Montclair High football licensed to thrill in double-OT win
BY ANDREW GARDA
LIVINGSTON — Sometimes the key to winning is being in the right place at the right time, and that certainly seemed to be the case when the Montclair Mounties (4-4, 4-2 SFC Freedom-Red) came from behind to beat Livingston (3-5, 0-4 SFC Freedom-Red) 20-17 in double-overtime under the lights on Friday, Oct. 22.
With quarterback Drew Pfeifer injured and Solomon Brennan having left the program, freshman Jayden Lee was in the right place to take over as signal-caller when the Mounties needed him.
When Montclair needed a spark on offense, Semaj Adams provided it with several electrifying runs and a key halfback pass that drew a pass interference penalty. And David Thom-Rodgers was in the right place to draw that penalty.
Gage Hammond was in the right place to kick the game-winning field goal, and holder Nate Ullman was the right man to manage a squibbed snap for Hammond to kick.
And Shaun Alexander was absolutely in the right place to pick off Livingston quarterback Brandon Kenney at the goal line to seal the win for Montclair.
“This win is about every single kid on that sideline and every single kid on that field,” head coach Pete Ramiccio said after the victory. “It’s not about a freshman quarterback or anything else like that. Listen, injuries, distractions, outside noise, there is so much stuff going on. I’m so damn proud of these kids. They didn’t give up.”
It may not have just been about a freshman quarterback, but even Ramiccio had to admit Lee did well in what was an enormously hard spot for his first varsity start.
“I give all the credit in the world to Jayden,” Ramiccio said. “We put him in a very difficult situation, in a must-win game under the lights. You couldn’t ask for anything more from the kid, especially for a freshman. To come in like that, knowing he’s outgunned, with a very small portion of the offensive package. What more can we ask?”
Lee’s numbers were far from impressive, as the offense ran the ball 50 times and threw it only six, once you include the Adams pass, which was nullified due to the pass interference penalty. Lee only completed one pass all night, though like everything else for MHS on Friday, it came at the right time.
Down 10-3 with 4:47 left in the game, Lee called for the snap and instantly faced a view he’d seen all night long — a mass of Lancer pass-rushers blowing by his offensive line and bearing down on him.
This time, the Mounties had a plan for that. As the pass rushers sprinted at the freshman, Adams was running a short route in the space the defense had vacated. Lee tossed a short pass over the pass-rushers and into Adams’ hands.
The receiver proceeded to take the ball 60 yards, with Livingston finally dragging him down at their own 22 yard line. Two plays later, Jordan Williams bulled his way for a 14-yard touchdown, and after nine out of their 10 previous drives ended in frustration and no points, Montclair had tied the game.
Lee said offensive coordinator Pat Leonardis was waiting for the right moment to take advantage of an overly aggressive Livingston pass rush.
“[Coach Leonardis] had seen it,” Lee said. “He told us right before the play [that] we’d score, and we didn’t score, but we got a great gain.”
High school football runs its overtime the same way college football does. Each team gets one offensive possession from the 25-yard line. If either team scores a touchdown and the other doesn’t, the game is over. If either team scores a field goal and the other doesn't, the game is also over.
There are three potential offensive drives – or “overtimes” – before the game is called as a tie.
Livingston took the ball first and the Mountie defense looked dominant, stuffing running back Justin Naylor at the 24 and then sacking Kenney for a 16-yard loss. Kenney’s next pass was off-target, and with the ball on the 40, a field goal was pretty much impossible.
Livingston was going to have to go for it on 4th-and-25.
They scored on a 40-yard touchdown pass.
It shouldn’t have stood, as there were multiple linemen downfield, which should have resulted in a touchdown-negating ineligible man downfield penalty, but the officials missed it.
Montclair had no choice but to score a touchdown.
The Mounties put the ball in the hands of Adams, and it was then that he threw his pass to Thom-Rodgers, who drew the pass interference penalty that placed MHS on the 21 yard line. A few plays later, Adams scored on a 14-yard run, and the game was sent into a second overtime.
This time Montclair got the ball first and immediately was called for a false start. Adams and Williams combined for 13 yards over the next three plays, but that put the Mounties short of the first down.
Out trotted Hammond.
Hammond had hit a 24-yard field goal in the first half but had a second attempt blocked when the Lancers got into the backfield during the kick.
This was going to be a 34-yard attempt, with far more pressure on it than his earlier attempts.
When the snap came back, it skittered across the turf. Ullman reached for it.
Ramiccio said that all week long, the Mounties tried different holders. Ullman had been one of them, but not the best.
When the coaching staff asked their kicker whom he wanted prior to the game on Friday night, Hammond told them he felt most comfortable with Ullman holding.
Ullman reined in the ball and set it down perfectly for Hammond, who sent it right through the uprights.
Up 20-17, the Mountie defense now had a chance to avenge its earlier misfortune. On 3rd-and-8, Naylor fumbled the ball, and Montclair nearly had its first turnover of the day, but the ball went out of bounds.
All night, the Mounties had sniffed around the ball, nearly forcing a turnover several times but unable to close the deal.
On 3rd-and-7, with the ball on the 8 yard line, Kenney dropped back and threw a ball across the middle of the field.
Where Alexander was there to intercept it.
Right place, right time.
This was the first regular season overtime win since the team beat North Bergen in 2010, and the first double-overtime win since the 2012 North 1, Group 5 championship win over Bloomfield, which was also its last overtime win of any type.
With the victory MHS secured a playoff spot and a postseason game. Currently, the team sits in the ninth spot in the overall Power Point rankings, which would put it in the same bracket as East Orange and Ridgewood once the 16 playoff teams are divided into two separate brackets. Montclair would be the No. 5 seed in its bracket, which means it would play Phillipsburg (4-3, 3-2 Big Central 5B) on the road.
The Mounties face Orange next week, while Phillipsburg will take on Westfield. It’s conceivable that MHS could flip spots with the Stateliners if they beat Orange — a good bet given Orange’s 1-6 record — and Phillipsburg loses.
Regardless, for Ramiccio and the Mounties, this was a win that showed the fortitude the team has.
“It’s easy to forget, down here on the Hail Mary, that was the first possession of overtime,” Ramiccio said. “We had to come back out on offense and put the ball in the end zone. We had to tie the game, they forced double-overtime, and the kids just didn’t quit. They got up, they picked themselves up, they dusted themselves off, and they made it work.”