by Andrew Garda
EAST RUTHERFORD—The best teams respond at big moments, and the Montclair High School football team found itself in such a moment when it stepped onto the field at MetLife Stadium for its North 1, Group V championship game against Union City last Friday night.
The Mounties more than responded as they took down Union City in a 35-14 win to secure their fourth state sectional title in six years, but first since 2014.
That’s not to say their nerves weren’t jangling a little as the crowd roared and the Mounties sprinted out of the tunnel behind Danny Webb as he carried the Montclair flag onto the turf.
Following Webb is always a good policy, though, and any residual nerves were put to rest by his 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game.
“I felt my whole shoulders just relax,” quarterback Tarrin Earle said after the win. “I was really amped, nervous and anxious, and to see him take [the kickoff] and [give us] an early lead? I was like “All right, we got this.”
“Even before today, I told myself if I get a kickoff or punt return at MetLife I have to return it,” Webb would later say. “I was watching myself on the big screen. That kick return got the team hyped, got the fans hyped and we just kept rolling from there.”
Union City took the ball and drove down the field, eating up yards and clock, but stalled on Montclair’s 26-yard line and had to punt.
Then Earle took over, pretty much for the rest of the game.
For the Bucknell commit, Friday was the perfect end to an incredible season which saw him break both career and single-season Mounties records. At MetLife, the lights were brighter than ever before in Earle’s career and he responded with a near-flawless effort, going 16-of-24 for 303 yards, a pair of touchdown passes and just one interception. On the end of his first drive of the night, Earle capped it with an 11-yard touchdown run.
“We knew they were going to come out in a lot of man [coverage], because they’re a pretty good team, [and] they’re pretty athletic,” Earle said. “So we knew that if their game plan was that, we were going to pick them apart in the air. I knew my receivers were going to be open all day and Coach Leo called a great game tonight.”
Just like for much of the season, Earle’s favorite go-to target was fellow senior Collin Callahan. Callahan was knocked down by Union City cornerback Elijah Sparkman on an early play and the UC junior stood over Callahan in a bit of a taunt before walking away.
Like kicking to Danny Webb, Union City found out the hard way you don’t give Callahan an extra chip on his shoulder.
Callahan would go on to catch seven passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, carrying the Mounties for a lot of the game and coming up with big catch after big catch. Wherever Earle needed him to be, Callahan was.
“You always have to carry a chip on your shoulder,” Callahan said about his production. “[Sparkman] made a good play, but I just made a better play the next time. And the play after. It doesn’t matter. He might have lit me up or whatever he said, but as long as I put my team in a position to win, that’s all that matters.”
“He just knows how to get open in coverage,” head coach John Fiore said of the former special teams ace. “They’re playing Cover-2 all night, and that leaves him one on one with a safety. You can’t do that. CC is too good.”
For Earle, it was no surprise to see Callahan succeed both on Friday and over the course of the season.
”He’s definitely the hardest worker,” Earle said. “No doubt about it. He started working the day after the season ended, every single year. So, I knew that in the biggest game that he was going to be the one to come through, 100 percent. I knew he was going to have a great day.”
While Union City would go on to score a pair of touchdowns and Montclair struggled in the second half as Webb and Willie Matthews both left the game with injuries, the Soaring Eagles were never really within striking distance of the Mounties.
By the time the clock struck 0:00, the game had long since been decided and for the senior class, their season goals were completed.
“It feels amazing, you know to do it with this group of guys and we fought so many years,” Earle said of the win. ”To finally do it and go out on a win, that’s the best thing.”
His fellow seniors all felt the same way.
“I love this team,” linebacker/guard Finn Jensen said. “I’ve been playing here for four years and it means a lot, for us to win, for us to play in MetLife.”
“It’s unbelievable for them to finish out this way,” Fiore said of his seniors. “They’d come so close, and we were just a couple plays away [before]. And to have that hanging over our head, and the coaching staff to have it hanging over our head, to now go out and finish like this.