by Andrew Garda
WEST ORANGE—It was a tale of two halves for the Montclair High School football team as the Mounties struggled in the first half and then walloped the West Orange Mountaineers in the second.
The result was a 48-7 win, a 6-0 record and the No.1 seed in the playoffs, including home field advantage.
Now the team turns its attention to Seton Hall Prep and proving it belongs among the best of the best in Northern Jersey.
For the game against the Mountaineers, the Mounties faced a lot of challenges in the first half. Plenty of flags were thrown, many not falling in MHS’ favor. West Orange couldn’t compete with the overall skill and athleticism of the Mounties, so they got chippy, took some shots in the pile post-plays and did a lot of talking.
The result was the early departure of Danny Webb, who left early in the game with an ankle injury.
“He had a great week of practice, went to the bottom of the pile, and [West Orange] knew it’s a sprained ankle and they yanked it,” said head coach John Fiore after the game. “They were doing it and he wasn’t protected by the officials. That happens quite often. How many games have you seen where he’s getting the business at the bottom of the pile and nobody protects him? And when we go in to protect him we get 15 yards.”
Webb was on his feet on the sideline later in the game, so it seems the Mounties were taking precautionary measures, something you can do when you have Willie Matthews and Josh Crawford to pivot to in the backfield.
The Mounties’ woes continued when quarterback Tarrin Earle threw a screen pass to D.J. Williams on the second play of the Mounties’ third drive. Williams couldn’t hang onto the ball, and dropped it. The officials didn’t whistle the ball dead, however, and Mountaineer defender Prince Jackson scooped the ball up and took it for a 26-yard touchdown.
While a look at the film shows the ball was clearly incomplete, that didn’t help the Mounties at the time.
Between the penalties, Webb’s injury and the fumble-return, it appeared West Orange had gotten into the Mounties’ head, which led to a lot of early mistakes.
That said, Montclair still led 15-7 at the half. After two quarters of play, MHS had run 42 plays to West Orange’s 16 and gained 293 yards to the Mountaineers’ 104.
The half ended with Tarrin Earle a crisp 16 of 20 for 171 yards and a touchdown to Collin Callahan, with Willie Matthews scoring on a short run.
All that offense seemed to indicate the dam would burst for the Mounties at some point if they could just regain their focus and play their game.
And boy did they, in the second half.
The Mounties dominated from the moment the third quarter began, as they executed a perfect onside kick which they recovered. Then Earle hooked up with Charles Murphy for a touchdown on the very next play, the first of three times they would connect for touchdowns in the second half.
“We knew the corner and the safety were going to bite down on the bubble we kept running,” Murphy said after the game. “And I talked to coach about it and we decided we were going to do a ‘Go’ because they were biting. And they bit.”
In less than 30 seconds, the momentum had shifted and the Mounties never relinquished it.
The offensive line, which had struggled a little early, was key to the explosion in the passing and running game.
According to right tackle Gary Robinson, the key was to settle down as a unit.
“I think we needed to calm down,” Robinson explained. “I think we were so fired up for this game against West Orange, a rival [during their] homecoming week. We were so riled up and we just needed to calm down.”
He also said the offensive line got a little extra incentive from Coach Eugene Kline at halftime, who challenged his players to step up.
While Kline tore into his unit a bit, Matthews said he and the other leaders on the team took a different tack.
“It’s not our job [as leaders] to lay into them like that,” Matthews said. “We have to get them together, jell as a team. So really, our whole mindset as the captains was bringing us [all] together.”
The offensive explosion, the continuing domination by the defense and the boatload of points showed that the combination of the two approaches worked pretty well.
On top of that, we were again able to see the potential emergence of another weapon. With Webb hurt, Matthews playing both ways and Josh Crawford banged up, the Mounties’ ground game turned to sophomore Nate Bryan.
Bryan, whom Webb praised during the preseason, stepped in and proved himself up to the task with a 16-yard run on his first touch of the evening.
“It was kind of freaky for me because the first play they called was actually a pass play,” Bryan explained after the 48-7 win. “[But] then they blacked it to a toss. Just going through my head was ‘This is my chance and I gotta do what I gotta do.”
Bryan most certainly did, as he took the pitch as he ran left, then planted his foot and cut inside left tackle Marcus Crowell to score.