MHS senior Gary Robinson Jr. manhandles a West Orange player during Montclair’s 35-0 win in the first round of the NJSIAA North I, Group V playoffs.
Courtesy Wil Young

by Andrew Garda

garda@montclairlocal.news

In a up and down  season which has seen key members of the offense and defense hurt and unable to play, Gary Robinson Jr. has been the most consistent and stabilizing force for the Mounties.

The 6 foot 3 inch, 240 pound offensive tackle/defensive end leads the team in overall tackles, and tackles for a loss on defense, and has been a cornerstone on the right side of the offensive line as well.

The 2018 season has seen Robinson take his game to the next level, both on the field and off it, as he has become a more vocal leader in the locker room and on the sidelines.

With Willie Matthews out due post-surgery to repair an Achilles injury, Robinson’s voice has become more critical to the team, especially on defense. This weekend, along with Josh Crawford and Shawn Collins, Robinson made sure the Mounties didn’t repeat the defensive issues which contributed to the Week 0 loss to West Orange.

For Robinson, that meant getting physical with the Mountaineers early, and imposing MHS’ will on them.

“We set the tone early,” Robinson said. “Setting the tone is definitely an important aspect to football and I feel like when we did that, they just shut down and realized they didn’t belong on the field with us.”

For head coach John Fiore, there’s no doubt that Robinson has been and will continue to be a massive cornerstone of the Mounties success.

“Gary’s been our best football player all year,” he said.

He’s not the only one who has noticed Robinson either.

“[The West Orange] coach came up to me when their kid was hurt [during the game] and said “Coach, 53 is the best football player I’ve ever seen,” Fiore said. “And that coach helped Josh Allen get to Kentucky. Gary is unbelievable. If somebody just sucks it up and scholarships that kid, they’re going to get an unbelievable football player they’re gonna love for four years.”

From Fiore’s lips to a Division I college recruiter’s ears.

The Mounties defense swarms a West Orange ballcarrier during Montclair’s NJSIAA North I, Group V playoffs win. The defense held West Orange to three first downs and under 100 total yards of offense.
Courtesy Wil Young

Revenge

The Mounties certainly were salivating at the thought of avenging that Week 0 loss to West Orange, a theme which permeated post-game comments.

“Definitely, we exorcised some demons from the beginning of the season,” right guard Pat Barr said after the win. “It was really hard to start the season off with that, and it’s definitely a team we felt we were better than, before and after playing them.”

Barr said that was especially true of the offensive line.

“We just thought that [the loss] wasn’t really who we were as an identity as an O-line group and as a team. So, we really thought this game was going to be big for us, and it definitely was,” Barr said.

For Fiore, the game showed how far his team had come, especially some of the younger players on defense.

“Week 0, Willie goes out with a hamstring, and [the younger] guys get thrown in,” he recalled. “It’s their first varsity action at linebacker. Kyshawn King is out there, who missed a whole year with an ACL. Then you have Nareece [Wright] out there and he gets dinged up so Terrel [Santana’s] out there, getting his first varsity action. It couldn’t have gone any worse.”

The result was players on defense who were out of position and not executing, the result of which was a shocking loss.

“Now Nareece has nine games under his belt, and Kyshawn has nine games under his belt,” Fiore said. “And because of that they knew where they were supposed to be.”

That means the Mounties are seeing sharper play at the linebacker position, which helps with Matthews done for the season.

BREAKING DOWN THE BRUINS

Of all the teams in the North I, Group V bracket, the Mounties and their fans are probably least familiar with the North Bergen Bruins, though many of the players do remember it was North Bergen who snatched a championship from Montclair in 2011.

“We played them in the championship like seven years ago, and they beat us on the last play of the game with a hail mary, so that’s still in the back of our minds,” Robinson said. “I was like 10 years old watching that game, but I still remember that.”

Some of the Mounties were already watching film on North Bergen while preparing for West Orange and one thing stood out.

“Physicality,” said Crawford. “But if we play physical [too], there’s no way they can do anything on us.”

No easy task, as North Bergen has some big guys on the line, which helps them move the ball on the ground.

In their 28-19 win over Hackensack last Saturday, they were able to do just that, totaling 198 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Mike Santini led the team with 152 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 26 carries against Hackensack, and leads the team with 372 yards and eight touchdowns for the season. Christian Angelo is their second most productive runner, with 281 yards and four touchdowns on the year.

The Mounties can’t just focus on the run, though the Bruins lean heavily that way on offense. Last week saw North Bergen score twice on passes, including a 72-yard score. So the MHS secondary has to be cautious.

The good news is, Hackensack lit North Bergen up on the ground, accumulating 283 yards and three touchdowns.

With Josh Crawford and Charles Murphy Jr. behind a locked-in offensive line, the Mounties should have success running the ball.

Murphy will have to be careful on passing plays though, as the Bruins picked Hackensack off twice last weekend.

Overall, as Crawford said, this will be about being physical and imposing their will on the Bruins. The Mounties would once again be well served to grind away at North Bergen with an aggressive ground attack. If they can get up early, the defense will be in good position to take over and force the Bruins out of their comfort zone.