BY ANDREW GARDA
MONTVALE — The Montclair High School football team rolled into Montvale on Saturday, Oct. 2, to take on the St. Joseph Green Knights, hoping to steal a win from the No. 9 team in the state.
Instead, the Mounties (2-3, 2-1 SFC-Freedom Red) were treated as an unwanted houseguest, as the Knights (3-2, 1-1 SFC-United White) unceremoniously hammered visiting Montclair, 38-0.
It didn’t start off that badly for Montclair, which chose to receive the opening kickoff to try to grab some early momentum.
It looked like it was working, too, as the kickoff went out of bounds and set Montclair up on its 40 yard line. Then quarterback Solomon Brennan and Montclair’s offense got to work, moving the ball down the field until they reached a first and 10 at the Knights’ 21 yard line.
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But two straight Jordan Williams runs went nowhere, and as Brennan lined up under center, it looked very much as if the Mounties might have to settle for a field goal. Even if they didn’t get a touchdown, that field goal would have been a great start against a defense that allowed just 11 points during its last two wins and 56 points overall, while the offense scored 118.
Every point would count for Montclair.
Unfortunately, Brennan’s third-down pass was short and intercepted by the Knights’ Jalen Wade.
“That definitely hurt momentum,” head coach Pete Ramiccio said after the loss. “I mean, listen, there are a lot of things that hurt us, but to come out like that, move the ball and then kind of shoot ourselves in the foot a little bit? You can’t do that against a team like this.”
It was the last time the Mounties had much in the way of offensive momentum.
“When you play an elite football program, you can’t give them freebies,” Ramiccio said. “You can’t give them opportunities. “
Montclair would give St. Joseph’s too many opportunities during the game, but the first one seemed to hurt the most.
“We took the ball, wanted to get the offense on the field, on a level playing field in a scoreless game. Usually we defer,” Ramiccio said. “We get out there, move the ball a little bit, pick up some first downs, getting into the red zone almost, and we just shot ourselves in the foot. Maybe [if we] throw it away, we’ve got a shot of getting three out of that [drive] at least.”
The game quickly devolved into anarchy for Montclair, which had no answer for the massive offensive and defensive lines that St. Joe’s brought to bear, nor the punishing running backs the Knights had on their roster.
Out of eight drives, St. Joe’s scored on six, and one of those drives was just taking a knee to finish the game. They began their drives in Montclair territory three times, finishing them with touchdowns twice and a field goal once. Even when they began a drive buried deep in their own territory, they methodically drove down the field.
St. Joe’s converted three out of seven third-down attempts, but even when they failed to gain enough yards for a first down on third, they converted three out of three times on fourth down attempts, with their fourth fourth-down attempt resulting in a field goal.
If those stats weren’t enough to shock Mountie fans, the 107 yards of offense by MHS would do it, especially compared to the Knights’ 450 yards. Montclair had just four first downs, compared to St. Joe’s 24, ran for just 75 yards compared to 314 and passed for 32 yards while the Knights had 136.
The score could have been much worse, as St Joe’s receivers dropped two sure touchdowns, as well as another pass that might have resulted in one.
All that being said, Montclair still gained more than it lost in this game, as even a lopsided loss like this is worth a tremendous number of power points, one of the main factors in deciding playoff seeding come the postseason. In order to encourage public schools to play private and parochial schools, the NJSIAA offers schools a large number of points just for showing up.
For example, Montclair gained 36 power points in Saturday’s game, despite the loss. That’s more points than it gained beating East Side (11) and Bloomfield (14) combined.
Win-loss records, as well as school size and public versus private designation, factor into what power points are awarded for a win or loss, and what a win over a particular school would bring today could be totally different from what it would bring when Montclair meets them on the scheduled day.
Right now, Montclair sits in the No. 12 seed for the North Group 5 playoffs, a relatively comfortable 6.4 points ahead of No. 13 Hackensack. A win over Columbia, its next opponent and the team right behind Montclair in the division, could help MHS even more, and if the Mounties can beat West Orange on Friday, Oct. 15 — a difficult but completely realistic possibility — Montclair could gain a considerable number of points. The Livingston game on Friday, Oct. 22, is also a game Montclair can win, which would provide a solid number of power points.
Once Montclair gets into the playoffs, it’s wide open. East Orange continues to be the class of the division and a dangerous team, but the Mounties stand a strong chance of avoiding them for a big chunk of the playoffs.
Making the playoffs is no sure thing, even with the points the team received at St. Joe’s. Montclair needs to win the games in the back half of the schedule, especially against a team like West Orange.
That isn’t to say the loss to St. Joe’s doesn’t matter.
“Everything matters,” Ramiccio said. “I think really, for us, it’s more now a mental hurdle than anything else. We have to mentally wrap our heads around the idea that did we play well? No. Did we get it put to us a little bit? Yeah. But you know what, we have the second half of the season, [it’s] a little lighter on the schedule. Back in the division, back against good rivals like Columbia, West Orange.”
If they can right the ship, shake off the hit they took this weekend and bounce back, there is still a lot they can accomplish this season.
“We still have everything in front of us. We still are on the road to getting into the postseason. We’re still on the road to making waves,” Ramiccio said. “We just have to make sure that mentally we have that mind-set. And we just have to take this day, take it for what it is, tip your hat to a good football team that pushed you around the field a little bit, put that in your pocket and go get the next one.”
For the Mounties, that next one takes place on Saturday, Oct. 9, against Columbia at Woodman Field. Kickoff is 1 p.m.