Left guard Bo Bigelow blocks an East Orange defender while Josh Crawford takes a handoff during the first half of the Mounties’ 44-16 win Saturday.
WIL YOUNG/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

by Andrew Garda

garda@montclairlocal.news

The Mounties offensive line has played very well in 2017, despite missing one of the key pieces which they had hoped would form the foundation of the group.

Bo Bigelow is back from a knee injury though, and saw plenty of snaps during the 44-16 win over East Orange. If there was any hesitation or doubt about his knee, Bigelow dismissed it with a very solid day of work.

“It felt really good,” Bigelow said after the win. “We held it down and I really feel like my knee was secure. But I’ve gotta get in shape a little.”

After such a long layoff, Bigelow might be excused for being a bit winded, but while he may have been breathing a bit hard, he had plenty of energy to spare after being sidelined for more than a month.

“I was just so excited just to get back on that field and ball out with my brothers,” he said. “It was amazing.”

BIG WILLIE STYLE

Coach John Fiore has more than once talked up junior linebacker/running back Willie Matthews this season and with good reason. Watch any Mounties game and Matthews can be seen flying all over the field. One of the more vocal leaders on the defense as well, Matthews looks like the engine that moves a very talented defense along.

So far this year, Matthews has amassed 38 total tackles, 22 solo and 19 assisted. He’s also forced a pair of fumbles and scored 3.5 sacks.

What should really frighten opposing offenses is the fact that the bulk of that statistical damage was done during the last two games.

Matthews had 15 total tackles against Union City and 13 against East Orange, as well as a forced fumble and all 3.5 of his sacks.

Given the nature of high school football coverage, it’s impossible to measure how good Matthews is, statistically, against other linebackers in the state.

But the proof is on the field and on tape. If he’s not already considered the best, he’s making a strong case for it.

SCOUTING REPORT: MORRISTOWN

The Morristown Colonials are 2-0 in the Liberty Blue Division, but have dropped three games outside of it.

Of the three teams Morristown lost to, only West Morris has a record above .500 (4-1) and a positive point differential (109 points scored vs. 86 scored against). Roxbury and Randolph, meanwhile, are a combined 4-6 and have collectively scored just 172 points compared to 211 scored against.

On the other hand, they beat West Orange 18-9, and the Mountaineers are no slouches.

So what are the Colonials?

Offensively they like to run and when they do, Morristown likes to take the ball outside. Sometimes they try to shake defenders with a misdirection, and other times they just run a pitch or toss outside.

It seems pretty evident that the misdirection efforts outside runs are because the offensive line doesn’t get a lot of push. Too many times an interior run gets stopped at the line of scrimmage because there isn’t a hole for the back to run through.

When ther runs are effective it’s because whichever defender has outside containment, meaning they are supposed to keep any ballcarrier from running outside, cuts in on a fake or misdirection leaving a cornerback (on outside runs) or linebacker (for inside plays) to pick up the slack.

The Mounties defenders — especially edge defenders — have to stay home. Defensive ends can’t pinch in when they should stay at the edge to read the mesh point, and linebackers need to stay on their inside gap.

Discipline should be the word of the day on Saturday.

When Morristown passes, their tendency toward misdirection makes them a solid play-action team. With so much ball movement, defenders seem to get confused on a regular basis.

As mentioned above though, the offensive line isn’t consistent or reliable, so quarterback Jake Buchner has to rush passes, a problem on long passes where his accuracy is already suspect.

Offensively, MHS will mostly face a 4-3 base defense, meaning four down linemen up front and three linebackers.

Morristown does seem to have good outside containment on runs, and can generate a nice pass rush, though not reliably.

This is where the overall offensive depth of the Mounties should really be useful. Unlike many of the teams Morristown has played so far this season, MHS isn’t a one-trick pony. They don’t have just one great player at one position. Deep at wide receiver and running back, and with a sharp quarterback like Tarrin Earle, the Mounties are not a team you can shut down by focusing on one guy.

Morristown has a decent team, but it’s hard to see them keeping up with the athletes Montclair can bring to bear on either side of the ball.

Playoff Projections

Montclair’s win over East Orange marked the official halfway point of the 2017 regular season, with the Mounties having played four of the eight games that will count towards NJSIAA playoff seeding.

As things stand currently, MHS is second in the North 1, Group V power-point standings, two points behind Union City.

However, the Mounties are the odds-on favorite to earn the section’s No. 1 seed, and home-field advantage in the playoffs, if they take care of business in games against Morristown, West Orange and Columbia. (They’ll also get a big bonus for playing Seton Hall Prep under the NJSIAA’s rule incentivizing North Jersey public schools to play parochials.)

The earliest Montclair Local projection sees MHS finishing with the No. 1 seed, well ahead of No. 2 Union City and No. 3 Ridgewood; we also project Passaic Tech and Clifton as the fourth and fifth seeds, North Bergen and Bloomfield sixth and seventh, and Paterson Kennedy as the No. 8 seed, narrowly edging out Morristown and West Orange to earn a first-round playoff road trip to Woodman Field.

Of course, there is still a lot of football left to be played.