BY ANDREW GARDA
School has just ended and summer is just getting started, but for the Montclair High School football team, the season never really stops.
And now that the 2021 schedule has been released, the Mounties know what they must get ready for as they prepare to move into the SFC-Freedom Red division.
After grinding to a 4-4 (1-2 SFC-Liberty White) record, the Mounties took only a little time off before hitting the weight rooms. The team worked out all winter and spring before the offense headed into 7-on-7 tournaments. The team gets back on the field after July 4, preparing for the fall.
It’s going to be a tough hill for the Mounties to climb once things get started, beginning with a road game on Saturday, Sept. 4, against East Orange (5-2, 3-1 SFC-Liberty White), which beat them at Woodman Field last year, 13-0.
The Jaguars will have quarterback Raeden Oliver back under center, and Damon Phillips will likely lead the backfield, though EO uses multiple backs to attack a defensive front.
The team then stays on the road to face Ridgewood for the first time since the Maroons beat MHS at Woodman in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group 5 championship game 27-7 in 2018. The game is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 10.
Ridgewood tore up the SFC-Liberty Red division last season, compiling a 5-0 record while going 9-3 overall. The Mounties will probably see senior Liam Tarleton under center in place of the graduated Will Mollihan. Will Cardew, who gained 1,339 yards and scored 18 touchdowns, has graduated, but Ridgewood has several backs who can pitch in, and Tom Bourque, who led the team in receiving, will return.
Montclair finally gets back to Woodman Field for the home opener on Saturday, Sept. 18, against Newark East Side. The Red Raiders are coming off a very tough 2020 season, with just one win in six games, their lone victory coming against Kearny in the final game of the season. A lot of their top players graduated, so the Red Raiders are a bit of an unknown quantity.
MHS stays home on Sept. 25 as they welcome Bloomfield to “The Wood” for a “blue-out game,” where fans are encouraged to wear their Mountie blue. The Bengals suffered a 2020 similar to East Side’s, compiling a 1-6 (0-3 SFC-Liberty White) record, including a 57-14 opening week walloping at the hands of the Mounties.
Week five brings perhaps Montclair’s biggest challenge as they head to Robert J. Dinallo Stadium in Montvale to take on St. Joseph’s. Head coach John Fiore always schedules a private school, which normally is Seton Hall Prep, but this fall it will be the Green Knights the Mounties take on. St. Joseph’s put together a 6-2 (2-2 SFC-United Red) record last year, with its only two losses coming against perennial powerhouses Bergen Catholic and St. Peter’s Prep.
Montclair is home again on Saturday, Oct. 9, for another division game, this time against Columbia, which put together a 4-3 (2-2 SFC-Freedom White) record last season. The Cougars lost a lot of starters on offense to graduation, and the Mounties will be facing a team with some new pieces in new places.
It gets very tough again the next week, as the Mounties travel to West Orange for a “Friday Night Lights” game on Oct. 15. The Mountaineers have been a thorn in Montclair’s side the last few years: The Mounties have lost three of the last four meetings.
Oct. 22 brings the Mounties to Livingston, and if West Orange is Montclair’s Achilles’ heel, the last three years MHS is absolutely the Lancers’. The two schools didn’t meet last season, as Livingston had massive COVID issues across its athletic department, forcing cancellations in many sports. The Lancers limped to a 1-4 (1-2 SFC-Liberty White) record. The last time Livingston beat Montclair was in 2010, in a 44-43 game.
Montclair’s final game of the regular season will be at home for Senior Day on Saturday, Oct. 30, against Orange High School. The Tornados went 5-3 (2-3 SFC-Freedom White) last season, finishing fourth in their division.
After that, if the Mounties play to their potential, they should be able to snag a spot in the NJSIAA first round, and if that’s the case, they have every shot at making a run to the Sectional — and Regional — finals.