The inexperienced, young Montclair Kimberley football team took on the worst possible team they could in their season opener.

The Cougars, who have only six seniors on the roster, faced an experienced, senior-heavy Hopatcong team that not only was playing at home with a game under their belt, while also being a more physical team.

The result was a 23-0 defeat at the hands of the Chiefs on Friday, Sept. 1 in an independent contest. Montclair Kimberley (0-1) holds its home opener against Dalton in a Metropolitan Independent Football League (MIFL) game on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2 p.m.

Montclair Kimberley junior quarterback Miles Black (center) looks for a receiver against Hopatcong. Montclair Kimberley dropped its season opener for 2023 with a 23-0 verdict at Hopatcong on Sept. 1. The Cougars had three good chances in the red zone to score in the first half but came up empty each time. Montclair Kimberley has its home opener on Saturday, Sept. 9 against Dalton at 2 p.m. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

“This was a challenge for us to get adjusted physically,” said Montclair Kimberley head coach Anthony Rea about going up against Hopatcong. “When you are not the biggest team in the world, it is tough.”

While the Cougars are quicker this season, they have less size overall on the team. 

With Montclair Kimberley down by two or more touchdowns in the second half, junior quarterback Miles Black had to throw more than usual. The junior completed 6-of-18 pass attempts for 86 yards.

Montclair Kimberley junior running back Kalvin Thomas (13) looks to hit the hole against Hopatcong. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

On the ground Cougars junior Kalvin Thomas had the best success with 75 yards on 14 carries while MKA junior running back Will Simms had two carries for 11 yards.

Hopatcong took advantage of their physical advantage and it was apparent in the second half as the Chiefs registered a pair of touchdowns and a field goal.

In the halftime talk, the MKA coach told his team they were still in the game as the Cougars received the opening kickoff of the second half.

“We were getting the ball down 7-0 and if we put a drive together, we can tie the game,” said Rea. “We were trying to get the ball to our playmakers (in the second half).”

Instead, the first Montclair Kimberley drive of the second half quickly sputtered at their own 36 and the Cougars were forced to punt.

Montclair Kimberley junior running back Will Simms (left) tries to avoid the tackle by Hopatcong. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

On the next drive, Hopatcong churned out a time-consuming 11-play drive that ended with the Chiefs’ Ryan White scoring on a third and goal from the six-yard line to take a 14-0 lead.

Down 14-0, MKA’s defense gave up a 57-yard touchdown run by Chiefs’ Kiyon Simpson on the first play of the fourth quarter.

While Hopatcong added a field goal late in the game, it turned out the game was decided in the first half.

After the Chiefs went up 7-0 in the first quarter, Montclair Kimberley had three golden opportunities, all in the red zone in the first half, but all three came up empty.

“We were just one broken tackle away or just one catch away from a touchdown,” said Rea about the first half.

The best opportunity of the three for the Cougars came early in the second quarter.

Black hit junior wide receiver Jack Scuorzo on a 22-yard pass to get to the Chiefs three-yard line.

But a holding call against the Cougars pushed MKA back; they never were able to get any closer. Black and junior wide receiver Josh Katz appeared to connect on a pass for a touchdown, but it went incomplete. On a fourth and goal at the 13, Black was sacked to end the drive.

Montclair Kimberley looked to make up for the failed drive on the next ensuing drive, but the Cougars came up short at the Hopatcong 11 to end the first half.

During the final drive of the first half, MKA tried a trick play, a flea flicker, from Black to sophomore Nate Chou, who passed to senior Jaylen Ankrah-Jones, but the pass fell short.

Unfortunately for the Cougars, their offense spent almost the entire second half in their own half of the field. The furthest Montclair Kimberley got into the Hopatcong side of the field was the 44-yard line.

Edward Kensick writes sports, news and features for Montclair Local.

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