by Andrew Garda
The Montclair High School football team looked like its old self in their 51-14 defeat of Bloomfield Saturday at Woodman Field dominating on both sides of the ball, while scoring early and often against their rivals.
The Mounties (4-3, 3-1) were able to rout the Bengals despite the absence of senior quarterback Charles Murphy Jr., as well as both interior guards on the offensive line, senior Bo Bigelow and junior Patrick Barr.
With Murphy out, the Mounties concentrated on the ground game, and they absolutely overmatched the Bengals, rushing for 565 yards in total, led by senior tailback Josh Crawford’s 316 yards and four touchdowns.
Montclair marched down the field easily on their first possession, Crawford kicking off the scoring with a 41-yard run. After a Bloomfield three-and-out — one of five in the first half — Crawford capped off the next MHS drive with a 3-yard TD plunge.
The Central Michigan commit, who scored twice more in the second half, credited his offensive line with the career day.
“I’m proud of my teammates, proud of my offensive line. Having two starting guards out is kind of tough,” said Crawford, who leads the Mounties with 654 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns this season. “But all game long our trap blocks were working great. My guards, trapping the way they did, it was crazy. Them opening the holes for me made it a successful day for me. So, I thank my O-line because without them I wouldn’t have had the day I had today.”
Head coach John Fiore echoed Crawford’s thoughts, in particular about the guards.
“First off, for [Sebastian] Garda and Alejandro [Dagnino] to pick up the pieces on the O-line, that was one of the better games we’ve played all year,” Fiore said. “What’s funny is, the guys making the mistakes were the veterans. No, [the line] did a great job.”
Another big cog in the backfield Saturday was senior linebacker/running back Willie Matthews, who totalled 118 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Matthews, who has battled injuries all season and played just his second complete game of the season, wasn’t shocked by the play of the offensive line.
“I expected that fully,” Matthews said.
Matthews also didn’t bat an eye at Crawford’s big day.
“Josh has that potential every game. It’s just a matter of when he decides to put his head down and run through people, not just around them. Josh can really do both.”
Helping the Mounties’ offensive line perform was new starters junior center Sebastian Fortune and senior tackle Gary Robinson.
Robinson, who also plays defensive end, was pleased to see his linemates step up when they got the chance, though he knew they could.
“I feel really positive about that, and even when we had injuries before I was saying “Next man up,”” he said after the game. “We’re Montclair, I feel like we’ve got the best guys in the state. And we stayed positive and just held the rope together, and came together as a team and blew them out.”
“We just worked hard the whole time. We had two O-lineman go down, so the team just had to step up and they did it today. And it shows a lot in practice, how we work,” he said. “It’s just like brotherhood, to be honest. We’ve been practicing together, having fun all the time, we’ve definitely been spending some bonding time and stuff. It’s just a bond we have that can’t be broken.”
Fortune said that the strength of the offensive line also comes from the coaching.
“We’re definitely getting better every day,” he said. “That’s Coach Kline, our o-line coach, doing a helluva job coaching us up and teaching us what we need to do.”
Next man up also described the quarterback position, as junior A.J. Zaccareo stepped in for the injured Murphy. While he threw just four passes, Zaccareo led the offense well and made sure plays were set up properly, and ensured clean handoffs to Crawford, Matthews and backups Nate Bryan (4-70-1) and Jordan Diggs (7-58).
Fiore and offensive coordinator Pat Leonardis also pulled out a few new plays from their bag of tricks, running a wildcat formation with Crawford under center and scoring a touchdown out of their “muddle” formation on Wade Korbel’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Walter King just before halftime, extending Montclair’s lead to 23-7.
“It was something we had to figure out during the week that we had to do,” Fiore explained. “With [backup quarterback] Michael [Robinson] being hurt also, Josh had to take a quarterback role, because I wasn’t bringing a freshman up. So, we had to do that and that spurred on the wildcat.”
Fiore felt that having Crawford and Matthews in the backfield is not a wrinkle any team wants to see.
“I think the change of pace with Josh at quarterback, and the two-headed monster there, you’ve got to stop, [that’s tough]. And Willie is a beast, people don’t want to tackle him because it hurts,” Fiore said, laughing.
Defensively, the Mounties allowed just 148 yards of total offense, and Bloomfield managed only one drive of note, a 56-yard scoring march in the third quarter; the Bengals’ first scoring drive was just 29 yards, set up by a muffed punt. There were a few hiccups, such as the coverage on a 23-yard touchdown pass from BHS quarterback Brandon Holt to Kyle Tice, but for the most part the team executed well.
It certainly helped to welcome back Matthews, the All-State linebacker who averaged 18 tackles per game last season.
“[Their offensive totals] were really two big plays,” Fiore said. “That’s what we expect. Willie’s that good. He gets everybody in the right place, that’s the big thing.”
The Mounties are now set up for their most important game of the season thus far, as they will welcome Livingston to Woodman Field this Saturday, Oct. 20, at 1 p.m., with the Super Football Conference-Liberty Blue Division title up for grabs.
This will be the final division game for both MHS and Livingston, who are both 4-1 in the division, while East Orange (3-1) still has to play Columbia and Bloomfield. The Montclair-Livingston winner will either win the division outright with another East Orange loss, or will tie East Orange for the title; the Mounties would win the tiebreaker by virtue of their 28-27 win over the Jaguars last month.
Saturday’s game is also Senior Day and the final regular-season home game.
Matthews said the team is focused, but as long getting Murphy back will spur this ground attack on to even greater heights.
“When Murphy’s back, I guarantee everybody is going to be over 1,000 yards,” he said, looking towards the end of year totals. “Murphy’s going to have over 1,000 yards, Josh is going to have over 1,000 yards, I might have 500. It’s gonna be a big season.”