by Andrew Garda
The Montclair High School football team could not have asked for a better home opener than what they got Saturday afternoon. The weather was mild, the wind was nice and the Mounties were firing on all cylinders.
MHS scored early and often against Passaic County Tech, ending the day with a 49-7 trouncing of the visiting Bulldogs.
Last season the Bulldogs turned the first half into a wrestling match before the more athletic Mounties ran away to a 42-15 win, but this year they were in trouble early on and never recovered.
“I’m not going to say we expected it but we worked for this,” senior running back Danny Webb said after the game. “It does feel good but right now, we’re not worried about anything but Livingston.”
After the game, the Mounties were focused on their next matchup, but during the game the business was all about PCTI.
Business was good, especially during the first quarter, when Montclair scored 28 of its 49 points.
Webb kicked things off with a nice 50-yard touchdown run on the third play of the Mounties’ first possession. He showed both his characteristic burst out of the backfield and elusiveness at the second level on the run, and would finish the game with 103 yards and a trio of touchdowns on 10 carries.
Webb credited his offensive line with the success of that run as well as the rest of his day.
“It was probably an even better day for the offensive line than me,” he said after the victory. “Because without them I couldn’t do any of it so, they did really good.”
Webb felt that the line play was especially worthy of note as it was the first time the unit had played together in an actual game, rather than a scrimmage. Further, he pointed out, it was the first time he ran behind the line at all, since he had not played in any of the preseason scrimmages.
Head coach John Fiore echoed Webb’s praise for the offensive line.
“Let me tell you, the addition and the unselfishness of Finn Jensen and Gary Robinson [at guard] and the buy-in that Sebastian Fortune has done the last month [at center] has really solidified them. And Nasir Thompson-Wyatt has done a standup job as well.”
Add in some excellent play by Marcus Crowell and the offensive line looks ready to roll, something which should concern opponents.
“We get Bo Bigelow back in a few weeks,” Fiore said. “That’s going to even make it more scary.”
After Webb’s touchdown and a Harry Wiley extra point made the score 7-0, the Mounties kicked off and Passaic Tech took over on their own 31-yard line.
They didn’t keep the ball long.
The Mounties swarmed the ballcarrier and stripped the ball away. Junior safety Walter King immediately scooped the ball up and returned it 12 yards for the Mounties’ second score of the day.
“I saw somebody get tackled and [the ball] come loose,” King explained. “I saw it on the floor and it was my opportunity to go get [it] and that’s what I did.”
The Mounties defense was just getting started, however, and two plays into Passaic’s next drive, quarterback Amire Nickelson had his pass deflected by senior linebacker Finn Jensen, who read the play perfectly and got his hand up to deflect the pass. The ball landed in the hands of senior corner Tysean Williams, who returned it to the 9-yard line.
“We’ve seen that play all week in practice,” Jensen said when asked about the play. “It was a switch where the outside receiver comes in and runs a hitch. So, we’d see that all the time and the coaches put us in a good position to make plays.”
When Nickelson released the pass, Jensen knew he wouldn’t be able to fully get to the ball, but might be able to get a hand on it.
”I thought I’d bat it up and hope one of our players made a play. And Tysean did.”
One play later, Webb had his second day of the day and the Mounties were up 21-0.
In the first five minutes of the first quarter.
PCT didn’t completely roll over, though, and finally got going on their next possession. Starting at their own 22, the Bulldogs drove 78 yards in three plays, eating only 1:23 off the clock.
Fiore wasn’t happy with that turn of events, despite the victory.
“We were sloppy,” he said.
It wasn’t the only complaint Fiore had about the game, citing a few holding calls which wiped away big gains by the offense and a few other missed opportunities.
“We gotta clean it up.”
Webb would get his third touchdown on the very next series — a nice 4-yard run to cap off a seven-play, 75-yard drive.
Things quieted down in the second quarter, as those holding calls Fiore was frustrated by reared their ugly heads, but the Mounties still managed to score on a 3-yard scamper by senior quarterback Tarrin Earle.
Earle and the starters stayed in for the start of the second half, and the Bucknell commit finished off his day with a nice pass along the back of the end zone to fellow captain Elias Ottens for a 6-yard touchdown reception. Ottens was wide open and alone in the end zone and easily made the grab.
The Mounties started rotating in bench depth, but also kept scoring as No. 2 quarterback Charles Murphy hit slot receiver Collin Callahan on a 68-yard touchdown along the far sideline.
“We called the 907 which is our ‘Smash’ concept,” the senior receiver said about the play. “[Passaic’s defense] was in tight coverage so I just ran my route and Murph threw me a great ball.”
Callahan would finish the day with 187 yards in addition to his score.
Now the Mounties turn their attention to Livingston and the challenge will be to keep a squad which just dropped 49 points on a team which was supposed to be tough from getting ahead of themselves. How do you keep a team’s feet on the ground when they are coming off a huge blowout?
“It starts with the seniors,” Webb said. “We’re forgetting about this game. This game is over, completely over with. Coach Leo says this isn’t one season, it’s twelve 1-0 seasons. So each game is a different season and we’re just taking them one by one.”