On a day of remembrance, Sept. 11, there was something missing from the steady fanfare at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange: a familiar boom that can be heard several blocks away, yelling a familiar catchphrase — “Touchdown Jaguars!” That catchphrase was from the Jaguars’ longtime public address announcer Mike Davis, who died in the spring.
It was a day of remembrance of the same date 20 years ago, when the United States and the world as we knew it changed. “We are here to remember the 3,000-plus lives lost on that fateful day of 9/11/2001,” said East Orange Campus Athletic Director Michael Baldwin prior to the opening kickoff in the football game against Bloomfield High School. “This day has changed us, and for those of you who were too young to understand this, we lost more than souls that day. America was targeted by terrorists with the ultimate attack on democracy.” He went on to say that the game was being dedicated to those who lost loved ones.
With that, the East Orange Campus Jaguars huddled together for last instructions from Head Coach Rae Oliver and his staff, deferred the opening kickoff at the coin toss and then proceeded to flex their muscles all over the Bengals in the opening quarter of play. The Bengals’ offense couldn’t muster a yard, as the Jaguars’ stifling defense, led by Ahmad Nalls and Kyle Louis, kept the spunky Bengals at bay. Bloomfield, which was coming off a near upset of Nutley with a 18-13 loss in the opening week, was forced to punt the ball in the opening series. East Orange’s quarterback Raeden Oliver, 17-20 passing, 197 yards, three touchdowns, was a cool customer, as he spread the ball around to his star players, starting with running back Damon Phillips, who ripped off 14 carries for 197 yards and two touchdowns, along with the receiving corps of Sharif Bryan, Josh Richards, and Kyle Louis, each breaking into the house for a score. It was Bryan who caught a beautiful ball from Oliver for a 46-yard airdrop to the house. “It was something I recognized in their defense that I knew they were going to do,” Oliver said after the game. “Sharif just did an excellent job of making an adjustment, which gave us our first score of the game.” Sure enough, that was the opening the Jags were looking for, as they quickly piled up two more scores, thanks to the key fumble recovery by BJ Covington. That put the Jags on the Bengals’ 40-yard line with just 8:42 left in the first half. Oliver again saw something, this time calling for Richards to take a 40-yard delivery to the house to put the Jags up 14-0.
Bloomfield, led by Jaden Adkins, did not have an answer for East Orange, as they were just too strong, and it showed with the amount of offsetting penalties on both squads. But the penalty bug got the better of the Bengals, as they were penalized nearly 75 yards on small infractions and a small handful of defensive-pass interference calls. That did not slow Jaguars running back Damon Phillips down at all. He went headfirst behind his front line, led by Nalls and Dieunerst Collin, for an 8-yard burst, to score his first touchdown of the day and increase the lead to 21-0 after the PAT kick split the uprights to end the half after a 94-yard punt return was called back.
During the halftime festivities, East Orange AD Michael Baldwin asked for a moment of silence for all the men and women who served in defense of our nation and the state of New Jersey.
Baldwin concluded the ceremony with the reading of an excerpt from an article on the late Michael Davis, who was the longtime announcer for all of East Orange youth and high school sports. He coined several catchphrases, depending on the season he was in. Baldwin stated, “No matter where he was, everyone joined Mike, better known as ‘Big Mike.’ He adopted several kids as his own, to make sure they got the best in care and enjoyed the fun when he took them to pro football, basketball, and baseball games. He was the leader in getting major sponsors like the New York Jets, Giants, Nets, NJ Devils to help with grants and sponsorships that benefited our community. All of his family and friends all agreed that Mike definitely was a legend, and for that we are renaming our press box at Paul Robeson Stadium the Michael J. Davis Press Box.”
The second half was pretty much all Jags, as Bloomfield tried to play keep-away with the opening kickoff in the third quarter. Oliver’s group set up shop on their own 35-yard line and was expecting to grind out a long drive, but Phillips had other plans. He took the first handoff of the quarter, looking to sneak underneath the Bengals’ interior defensive line but instead pulled a jump cut backward and slid to his right before hitting the turbo button and launching up the Jags’ sideline for 65 yards with the Bengals in hot pursuit. For a small millisecond the whole stadium gasped, as three Bloomfield defenders all had Phillips in their grasps around the Bloomfield 10-yard line. But Phillips just stiff-armed one, batted the second behind him and just shimmied his hips as the third swung out of bounds like a hula hoop hitting turbulence, while pushing the score to 27-0. Midway through the third quarter, Oliver struck again, this time finding Louis by his lonesome, airmailing the ball 38 yards for what would be the final score of the 34-0 game. “We want to clean up some things still,” said Head Coach Rae Oliver, “but I am pleased with the outcome of the game.” He went on to say that some of the calls that quarterback Raeden Oliver made were set up so that he could adjust as he saw the game progressed.
Bloomfield Head Coach Mike Carter said, “Although we lost to a great East Orange team, I am happy with our progress, and we are on the cusp of breaking through.” He is looking forward to the first win of the 2021 season, as his squad will continue its road trip to North Bergen next week. East Orange, which improved to 2-0 on the season, will hit the road for their first road game of the season, when they will face Columbia at Underhill Field in Maplewood, overlooking Newark’s Ivy Hill section. Both games will be on Friday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m.
Mike Davis would have closed out the game saying, “We thank you for coming out and supporting your East Orange Campus High School Jaguars. Please be safe as you exit the premises, and have a pleasant afternoon from Robeson. The Jaguars win! The Jaguars win!” Remembrance of a familiar boom.
Photos Courtesy of Kerry E. Porter