In their first football travels of 2020, Jefferson Township High School found themselves on the wrong end of a 46-10 decision against Sparta. The Spartans were sustained by three rushing touchdowns from Sam Esposito while Luke Szabo added a receiving score and an interception.

“The message to the team and to the fanbase right now is let’s get back to work,” Jefferson head coach Jerry Venturino said of the loss. “We always say the best play is next day. Wake up tomorrow, it’s a new day. It’s a matter of what you do from here on out. This is in the past. It’s what you’re going to do to better yourself, look at that man in the mirror and move forward and see how good we can improve (in) next week’s game.”

Jefferson (1-1) fell behind early after Esposito’s first touchdowns on Sparta’s opening drives, but the Falcons did manage to keep things at a 12-0 first-quarter deficit after blocking the extra point after the first score and stopping the two-point conversion attempt following the latter. A 32-yard deep ball from Erik Garv to Caleb Rippey situated Jefferson deep in Spartan territory, allowing Michael Studnick to boot a 25-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

However, Sparta finished the first half with 21 unanswered points before intermission. The Spartans (1-0) permanently shifted momentum on a 71-yard scoring hook-up between Austin Fraturra and James Maloney and ended the opening half with trickery. Szabo would score on a long throw from Brendan Cina (who caught a pass from Fraturra behind the line of scrimmage) to help create the 33-3 halftime margin. Those scores sandwiched the final touchdown from Esposito.

Despite the one-sided ledger, the Falcons showed no quit in a dire second half. They opened the third quarter on a respectable trek that ended on downs in enemy territory and later found the end zone on the first play of the final frame. Rippey, Jefferson’s top receiver from last season, caught an open pass from Theo Fisher and sped fast Spartan defenders to earn his first touchdown of his senior year from 31 yards out.

Sparta scored another touchdown on a two-yard run from Cina after the turnover on downs, but Jefferson nearly “won” the half by a 7-6 margin. A fumble recovered by the Spartans in the end zone that wrapped things up prevented that, but Venturino was pleased was the fight, poise, and leadership his Falcons displayed when the odds were innumerably stacked against them.

“We love to use the game of football as an opportunity to teach about life,” Venturino said. “At the end of the day, that’s what we’re here for as teachers and coaches: to mentor these kids, win football games inside the white line and use these opportunities to teach about real life. Life’s going to knock you down. It’s a matter of how many times you get back up. I was extremely happy with their effort in the second half to never give up and quit.

“As far as football, fundamentally, we have some things to work on. We’ll watch the film and we’ll get better.”

The Falcons will return home next Friday night, looking to right their ship against Lakeland, facing off against the Lancers for the first time since the 2014 NJSIAA postseason consolation round. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at JTHS.

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