Montclair football players surround junior wide receiver Jace Auletta who scored a touchdown in the first quarter against Passaic Tech in the state title game. Montclair football stayed toe-to-toe with undefeated Passaic Tech in the North 1 Group 5 state final but could not get over the top. The Mounties dropped a 34-27 decision to the Bulldogs on Friday night (Nov. 10) in Wayne. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

The Montclair football team gave their best effort to try and hand Passaic Tech its first loss and bring home a state championship.

Mounties head coach Jermain Johnson knew that they would have to put up some big numbers just for his second-seeded team to upset the top seeded Bulldogs at home on Friday night (Nov. 10).

Montclair did just that as the Mounties put up the most points against the Passaic Tech defense this season. Unfortunately for Montclair, the Bulldogs were just one more scoring drive ahead of the Mounties.

The Montclair dream of the first state title since 2017 went up in smoke with a 34-27 defeat at the hands of Passaic Tech. The Mounties finished with an 8-4 record for 2023.

Montclair junior quarterback Malachi ‘Bubba’ Lewis had a big day completing 21-of-27 pass attempts for 312 yards and two touchdowns. His top target was senior wide receiver David Thom-Rogers who caught eight of the passes for 160 yards and a touchdown while two other receivers, both juniors, Jace Auletta and Jayden Lee also contributed. Auletta caught a pair of touchdowns with only three catches for 75 years while Lee grabbed seven passes for 66 yards.

Montclair senior wide receiver David Thom-Rogers (2) makes a running catch that turned into a 36-yard touchdown against Passaic Tech in the state sectional final. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

“We knew that we could score on them, and they have not seen an offense like ours,” said Johnson.

Defensively the key was to stop the Bulldogs running back Trashon Dye who only had 68 yards in the first half; but it was a different story in the second half. Dye would take enough of a control to push Passaic Tech downfield. Dye ran 26 times for 194 yards and three touchdowns.

“He’s a hell of a kid,” said Johnson about Dye who will be playing at Syracuse next season. “He runs hard, and we knew he was going to get the ball. We tried stopping him.”

Along with Dye carrying the Bulldogs, a special teams play might have been the undoing of Montclair, and it came in the first play of the second half.

With Montclair ahead 13-7 heading into the second half, the Mounties kicked the ball to Passaic Tech and unfortunately it was to Bulldogs Jovan Tyrell who ran back the kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. The point after was good and Montclair found themselves down 14-13 with 14 ticks off the third quarter clock.

“You can’t give up those plays,” said Johnson about the kickoff return for a touchdown. “We harped on it and we kicked it to that young man that we didn’t want to.”

But Montclair bounced right back up on offense in the next series where Lewis hit Auletta, who got behind the Passaic Tech defensive backfield, for a 60-yard touchdown connection. Mounties sophomore kicker Quinn Previdi hit the point after, and Montclair regained the lead at 20-14.

“Our kids never stopped fighting,” said Johnson. “We didn’t lay down.”

But again, it was Dye and the Bulldogs who came right back with a 10-play, 63-yard drive that included the Passaic Tech senior carrying the ball seven times for 41 yards that resulted in a touchdown and Montclair was behind again, 21-20 in the third quarter.

Montclair though would just fire back. This time it was a 65-yard drive on seven plays as Lewis hit Auletta on a seven-yard touchdown pass with Previdi kicking the point after and the Mounties regained the lead in the see-saw battle, 27-21, with a couple minutes left in third quarter.

But again, the Montclair defense could not stop Dye and the senior Bulldogs back sprinted 19 yards. The Mounties found themselves down 28-27 with a little more than 10 minutes left in the contest.

And it was Montclair’s turn to respond on the next drive.

Montclair senior Shawn Kirkley (with ball) tries to gain an extra yard on a kickoff return in the state final. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

But Passaic Tech defensive back Cashmere Jones stepped in front of Auletta and picked-off Lewis deep in Montclair territory.

Two plays later and Dye ran in from five yards out to put the Mounties down by seven, 34-27, with eight minutes left. Montclair’s defense did stop Jones from getting in on the two-point conversion that gave the Mounties hope.

Montclair’s next drive started out well as Lewis led the Mounties down to the Passaic Tech 43, but the drive stopped there. On a third-and-19, Lewis was sacked by Passaic Tech’s Kaiden Rex. 

Instead of going for a fourth down-and-33 with a few minutes remaining, Montclair decided to punt with the hope of stopping the Bulldogs on three downs.

But Dye collected a pair of first downs and the Mounties ran out of timeouts and the season ended there.

Like Montclair has in several games this season, the Mounties came out hot and took the ball 85 yards on 14 plays as Montclair running back Richard Williams ran in from one yard out. Previdi kicked the point after for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

But Passaic Tech and Dye came right back as the senior running back scored on a 3-yard run to tie Montclair at 7 in the first quarter.

Montclair would grab the lead heading into halftime as Lewis connected with another receiver, Thom-Rogers, behind the Bulldogs defensive back, this time for a 36-yard touchdown strike. Previdi missed the point after, but the Mounties were still ahead 13-7 heading to halftime.

Edward Kensik writes sports coverage for Montclair Local.

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