by Andrew Garda
The Montclair High School football team grabbed their second win of the season as they hung on against a scrappy East Orange High School team for a 28-27 victory on Saturday, Sept. 22.
“It always feels good to get one even an ugly win but a win is a win,” senior captain and lead running back Josh Crawford said after the game.
It was a sentiment echoed by fellow captain and starting quarterback Charles Murphy Jr.
“It felt pretty good. I’m a little upset that it was this close, because we were expecting a blowout,” Murphy said. “But it was good to see us finally dig in and fight and see how much heart we have left from Massillon.”
The Mounties did indeed dig in and fight, especially in the last quarter when the Jaguars forced a fumble, which they then turned into points.
With 4:43 left in regulation, the Mounties had just a slim lead and time to burn.
That was when Crawford took over the game.
Early on, Crawford had struggled some behind an offensive line that was missing Bo Bigelow and Matt Battle, both out for the day. Crawford kept grinding, but the holes weren’t there.
In the final drive, which ate all the time up, both the line and Crawford hit their stride.
Crawford, who had missed part of the second half with cramps, credited his line for the huge chunks of ground he gained in the final drive.
“I’ve got the utmost confidence in my offensive line,” Crawford, who finished the game with 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns, said after the game. “They get better every day, so this is a step forward from here. We will build off of this, as a team; film on Monday, short week this week, Friday night game. But I expect to see the offensive line to play like that from now on.”
For head coach John Fiore, it was good to see several players step up when given the opportunity on the offensive line including Alejandro Dagnino.
“Alejandro deserves a lot of credit,” he said. “There’s a kid who’s what, 5-8, 190 pounds? And he went out there and did what he had to do. He did a great job.”
Pat Barr also logged significant minutes on the line. Both players, as well as several others who were rotated in, give the line some seasoned depth once Battle and Bigelow return.
Aside from the offensive line and Crawford on that last drive, the Mounties also saw some positives from Murphy and defensive end Shawn Collins.
Collins was an impact player all day on defense, notching two critical sacks and half a dozen tackles throughout the game. Between Collins and Gary Robinson Jr., the Mounties have something percolating on the edges of the defensive line.
“Shawn’s starting to come into his own,” Fiore said.
On the other side of the ball, Murphy had a good day on the ground, rushing eight times for 96 yards and a touchdown. He said he felt like he got a good read on the option plays Saturday, which helped him gain yardage on some long runs.
“I was seeing a lot of blitzing, and we were kind of planning on that, so I was going to read one of the backers,” Murphy said. “In the first half, he just went with the motion and just came up at me, so I was just giving and that one pull he just didn’t bite on it, so I went.”
As much as there were plenty of positives, the Mounties are still their own worst enemy, with multiple false starts and other penalties, along with occasional turnovers.
Too often the Mounties found themselves moving backwards due to false starts and other miscues. EO is a solid team, but the Mounties should have beaten them handily, and every flag, every dropped ball, every fumble left the door open for the Jaguars. Saturday also saw some poor tackling, including several times where someone appeared to pull up short instead of driving at the ball carrier.
The fumble in the fourth quarter nearly cost them big, and in the cases of Massillon and West Orange, errors just like it cost them games. Turnovers and penalties are an Achilles Heel the Mounties have to find a way to fix.
MHS has also continued to have issues at receiver and in the secondary.
Murphy was just 9-of-21 passing for 96 yards, his lowest total to date and the first game where he didn’t throw a touchdown pass. There were just too many drops and mistakes on routes and while the quarterback will always bear some of the blame, the receivers need to help out.
Tariq Jiles continues to play well in the secondary, but the rest of the unit still seems to be working on their consistency.
Both issues need work, and soon. Friday the Mounties meet Columbia and a week later, Seton Hall Prep.
Fiore said that the team cannot overlook the Cougars, despite their 1-3 record.
“Don’t sleep on Columbia,” Fiore said. “They’re a good team. I watched them in West Orange and they lost, but they’re a good team.”
Of course, the Mounties know a loss to West Orange is not indicative of quality this year.
For Murphy, the Columbia game is absolutely not to be overlooked and, in fact, one game he has been looking forward to.
“We have a little revenge to get back on Columbia from beating us in the 7-on-7 at Rutgers,” he explained. “So, I think it should be an interesting game, but we’re looking to end up on top again.”
The Mounties get a shot at that revenge in four days when they head to Columbia for Friday night’s game. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.