It was a tough pill to swallow for the Montclair football team on
Friday night at Montclair State University.

The 2022 Mounties were looking to be the first Montclair team to beat West Orange in five years in the battle between the bitter rivals.

But they came up seven yards and an extra point short, dropping a 13-7 decision.

The Mounties and junior quarterback Drew Pfeifer were driving at the West Orange seven with less than two minutes remaining.

On a fourth down and goal, Pfeifer rolled out to his right and scoured the end zone. He found two seniors in the corner, Isaiah Holm and Samaj Adams, but his pass was over their heads and in turn ended the game.

Afterward Montclair head coach Jermain Johnson, coaching his first game for the Mounties, told his team that they still have games to win this season.

"I told them to keep their heads up and don't quit," Johnson said, knowing that the game meant bragging rights for West Orange, which has won five consecutive contests in the rivalry. "We can't sulk because we're going 7-1."

The difference may have been West Orange senior Saboor Karriem, who scored both touchdowns for the Mountaineers. Karriem is a former Mountie who moved to West Orange a couple of years ago.

Montclair quarterback Drew Pfeifer, center, looks for running room against West Orange. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Montclair quarterback Drew Pfeifer, center, looks for running room against West Orange. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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Montclair got on the scoreboard via the defense. With West Orange starting quarterback Quran Ali on the sideline with an injury, the Mounties defense took advantage of a miscue of a high snap over West Orange backup quarterback I'yan Gainer, who tried to regain the ball in the end zone for at least a safety, but Montclair’s Adams grabbed it for a touchdown. Kicker Gage Hammond locked the point after to tie the game at 7 in the third quarter. 

Unfortunately for the Mounties, Ali was back under center on the next drive and led his team down the field. On a second and long, he threw out to Karriem, who ran down the sideline in front of the West Orange bench for a 25-yard touchdown pass. The point was missed, and Montclair faced a 13-7 deficit with three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Defenses ruled the season opener for both teams.

The Montclair defense — led by senior linemen Nelson Claremont, Richard Fortune, Jahaad Williams and Chris Monderoy and junior Kai Wilson  – kept a high-powered West Orange offense under control.

Montclair head coach Jermain Johnson gives his team a pre-game speech before taking the field. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Montclair head coach Jermain Johnson gives his team a pre-game speech before taking the field. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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But with a new offensive scheme from a new coaching staff, the Montclair offense struggled on the night.

Pfeifer was out of sync with his receivers, going 7-for-16 for 48 yards. In addition, the junior quarterback was pressured for most of the game with a young offensive line, rushing 10 times for 39 yards. "It's a new system and one that they are getting used to," Johnson said. "We will start getting our groove going."

The running backs, like senior Justin Bernal, did not have much room for running. Bernal had four carries for 17 yards. Five different players got carries but could not get going.

One of the biggest potential plays in favor of the Mounties came in the second quarter, before West Orange scored. Mountaineers punter Terrell Wilfong muffed the kick, but regained the ball at about the 10 and streaked down the West Orange line. But Montclair was called for a personal foul and instead of getting the ball deep in West Orange territory, the Mounties found themselves at their own 36. The Montclair drive would end at their 48.

For Johnson, the personal foul, along with other penalties, contributed to the defeat. "We shot ourselves in the foot," he said.

Instead of Montclair drawing first blood, it was the Mountaineers.

Montclair junior David Thom-Rogers, 8, gets help from junior running back Yasin Lathan, 41, in blocking against West Orange in the season opener at Montclair State University. Montclair football fell seven yards short of a possible victory over rival West Orange on Friday, Sept. 2. The Mounties missed out on scoring on downs in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter at the West Orange seven and fell 13-7. The Mounties next travel to Nutley on Friday, Sept. 9.
Montclair junior David Thom-Rogers, 8, gets help from junior running back Yasin Lathan, 41, in blocking against West Orange in the season opener at Montclair State University. Montclair football fell seven yards short of a possible victory over rival West Orange on Friday, Sept. 2. The Mounties missed out on scoring on downs in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter at the West Orange seven and fell 13-7. The Mounties next travel to Nutley on Friday, Sept. 9.
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In the second quarter, Karriem was able to make a catch from Ali between two Montclair defenders that would turn into a 59-yard touchdown reception with eight minutes remaining before halftime. The extra point was good, and Montclair was behind, 7-0.

Montclair looks for its first win on Friday, Sept. 9, at Nutley at 6:30 p.m. in an inter North Jersey Super Football Conference contest. On Saturday, Sept. 17, the Mounties start their NJSFC Freedom White Division schedule, hosting Union City at home at 1 p.m.

Montclair has won four of its last five games against Nutley, including a 49-21 victory in 2019. Nutley, which is 1-0, defeated Bloomfield, 20-7, in its season opener at home on Sept. 1.

The Raiders went 6-4 last year and received a state playoff bid. Coming into this season, Nutley is led offensively by a pair of seniors, running back Mitchell Mainiero and wide receiver Vincenzo Rizzuto, who combined for more than 700 total yards last year. 

Montclair Football Schedule
(Dates and times subject to change)
Sept. 9 at Nutley, 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 17 Union City, 1 p.m.
Sept. 22 at Livingston, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 1 East Orange, 2 p.m.
Oct. 8 at Irvington, 1 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Ridgewood, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 Columbia, 1 p.m.