The Montclair Kimberley football team traveled to the Bronx a few weeks ago and took care of Horace Mann during the regular season.

For most high school sports teams, it’s hard to sweep the same team during the season. 

And that's what the Cougars were facing in another trip to Mann in the Metropolitan Independent Football League playoffs semifinals. 

Montclair Kimberley took care of Horace Mann, 21-13, in the first game on Oct. 8. Head coach Anthony Rea and the Cougars were looking for a repeat on Saturday, Nov. 5.

But it was not to be, as third-seeded MKA dropped a 17-8 decision to second-seeded Horace Mann.

Despite the defeat and being one win away from the MIFL finals, Rea said that down the road the season will feel like a success, as the team went 5-4 with only four seniors, two of whom were playing football for the first time.

"I think with time brings perspective, and it never feels good to lose, but with only four seniors, this year was a success for us," the coach said. "To have a winning season for the second time in three years, that's a great thing for our program."

Rea said this go-round at Mann would be a stiffer challenge for his Cougars.

"We knew it was going to be a difficult task going on the road this weekend to beat Horace Mann again," he said, adding that the first game was very close. 

"They had three starters back who were out the last time we played, and the last game was extremely close last time in terms of yardage (285 yards for Horace Mann, 280 for MKA)."

MKA senior quarterback Jordan Fishback, shown against Newark Academy, compiled 80 total yards at Horace Mann on Nov. 5. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
MKA senior quarterback Jordan Fishback, shown against Newark Academy, compiled 80 total yards at Horace Mann on Nov. 5. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

The Cougars kept it close heading into the fourth quarter after senior running back Nic Lembo scored on a five-yard touchdown in the third quarter. And then Lembo went on to complete the two-point conversion.

The eight points put MKA in striking distance, down only 14-8 heading into the fourth quarter.

Horace Mann added a field goal, but Montclair Kimberley could not get back into the end zone to make it any closer.

Despite the defeat, Lembo had another big day for the Cougars.

Not only did he get the touchdown and the two-point conversion, he collected an interception on defense that set up that lone Montclair Kimberley touchdown. On the day Lembo carried the ball 23 times for 87 yards, while on defense the senior made 16 tackles.

For the season Lembo eclipsed the thousand-yard rushing mark.

Coming into the second contest with Mann, Rea said that there were not many changes that were made. One of the top up-and-coming freshmen for the Cougars has been Finn MacEvoy, who started the second game at inside linebacker to go along with Lembo at linebacker. Sophomore Kalvin Thomas moved to outside linebacker. 

The Cougars also tweaked things on the other side of the ball. "We also worked on some new offensive concepts, but nothing too far from what we have done all season," Rea said.

Along with Lembo's offensive numbers, senior quarterback Jordan Fishback completed 3 of 7 pass attempts for 64 yards while rushing for 16 yards. Fishback also had four tackles on defense.

The other key members on the MKA defense were sophomore Oscar Douglas and junior Nate Conforti, with nine tackles each.

With 24 of the 28 players expected to return in 2023, Montclair Kimberley is looking ahead for big things for next season.