By Ed Kensik
For the Montclair Local
The Montclair Kimberley football team knew it was going to be a tough game on Saturday, but they were happy to get a chance to play.
The Cougars were looking for a team to fill an opening in their schedule, and they got a rugged Hawthorne team that is always in the running for the Group 1 state playoffs.
The MKA squad was also seeking to extend its winning streak to five games after falling to Morristown-Beard (28-10, Oct. 3) in the season opener.
But the Cougars were pretty much running from behind all afternoon, as they dropped a 28-7 verdict to the Bears (4-1) in the independent contest.
Despite the defeat, Montclair Kimberley head coach Anthony Rea was pretty pleased with his team’s effort and that the game was closer than the final score. The Cougars (4-2) were actually only down 14-7 until the fourth quarter, when they gave up a couple of touchdowns in the final nine minutes.
“I thought we really had a good effort on our part against a very good football program,” Rea said.
The connection between junior quarterback Jake Pryor and senior wide receiver Clay Morris helped keep the Cougars in most of the game before Hawthorne pulled away in the fourth quarter. Pryor completed 15 of 33 pass attempts for 192 yards, while Morris caught seven for 132 yards.
“Jake and the receivers have been incredible this season,” said Rea, also pointing to senior Mohamed Hassaneen (four catches for 35 yards) and sophomore Jordan Fishback (two catches for 17 yards).
What turned out to be the lone Cougars touchdown was actually the longest play of the game.
After Hawthorne went up 7-0 in the first few minutes of the game, the Cougars responded on their third possession.
Hassaneen recovered a fumble at the start of the second quarter at the Montclair Kimberley 18 yard line. Cougars senior linebacker Michele Cestone forced the fumble.
On the first play after the recovery, Pryor hit Morris on a pass, and Morris sprinted down the sideline in front of the MKA bench for an 82-yard touchdown. Junior kicker Jack Silva kicked the point after to tie the game at seven with 11 minutes left in the first half.
The difference in the game might have come in the final minute of the first half.
Hawthorne quarterback Ashton Navarette broke the back of the MKA defense on a third down and two deep in Cougars territory to get to the MKA eight yard line with 40 seconds left in the second quarter.
While the Cougars defense was looking to stop Hawthorne from scoring before the second quarter elapsed, Navarette had other ideas and ran in from five yards out, and MKA was down by a touchdown.
Despite that score, MKA did not go quietly into halftime.
The Cougars made an attempt to get points on the board and got the ball down to the Hawthorne 23 yard line. But a 40-yard field goal attempt by Silva was blocked.
Overall, MKA’s defense could not stop Navarette, who compiled 217 rushing yards and two touchdown runs.
The MKA defensive backs, led by Hassaneen and Fishback, did keep the Bears’ passing game in check.
The Montclair Kimberley offense seemed to get something going pretty much each time they had the ball, but then would shoot themselves in the foot.
“When you play a real good team, you can’t fumble the ball and make miscues,” said Rea, who added that a big play here or there would have made the difference between winning and losing: “I thought we left a couple plays on the field.”
In the second half, Montclair Kimberley was looking to come from behind, as they have done this season, including the previous weekend where they beat Pingry, 28-14, which gave the Cougars a four-game winning streak.
But this time there would be no comeback, as the Hawthorne defense put the clamps on the potent Cougars passing game.
For Rea and the seniors, they will not only be looking to end the 2020 season on a high note, but also avenge the early-season loss at Morristown Beard.
The season finale is slated for noon Saturday at home against Morristown Beard.
“I think we’ve absolutely gotten better since that game,” Rea said.