The AYF 8U Johnston Panthers football squad shut out the Fall River Falcons 25-0 at home on Sunday morning to remain undefeated and earn a trip to play in the Super Bowl in Fall River against CLCF this Sunday at 8 a.m.
Johnston was led by quarterback Jaziah Mazzulla who passed for a touchdown and ran in another and running back Jonny Costa, who had two rushing scores of 60 and 71 yards.
The Panthers bring their perfect 9-0 record into the big game.
“It all stems from preparation over the course of the year,” Johnston head coach Jon Costa said. “We work on things all year and what’s working we stick with and what’s not we throw out and we try something new. But, Fall River gave us a good challenge. They have a really good team and they have a good coach. We did what we had to do. We had some great running backs and we had some great linemen. We’ve got a good, fast team and it helps on turf, that’s for sure.”
Johnston started the game’s opening possession from its own 40 after a return from Lyalo Harrison.
On the first play of the game, Jonny Costa, the running back, sprinted right, down the sideline, untouched, for a 60-yard touchdown scamper, putting the Panthers up 6-0 early. Giovanni Celani rushed in the PAT and increased the edge to 7-0.
Johnston started its second possession from the Fall River 34 after Mazzulla picked off quarterback Anthony Leroux’s pass on a fourth-and-35.
Then on a 2nd-and-1 from the 15, Mazzulla tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Celani and that put the Panthers up 13-0.
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders,” Coach Costa said of his signal caller. “He plays above his age. He’s the heartbeat of the offense, of the team. It all starts with him. He handles the ball every play.”
“Giovanni is a wide receiver,” Costa added on Celani. “We moved him into the backfield for a little bit to run the middle today and he came through. I told him he needed to have a big game today if we were going to win and he came through and he came through big. He scored that touchdown and he played great on defense.”
Johnston got its third score in the final minute of the first half.
Starting from the Panthers 42, on a 2nd-and-8, Mazzulla escaped a sack attempt from Fall River’s Donovan Libby before sprinting down the field and knocking down defenders on his way to the house while giving Johnston a commanding 19-0 advantage with 41 seconds remaining.
“I saw someone coming full steam and he had me, then I just pushed him off and saw that hole and took it,” Mazzulla said.
Fall River turned the ball over on downs during its first possession of the second half and Johnston took over at its own 29.
Then, again, on the first play of the drive, Jonny Costa rushed left, 71 yards, and brought it to pay dirt while increasing the Panthers lead to 25-0 with 7:43 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers fell in the first round of the playoffs last year after losing only one regular season game and this year they hope to redeem themselves.
“Last year we didn’t win, but we can change that,” Mazzulla said.