by Andrew Garda
As the Montclair High School football season comes to a close, head coach John Fiore must once again say goodbye to a group of seniors.
“They were resilient, they did a good job. At times their inexperience showed, just with finishing things and doing things right all the time,” Fiore said after Saturday’s 27-7 loss in the NJSIAA North I, Group V championship. “They’re great kids, I love them, they deserve to be sent off the right way, but you are what your record is as Parcells says. We’re a 7-5 team, so that’s what we are.”
They are also, as Fiore pointed out, a resilient group. After a bad loss to West Orange in Week Zero, and a frustrating blowout loss in Massillon, Ohio, the Mounties could have folded.
Instead, led by leaders like Willie Matthews, Josh Crawford, Charles Murphy Jr. and Gary Robinson Jr., they rebounded, winning a tough game against East Orange and blowing out Columbia.
While they suffered setbacks against Seton Hall Prep and Irvington High School, the seniors worked to keep the team focused and with their eyes on the prize.
While they fell short against Ridgewood in the final, this is a team many had questions about before the season, which were only amplified after the first West Orange game, when they became ingrained narrative.
Even after winning four of their last six games, the Mounties were underdogs in every playoff game.
Yet, the seniors continued to keep their team focused on the playoffs and a second straight sectional championship game appearance.
Some student-athletes efforts didn’t show up in the subheads of newspaper stories, but were integral anyway.
With injuries mounting up, especially on an offensive line that lost Bo Bigelow for the tail-end of the season, multiple seniors filled in admirably when needed.
Players like Tychanne Palmer and Alejandro Dagnino found themselves stepping up in big moments, with Dagnino standing up a University of Pittsburgh commit in the playoff win over West Orange and Palmer securing a pair of fumbles during two wins.
Underclassmen like Patrick Barr did a great job taking over an interior guard position across from Dagnino. There were returning seniors like Elijah Coates, who transferred back to MHS from DePaul, and made two spectacular plays in Saturday’s loss.
Guys like Dagnino, Barr, Palmer, Terrel Santana, Sebastian Garda, Amarae Witter — they may not be the most dynamic athletes, but when the coaching staff needed them, they did what they had to.
“We got away with Alejandro and Nasir [Wyatt-Thompson] on the left side [of the line] all year, those kids had a combined weight of about 5-8, 170 and they were playing Group V football and they did a great job,” Fiore said. “Love those kids. They’re program kids. Program kids are always going to play here at Montclair. If you’re a kid who is here to be part of the team and you’re willing to do anything, we’re going to find opportunity for you. Alejandro is one of those kids. If you’re healthy and out there all the time, you’re going to get a shot.”
As this group of seniors departs, Fiore and his staff will be looking for more program kids to step up in 2019, which will look much different than this group.
Stats and Stuff
As different as the 2019 team will be from the 2018 one, it won’t be nearly as stark as the those between 2017 and this year.
Whereas last year MHS was fairly balanced between its success on the ground and through the air, this season, the Mounties offense was a lot more successful running the ball than throwing it.
Montclair had two 1,000 yard rushers in 2018, with both Josh Crawford (1,143 yards) and Charles Murphy Jr. (1,002 yards) topping the mark.
Crawford had five games of 100-plus rushing yards, including a three-game streak that was snapped in Saturday’s loss to Ridgewood. His season-high came in a 316-yard, four-touchdown day against Bloomfield.
Murphy had four 100-yard rushing games, including three in a row from Oct. 20 to Nov. 10.
Crawford also scored the most points on the team, as his 19 touchdowns plus his pair of two-point conversions totaled 118 points. Walter King was next closest with 68 points, with Murphy in third with 64.
The offense averaged 30.9 points a game, and 435 all-purpose yards a game. The Mounties averaged just 149.5 yards per game through the air and 234.6 yards a game on the ground, totaling 1,794 passing yards and 2,816 yards rushing over the course of 12 games.
Defensively, Montclair was led by Gary Robinson Jr. and Nareece Wright, each with 75 tackles. Robinson notched two more solo tackles than Wright, who had two more assists. Robinson led the team in tackles for a loss with 12, netting a total of 58 lost yards for opposing offenses. Amarae Witter had the most sacks with 3.5, Robinson trailing him by just half a sack and Shawn Collins totaling three along with Robinson, though Collins had one shared sack while all of Robinson’s were solo.
The Mounties totaled 771 tackles — 68 for a loss — and 19 sacks as a team in 2018.
Walter King and Tariq Jiles each had three interceptions, though King had 10 pass breakups to Jiles’ nine. Montclair had 14 interceptions as a team.
The defense forced 15 fumbles and recovered 23 fumbles overall.
The Mounties defense also allowed 224 points, or just 18.6 points per game. They allowed 1,213 yards through the air, or just over 101 yards a game and 1,876 rushing yards, which works out to just 156.3 yards a game.