ELMWOOD PARK – Take away a couple of Elmwood Park threats, and the resilient Crusaders will come right back with another formidable option.

With Nick Smith and Randy Santos held somewhat in check by double coverage Saturday, sophomore inside receiver Brandon Velez shined in the spotlight, catching seven passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns to help Elmwood Park survive Lodi, 31-26.

In a back-and-forth NJIC Colonial game, Lodi (2-3) put up a gigantic struggle, three times trimming a two-touchdown deficit to single digits. A last-ditch drive at the end of the fourth quarter fell short.

Freshman quarterback Manny Appiah (9-for-13 for 173 yards and two touchdowns) hit senior Fernando Almonte with an 11-yard scoring strike to cut Lodi‘s deficit to five points at 31-26 with six minutes remaining.

After Elmwood Park (4-1) moved 51 yards in nine plays to the Lodi 19 on its next possession, the Crusaders lost the ball on downs and Lodi started its final drive with 1:52 remaining.

A 33-yard pass from Appiah to Ryan Luna and an 18-yard run by sophomore Jesse Asare helped Lodi to a first down at the Elmwood Park 11 with 42 seconds remaining.

But the Crusader defense stiffened and got a key 10-yard sack from inside linebacker Santos on third down, and the fourth-down pass sailed incomplete at the goal line on the game’s final play.

“I think we really showed a lot of character and perseverance,” said Elmwood Park coach Scott Wisniewski.

Lodi never stopped coming at us, but Randy came up big when he blitzed off the edge to help stall that last drive. We just keep finding different people that get the job done.”

Smith, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound senior wide receiver, did catch four passes for 43 yards and a 1-yard touchdown that gave Elmwood Park a 31-19 lead with 7:20 left in the fourth quarter.

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