Kickers only get press if they miss or hit a big kick in a football game.
Montclair’s state game on Friday night was tied at 21 with six seconds left in the game and the pressure was on Mounties sophomore kicker Quinn Previdi to hit the 27-yard field goal that would win the game.
And with junior Teryq White setting a perfect hold, Previdi hit the field goal with room to spare, Montclair erupted into a moment of celebration between team members, fans and students.
With three seconds left Watchung Hills tried the hook and ladder with the Montclair fans on pins and needles. While it worked for a couple of laterals, the Mounties defense finally stopped Watchung Hills at midfield.
With third-seeded Mounties 24-21 win over second-seeded Watchung Hills in the North 1 Group 5 semifinals, Montclair (8-3) will now travel to top-seeded Passaic Tech (11-0) on Friday, Nov. 10, probably at 7 p.m. in the state sectional title game. The last time the Mounties faced Passaic Tech was in 2021 where Montclair lost 20-14 in triple overtime in the North 1 Group 5 first round contest in Wayne.
Coaches called Previdi’s personality ‘happy go lucky’ but the sophomore sort of admitted there were some nerves when he was chosen to kick the field goal. For Previdi it was his first varsity points.
“I was a little nervous,” said Previdi, who said he talks often with last year’s Montclair all-state kicker Gage Hammond, now kicking at Wesleyan University.
Previdi, who was practicing field goal attempts at halftime, wasn’t sure he would be called. “The coach said keep your leg warm just in case, just to be safe,” said Previdi.
For Johnson, it came down to the holder. The usual place kicker, senior Ben Price, struggled hitting the first two-point afters with a new holder, White, as opposed to the usual place holder, junior Jayden Lee who suffered an injury earlier in the game. But the Montclair head coach was confident in Previdi.
“He had it all year,” said Johnson about what he saw of Previdi outside of the games. “He looks good at practice and that is why I made the decision.”
Montclair would have never had a shot at the field goal if not for junior quarterback Malachi ‘Bubba’ Lewis’s drive that started on their own 23 with 1:11 left on the game clock in the fourth quarter. Lewis made some big throws to a pair of wide receivers, junior Jace Auletta and senior David Thom-Rogers to get to the Watchung Hills 9-yard line. “We were just going to the short game,” said Lewis who completed 14-of-22 for 242 yards, touchdown along with a rushing touchdown and a two-point conversion. “They were throwing a zone at us all night so we couldn’t go deep on them.”
You also can’t forget a run from junior running back Ja-Khi Chance who rumbled 30 yards on a third down and four.
In the first half, Montclair set the tone on their first drive.
The Mounties went 70 yards to get on the board first with a key play being a 48-yard pass as Auletta got behind the Watchung Hills defense. Price just got the kick over the bar to give Montclair a 7-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game. “We’ve been doing that all year, coming out hot,” said Lewis.
The Mounties continued to stay hot as senior Jeffrey White picked off a Sitkowski pass in the Watchung Hills end setting Montclair on the 22 of Watchung Hills. Six plays later, Lewis took it in himself on a three-yard run. While Price missed the point after, Montclair led 13-0 in the first quarter.
After Watchung Hills scored twice to take a 14-13 lead, Montclair responded with a 73-yard drive that was capped by a Lewis 7-yard touchdown pass to junior running back Richard Williams. And then on the two-point conversion, Lewis just got in on a scramble and hit the pile on to give the Mounties back the lead, 21-14, with less than six minutes left in the game.
On the next drive, Watchung Hills tied the game at 21 with a four-yard touchdown run by quarterback Aleks Sitkowski, but that only set up the Mounties heroics for the game-winning field goal.
Montclair’s defense kept Watchung Hills off the board including what might have been a game-saving stand in the waning seconds of the first half.
With Watchung Hills on the Montclair 7-yard line, the Mounties defense with seniors Manny Robinson, Tal Wilson, Akie Green, Asani Brown and Wesley Mathis, would eventually stop the Warriors on a fourth and goal at the Montclair three-yard line with only six seconds left in the first half.
Defensively, the Mounties were bend don’t break when it came to Watchung Hill’s top weapon, quarterback Aleks Sitkowski. In addition, Montclair’s defense received takeaways with a fumble recovery from Chance and Thom-Rogers along with an interception from White.
While Sitkowski put some big numbers with 261 total yards, Montclair did the job in the red zone twice as the Warriors came up empty including stopping Watchung Hills from scoring in the final seconds of the first half.
“Their quarterback is obviously tremendous, and we worried about him all week,” said Johnson. We give the defense a challenge every week and this week’s challenge is stop number four (Sitkowski).”