Immaculate Conception's football team is trying to show that the 2021 season was not a fluke.

Last year, while in the North Jersey Super Football Conference (NJSFC) Ivy White Division, the Lions finished with a 9-1 record. The Ivy division is for those programs going through a transition season and includes similar football teams. Teams in the Ivy are not eligible for the state playoffs.

 "Last year, we had a young team who had a chance to build and grow as a unit," Immaculate Conception head coach Maurice Lucas said.

But this fall Immaculate Conception is ready to make a run for the state tournament as it moves into the National Red Division.

With division rivals and NJSFC crossovers, the schedule is pretty packed with top programs, starting with Pope John on the road on Aug. 27 at 2 p.m. The other top programs on the schedule include Immaculata, Hudson Catholic and Cedar Grove.

It will be the battle of the Lions in Sparta this Saturday. While Pope John has been down the last few years, it has 18 state sectional titles to its credit since the inception of the current state playoff format in the 1970s.

In addition, Pope John has a numbers advantage, with more players. But Immaculate Conception might have the better players.

Lucas is more concerned with how his team performs rather than how the opposition plays. "We want to come out and play the way we want to play," the coach, who is in his second year leading Immaculate Conception, said.

While the Pope John game is an NJSFC crossover, Lucas is looking toward winning the National Red Division, which includes Essex County teams Glen Ridge, Shabazz, Newark Collegiate and Cedar Grove. The race for the division crown might come down to Sept. 23, when Immaculate Conception travels to Cedar Grove.

"Our goal this year is to go far in this new division and hopefully play for a championship," Lucas said.  "But more importantly, to get these young men prepared for the next level after high school."

The top starters returning include Immaculate Conception's version of “Thunder and Lightning,” the New York Giants running back duo of Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne in the early 2000s. The Lions backs are seniors Eriq Harris and Marcus Gornowicz. While both backs can wear either sobriquet, Gornowicz could be considered "Thunder” while Harris would be “Lightning.”

Harris was Immaculate Conception's top back last season with 1,290 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. He was All NJSFC Ivy White first team.

Members of the Immaculate Conception team huddle up at a recent practice. Immaculate Conception comes off a 9-1 record last season and will kick off the season on Saturday, Aug. 27 at Pope John, 2 p.m. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Members of the Immaculate Conception team huddle up at a recent practice. Immaculate Conception comes off a 9-1 record last season and will kick off the season on Saturday, Aug. 27 at Pope John, 2 p.m. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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Gornowicz collected 786 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.

 While the majority of the team is back this season, there will be a change behind center. Sophomore Jordan Jenkins takes over for C.J. Pittman. Jenkins was used sparingly last season in certain packages. "He's smart and athletic while he played a little last year in some Wildcat formations," Lucas said. "I’m confident he will lead the team in the right direction."

When Jenkins throws the ball, his top target might be junior wide receiver Jasim Shiggs, who caught 20 balls for 420 yards and six touchdowns last season. Shiggs was also All NJSFC Ivy White first team in 2021 at defensive back.

"He is an extremely motivated all-around player with many facets to his game, both offensive and defensive," Lucas said.

Jenkins has the benefit this season of a veteran offensive line led by junior Maraad Watson, who was All NJSFC Ivy White first team in 2021.  "He is a great leader and anchor of our offense and defense," the coach said. “He’s there every day working hard to make himself and the team better.”   

On the defensive line, Gornowicz is the leader after collecting 10 sacks, seven for losses, last year.

"I love Gornowicz at defensive end," Lucas said. "We're looking to continue that momentum this year. He will also play linebacker."

Watson is also expected to be an important part of the defensive line after also tallying 10 sacks in 2021.

Gornowicz will help make up for the loss of Immaculate’s top player, linebacker Chase Anderson, to graduation. Anderson was All NJSFC Ivy White first team last season.

The top linebacker this year is expected to be senior Adonis Clarke.

In addition to Shiggs, Jenkins will play in the defensive backfield. The other
players who will see time there are senior Will Chambers and junior Zakaa Brown. Freshman Davion Young can play either cornerback or safety.

Immaculate Conception Football Schedule
(Dates and times subject to change)

August 27 at Pope John, 2 p.m.
Sept. 3 at Newark Collegiate, 7 p.m.
Sept. 10 Hudson Catholic, 1 p.m.
Sept. 17 St. Joe's by the Sea, 1 p.m. (at Overpeck Park, Leonia)
Sept. 23 at Cedar Grove, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 Glen Ridge, 1 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Immaculata, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 Shabazz, 1 p.m.
Oct. 28 at Morris Catholic, 7 p.m.