Junior running back Willie Matthews (29) stretches the ball across the goal line for a touchdown during Montclair’s 56-0 drubbing of Columbia Saturday at Woodman Field. The 8-0 Mounties enter state tournament play this Saturday against Livingston, also at Woodman.
COURTESY WIL YOUNG

by Andrew Garda

garda@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair Mounties’ chief concern on Saturday, Nov. 4, was getting out of the game against Columbia with everyone healthy.

They did so easily, while also dismantling the Cougars 56-0.

Key to avoiding any injuries was the ability head coach John Fiore and his staff had of using their depth to rest their starters when the victory was secure.

For junior linebacker Willie Matthews, getting the starters some rest is going to be a key to making it through the playoffs.

“[Subbing starters] means everybody is fresh,” he said after the win. “Everyone who gets a big chunk of the playing time got a rest today in the second half.”

While those starters got some extra rest in the second half, they still had plenty of time to give the crowd something to cheer about on a day set aside to celebrate the senior Mounties.

Quarterback Tarrin Earle threw for five touchdowns in the first half, a personal record that also likely puts the Bucknell commit at the top of the list for passing touchdowns in a season by a Mountie.

“I think we completed to six or seven [different] receivers today,” Earle said Saturday. “I feel like everybody can get open. They all run their routes crisply. [I know] my receivers are going to get open in the right place for me. I feel like things are always clicking. It just really showed today.”

Earle also credited the game-planning of Fiore and offensive coordinator Pat Leonardis.

“We had plays coming in that we knew would work,” he said of the offense. “Coach Fiore and Coach Leo worked hard to get the game plan in.”

Along with Earle’s personal best was linebacker Willie Matthews setting the record for career tackles with his first tackle of the game, and Danny Webb returning his first punt of the season, which the Army commit returned for a 60-yard touchdown.

“The funny thing was we kept our defense out there and only changed the free safety,” Fiore said with a laugh. “So [the defense] just picked a guy and blocked them and gave Danny a few seams. That’s all he needed.”

For Matthews, his personal record was a big deal, an experience he called “humbling.” While he is enjoying the accolades, though, Matthews has a bigger, grander goal. Like the rest of his team, his season has to end at MetLife Stadium, hoisting a trophy. To do that, he knows the defense needs to keep getting better. And to do that, he knows he needs to lead them.

“We have to set the bar high,” he said. “We’ve been playing OK so far this season. We’ve had a couple of bad games. But we have to set the bar higher and we have to strive for zero points all postseason. That’s the goal.”

After the first half, which saw the Mounties drop 49 points on a beleaguered Columbia team, the MHS second and third strings went to work.

Nate Bryan added the sole touchdown of the second half, a 12-yard touchdown run, which again showed that he should be able to take the baton with no problem from the likes of Webb, Matthews and Josh Crawford after next season.

The defense continued to play well with the starters out, and the Mounties generally didn’t lose any momentum.

If there was one hiccup with the team’s efforts on Saturday, it was the penalties. Montclair had four offensive penalties in the first half for in the neighborhood of 40 yards, and a pair of defensive penalties (unsportsmanlike conduct after an interception and running into the kicker) as well.

While they were able to tighten things up in the second half, it’s the one area that they have had to work on and perhaps the one thing that could stop a team which is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball.

Montclair High senior linebacker Matt Niemann tackles a Columbia running back during Saturday’s 56-0 Mountie win.
COURTESY WIL YOUNG

With a week to prepare for Livingston, they should have time to make the adjustments they need to tighten things up. Because while the Mounties blew the Lancers out 41-0 back on Sept. 15, they know they cannot take anyone lightly.

*The Mounties look at each game as its own season.* With eight “seasons” behind them, they know one slip up can erase a lot of hard work to date.

“[We have to] get everyone focused in practice and keep practice crisp,” Matthews said. “This is where leadership comes in. The last few years we’ve been knocked out and I can’t let that happen again.”

Earle agreed.

“The seniors already know we can’t have that happen again. We’ve talked about ‘1-0 seasons’ all year and we know that these two games coming up — and this game coming up [specifically] is the most important 1-0 season that we’re going to have because it’s win or go home. Everybody, especially us seniors, all have that pain from the last two years. We’re already motivated, So just reminding [everyone] there’s no funny business, no joking around.

“It’s go time now. Everything is serious, everything is on go.”