by Andrew Garda
The Montclair Mounties took a trip to Massillon, Ohio last weekend to take on the Washington High School Tigers.
They also made three stops — two for information and one for fun — while they made their way to Ohio and back.
First, they took a detour through State College to see Penn State.
Head coach John Fiore had set the stop up so the players, some of whom had not started college visits yet and some of whom didn’t have the opportunity to go on trips as far as Pennsylvania, could get a chance to see a large, out-of-state campus.
The team split into several groups, one specifically made up of seniors, and were shown all around campus, from the library to the rec center to the “HUB,” the large student center where there is a selection of food and activities.
The tour ended at the Nittany Lion football practice facility, where the Mounties held their practice.
After arriving in Massillon late Thursday night, the team hopped back on their buses Friday and went to visit the University of Akron.
The tour included the student center, the recreation center, the library and the various athletic fields including the soccer stadium, where Akron’s men’s soccer has won the MAC championship every year since 2012, a brand-new baseball stadium and, of course, the football stadium where the Akron Zips play every Saturday.
Of the two college tours, it seemed like the team was more impressed by Akron’s campus, with several players saying they’d really like to apply to the school.
Finally, the Mounties got to visit the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
While the team was clearly disappointed in Friday night’s loss, they seemed to really enjoy the experience of walking the Hall. Several of the guides who managed “educational carts,” holding things like old-school leather helmets and shoulder pads, remarked at how impressed they were with the Mounties, and that the kids asked a lot of very good questions.
All in all, the trip was a unique experience which, despite the loss to Massillon, the team will likely remember for a very long time.
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A BIG-TIME ATMOSPHERE
If you ever want a big-time high school football atmosphere and don’t want to drive all the way to Texas, Massillon, Ohio has you covered. There are some college stadiums that don’t have the intensity of Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. Combine that with the friendly nature of the people in Massillon, and you get a wonderful experience. Here are some of the high points:
Obie the Tiger: The Tigers’ mascot is a tiger, of course, and in the case of Massillon, they go the extra mile with an actual live (baby) tiger. Chris Easterling of The Independent was our guide during the Massillon experience and according to Easterling, the school has had an Obie every year since 1970. Often they only have it for a game or two, and due to recent laws it’s cost-prohibitive to get a live cub. So often, Obies come from out of state.
“Village Idiots”: Lest you think your local sportswriter is being rude to the fine people of Massillon, there is an actual group of face-painted former and current students who use a megaphone to harass opposing players.
Packed House: Estimates for attendance Friday night were not in as of press time, but it was estimated that between 8,000 and 9,000 Tiger fans attended the game, not including actual tigers.
The capacity of the stadium is 16,392 but it used to be 21,345 before things were restructured in 1981.
The football team keeps the gate receipts, while all other athletics share the concessions. The press box for print media is shared with ticket-holders who pay $450 a seat for an air-conditioned experience and a bird’s eye view with food and drinks included.
Facilities: Washington High School has a stadium better than some smaller colleges’ facilities. A new video board was installed this past year to the tune of $800,000, which shows the game live, as well as replays, stats and more.
There is an indoor practice facility — utilized by all outdoor sports — which is on par with some NFL bubbles in terms of size and space.
For all that, food and drink prices remain as reasonable as what’s at Woodman.
On to East Orange…
It’s been a rough season so far for the Mounties, and it won’t get any easier when the East Orange Jaguars arrives at Woodman Field for their 1 p.m. tilt against MHS this Saturday.
The Jaguars have already been scouting the Mounties, and head coach Rae Oliver was in attendance for the win over Nutley. EO hasn’t beaten Montclair since 2010, but given what they have seen so far, it’s easy to think the Jaguars smell blood.
Offensively, EO runs the ball. They can pass when they want to, but in two games they have run the ball 57 times for 666 yards and 9 touchdowns while only passing it 19 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
On the one hand, it’s a skewed sample given they blew out Passaic and Watchung Hills. There’s no need to throw, when you’re up big.
On the other hand, the Jaguars can run and clearly have speed in the persons of running back Bryant Manuel and quarterback Nasir Montgomery. The latter might not throw much, but he’s dangerous when he gets out of the pocket.
Passaic and Watchung Hills aren’t good, but as the saying goes: “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.” It’s a trend now. The Jaguars run, and frankly the Mounties have issues stopping the run.
Expect Oliver and his staff to dial up some runs and test MHS’ front.
If need be, Montgomery can pass, and EO will have seen enough on film to think they can complete those attempts against the Montclair secondary, but it’s likely the Jaguars will stay on the ground if they can.
That means the Mounties front seven needs to tackle efficiently, and the secondary has to avoid the lapses which hurt it last Friday.
Defensively, you can expect the Jaguars to stack the box against the backfield of Josh Crawford and Willie Matthews, making quarterback Charles Murphy Jr. throw as much as possible.
If the Mounties can establish the run a little, and Murphy gets a read on the defensive end, he could have some success on read-option plays, pulling the ball from Crawford and running on his own.
When EO starts keying on Murphy, he can then hand it off to Crawford again.
Crawford and Murphy feel like they are due for a big ground game, and this could be it.
But the team has to execute on both sides of the ball this week, and tighten up overall.