By Andrew Garda
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Montclair Mounties football team (1-2), as they were beaten for the second week in a row at Woodman Field, this time by a score of 35-6 to a very good West Orange Mountaineers team (3-0) last Saturday.
The week before against East Orange, the Mounties were shut out for four quarters, and things stayed the same for the first frame against West Orange, as MHS’ first three drives ended in two punts and an interception.
The interception came on a throw that appeared to sail high on quarterback Michael Robinson, though given how often receivers weren’t where they were supposed to be again this week, it’s hard to know if that was really the case.
Robinson had several throws that were incomplete when his receivers weren’t where they were supposed to be, dropped a well-placed pass or didn’t give an extra effort to bail their quarterback out.
Add in several drive-killing penalties and it was clear the team lacked the focus it needed to overcome the Mountaineers.
“Michael threw a touchdown to Saboor [Karriem] that was dropped,” said head coach John Fiore. “[Jeremiah] Rix dropped two, Saboor dropped another one, and then Aqeel [Plant] is banged up, so we don’t have him in there. Will Van Horn just not making a play, lets it get intercepted down at the end zone.”
Fiore said it’s not easy to watch.
“You know, it’s disheartening. We’re not a very good football club right now,” he said.
Given the score, it might seem like those mistakes weren’t critical, but they were. Karriem’s dropped touchdown would have made the score 14-6 before Gage Hammond got a shot at the extra point. Instead, the Mounties remained down 14-0, and then West Orange scored on the next drive to make it 21-0.
If Karriem catches that ball, though, and the score is 14-6 or 14-7, maybe West Orange doesn’t march down the field and score immediately after that possession. Even if they do, when Montclair scores at the end of the half — on a flukey 44-yard pass from Robinson to Sean Brown that appeared to bounce off Jack Sullivan in the end zone before Brown caught it — the game is a one-score, 21-13 affair.
It’s tough to play “what if” given how fluid football games are, especially at the high school level, but making those plays and keeping focus would have given the Mounties a fighting chance.
It didn’t help that, along with a hurt Plant, the Mounties lost Jordan Williams in the second half when he hurt his arm. While he is expected back on the field this week, Williams was a massive loss, as he splits running back and linebacker duties.
Having to play the better part of the second half without either of their starting running backs — Jordan Diggs remains out with an ankle injury — just made it harder for the Mounties offense, but losing Williams also seemed to drag the defense down a little bit.
That wasn’t something Montclair could get over, as the defense struggled throughout much of the day when trying to tackle West Orange players. It’s not that the Mountaineers were too athletic, elusive or shifty when they got the ball in their hands. In fact, quite often the Mounties got a shot at a running back or the quarterback in the backfield before the ball went anywhere.
All too often those opportunities were squandered, though, as Monclair failed to wrap up Mountaineer players, either trying for a big hit and missing or settling for an arm tackle, which West Orange runners easily broke.
That gets back to focus and discipline, according to Fiore.
“We have veteran kids that have been in our offense for three years,” he said. “Can’t line up in a simple formation. I don’t know how to explain that. All my timeouts today were because of a formation or a kid not being out, it’s really bad, really bad.”
Before the last two weeks, Montclair could at least look forward to their fourth game and know that they might get a little break against Livingston High School, a team the Mounties have traditionally trounced each year.
Then a Lancers coach tested positive for COVID-19 and the program was shut down for two weeks. Clifton High School (3-0) found themselves in a similar situation, and now the two face each other at Woodman Field on Saturday, Oct. 24, at 1 p.m.
The Mustangs are a very good football team, with a good defense and a solid offense.
Montclair now faces an unfamiliar opponent while they are desperate for a win. The two programs once played regularly, with Clifton being the sixth most frequent opponent for the Mounties, who lead the series 32-12-3. However, they have not faced off since before Fiore took over, with the last meeting being in a 2009 consolation game that the Mounties lost 6-3.