by Andrew Garda

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Union City has been a source of frustration for the Montclair High School football team for two years. Ask any player, especially seniors, about it and they’ll tell you — this is a game they’ve circled. Before the season, both Danny Webb and Tarrin Earle mentioned that learning how to finish games was a focal point of the offseason and while the losses to Ridgewood loom large in that equation, the losses to Union City the last two years — particularly last season’s 7-0 loss — stand as games the Mounties could have won, but couldn’t quite pull out.

The frustrating thing about losing to the Eagles is they don’t do anything the Mounties should struggle with, on either side of the ball.

On offense, they love to call interior runs. Heck, they love to call runs, period.

UC will call a run 70-80 percent of the time from their own end zone to the opposing team’s 20-yard line. Once they get in the red zone they almost never call a pass play and at the goal line, they have yet to throw the ball this season.

In their defense, a look at their film tells you that they aren’t particularly dangerous throwing the ball, which may be the reason they don’t do it. That’s not to say the Mounties secondary can set up lawn chairs and catch a nap — just that they should expect to spend more time angle-tackling runners out of the backfield than they will trying to defend passes.

Knowing that, the key to the Mounties defense really comes down to what their defensive tackles can do in shoring up the interior, and what kind of help the middle linebackers can be assisting that effort.

When they run, they usually hand the ball off to senior tailback Izayah Reyes, who leads the team with 45 carries for 209 yards with two touchdowns. He’s a solid runner who can flash a little speed as well as push the pile, but the Mounties defensive front shouldn’t struggle with him too hard.

If MHS can force the Eagles to face a third and long, and UC has to throw, the opportunity for turnovers should be significant.

Defensively, Union City also plays to the Mounties’ strengths.

Yes, they will probably focus on Danny Webb, as any team in its right mind would do. However, looking at their defensive front — usually a 4-3 defense (four down linemen and three linebackers) — there is a lot of room for the Mountie offensive line to blow holes open for Webb. And once Webb gets to the second level, he’s really only one missed tackle away from a massive gain.

What if the Eagles stack the line, though? What if they decide to bottle up Webb?

Well, it only sort of worked last year. Webb carried the ball 16 times for 87 yards but was kept out of the end zone. The Eagles seemed happy to let him run up and down the field if they could stop the Mounties in the red zone.

The Mounties tried to throw the ball quite a bit last year, and while Earle’s numbers weren’t pretty (9 of 20 for 111 and an interception), the Mounties were hurt by several drops. Had several of those throws been hauled in, drives would have been extended and in all likelihood that game would have been different. This year, the game is in Bloomfield, not on the windy rooftop in Union City. That should help the passing game quite a bit.

Finally, the Eagles don’t bring heavy pressure unless it’s third down and long yardage or you’re in the red zone. They are content to just rush four defensive linemen most of the time. That should give the Mounties a numerical advantage on nearly every other down, as they should outnumber the pass rushers 5-to-4 at the snap. If you add in Webb or another back as a blocker, or throw in tight end Elias Ottens as a blocker, the numbers shift even more in MHS’ favor.

At that point, all the Mounties need to do is find a seam, gain some separation and hold on to the ball.

Odds and Ends and Stats

It’s only two games in, and the competition hasn’t been all that fantastic, but it’s worth looking at the stats to see how the Mounties are performing right now.

Offensively, most of the sample size is composed of Danny Webb, who has amassed 227 yards and seven touchdowns with an 11.9-yards-per carry average on just 19 carries. He hasn’t had a full load of carries yet, nor have his two companions in the backfield, Willie Matthews and Josh Crawford. Matthews had one huge 73-yard touchdown against Livingston, while Crawford has had two touchdowns brought back by flags.

Once you add in all the extra ballcarriers — Tarrin Earle’s quarterback sneaks, occasional jet sweeps by receivers like DJ Williams — the Mounties’ ground attack has totaled 391 yards already on just 52 carries.

Defensively, the Mounties continue to swarm the ball, which means a lot of guys get tackles. Some players stand head and shoulders above the rest, like Matthews, Mike Herring, Kristian Woods and Amare Witter, all of whom are tied for the team lead in tackles with 10. Jaire Gray is right behind them with nine, and Max Jennings has amassed seven so far.

The Mounties defense has forced six fumbles, recovering five of them, including Walter King’s fumble return for a touchdown in Week 1. They’ve also intercepted opposing quarterbacks four times on 36 passing attempts.