by Edward Kensik
for Montclair Local

CODEY FIELD—Head coach John Finnegan's return to the Immaculate Conception  sideline got off on the right foot Saturday, Sept. 7.

The Lions gave Finnegan a “welcome back” present with a 41-7 victory over in-town rival Montclair Kimberley Academy at home in the season opener for both teams, the second straight season-opening win over MKA following the Lions’ 12-7 triumph last year.

Finnegan, who had a successful 12-year run as the head coach at Seton Hall Prep from 2003-14, helped lead Immaculate to two NJSIAA state titles during his original stint with the school, from 1986 to 2002.

It wasn't the most sterling game of football, but for Week 1, it was something to take with them for next week's contest at Morristown-Beard this Saturday, Sept. 14, at 1 p.m.

"I was happy with the offense," said Finnegan about the new Wing-T run and spread passing principles he has instituted. 

The Lions’ three-headed rushing attack gave MKA fits, with senior running back Christopher Jones rushing for 108 yards and a touchdown, senior running back Amilkar Love adding 101 yards and a score, and senior quarterback Kody Gibbs carrying five times for 60 yards and a touchdown as well.

“We knew Jones, Love and Gibbs could break one at any time, and although we had a lot of plays we were able to contain them, they have such great ability that you knew they'd be able to get loose at some point," said MKA head coach Anthony Rea. 

Love, conspicuous by his ultra-yellow gloves, got loose on an electrifying 85-yard touchdown run in the first half, appearing to have been stopped before springing free. 

"I knew it they couldn't tackle me," said Love. "I knew coming in that they would go for my legs. I kept throwing them down and kept my legs going."

And while the ICHS offense stepped up, Finnegan also also lauded the Lions’ defense.

 "We were just trying to shut them down and shut them out,” the coach said. “I give a lot credit to [first-year defensive coordinator] Rasul Artis."

The Lions dominated the first half and went into the locker room with a 19-0 advantage.

Immaculate senior quarterback Kody Gibbs (1, center) sprints through the MKA defense en route to a 44-yard touchdown run.
Immaculate senior quarterback Kody Gibbs (1, center) sprints through the MKA defense en route to a 44-yard touchdown run.

But the Cougars received new life when Jones fumbled the ball on the first play of the second half, and MKA freshman Will Hofmann recovered the loose ball.

Four plays later, Cougars senior quarterback Nareen Rajani (3-for-8 for 37 yards and a touchdown) rolled left and hit his favorite receiver, senior wide receiver Jack O'Connell (5 catches for 67 yards), for a 17-yard touchdown pass that sliced the Lions’ lead to 19-7.

Rea’s Cougars rotated at quarterback, with Rajani and sophomore Jake Pryor combining to throw for 119 yards.

But Jones made amends for his fumble in a big way midway through the third quarter, blowing through the MKA front line and sprinting 55 yards for a touchdown that pretty much broke the Cougars’ backs.

"I had an opportunity to make amends, to make it up to my team," said Jones about the long TD run. "I like to see the light and run hard.”

And Immaculate senior full back Kevin Duarte put the icing on the cake with a pair of touchdowns, including a 75-yard punt return and a 30-yard rushing score, both in the fourth quarter.

"I thought our effort for a majority of the game was tremendous," said Rea. "I thought we let it get away a bit at the end. We need to continue to get better even when it is late in the fourth quarter in a game that may be out of reach. All the credit to Immaculate, however, as that's a really good football team."

The Cougars will seek their first win at Van Brunt Field this Saturday, Sept. 14, when they host Glen Ridge at 2 p.m.

"In terms of improvement, we just want to get better each week," said Rea. "We want to make more plays and continue to work and show what we are capable of doing."