PHS Football Falls 61-20 to Scotch Plains-Fanwood, But Johnson Making an Impact in Debut Season
RISING STAR: Princeton High football player Jaiden Johnson snags an interception in a game earlier this fall. Last Saturday, junior receiver/defensive back Johnson, who is in his first season playing football, scored a touchdown on an 86-yard kickoff return in a losing cause as PHS fell 61-20 to Scotch Plains-Fanwood. The Tigers, now 1-4, host New Egypt (3-1) on November 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Coming into the fall, Jaiden Johnson was an unknown quantity for the Princeton High football team.
Having played on the JV boys’ soccer team in his first two years at PHS, Johnson switched to football for the 2020 season.
“I just felt like I had a lot of potential playing football,” said Johnson.
“I decided to make the change. I haven’t played before, this is my first official year ever.”
In taking up football, Johnson had a special influence in his father, Marquis Johnson, a 1994 PHS alum and star athlete for the Tigers who was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.
“My dad played football, there is definitely genes there,” said Johnson.
“In the offseason, me and my dad worked our butts off to get the result. He pushed me as hard as I could. I gained about 15-20 pounds.”
Starting at both wide receiver and defensive back, Johnson has gotten a crash course on football through the first month of the 2020 campaign.
“This is the fifth game. These past four games were learning games,” said Johnson.
“I am getting a lot more comfortable and hopefully I can take it a long way.”
Last Saturday in a 61-20 loss to visiting Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Johnson provided a highlight by going a long way for a touchdown in the second quarter, returning a kickoff 86 yards up the middle of the field to pay dirt.
“I want to thank coach Gallagher; he talked to me and I listened to what he said and it worked out, so shout out to coach,” said Johnson, noting that
Gallagher had instructed him to take the ball up the middle and not bounce outside.
“I looked up at the scoreboard; we had a chance to come back so that motivated me and it made me get the touchdown.”
With PHS trailing 55-13 at halftime, the Tigers tightened things up in the second half.
“We started to get a little more comfortable and saw how they played,” said Johnson. “Overall we played really great during the second half.”
PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher credited his players with hanging in there despite the lopsided score.
“I would use the word gritty; they have done a really nice job,” said Gallagher,
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Scotch Plains was a good football squad, they had speed, they have size. They have things that we want to have, you just don’t get that overnight. You have to work at it.”
The addition of Johnson has brought some speed and an upbeat attitude to PHS.
“The best quality he has going for him is that he is extremely coachable; he wants to be better,” said Gallagher who also got touchdowns in the loss to Scotch Plains on a one-yard plunge in the first quarter by junior quarterback Jaxon Petrone and a three-yard run by senior halfback Richie Valme in the third quarter.
“I am going to need him to want his teammates be better, that will be important down the road. Somewhere along the line he is going to turn into a leader, even though it might be for a short period of time. There are other guys out there who could do just as great a job; that is something that he will have to rise to down the road.”
On a day on which the program honored its Class of 2021, Gallagher lauded that group for its leadership and tenacity.
“The senior class is awesome, Moses Santizo had a great game today,” said Gallagher, noting that fullback-linebacker Santizo has emerged as a workhorse for the team after suffering knee and elbow injuries earlier in his career.
“He has had a couple of really good games over the last couple of weeks. It is his best playing over these last three games, he has really stood out in the game film. All the coaches are really happy with his play. It is just a bunch of great guys. Andreas Lambros had a great game on the line today. Leo Alexandroff has played really well on both lines, he has played through some tough times. Dora Servil had a good game. Mike Wargo had a really good game today, wanting to catch the ball up until the very end. They all want to contribute in some way; that is most important. I think that will be good for them in the long run.”
With the Tigers now at 1-4, Gallagher is looking for his players to push themselves to contribute more.
“My message to them right now is, hey listen, that team Scotch Plains has fallen on tough times and they figured a way to right the ship,” said Gallagher.
“I don’t think it is necessarily coaches that do that. Sometimes, I think it is internal. It is the players that say we are not going to put up with this stuff anymore. We have to hold each other accountable. When they do that, they start to jell and believe in each other. We talked a lot about trust out there.”
PHS will look to right the ship as it hosts New Egypt (3-1) on November 14 in its final home game of the season.
“They are a really good football school,” said Gallagher. “We are excited to get back to the basics. We have to execute better. We are excited about Jaxon’s potential at quarterback, he is showing off some stuff. We need to let him continue to spread his wings and flourish a little bit. We have to make up front is real secure; this game we struggled a little bit. They had some big boys. We will see something similar next week. New Egypt has a couple of really good defensive ends. Today was a good wakeup call for our tackles. It will be another good challenge.”
Johnson, for his part, believes the Tigers will be up for the challenge.
“Next week we are going to work on having a good, strong fight in the first half and starting better,” said Johnson. “We will be looking at replays and seeing what we can do better.”