Seniors and their families gather on the field before the start of Montclair’s game against Livingston High School.
COURTESY WIL YOUNG

by Andrew Garda

garda@montclairlocal.news

Prior to their dominant win over Livingston Saturday, the Mounties also took a moment to celebrate the senior class.

The football players were celebrated prior to kickoff, while the cheerleaders were honored at halftime.

In both cases, the athletes were escorted onto the field with their parents, a way for the crowd, coaches and fellow students to thank the family who have supported the football players and cheerleaders over the last four years.

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For seniors Charles Murphy Jr. and Walter King, the experience was special.

“It felt great,” said King, who scored one offense and one defensive touchdown in the game. “This was the first time I had an experience like this.”

Murphy agreed it was special, and continued to help the offense get on the same page.

“[I loved] spending time with my family, with my brothers who I’ve grown up [with]. I feel like we gelled even more on Senior Day.”

MHS receiver Walter King takes off down the field on his way to a long touchdown during the Mounties 51-0 win over Livingston. COURTESY WIL YOUNG

Playoff Push

Despite a rocky start to the season, the Mounties will be in the playoffs, and they will have a shot to earn the No. 1 seed in North 1, Group V, though that is a foggier question.

First and foremost, the Mounties have to take care of business by defeating Irvington Friday night.

The Mounties are predicted to defeat Irvington by 11.8 points by the Born Power Index, one of the components of the new “United Power Rating” playoff system.

The Born Index is one of the two factors used by the NJSIAA  in this “United Power Rating” system; it is combined with the traditional power-point formula to produce the final rankings.

The Born Index is a mathematical formula, developed by now-retired math teacher Bill Born, which weighs how well a team does against a particular opponent more than straight wins or losses. A loss to a powerful school matters more than beating up a weaker team.

Save for the opening week loss to West Orange, the Mounties have done what they needed to do, beating the teams they should beat by the right margins and hanging with a solid Seton Hall Prep team.

Should they defeat Irvington Friday, the Mounties should be locked in to at least a No. 2 seed, which would come with at least two playoff home games at Woodman Field.

Beyond that, matters are not in their hands, and this is where it gets a little tricky.

The playoff structure for this year sees team in each school-size group — Montclair is in the largest, Group V — split into two sections, North and South, for the purposes of determining playoff qualifiers. The top 16 teams from the North section after this weekend’s cutoff date will be selected, and then from there, the eight northernmost teams — a group that will almost certainly include MHS — will be split off to form the traditional eight-team North 1, Group V bracket that we’ve all come to know. The southernmost eight will be placed in North 2.

A complicating factor is that Union City, a team that currently outranks the Mounties in the United Power Rating, could end up in either section, depending on how many teams from Middlesex, Union and Hunterdon counties qualify.

Heading into the final week before the cutoff, Union City is the northernmost team in North 2, which would mean that Montclair has the inside track on the No. 1 seed in North 1. However, Bridgewater-Raritan could sneak into the playoffs, knocking out a northern team and shifting Union City back to North 1, by upsetting a very strong Union team Friday night.

If that happened, that would mean the Soaring Eagles would be the No. 1 seed, the Mounties likely the No. 2, meaning that MHS could have to hit the road for a potential sectional final against UC.

And the margins are slim enough that the season-opening loss to West Orange could be the difference between hosting a potential sectional final and not — that’s just one of many reasons Mounties players will tell you that more than any other loss, the one to the Mountaineers is something that gets them angry.

Irvington breakdown

Irvington appears to be about as one-dimensional a team as the Mounties will see this season.

They run the ball, early and often, at almost any down and distance, and they have run the ball 103 times compared to just 43 pass attempts, completing just 19 of them.

They’ve thrown for just 242 yards and three touchdowns with a pair of interceptions.

Mounties quarterback Charles Murphy Jr. has more attempts than that on his own with 73, more yards with 529 and five touchdowns with two interceptions.

With some of the issues the Mounties have had defending passers, it’s possible the Blue Knights will change it up and throw more often, but how effective will that be? Sure, they average 12.7 yards per completion, but at just a handful of passes attempted it’s impossible to guess if they are any good at it.

It’s safe to say they don’t feel passing the ball plays to their strengths, and it would be foolish to risk a game by playing to their own weakness.

It’s more likely they continue to feed a large stable of runners out of the backfield led by Zakee Swann (58 carries-521 yards- 5 touchdowns) and Zahir Abdus-Salaam (25-153-2).

Swann is pretty shifty, and can make tacklers miss at the line of scrimmage. He has good speed and a serviceable second gear when he gets into the open. Swann has enough speed to get to the edge and turn the corner, but if the Mounties defensive ends and outside linebackers set the edge and don’t knife in to the quarterback, Swann is nothing the team can’t handle.

Defensively, the Knights look pretty susceptible to short screens and runs outside. It’s going to be hard for them to contain the speed Montclair has, especially with Murphy on a bootleg when he pulls the ball. Josh Crawford is also going to be a problem, though a lot more of his runs are inside. It would be interesting to see the Mounties give Jordan Diggs some outside runs though, and his size might make it hard for the Blue Knights to track, allowing his speed to get him around the corner before they can react.

The defensive line for Irvington is decent, but if Crawford gets the blocking he needs from his guards, Bo Bigelow and Patrick Barr,  he’ll wear the line down. This will be the first time in quite a while the Mounties will have their full starting offensive line on the field and healthy, so we can expect some good blocking.

That blocking should also help Murphy have time to throw the ball to his receivers. The team passed with a lot of confidence against Livingston, and that should carry over to a decent, but overall unremarkable, Irvington secondary.

The defensive backs are opportunistic — they’ll pick off a ball if you aren’t careful — but if the Mounties receivers are aggressive going up and getting the ball, the passing game should have success.