junior had touchdown runs of 41 and 47 yards as the Trojans raced out to a 14-7 halftime lead.
Penalties were damaging to Bishop Ahr, which was flagged nine times for 84 yards in the game. On two of the Tigers’ scoring drives, the Trojans were hit with 15-yard violations that shortened the field for South Plainfield.
B-Howard 41 run (kick failed)
S-Moroney 1 run (Garcia kick)
B-Howard 47 run (Howard run)
S-Monroe 68 run (Lee pass from Moroney)
B-Abd 23 FG
S-Garcia 21 FG
RUSHING: S-Monroe 28-190, Moroney 5-16, Cone 2-24; B-Thomas 12-33, Holder 11-7, Howard 8-105, Perez 2-7, Neal 1-4.
PASSING: S-Moroney 6-22-1-41; B-Thomas 4-8-1-58.
RECEIVING: S-Lee 3-20, Chillemi 2-15, Monroe 1-6; B-Viggiano 2-28, Thomas 1-21, Greene 1-9.