by Andrew Garda
Despite last Saturday’s crushing 29-28 loss to Seton Hall Prep, the Montclair Mounties still control their own destiny in terms of the playoffs. As head coach John Fiore pointed out to his admittedly disappointed squad after the loss, if they take care of business the next two games against Bloomfield High and Livingston High — both to be played in the comfortable confines of Woodman Field — they will have the top seed in the playoffs.
That means every playoff game would be played at Woodman, as long as the Mounties were in the playoffs.
That’s a huge advantage for a team which has struggled on the road.
The loss to SHP still netted the Mounties a tidy 32 power points, enough to move them up in the overall rankings and keep them in the one-seed.
Their biggest hurdle is probably a red-hot Livingston Lancer team, which is currently sitting at 3-0 in the Liberty Blue Division. A victory over the Lancers on October 20 would give MHS top spot in the division and definitely put them in the catbird seat for the playoffs.
Outside of West Orange, the Lancers aren’t exactly battle-tested, beating Bloomfield and a terrible Newark East Side team. They’ll be put through their paces against East Orange this weekend, so the Mountie faithful should keep an eye on Rae Oliver’s team in the hopes the Jaguars can beat the Lancers before Montclair even needs to get involved.
Also in Montclair’s favor is that weak Lancers schedule.
According to GridironNewJersey.com, the Lancer’s point total sits at 77. Montclair’s points are at 87.
A loss to either Bloomfield or Livingston could still hurt Montclair, if the Lancers win one or both of those games, but ultimately, Montclair is in good shape.
First things first though, Montclair needs to beat Bloomfield.
Normally, this game — which takes place at Woodman Field, with kickoff at 1 p.m. — would look very much like a cakewalk. Sure, just as it was with Nutley and Columbia, the Mounties need to be wary of taking any opponent lightly. This is definitely a trap game, even under normal circumstances.
And the circumstances are not normal.
The Mounties are going to be without some offensive linemen this week, which means they will turn to backups Alejandro Dagnino and Sebastian Garda to fill in at the guard positions, with Matt Battle picking up extra duty on defense, as well as spelling either of the two other players on offense.
Dagnino has received praise from Fiore previously, and Garda is a third year varsity player, so the hope is they can fill in with little to no hiccups.
On the plus side, Willie Matthews is expected to be back this week, and while he may just focus on the defensive side of the ball, the impact of him on the field cannot be understated.
The defense stepped up several times against Seton Hall Prep, and played well against Columbia, East Orange and Nutley with Matthews either limited or completely out. Having Matthews back should act as nitrous oxide for a unit which is already roaring more often than not.
The Bengals are on a three game losing streak, and have been outscored 90 to 36 during that span, and 123 to 170 over the course of the whole season.
Defensively, the Mounties should be prepared for an aerial assault. Quarterback Kyle Tice has thrown the ball 133 times to date, while the team as a whole has run it only 81 times. That is likely as much because of how often they trail in games as it is due to gameplan, but Montclair still needs to assume Tice will throw at some point.
Tice himself has -20 yards on seven carries, which is safe to assume were mostly sacks or tackles on scrambles.
Some of that is Tice not finding receivers, but the offensive line is also shaky, which should have Shawn Collins and Matthews salivating and looking to add to their sack totals.
Meanwhile the Mounties offense should be able to move the ball.
Though Matthews is back, the team will probably have him focus on defense for the most part, which means Josh Crawford will again carry the load. Expect Nate Bryan and Jordan Diggs to get some work as well to keep Crawford fresh, but the weight will get carried mostly by the senior Crawford.
And as long as the offensive line does its job, he should have another productive day. After a bit of a slow start, Crawford has been steady the last two weeks, finding the end zone twice against East Orange and totalling 187 yards on 44 carries, averaging 4.4 yards per carry against both EO and Seton Hall Prep.
Montclair hasn’t thrown the ball nearly as much as they did last season, but they still need consistency from their receivers. Drops were once again an issue against Seton Hall Prep, and the whole receiving corps needs to step it up, and not just leave it to Kyshawn and Walter King. Even against a Bloomfield team which shouldn’t be able to stay with guys like the King brothers, the passing offense has to keep spreading the ball out so the defense cannot key on just a couple of guys.