Senior running back Josh Crawford cuts through a gap on his way to a big gain during Montclair’s 35-0 win in the first round of the NJSIAA North I, Group V playoffs.

by Andrew Garda

The Montclair Mounties got a win, and a bit of revenge, Saturday afternoon as they defeated the West Orange Mountaineers 35-0 in the first round of the the NJSIAA North I, Group V playoffs.

“This group, I love this group,” head coach John Fiore said. “They’ve had a lot to handle. We were 5-4 for a reason, but I think they got it finally. This week was probably our most focused week in practice that we’ve had.”

The result was as dominating a performance as the Mounties have had this season.

Offensively, they did it on the ground, behind a tough offensive line and with the legs of quarterback Charles Murphy Jr. and Josh Crawford. On defense, Montclair strangled the West Orange ground attack with constant pressure and good tackling.

The result was a Montclair rushing total of 287 yards and four touchdowns, while West Orange was only able to gain three first downs on offense, one of which was due to a penalty.

Things picked up quickly for the Mounties, after the Mountaineers chose to receive the kickoff they stalled on their first drive.

Their punt was caught by the wind, so Montclair took over on the Mountaineers’ 41-yard line. They then executed a flawless drive down the field with senior captains Murphy and Crawford alternating runs. Murphy would cap the drive off with a four-yard touchdown, and with Jacob Manthey’s extra point, the Mounties were quickly up seven points.

After the Mounties kicked off, West Orange’s offense was shut down by the Mounties defense again. Montclair’s offense went back to the ground and pound, this time with Crawford burying an eight-yard touchdown run to finish it.

“I was just reading my blocks,” Crawford said after the game. “We’ve for the best offensive line coach in the state, so when it comes to that stuff, gaps are always open.”

The Montclair offensive line opens a massive hole for running back Josh Crawford during the Mounties 35-0 win over West Orange in the first round of the NJSIAA playoffs.

The Mounties only threw nine times all day, though one attempt resulted in a 35-yard touchdown pass from Murphy to Walter King.

There was very little the Mounties offense couldn’t do, and a big part of day’s success was the physicality of the offensive line.

“It was a dogfight,” guard Pat Barr said. “They’ve got some pretty decent cats up front, but all week we worked hard on fighting against that. Running the ball really hard and trying to get the guys out of there, getting vertical. It was a great group effort up front, especially those two first drives. We just charged down the field like a well-oiled machine.”

Fiore was impressed with the whole line as well, especially Alejandro Dagnino, who took over the left guard position with Bo Bigelow out. Dagnino spent most of his day grappling with a defensive lineman destined to play Division 1 college ball at the University of Pittsburgh, and won that battle more often than not.

“That was a mistake. Alejandro dominated him,” Fiore said. “All 5 foot 6, 190 pounds just beating up that guy. The O-line has been playing tough all year. The fact that Alejandro did have a kid from Pitt over him, and he came up big? He did a great job. Patty Barr, Gary Robinson, Nasir [Wyatt-Thompson]. All of them did great.”

Meanwhile, the Mountie defense put together its most impressive four quarters of the season, limiting West Orange (3-7) to just 74 total yards of offense.

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Led by excellent games from Crawford as well as Gary Robinson Jr. and Shawn Collins, the Mounties locked down the Mountaineer rushing attack, bottling up sophomore Shakhi Carson in his first game back since he was injured against Paterson Kennedy in September.

Carson, who lit the Mounties up for 192 yards in Week 0 looked like a different back and found no room against a tenacious defensive line.

“It wasn’t just me and Shawn, it was the whole defense,” Robinson said after the game. “The whole defense executed the game plan, and did a great job. The coaches gave it to us, we just executed the game plan, it was that simple.”

Prior to the game, there was a lot made of what the absence of All-State linebacker Willie Matthews would mean for the Montclair defense.

However, with each WO drive ending in futility Matthews’ absence didn’t factor in. All throughout the day, Robinson, Collins and Crawford were always in the thick of it, punishing ball-carriers and dropping them behind the line of scrimmage.

“You gotta give credit to defensive coaches [Jamie] Bittner, [Peter] Ramiccio, Dan Roberts and Henry Wilson,” Fiore said. “The defensive game plan was on point.”

Now that West Orange is out of the way, the Mounties will turn their attention to the North Bergen. The No. 5 seed Bruins won handily on the road at Hackensack, 28-19 and are a big, tough team which, like everyone in the bracket, likes to run the ball.

The Mounties will have to play bigger and tougher if they are to keep their home win streak – now at 13 games, dating back to October, 2016 – alive.

“North Bergen is going to be tough,” Fiore said. “They’re not afraid of us, we’ve got to go out there and impose our will. And if we do that, hopefully we’ll have a state final at Woodman Field. Which would be awesome.”

Crawford agreed the team had to quickly refocus if they want that possibility to become reality.

“Back to work,” Crawford said. “It’s not over.”