Montclair Football: Mounties stumble against Irvington, 34-21
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
by Andrew Garda
IRVINGTON—The Montclair High School football team was battling Irvington back and forth Friday night, until a series of unfortunate events in the final 3:30 of the first half swung the game.
Irvington’s Zakee Swann ran for a 24-yard touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, the Mounties’ All-State linebacker, Willie Matthews, pulled up lame with what turned out to be a season-ending Achilles injury. Then, after a quick 3-and-out by the Montclair offense, Irvington took advantage of a controversial no-call to score on a long pass play.
The sequence, along with some second-half mistakes, helped add up to a 34-21 Mountie loss in the regular-season finale Friday night in Irvington.
“Way too many [mistakes],” said head coach John Fiore. “Way too many. But we didn’t have a great week of practice. We knew [Irvington’s] running back was slippery and we had to make plays on him and we didn’t.“
Defensively, the Mounties (5-4) allowed a season-high 414 yards in the loss, and the offense committed three turnovers, including a backbreaking interception to ended a 17-play march that began the third quarter.
It was that kind of night.
While the loss did not prevent Montclair from claiming the No. 1 seed in the upcoming NJSIAA North 1, Group V playoffs — the Mounties host No. 8 West Orange this Saturday, Nov. 3, 1 p.m., at Woodman Field — the Irvington result should set off some rather loud alarm bells because more often than not, the Mounties were their own worst enemy.
After Nasir Clerk’s 39-yard touchdown pass just before halftime, in which the Irvington receiver appeared to shove down Montclair cornerback Steven Rose prior to making the catch, the homestanding Blue Knights led 20-7 at the half. But Montclair methodically marched down the field, including a big 4th-down conversion screen pass from Charles Murphy Jr. to Rose, to get inside the Irvington 10-yard line.
On 3rd-and-6 from the 8, Murphy took the snap, and ran to his left. His receivers were well covered, but he appeared to have some open space to run, setting up a possible fourth down from closer to the goal line if he didn’t reach the end zone. However, Murphy threw on the run, trying to slip the ball between two defenders to a receiver in the end zone, where it was intercepted.
It ended up being a 14-point swing, as Irvington (6-3) answered right back with an instant touchdown drive capped by Taiyon Battle’s 49-yard touchdown to a wide-open Raymond Simmons down the seam, which extended the Blue Knight lead to 27-7.
Murphy, who was 3-of-22 with just 94 yards passing on the day, struggled to find his receivers throughout the game, and he was victimized by a few drops. But even though Montclair was running the ball well — Murphy had 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 18 carries, while Josh Crawford totalled 109 yards and a score on 24 carries — the Mountie offense stalled as incompletions mounted.
Murphy did pull a touchdown back when he sprinted 37 yards with 4:19 left in the third, cutting the deficit to 27-14.
However, Irvington carved up the Mountie defense on an 83-yard touchdown run by the Blue Knight quarterback Battle early in the fourth quarter, which put the game out of reach.
Crawford pulled Montclair back within two scores when he ran for a 9-yard touchdown with 7:28 to play — set up by a 65-yard pass from Murphy to Kyshawn King — but the Mounties only had the ball one more time, as Irvington successfully ran the clock out.
Meanwhile, the Mountie special teams struggled on the night.
Twice, Montclair punt returners either misread or misplayed a kick, once resulting in a turnover which Irvington turned into touchdown.
The passing defense allowed a pair of touchdowns and 142 yards to a quarterback who had thrown for only 281 yards and two touchdowns in the previous eight games.
And while the defensive line, led by senior Gary Robinson Jr. and Shawn Collins, played well, there were too many missed or poorly executed tackles by linebackers and defensive backs alike, with the exception of Matthews, who racked up eight tackles before exiting just before halftime.
There were some positives. Robinson has had a stellar season, and manhandled the opposition on both offense and defense (7 tackles, 2 for loss Friday). Collins has become a force opposite Robinson on defense.
There were some issues on defense, but they can be corrected. The Montclair offense stalled a lot, and that along with some onside kicks, the Mounties didn’t recover and put the defense on a short field too often. All things being equal, they played well as a unit.
Unfortunately, the Mounties will be entering the playoffs with two key members of the team on the shelf, with Matthews suffering an achilles injury and senior offensive lineman Bo Bigelow aggravating a leg injury in the second half.
Matthews went down awkwardly while attempting to field a kickoff, as he stepped forward to plant his foot before doubling over, grabbing his calf and falling to the turf.
Bigelow, the Virginia commit, has been working hard to come back from knee issues throughout the season and seemed to aggravate his leg during a play in the second half. Unlike Matthews, it isn’t definite whether the injury is season-ending, depending on how deep into the playoffs Montclair can go.
Luckily for Montclair, they have had enough time to build depth on the offensive line, in part because they have had to deal with numerous injuries there. Not only that, but Patrick Barr returned to the lineup against Irvington and not only played well, but came through the game healthy.
Those two things should help keep the offensive line stable.
“We’ve got some depth so we’ve got Alejandro [Dagnino] and [Sebastian] Garda,” Fiore said. “They have to be ready with Bo out.”
And while losing leaders like Matthews and Bigelow hurts, there are still players like Josh Crawford, and Robinson to forge a path forward.