Chuck Johnson

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Chuck Johnson

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By Jason Bernstein | NJ Advance Media for

Chuck Johnson successfully maintained his composure as he received congratulations for his latest win as the head coach at his high school alma mater, Ridgewood.

That all changed when he was greeted and embraced by his daughter Rebecca. As he hugged her and saw the rest of his family a few feet behind, all the painful memories of the previous two years brought the normally stoic coach to tears.

On the field, it was business as usual for Johnson’s Ridgewood team as it defeated Montclair, 21-7, at Montclair’s Woodman Field. To get there, it required battling an opponent more formidable than any he had encountered in his now 37 years as the head coach at Ridgewood.

  • 9/11 – 2:00 PM Football Final Ridgewood 21 Montclair 7

In October, 2019, sepsis in his back and hip left Johnson unable to move, forced him to endure multiple surgeries and had doctors unsure if he’d survive the medical ordeal, let alone coach again.

“My family was amazing to me. No one has ever been rallied around by their family more than me,” said Johnson, fighting back tears behind his sunglasses when talking about the support of his wife Sara and their three children. “I could not ask for a more supportive family.

“Three doctors told me I was supposed to die.”

The 69-year-old Johnson spent more than a month in the hospital after falling ill, during that time, interim head coach Dave Cord helped lead the Maroons to a North 1, Group 5 sectional title. Cord continued to coach the team in 2020 before a now healthy Johnson was reappointed for his old job this past February.

During his first stint (1984-2019), Johnson’s teams won six state sectional championships, 11 division titles, and made the playoffs 25 times. Between Ridgewood and Bogota (1978-1983), Johnson has a 283-138-2 record.

“It didn’t feel the same. We had Coach (Dave) Cord, who helped us out a lot, but it was a little lonely without (Johnson),” said senior captain Andrew Gioia, who has known Johnson since he was in third grade. “We were waiting our entire lives to have him as a coach. Now that he’s back, it’s just amazing.”

Even in his 16 months away from the team, his football family remained part of his life, as evidenced by hundreds of calls and countless visits to his room at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood.

“In my hospital room there would be 30, 40 people most nights,” recalled Johnson. “Every night I had 20, 30 kids in my hospital room. I don’t know how they got in, but I wasn’t going to kick them out.”

At times it felt like just as many Maroons (1-0) were on defense or special teams as they swarmed all over the field.

On defense, Ridgewood’s defense yielded just six first downs the entire afternoon, three of them coming in the final minute with the outcome already decided. Thanks to that defense as well as three blocked punts, Ridgewood started five possessions inside the Montclair 40, resulting in 14 of its 21 points.

With a minute left in the second quarter, Gioia intercepted a pass at the Mounties’ 35, returning it down the left sideline all the way to the 12. Three plays later, Jack Foerch’s 2-yard touchdown tied the game at 7-7 heading into halftime.

“The emotions changed so quickly. Once I knew I got the interception, we knew we were going to score the touchdown.” said Gioia, who’s older brother also played for Johnson

Ridgewood’s defense forced a Montclair three-and-out to start the second half, then went 57 yards on seven plays, capped off by Red Kossick’s 27-yard touchdown that put the Maroons ahead for good at 13-7, 4:25 into the third quarter.

Two more Montclair three-and-outs followed and each time, the ensuing punt was blocked by Gioia. The second was recovered by teammate Jack Kleiman at the 12-yard-line and produced Kossick’s second TD of the day on the next play.

Kleiman later blocked a punt of his own in the fourth quarter.

“The punt blocks were the biggest plays of the game,” said Johnson crediting the punt block scheme that new assistant coach Mickey McDermott brought with him to Bergen County from his stint at The Citadel.

“We thought we were going to get one, maybe two,” Gioia said. “But we ended up doing the punt block perfectly every time. It was just too easy for us. They couldn’t block us.”

Montclair (0-2) struck first when Jordan Williams returned an interception 31 yards down to the Ridgewood 10 just 1:52 into the game. Four plays later, on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Montclair’s Solomon scrambled then found Elijah Halley for a leaping catch in the end zone for the touchdown.

“We were all excited before the game,” Gioia said. “Just the fact that Coach is back, we were all so happy to get him a win.”

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