EAST BRUNSWICK The music flowed during down times as the Piscataway High School football players were mentally getting ready for opening night against East Brunswick.
“Anxious all day,” Chiefs junior Elijah Barnwell said. “Just thinking about the game. Headphones in and I was just thinking. I was ready for this game.”
Instead of early jitters, Piscataway jumped to a big early lead and cruised to a 42-7 win over the Bears in a Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division game Friday.
Barnwell rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Dany Haus threw two scores to Nasir James, while Marcel Mason had an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“I thought we got off to a really good start, which is real important for us,” Piscataway coach Dan Higgins said. “We have a lot of new faces playing and I’m really happy that they embraced their roles and did their jobs. A couple big plays does help, too.”
From the beginning, the Chiefs showed why they are ranked No. 2 in the Home News Tribune’s preseason Top 10. The Piscataway defense forced a quick punt on East Brunswick’s opening drive, and fielded a short kick. Two plays later, Barnwell plowed ahead for a 17-yard touchdown in just over three minutes from the opening whistle. Mike Stalenyj kicked the first of his six extra points for the game.
After another quick punt, Piscataway’s Mason fielded the ball on the 11-yard line. The 5-foot-7, 150-pound senior dodged a tackle and darted down the right sideline. He brushed off a defender around East Brunswick’s 40-yard line and found the end zone. His 89-yard score gave the Chiefs a 14-0 lead with 7:16 left in the first quarter.
“You get big plays like that and it really kind of relaxes kids and builds confidence,” Higgins said. “And I think that’s what we saw tonight. Once we got rolling, we gained a lot of confidence.”
Piscataway senior linebacker Zaire Ashley had a sack and knocked down a pass on the first two drives, as East Brunswick had trouble sustaining drives throughout the game.
The Chiefs cruised to a 35-0 halftime lead via two more Barnwell rushing touchdown runs and a 23-yard touchdown pass from Haus to James. On that play, James leaped in front of a defender on the edge of the end zone for the catch and score.
Barnwell, a preseason All-Conference selection at running back, praised his line.
“They made the holes for me. I just made the cuts. All credit goes to my line. They played great today. We just need to come back next week with our head straight,” he said.
The junior also knows that he doesn’t have to be the main guy all the time.
“It’s good to have people around me who are playmakers too,” he said. “And can do stuff when they get the ball.”
That was evident early in the third quarter, as James caught Piscataway’s last touchdown. This time, the 6-foot, 180-pound junior received a short pass from Haus and sprinted down the left side into the end zone to give the Chiefs a 42-0 lead with 7:04 remaining.
The Bears had the misfortune of losing senior quarterback Brendan Kennedy, who limped off toward the end of the first quarter and did not return. Sophomore James Schuld replaced him and threw for 58 yards. East Brunswick avoided the shutout when Almaliek Fitzpatrick rushed for a 4-yard touchdown with 1:39 remaining in the game.
By then, the Piscataway players could relax a tad.
“Yeah, I had a little bit of jitters,” Barnwell said. “But we came out here and we executed our game plan and we came out with the good victory.”
PISCATAWAY (1-0) 28-7-7-0-42
EAST BRUNSWICK (0-1) 0-0-0-7-7
P – Barnwell 17 run (Stalenyj kick)
P – Mason 89 punt return (Stalenyj kick)
P – Barnwell 5 run (Stalenyj kick)
P – James 23 pass from Haus (Stalenyj kick)
P – Barnwell 7 run (Stalenyj kick)
P – James 55 pass from Haus (Stalenyj kick)
EB – Almaliek Fitzpatrick 4 run (Boyko kick)
Rushing – P: Barnwell 15-120, Ashley 2-17, Haus 1-14, Williams 1-4, Mason 4-4; EB: Wiggins 16-31, Schuld 4-21, Fitzpatrick 1-4, Kennedy 2-minus 6.
Passing – P: Haus 6-6-0-137; EB: Schuld 5-10-0-58, Kennedy 1-4-0-2.
Receiving – P: James 3-115, Ashley 1-12, Barnwell 1-9, Boyd 1-1; EB: Fitzpatrick 4-42, Wiggins 2-18.