It was a heartbreaking end to the 2022 campaign for the Montclair High School football team, which saw its season come to an end without being decided on the field.

Allegations surfaced on the eve of the Mounties’ state playoff game against Ridgewood that an academically ineligible player was on the roster and played during the season.

After Montclair reported the infraction to the state it had to not only forfeit the state playoff game but the team’s four victories. Its 4-4 record before the state game became an 0-9 record.

It's been more than a month since the revelation.

"It was rough in the beginning," said Montclair head coach Jermain Johnson. "But the players did very well with that type of news. You could never replace that empty feeling with getting news like that.

“It’s unfortunate that the seniors had to endure something like that. There are no words or anything you can do to replace that feeling. The only thing you can do is just be strong and attack the next phase in your life."

The Montclair school district is currently investigating the infraction.

To help the team, New York Jets defensive tackle Solomon Thomas came to the high school to talk to the squad and give a message of hope about the future.

"Having the New York Jets come down and talk with our seniors definitely helped, and we definitely appreciate them reaching out to us and giving some words of wisdom to our boys," Johnson said. 

"It’s a nice band-aid to help heal the wounds. And it was nice to see our kids that did go to the Jets game with the tickets they gave our seniors with smiles on their faces."

Despite the screeching halt to the campaign, there were plenty of successes for the new head coach, including the team’s winning the last two games it played, 17-10 over Ridgewood on Oct. 14 and 21-7 over Columbia on Oct. 21. 

"[We didn’t know] what we were going to encounter with the new staff or our kids in such late notice," said Johnson, who received the head coaching job during the summer. "We knew we had something with just how hard the kids fought and how eager they were willing to learn. We started to catch fire with the last two games before the playoffs. We knew we definitely had something with this team."

Montclair senior running back Semaj Adams (2) was one of the top backs in the New Jersey Super Football Conference and was named to the Freedom White Division first team. The Mounties had a 4-4 record before it was disclosed that there was an academically ineligible player who played during the season. Montclair had to forfeit their planned state playoff game with Ridgewood and the four victories. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Montclair senior running back Semaj Adams (2) was one of the top backs in the New Jersey Super Football Conference and was named to the Freedom White Division first team. The Mounties had a 4-4 record before it was disclosed that there was an academically ineligible player who played during the season. Montclair had to forfeit their planned state playoff game with Ridgewood and the four victories. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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The team's best-played contest was the victory over Ridgewood, where it won on the road and secured a state playoff bid. The Mounties came from behind in the second half to win the game. 

"That’s when we knew it all just started to click for us," Johnson said. "We were working on all cylinders finally."

There were several good individual performances for Montclair this season.

Three players were pegged for the All North Jersey Super Football Conference (NJSFC) Freedom White Division first team on offense: junior quarterback Drew Pfeifer, senior running back Semaj Adams and senior offensive lineman Richard Fortune. 

On the other side of the ball, junior defensive lineman Kal Wilson and senior linebacker Justin Bernal collected Freedom White first-team nods. In addition, senior Gage Hammond was the top kicker in the Freedom White Division and was named to the first team.

Pfeifer had a breakout season under center that included an all-around performance at Irvington on Oct. 9. Though it lost in a last-second heartbreaker, 22-21, Montclair would not have been in position to pull off a win without Pfeifer. 

The junior had his best overall day, completing 8 of 16 pass attempts for 115 yards while running nine times for 85 yards. He ran for two touchdowns and threw for another. 

Montclair junior quarterback Drew Pfeifer (5) celebrates with junior wide receiver David Thorn-Rogers (8, right) after Pfeifer scored a touchdown against Irvington. Pfeifer and Thorn-Rogers were named to the New Jersey Super Football Conference Freedom White Division first team and second team respectively. The Mounties had a 4-4 record before it was disclosed that there was an academically ineligible player who played during the season. Montclair had to forfeit their planned state playoff game with Ridgewood and the four victories. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Montclair junior quarterback Drew Pfeifer (5) celebrates with junior wide receiver David Thorn-Rogers (8, right) after Pfeifer scored a touchdown against Irvington. Pfeifer and Thorn-Rogers were named to the New Jersey Super Football Conference Freedom White Division first team and second team respectively. The Mounties had a 4-4 record before it was disclosed that there was an academically ineligible player who played during the season. Montclair had to forfeit their planned state playoff game with Ridgewood and the four victories. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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"Drew is one hell of an athlete," Johnson said. "Being that this was really his first full season at quarterback, we knew this would be his learning year. The kid is a smart kid and is an open book. Willing to learn and to get better at his craft."

Adams did a little of everything on the field, especially at running back. The senior was one of the top running backs in the NJSFC and also excelled on defense. In the victory over Ridgewood, Montclair would have not won the game without Adams. He ran 16 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns and collected a key interception.

 "Mister Adams is just one all-around athlete," the coach said. "He was first team hands-down by all the coaches. He’s an athlete where you can put him anywhere and he is going to go excel at whatever he does. The proof is in the pudding."

Blocking for Pfeifer and Adams was Fortune on the line. "Richard rarely got beat," Johnson said. "He was one of our smarter linemen on the field. He knew where to go and knew where his other linemen were going as well. He was a leader out there and has a bright future ahead of him if he chooses to play football on the next level."

On defense, it was Wilson and Bernal who led Montclair to clamp down on the opponent’s offense. 

Wilson put constant pressure on the opposing quarterback with plenty of energy and speed.

"Wilson had a major motor," Johnson said. "He could never stay blocked. He had some serious key sacks during the season at crucial times. He’s not the biggest defensive end, but he is one of the fastest ones. He works extremely hard, and he knows how to get after it."

Bernal was the leader of the defense as one of the team captains. "He led our defense and probably was one of our toughest kids on the team," the coach said. "He was the quarterback of our defense. He has a bright future ahead of him wherever he goes to play in college."

Hammond had one of the strongest legs in New Jersey, be it kicking or punting. "He had some major punts where the ball stayed in the air for about four seconds," Johnson said. "He is by far the best kicker and punter I’ve ever coached. The coaches in the league all thought the same. And thought very highly of him."  

Other team members also received All NJSFC Freedom White Division honors. Making the second team on offense were senior Chris Monderoy and junior David Thorn-Rogers; on defense, seniors Jahaad Williams and Isaiah Holmes. Gaining honorable mention was senior Tyler McCauley.