by Andrew Garda
BLOOMFIELD — Nobody was really sure if the season would happen, but on Friday, Oct. 2, the Montclair High School football team took the field at Bloomfield High School’s Foley Field and demolished the home team, 57-14.
The Mounties got off to a hot start after receiving the opening kickoff, as senior quarterback Michael Robinson led his team down the field for a seven-play, 84-yard drive, capped off by a gorgeous pass over a defender to Aqeel Plant for a touchdown.
Just 2:56 minutes into the game and after a Gage Hammond extra point, the Mounties had a 7-0 lead.
The Bengals fumbled the ball on the kickoff, and the Mounties recovered, then took all of three plays to score a second time. Head coach John Fiore opted not to kick the extra point, instead calling for a two-point conversion play that had receiver Sean Brown completing a pass to running back Jordan Williams, putting the Mounties up 15-0 in just under four minutes of game time.
While Hammond didn’t get called on to kick the extra point that time, he would find himself with no end of work under the Friday night lights, as the Mounties would find the end zone on eight of their drives, only one of which ended with a punt — something Hammond also took care of.
The kicker hit on all seven of his extra-point opportunities.
Robinson had one of his best days as a Mountie, throwing some excellent passes to his receivers while going 7 of 9 for 193 yards with three touchdowns. In addition to the fade he threw to Plant, Robinson tossed a laser to Saboor Karriem as the receiver ran a slant route into the end zone for a 17-yard score, and then dropped a dime to Brown, which the transfer from West Orange High School hauled in and then took the distance for a 66-yard touchdown.
Robinson also led the team on the ground, totaling 131 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, including a 58-yard dash early in the second quarter on which he almost found the end zone.
Fiore said while fans might focus on the seven completions, Robinson would be looking at what might have been.
“He’s going to be mad at himself because, what was he? Seven for nine? His two incompletions were a wide-open hitch and a misread,” the coach said. “He had curl open all day, if he throws it, which he did all week in practice, he’s nine for nine, you know?”
That said, Fiore knows his quarterback is frustrated only because, like his coach, Robinson knows what he is capable of.
“Listen, he’s a Division 1 athlete. He’s one of our best football players, hands down,” Fiore said. “He could start corner for us. He could start tailback. He can start at quarterback. He could start receiver. And right now all he’s got is a preferred walk-on at [the University of Michigan], which is awesome because Michigan’s awesome. But, you know, he’s a kid that should have some scholarship offers.”
Another big piece of the Mounties offense, Jordan Diggs, had a little bit rougher night. The senior running back and captain had just five carries for 14 yards and a touchdown before being forced out of the game due to an ankle injury. Diggs did have a big run late in the second quarter that was wiped out by a holding penalty, but overall he never quite got the chance to get going, with the passing offense as sharp as it was early.
The lack of touches and yards wasn’t a concern for the Mounties, as they know Diggs can dominate a game at any time. What is a concern is the ankle injury.
“That’s devastating,” Fiore said. “I mean, we have other guys, we’ll figure it out, but he’s such a special, special kid and a special player, and us losing him [hurts]. Hopefully it’s just for a week or two.”
Of course, that week or two features the two biggest games of the season for Montclair, as they face East Orange — which MHS lost twice to last season — and West Orange, which dropped a hammer on the Mounties at last year’s “Rumble at the Raritan” game, hosted at Rutgers University.
If Diggs isn’t available, those already tough games become bigger challenges.
Robinson will have to keep running and throwing like he did Friday, and the backfield will focus more on Jordan Williams as well as a combination of other players like Jaheim Lowe.
Robinson has faith that if he needs to throw the ball, his receivers can get the job done.
“We’ve got bigger targets at receiver this year,” he said. “[Bloomfield] played a lot of cover-3 man [coverage]. We knew that coming into the game. And I believe my receivers are the best on the field at all times, so I took the one-on-one shots and then they made the play. If the receiver is making the play, I just put the ball where it’s supposed to be.”
Defensively, the starters had only one lapse, when a cornerback got caught looking into the backfield and allowed a receiver to get behind him for a 23-yard score.
Bloomfield’s other touchdown came against the bench, which otherwise stymied the Bengals much as the starters did.
The home opener looms on Oct. 10 at Woodman Field, where the Mounties face the first of the two big tests — against East Orange, which beat Livingston 33-6. The last time Montclair met EO was in the quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA North 1, Group 5 tournament, where the Jaguars edged Montclair 15-14.