EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange Campus made it known to all comers that they were on a mission to win. Fresh off their big, combined win of 56-0 on all three levels of their freshmen, junior varsity and varsity football team over Montclair last week, it was only fitting that they put the Knights of Paterson Kennedy on notice that they were next. All week long, head coach Rae Oliver’s crew practiced fast and loose preparing for the unexpected as the Knights were set to march into Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange on Oct. 17.
Knights head coach Ron Jackson knew he had a tough test on his hands after suffering a 28-0 loss to Columbia and then having last week’s game against Passaic Tech canceled due to COVID-19 reasons.
“We started later than most programs because we weren’t sure if the school district and our school leadership were going to allow fall sports this year,” Jackson said after the game. But, to their merit, the Knights showed their big play capabilities, which could give a few opponents a wakeup call as they are looking to use their youth against more experienced teams.
East Orange on the other hand had other things in mind as they received the ball first to open the game. After a 5-yard false start penalty backed them up to their own 44-yard line, last week’s breakout star, junior running back Damon Phillips, made quick work of the excellent field position the Jaguars were in. Phillips broke off two big runs of 15 and 29 yards, respectively, to put East Orange on the 5-yard line of the Knights, knocking on their front door. East Orange rode that wave two plays later with Phillips diving through the bottom of the Knights defense, giving his Jaguars an early 7-0 after teammate Geraldo Gibson nailed the PAT kick. The Knights, led by junior quarterback Jaiden Santisteban, did not have time to settle into a rhythm as the hungry Jaguars defensive line was led by junior defensive tackle Elijah McClain made his introductions with a sack, setting the tone for Locksley Burke and company to have a field day. But before Burke could have his fun on defense, he chipped in on offense late in the first quarter after teammate Phillips peeled off another 35-yard run, setting up a very quick possession of four plays on 38 yards and Burke’s 3-yard dash to pay dirt with Gibson doing justice on the PAT kick for a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was all Jaguars as they rang up 21 points to put the game out of reach. But that almost didn’t take as Jags quarterback Raeden Oliver was in the process of marching the Jaguars in for another score to begin the second frame as Knights sophomore defensive back Rah’Meir Frye broke on a pass intended for Terrell Neals for an interception, giving Paterson Kennedy a glimmer of hope to show its sparks. On a third and long play they almost did. Santisteban saw his chance when delivered a beautiful pass by his wide receiver, Leobardo Acevedo, who was wide open and had nothing but real estate in front of him. Acevedo attempted to haul in the pass and run, but East Orange’s defensive backfield recovered in the nick of time, forcing Acevedo to drop the ball, which also entailed the Knights punting the ball away. Again, Burke capped a speedy six-play, 25-yard drive from 2 yards out for the Jags from his running back position. Again, Gibson’s due diligence on his kicking duties gave the Jags a 21-0 stretch early in the second quarter.
But Burke was not done as he began to create all kinds of havoc on the opposing Kennedy offense from his middle linebacker spot. Burke — who brought in eight tackles including two for a loss; one sack; and one forced fumble — added to his amazing day when he forced a fumble giving his defensive end, Ahmad Nalls, the opportunity to palm the fumbled ball with one hand as he told his defensive line to go. It was a big man convoy as Nalls rumbled behind his defensive line, led by Moungue Nyame, Burke and company, with the Knights hot on Nalls’ heels for a 50-yard return, putting East Orange way out in front at 28-0 after Gibson’s kick with just 6:44 left in the half. The tag team of Raeden Oliver, Neals and Phillips made its final appearance of the day when Oliver found Neals in a one-on-one situation where he had his man beat by a yard, but made a pretty cut, beating Knights defensive back Kyle Readus back to the ball for a 31-yard hookup that put East Orange just inside the Knights’ 20-yard line. Phillips hit the spin cycle out of the clutches of Paterson’s defensive line before muscling his way with four Knight tacklers draped on him for the final score from 19 yards out with 3:05 left in the first half. East Orange tallied up 300 yards on the day with 48 yards passing and 252 yards rushing. Phillips finished with 18 carries, 153 yards and two touchdowns.
“We want to show our kids the proper way of winning and keeping things classy,” Rae Oliver said. “This speaks to our style of play and the kids learning from the examples we set as coaches, men, fathers, mentors and teachers.”
With this win, it is the first time that East Orange pitched a back-to-back shutout since 2012, under former head coach Marion Bell, who now coaches at Newark West Side. Coach Oliver was mildly impressed with the news since his attention was on the upcoming showdown with West Orange and their head coach, Darnell Grant. Ironically enough, Montclair fell to the Mountaineers, 35-6, giving both Oranges a clear shot at the North Jersey Super Football Conference–Liberty White Title. East Orange is a two-time defending champion and is looking to add its third under head coach Oliver.
“We will see what our team is made of when they come in here Saturday afternoon,” he said. West Orange, now 2-1, opened its season losing badly to St. Peter’s Prep, 62-21, then promptly took Bloomfield to the woodshed for a 62-0 shutout.
West Orange will look to avenge the 8-6 overtime loss from a year ago as East Orange will look to keep their record untarnished.
“We are slowly letting people know we are not the same team they were used to playing in the past,” Oliver said. He reiterated his motto of keeping the players in mind first and making sure they know they have someone in their corner no matter what. The battle for the division title kicks off at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24, at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange.
Photos Courtesy of Kerry Porter