by Andrew Garda
West Orange — The Montclair High School football team began the defense of their 2017 North 1, Group 5 Championship Thursday night, but a new season brought new problems . After a 16-0 lead to end the first half, the Mounties collapsed and fell 26-19.
Collapse is definitely the right word, too, as numerous Mounties went down with cramps throughout the game. At one point, MHS had their number seven and eight offensive linemen in the game and the defense was similarly thin.
Which, as head coach John Fiore said after the game, is no excuse. West Orange suffered many of the same issues and came out with a win.
Still, when Willie Matthews is out of the game early and Josh Crawford follows not long after, when Bo Bigelow has cramps and Matt Battle is banged up, it makes it hard to play your best football.
Even when the starters were on the field and healthy, the Mounties were plagued by miscues and mistakes. The passing offense is a little out of sync, and the ground game never got going, as the offensive line struggled at times to open holes.
Defensively, the Mounties were stout during the first half of the game, holding the Mountaineers to less than a 100 total yards. The second half saw West Orange come out fired up, and a few quick big plays on the ground soon cut the MHS lead to 16-6.
While the Mounties offense continued to misfire, West Orange found success running simple sweeps and counters. A lack of tackling led to the Mountaineers running back breaking free for big gains as the momentum swung away from Montclair and to West Orange.
The Mountaineers had built a 26-16 lead when Matthews forced his way back on to the field. He quickly made several plays, including a huge turnover when West Orange was driving.
Quarterback Charles Murphy Jr. led the offense down the field, but it stalled inside the 20, and had to settle for a field goal.
A failed onside kick later, and Montclair could only watch as the Mountaineers celebrated like they’d won the Super Bowl.
For a complete breakdown of this game as well as all the local high school sports, check out next week’s Thursday edition of the Montclair Local.