Brendan James (left) and Miles Smith (right) were the defensive and offensive catalysts for Steinert in its win over Hightstown Saturday (Photo by Amanda Ruch).
By Rich Fisher
Nov. 5: The goal has been set and is still attainable for the Steinert football team.
After a frustrating first half of the season in which turnovers thwarted the Spartans on numerous occasions; Steinert found itself at 1-5 with four games remaining.
Then came a victory over winless West Windsor-Plainsboro for Steinert’s first-ever victory in a home night game on Oct. 26, and this past Saturday’s 20-7 win over Hightstown in a Central Jersey Group III cross-over game.
Steinert is looking for wins over Robbinsville Thursday night and Hamilton West Thanksgiving day to salvage the season.
“We definitely have adopted the idea of finishing .500 as the goal,” coach Dan Caruso said. “The players are approaching these games as their playoffs. We did not have the season we wanted the first half of the year but we can redeem ourselves the second half of the year.”
The victory over the Rams put receiver/cornerback Miles Smith on display as a rushing threat, as the senior ran 17 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns.
“Miles was used primarily as a runner for many reasons,” Caruso said. “First, the wind was really strong and it made throwing the ball almost impossible. Also (quarterback) Nick Wright was, and is, sick as a dog and I did not think he was going to play even during warmups. So we had Miles play quarterback for much of the game. He is a great athlete so we wanted to get the ball in his hands and he really put the team on his back against Hightstown.”
On the other side of the ball, linebacker Brendan James had another big game with 11 tackles, giving him 81 in eight games. James has had five games with double figures in tackles, and had a season-high 16 against Allentown.
“Brendan has been great for us,” Caruso said. “He is a real leader and has stepped up his defensive game. When Xavier Roman was out due to injury, Brendan stepped up to fill his role. Brendan is leading our team in tackles and is so reliable. He is also dependable as a tight end on offense (6 catches, 77 yards in addition to blocking duties). Brendan has really been a driving force on our football team.”
One of Steinert’s biggest issues this year has been giveaways, as fumbles proved costly in several games. Caruso points to an improvement in that area as part of the reason for Steinert’s first winning streak of the year, and also acknowledges a lesser schedule as playing a part.
“Certainly cutting back the turnovers will help,” he said. “Against Hightstown we had zero turnovers so that is a definite positive. Turnovers have killed us all year. However, I am not naive. We are not playing the Trentons and the Allentowns of the world. Against playoff teams, if you make a single mistake it can mean losing the game.”
Steinert is not playing a playoff team Thursday night when it visits Robbinsville (4-5), but it is going against a squad which, like itself, is looking to finish .500. This marks the first meeting between the two schools since Robbinsville opened in 2006.
The Ravens have gotten a big year out of quarterback Danny Surtz. Throwing for 265 yards against Matawan in a cross-over game, Surtz has become Robbinsville’s single-season passing yards leader with 1,156.
While the purpose of the cross-overs is to hopefully expose teams to programs outside their own counties, Steinert ended up playing two Mercer teams in its consolations. Caruso isn’t too upset with this one, however.
“I do like that we are playing a local team for this second consolation game,” he said. “It is a short week and we are banged up and sick. I would not have minded playing outside the county for the first consolation game, but you get who you get for that. I do like going outside the county for a game but this second consolation game is more of a stay-in-game-shape for Thanksgiving.”
And it’s also a stay-in-the-hunt-for-.500 game.