by Andrew Garda
We weren’t sure what the Montclair High School football team would look like if they had to play a full four quarters before Saturday’s 63-44 win over Seton Hall Prep.
Now we do.
We know they look like a team that won’t quit. Like a team that overcomes problems like fumbles and penalties, and a team that, when push comes to shove, can step up and stop a drive.
With the Pirates driving down the field in the closing minutes of the game, and having struggled to slow the SHP offense down for much of the second half, the Mounties defense had two plays that made all the difference.
First, ahead 56-44 and with Pirates receiver Andrew Perez finding ways to make catches and surge for yards afterward, Finn Jensen and Marcus Crowell combined for a huge sack.
Forced to throw, Seton Hall quarterback Cameron Carti faded back and tossed a pass to his right.
Which is when the second huge defensive play the Mounties needed happened, as Tysean Williams intercepted the ball and took it the other way for a 70-yard pick-six, sealing the game.
“I had the deep third and I saw my man leave my zone,” Williams said after the game. “The [receiver] came right through and he was looking for the ball, didn’t see me. That was picture perfect, like we run it in practice. The fact that I took it all the way and scored this time — because I didn’t score the last time I had an interception — that was great.”
It wasn’t a smooth game for the Mounties defense, which allowed 547 yards along with the 44 points, but it was one where the unit showed it could step up when momentum had shifted in the other direction.
“We know when it gets to crunch time everyone has to start playing,” Finn Jensen said after the win. “We see it all the time on the goal line. They can have four downs and they’re not getting in the end zone because that’s just the way we’re coached. Everyone gets real physical, knows what they have to do and does their job well.”
Like the Pirates, the Mounties piled on the yards and points on offense, totaling 599 yards on the day. Running back Danny Webb accounted for 348 of those yards, scoring four times on four very long touchdown runs.
For Webb, it was a relief to be back at full strength.
“It was exciting,” he said after the game. “Coming back from, personally, a long break, all I wanted to do was get back on the field.”
As usual, though, Webb said it he couldn’t have done it alone.
“Credit to the O-line. Those holes were probably as big as I’ve seen all year.”
Quarterback Tarrin Earle had a few bumps in the road, throwing a pair of interceptions in the second half and fumbling in the first, but found Charles Murphy for two touchdowns and Josh Crawford for one. Willie Matthews rounded out the offensive touchdown production on the day.
It was another example of just how dangerous this offense can be. No matter what the Pirates did on defense, the Mounties offense made them wrong. If they tried to take away the inside running lane, the Mounties ran a toss. If SHP tried to key on Webb, the Mounties ran a reverse away from him. When SHP started stacking the box, MHS threw the ball.
“We knew that Seton Hall was probably going to be the toughest team we faced all year,” Earle said. “So we knew we had to come out, from the jump playing well. We knew we had to jump on them early and that’s what we did, especially offensively. We wanted to score quickly and score often. And that’s what we did.”
Like Webb, Earle credited the offensive success to his offensive line.
“Really, the whole line, all across the board, they all played great. Especially those first two touchdowns [by Webb] a train could run through [those holes]. They played really well and those first two touchdowns were big for us.”
Like the defense, it wasn’t perfect, but it was dynamic. The second half was a bit more rough, particularly from the quarterback position, with Earle throwing two interceptions.
The quarterback put the responsibility for those turnovers squarely on his own shoulders.
“The second half was all on me. I made two really poor decisions. I didn’t get enough on the first pass and the second pass, I just made a really bad decision. Our offense played really well, I have to do much better playing and as a leader for that team and not making those crucial mistakes.”
Despite the road bumps, the numbers the Mounties put up on offense were staggering.
Montclair scored nine times for a total of 63, one of the highest point totals in Montclair football history. Between the two teams, the 107 combined points was the most two teams have ever scored in a MHS game, and the yardage total — 1,140 yards — is one of the highest in the school’s history.
Webb’s 348 yards is one of the highest totals by a Montclair player, and put him close to 4,000 yards for his career. His four long touchdowns —runs of 67, 77, 51 and 97 yards — are likely the best four runs any back has had in one game as well.
Drives that didn’t end up putting points on the board were few and far between, mostly ended by mistakes the Mounties themselves made.
Defensively, the Mounties faced two players — running back Kyle Monangai and receiver Andrew Perez — who were better than virtually anyone this team had seen before or will down the road. And while those two players hammered the Mounties for 369 yards and six touchdowns combined, when push came to shove Montclair was able to contain them.
All of which means if teams weren’t believing in Montclair before, the Mounties have now put them on notice.
“This game was huge for us,” tight end Elias Otten said. “It puts us on the map and says that we’re here. It says Montclair is a powerhouse team, and we’re a public school that I think is the best in the state. That’s the mentality around here, and it’s a great thing to be a part of.”
“[This] says we can hang with the best in New Jersey,” Earle said. “We truly believe we’re top five in New Jersey right now. We are, all around, a good team. Our offense is great, our defense is great, we just put it all together this year.”