The Montclair football team did not make it easy at times in their repeat performance against Columbia on Saturday.
But it was good enough to give the third-seeded Mounties their first state playoff win in five years as they dispatched the sixth-seeded Cougars, 19-7, at Woodman Field in the first round of the North 1 Group 5 state playoffs. In 2018, Montclair reached the North 1 Group 5 title game when they lost to Ridgewood.
Montclair (7-3) now has a chance to reach a state sectional final this season but will have to get past second-seeded Watchung Hills (8-2) on the road on Friday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. in the state semifinal contest.
Coming into Saturday’s repeat contest against Columbia, it was going to be tough for the Mounties to repeat the 42-7 win over the same Columbia team the week before (Oct. 21) in Maplewood.
Montclair head coach knew the second of the back-to-back would be a tougher tussle against the Cougars.
“No, it’s not even close to being easy,” said Johnson. “Kudos to Columbia, they were ready and well prepared for us defensively and attacked us.”
While Montclair dominated in the regular season game, the Mounties needed a drive in the third quarter to put away the pesky Cougars, who cut the lead down to six, 13-7 midway through the third quarter.
After Columbia scored their lone touchdown of the game, Montclair made sure they would move to the next round of the states.
Mounties junior quarterback Malachi “Bubba” Lewis directed an 80-yard drive right after the Cougars score and capped off by a three-yard run from junior running back Ja-Khi Chance for a touchdown. Chance ran three times in the drive for 49 yards in the drive. While Lewis’ throw to junior wide receiver Jace Auletta was incomplete, Montclair increased its lead to 19-7.
“It feels good,” said Chance, who was on last season’s team that saw their state title hopes go up in smoke before the first playoff game. “I think after last year, we fell short. I have tears in my eyes (about playing postseason football this year). We pushed through and did what we had to do and now we move on to the next round.”
Lewis knew in the late third-quarter drive that they needed to get in the end zone.
“As the coaches said, ‘let’s hurry up’ and do the no-huddle,” said Lewis. “We executed well.”
Johnson concurred with his quarterback. “We tried to wear them down and we did,” added the Montclair head coach.
Lewis completed 7-of-15 pass attempts for 163 yards and one touchdown. The one touchdown was a 57-yard strike to junior wide receiver Jace Auletta, almost a duplicate of a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver David-Thom Rogers in the regular season win over Columbia. “We didn’t want to change up much and just wanted to do what worked,” added Lewis.
The Mounties junior signal caller admitted it was a tougher Cougars defense this time around.
“It’s definitely hard to beat a team twice and they fought hard,” said Lewis, who was intercepted once in the state playoff match. “They did not want to go out.”
Lewis hit five different receivers, with Auletta (57 yards) and Thom-Rogers (40 yards) leading the way in receiving yards.
Chance had 10 carries on the ground for 73 yards, while junior running back Oswald Russell Jr. led the Mounties with 77 yards on 14 carries.
On defense, Chance and seniors Kal Wilson, David-Thom Rogers, Manny Robinson and Jeffrey White made sure Columbia would not pull off the upset as they put the clamps on the Cougars’ top offensive producers in quarterback Charlie Morrison and running back Steve Memo with Memo only producing a five-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Chance said defensively, there were not many adjustments in the state playoff game against the Columbia offense. “It was nothing too major, just stopping the screens,” said the junior defensive back.