by Andrew Garda
The Montclair High School football coaching staff always preaches to their team that no matter what your role is, you have to treat it like it is the most critical role on the team, because you never know when that role will actually become just that.
Defensive coordinator Pete Ramiccio, who also handles special teams play, is especially adamant about that on kickoff and punt returns.That turned out to be vital Saturday late in the game when Bloomfield High School had to punt the ball late in the game. Steven Rose was back to receive the ball, but it deflected and was loose.
Enter senior Tychanne Palmer in his very first game as a member of the varsity team.
Palmer had one thought go through his mind when the ball bounced away from Rose and a pair of Bengals defenders.
“This is my chance. Get it.”
Palmer dropped and covered the ball with his body, and the Mounties retained possession.
After the game, head coach John Fiore said that Palmer had no idea how big a moment that was for the team.
“If they get that and they [score], that could hurt our Born, which can knock us down,” Fiore explained. A team’s Born ranking is one of the ways the NJSIAA ranks where a team lands in the playoffs. There are certain measurements, including margin of victory and expected point totals, which move a team up or down.
The Mounties were looking to win by 35 points. With a top seed and home field in the balance, Bloomfield touchdown would have brought them below that 35 mark and really hurt MHS’ standing in the poll
“We don’t get that fumble there – if he doesn’t get it – instead of running the clock out, if they put one back in, then I’m between a rock and a hard place,” Fuore saind. “I can’t go back down and score at that point because we’re going to have to take some knees. I know [BHS] Coach Carter and I’m not trying to run it up, because I don’t believe in that. So, that was a big play.”
The journey to that moment wasn’t easy for Palmer, who faced a lot of challenges off the field.
“I’ve been through a lot over the years,” he said. “First year, I went through a bunch of bullcrap and didn’t even want to play. Second year, I got injured.”
And then he was out of the program.
Nobody gave up on Palmer, though, and many — including former principal James Earle — worked hard and long to help him find his path.
Eventually, that path led to rejoining the team this summer for training camp. It wasn’t easy — his first day involved running gassers, which he struggled to finish. But as was often the case the last few years, people around him — in this case his teammates — stepped up to encourage him and keep him going.
To get from there to here, according to Palmer, feels amazing.
“I’m glad I had this opportunity to do this with my team,” he said. “Now that I’m back, I feel better and we’re just going to keep winning.”
The team continues to support Palmer, and as he does with all of his team Fiore is making sure the senior is executing in the classroom as well as on the field.
“Ty has promised me that he’s going to do everything right so he can be on the field more and more each week.”
Things continue to look up for Palmer as well, and his aspirations continue to build. During the trip to Massillon, Ohio, the team toured the University of Akron. Palmer came away thinking it was a place he could see himself attending.
He has had a taste of success now, on and off the field. And now that he has had a taste?
“I want the whole spoonful.”
Looking at the Lancers
There’s a lot on the line when the Mounties welcome the Livingston High School Lancers to Woodman Field on Saturday, Oct. 20. While both sides of the ball played well against Bloomfield, Livingston brings a new set of challenges.
“Livingston is going to be a different animal,” Fiore said. “They’re 4-2, they’re not a patsy. We have to really have our gameplan on point. We get Murphy back, that helps. I’m not rushing Patty Barr or Bigelow back, but if they’re healthy, that just gets us stronger, because now we’re seven deep on the offensive line.”
They might need all of the help they can get this week.
After having a four game win streak snapped by East Orange last week, the Lancers are sure to come into the Aubrey Lewis Athletic Complex hungry.
Offensively, the Lancers have shown they can move the ball well both through the air and on the ground. Joe Cullen leads the backfield with 109 carries for 615 yards and 3 touchdowns, with Brian Russo not far behind with 410 yards and 4 touchdowns on just 50 carries. Both can also catch the ball out of the backfield as well, with 24 catches for 303 yards and two touchdowns between them.
They aren’t the only two options for quarterback Jack Ernst, who has 1,142 yards, 13 touchdowns and just a pair of interceptions this year.
The Mounties secondary has struggled at times this season, and Ernst is probably going to test them early and often on Saturday.
With Murphy back, the Mounties will do their own testing of the Lancers secondary. However, given the success they had on the ground this past weekend, expect a healthy dose of rushing yards from Montclair as well.
Josh Crawford is red-hot and Willie Matthews will abuse a defensive front with his physical running style. Add in Murphy’s athleticism and a sharp offensive line and the Mounties have the ability to run over, around and through the Lancers if they choose.