by Andrew Garda

WEST ORANGE —Saturday’s back-and-forth battle between the Montclair Mounties and the Seton Hall Prep Pirates packed as much action into the final 2:16 as they had the entire game.

After coming from behind twice, Montclair (3-3, 2-1) couldn’t pull off a miracle a third time, falling to the Pirates (4-2, 0-1), 29-28 last Saturday at the Kelly Athletic Complex.

“This should have been a different outcome,” head coach John Fiore said after the loss. “I’m sick to my stomach right now.”

The Mounties had just taken their first lead of the game off of a 65-yard pass from quarterback Charles Murphy Jr. to receiver Walter King to take a 28-21 lead.

On the play, run out of the “muddle” formation which sets the quarterback and the center alone in the middle with the offensive line and a running back to their left and, in this case, Walter King to the far right, Murphy took the snap and ran to his right, drawing most of the Pirate defense along with him.

King was left in one-on-one coverage down the sideline, and when the ball arrived, made an athletic one-handed grab back and over the defender, who then failed to tackle him.

The Pirates didn’t give up, and put together a five-play, 80-yard drive of their own, capped by a two-point conversion to go up 29-28.

“I’m going to put it on my back, I should have called timeout when they lined up for two,” Fiore said. “But I’m in a dilemma there. If they get [the conversion], I’ve got one and change with two timeouts, but if I call a timeout there and they get it, I got one and change with one time out. I want to give us the best opportunity to win and we didn’t line up right. Comes down to that.”

Whether or not the Mounties would have been able to stop 6-foot, 4-inch, 210 pound Aiden Gilman as he bulled his way for the conversion if they had aligned differently can be debated, but the Mounties still had a chance to win the game, if very little time.

In the end, however, it wasn’t to be, though Fiore would later say kicker Jacob Manthey could hit a field goal from as far as 38 yards.

Unfortunately, poor decision-making and dropped passes once again doomed Montclair.

First, a receiver not getting out of bounds forced Fiore to spend his first of two timeouts. Then, passes were dropped on back-to-back plays. Receiver Jeikson Boyle drew a pass interference penalty and put the Mounties on the 36-yard line, with 14 seconds to go, but then there was another dropped pass along the sideline.

With eight seconds left, Murphy was then forced out of the pocket and, with almost no time left, tossed a shovel pass to running back Josh Crawford, who was unable to get out of bounds. Fiore tried to spend his last time out, but the officials didn’t give it to him.

The game was over.

“The difference in the game comes down to the final two drives,” Fiore said. “Their receivers didn’t drop any passes, we dropped three. That’s what it comes down to.”

The dropped passes continue to be a somewhat baffling problem for the Mounties, who Fiore said catch everything thrown their way by coaches and JUGS machines during practice.

Something happens when the team hits the field though, and while they overcame it briefly on Saturday, early on it was as big an issue as it became late in the game.


“Everything was there today,” Fiore said. “We just started catching the ball and Murph stopped checking to the wrong play. We dropped two of those RPOs early, which would have got us first downs on that [initial] drive. We have to catch the ball. It’s real simple. Balls thrown to you, catch it.”

It’s especially frustrating for Fiore, who feels that his quarterback has taken great strides this season as he was thrust back under center after a year of playing receiver.

“Charles Murphy is not our issue,” Fiore said. “[He] is the best football player we’ve got. Gary Robinson’s next. But we’ve got to get everyone else to the level [they’re] playing at.”

While the outcome was bad, the Mounties did make some positive strides. The offensive line played well, and for much of the game the defense, especially along the defensive line, was stout.

Both Walter and Kyshawn King made some very good catches, as did Boyle.

And it looks as though Willie Matthews may take the field again this coming weekend against Bloomfield.

On the downside, two offensive linemen were banged up, as was Murphy.

No matter who lines up on the field, though, Fiore and his coaches expect them to step up and play hard.

“Love the kids effort, love the kids fight. Everybody thought that team was better than us. My coaching staff and I knew we were better than them, but we didn’t get it done today.  It’s disappointing because I know we’re a better team than we’ve been playing.”

The Mounties have another chance to perform like that team Fiore believes them to be this Saturday at Woodman Field when they face Bloomfield High School at 1 p.m.