by Andrew Garda
BLOOMFIELD—As the Montclair High School football team warmed up on Foley Field Wednesday, they had two critical goals for the night. First, to continue their undefeated season with a win over Bloomfield High School. And second — perhaps more critically — get out of the game without any major injuries before the championship game against Union City at MetLife on Friday, December 1.
They accomplished both items on that to-do list as they cruised to a 49-13 win over the Bengals in a game that will, at least for now, end the Thanksgiving rivalry game.
With the sectional championship game at MetLife just over a week away, the Montclair Mounties’ coaching staff knew they had to balance the desire to continue their undefeated season with the need to be healthy as they faced Union City on Dec. 1.
While this is an enormously deep team, losing a Danny Webb, Tarrin Earle or Willie Matthews would have been disastrous, so coming out of the win with the team healthy was the best possible outcome.
“We got everybody through,” head coach John Fiore said after the game. “A little bump or bruise here or there but nothing major.”
The offensive line did a stellar job protecting Earle and opening holes for Webb, while Matthews continued his reign of terror on opposing offenses without missing a beat.
For Matthews and the underclassmen, a big part of their aim was to finish both the Turkey Bowl and the somewhat extended regular season with a bang and send the older players off with a bang.
“We really sent our seniors off right. We didn’t send them off with a loss to Bloomfield,” Matthews said, adding that they aren’t stopping there.
“This year, on top of the win against Bloomfield, we’re going to send them home with a ring. Send them off like a Viking funeral.”
If Matthews sounds a little cocky going into the championship game, he has good reason to be. The Mounties look impossible to stop on either side of the ball.
Earle continues to carve up opposing secondaries, whether on short passes to Collin Callahan, long jump balls to Charles Murphy or deep driving passes to DJ Williams. There’s very little to do when Earle has time to read the defense post-snap, and even when the pass rush comes, his ability to do so while it’s in motion has to be among the best in the state.
Webb continues to impress as well, both when he is dancing through the wash at the line of scrimmage, as well as tip-toeing down the sideline for a score. In a season where he hasn’t touched the ball 100 times due to blowouts and some nagging injuries, Webb has still put together some impressive totals, with over 1,300 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Webb’s four touchdowns gave him 76 career touchdowns, breaking the Essex County and school records held by Khalif Herbin, who graduated in 2012.
The rest of the offense was firing on all cylinders on Wednesday as well. Murphy caught two passes for 94 yards, while DJ Williams had three catches for 74 yards and a nice 52-yard touchdown. Sophomore Nate Bryan continued to show he deserves a spot in the backfield next season with a five-carry, 91-yard night, including an impressive 46-yard run and a nice 11-yard touchdown.
All that has helped this Mounties offense break another record — most points scored by a team in one season — with 540 points through 11 weeks.
The defense also looked ready for MetLife. Led by Matthews’ twelve tackles, the Mounties had very few hiccups, even when the backups came, and generated yet another pick-six, this time by Walt King.
For Matthews, the success on defense comes from finally doing all the little things right.
“I feel like the last couple of years we’ve been right on the verge of having a great defense,” Matthews explained. “Just a couple plays away. This year we’re making those plays. It’s really just a whole mindset. Getting better every week and correcting the mistakes you made last week.”
For Matthews, the defense is peaking at just the right time.
“We’re a way better defense than we were Week One and it’s just going to keep [improving].”
King agrees and says the defense has consistently pushed itself.
“We bust our [butts] in practice. We always get on each other and work each other. It also came from [work in] the offseason. We all got together and then we capitalized on the field. That’s what happen when you have a brotherhood on the defensive side of the ball.”
While this marks the end of the longstanding tradition of the Montclair-Bloomfield Thanksgiving game, Fiore feels it is for the best.
“To play a game like [the Turkey Bowl], you can see the respect the coaches and players have for one another. But we’re better off having the game now as part of the regular season — for power points, for seeding, for all those things — and letting us just concentrate on the task at hand.”
All in all, Fiore is happy with the effort his team has put in.
“I’m proud of these guys. They did a good job,” he said. “We just finished our 11th 1-0 season. Now we’ve got to go get our 12th.”