by Andrew Garda
MAPLEWOOD—The Montclair High School football team took care of business Friday night, as they beat the Columbia Cougars 42-6.
The Mounties won the coin toss and came out hot, quickly driving down the field and scoring off a Josh Crawford 19-yard run. It was the first of two for Crawford, who ended the night with 95 yards to go with his touchdowns.
He actually set up his own score with a 30-yard run on the second play of the game, which took the Mounties from the Columbia 49-yard line to the 19-yard line.
On the play, the offensive line did a good job opening a hole in the defensive front, which Crawford zoomed through, cutting outside and turning upfield.
“All I know is I saw a track and the hole was wide open, so I just took off,” the senior captain said after the game.
He credited that hole, and much of the success he had on the evening, to that offensive line.
“I’ve got the utmost confidence in the offensive line. I knew they would come to play. As long as I trust them, I know they’ve got my back at all times. Just having them give that effort that they gave me, I appreciate them for that. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even have those two touchdowns and the yards I had.”
Crawford also called offensive line coach Eugene Kline “the best O-line coach in the state” and cited him as the reason the offensive line play has been good.
After forcing a three-and-out on Columbia’s first offensive drive, the Mounties struck again. First, quarterback Charles Murphy Jr. broke a 60-yard run to set up Crawford’s second touchdown.
Murphy got his own score on the very first play of the second quarter. After a two-point conversion, the score was 22-0
The first quarter was a dominant one for the Mounties, as they gained 201 total yards on offense and all but 16 of which were on the ground.
Columbia fumbled the kickoff after Murphy’s score, and Murphy immediately hit Walter King for a 30-yard touchdown reception, putting Montclair up 29-0.
A penalty on the ensuing kickoff put Columbia on their own 10-yard line, and it looked very much like the Mounties would end up with good field position again if they could force the Cougars to punt.
There are a lot of great features about this Mounties team, but one negative has been a tendency to relax once they get a lead, especially a big lead. For one drive, that seemed as if it was the case once MHS went up 29-0.
Outside runs have consistently been an issue for the Mounties defense, and that was where Columbia killed Montclair on a seven-play, 90-yard drive. And those outside runs led to the defense getting so concerned with them that the quarterback was able to scramble up the middle for a 40-yard touchdown run.
Gary Robinson Jr. blocked the extra point, but for a moment, the Cougars and the sparse home crowd came alive.
Montclair’s offense responded by marching down the field, but then failed to convert on a fourth-and-one play.
The next Cougars drive failed to produce a score, but as the second half began, the question was whether the Mounties would once again let a lesser team back into the game.
Walter King intercepted a pass to start the second half, but then the Mounties fumbled on their first offensive play.
Against West Orange and East Orange, mistakes like the long scoring drive allowed by the defense and a fumble by the offense would multiply, with one domino knocking another down.
This time out though, the team responded.
First the defense stymied the Cougars and forced them to punt, with the punter kicking into the back of his own linemen.
The Mounties took over on the Cougars 15-yard line and Murphy immediately hit Kyshawn King on a short throw for a touchdown.
Kyshawn King’s touchdown — one of two in the third quarter — showed the junior receiver finally using his height to advantage as he leaped up and grabbed the ball out of the air.
“[Murphy] knows if he puts it in the air I’m going to go and get it,” King said after the game. “I always tell him, pregame, in practice, in the locker room, put it in the air and I’ll go get it. I got your back.”
The Mounties never looked back after that score, which seemed to break Columbia’s will.
However, while it was probably the most complete game the team has played head coach John Fiore was unsatisfied.
“We’ve still got so much to clean up,” Fiore said after the game. “We’re not a very good football team right now, to be honest with you.”
Fiore’s biggest concern is something both the coaches and senior leadership have mentioned more than once during this roller-coaster season.
“It’s the little things in the daily life. We’ve got a couple of kids not playing in the first half. We put them in the second half, and some of them made plays, but they’re not playing because they can’t do the little things in their daily life correctly. Get to school on time, not wear headphones in the classroom when teachers tell you to take them off. Just the little things. And we don’t play that here.”
Fiore is also looking for his seniors — especially the marquee guys — to step up more often and more consistently.
“It’s a little bit here, a little bit there. It’s not where we need it to be to win a state title. We need a lot more improvement. We need to take bigger strides and we need our best players to take the biggest strides right now. I’m going to call Josh Crawford and Charles Murphy out. They’ve got to play bigger,” Fiore said. “Just imagine when we have a big game from all our big-time guys. Imagine when Murphy, Josh, Willie Matthes, Gary Robinson, Bo Bigelow — that whole group of seniors decides to take over a game.”
For Fiore, the potential his team has is massive, but those little things have added up to a 3-2 record, instead of what should be a 4-1 record, with Massillon likely the only loss.
And as much as he expects more from his senior class, Fiore is still proud of them.
“They’ve been doing a good job to try and get the troops in line, but for a couple years they didn’t have to do that. Now it’s their turn to do it and hopefully they’ll pick it up.”
There will be plenty of opportunity to pick it up against Seton Hall Prep this Saturday, on the road at 2 p.m.