East Orange Campus HS football team defeats Pope John to improve to 7-0

EAST ORANGE, NJ — “When was the last time East Orange Campus started with a record of 6-0 or better?” asked East Orange Campus High School head coach Rae Oliver after his squad walked out of Sparta with a big win over non-public Pope John XXIII Regional High School. As piece of trivia and speculation it was initially believed that the Jaguars haven’t beaten a non-public high school in more than four years. However, after a little digging into the record books, the answers to the asked and unasked questions will surprise many of the fans out there. But more on that in a few moments.

By all means, East Orange Campus’ record should read seven wins and zero losses thanks to the unexpected week off when Newark East Side High School forfeited/postponed last week’s game at Paul Robeson Stadium. “We tried to get a replacement for that game to no avail,” said Oliver, who confirmed that the possibility of this happening took place after their win against Livingston. Pope John on the other hand came into Saturday’s game, Oct. 16, riding a four-game skid where its lone win was against Paramus Catholic back in week 2 with a decisive blowout 55-6 only losing to Seton Hall Prep and Delbarton prior to the aforementioned win. 

East Orange would get things going late in the first quarter after trading punts and turnover on downs with the Lions. Senior QB Raeden Oliver and RB Damon Phillips made things interesting as they connected on an 18-yard pass to set up Phillips’ eventual 4-yard skip into the house to go up 7-0. “We have to give credit to our kicker, Geraldo Gibson,” Coach Oliver said after the game. Gibson’s eventual kickoff was something unintentional, or was it? “Let’s keep that as my little secret,” joked Gibson when asked about it. He kicked a dribbler that smacked a Pope John kickoff return player in the knees that gave the Jags the ball back with 2:15 left in the opening quarter. 

Pope John LB Sean Line had other ideas when he snagged an interception and returned the ball to the East Orange 10-yard line. But penalties and a stingy defense led by Moungue Nyame who had a sack, 3 tackles for losses, 2 assisted tackles, and 7 solo tackles, only garnered Pope John a 30-yard field goal by kicker Jack Morgese to cut East Orange’s lead to 7-3.

The Jags found themselves in unfamiliar territory at the start of the second quarter. After a dismal series where Pope John forced a fourth-and-22 situation, forcing a punt from Geraldo Gibson to the East Orange 42-yard line. Pope John QB Zac Cusick threw a 20-yard connection to RB Bryce Mafaro to set up a go-ahead touchdown pass to TE Billy DeSena-Guthrie from 8 yards out and taking a small lead 10-7 with 6:51 in the half. 

The Jaguars weren’t impressed with the Lions’ lead as they marched 75 yards in 8 plays with Damon Phillips doing the honors from 10 yards out to regain the lead 14-10 with 3:25 left in the half. Pope John head coach Dom Gaston said after the game, “East Orange did an excellent job with their play calling. We are a relatively young squad, and we just didn’t play our best game.” East Orange’s Rae Oliver would come back on the next possession with just 2:15 after DB Josh Richards’ interception snag from Lions QB Zac Cusick. Oliver ushered his squad 82 yards finding BJ Covington on an inside screen play who would dance his way through heavy Lions’ traffic for a 25-yard score to stretch Campus’ lead 21-10 at the half.

The third and fourth quarters were an all-out battle royale as both teams were not able get past the opposite 20-yard line. Pope John played clock management, eating almost six-and-a-half minutes and not allowing the Jags to get going. The Lions pulled out their rally caps and had upset on their mind, forcing 2 three-and-outs all while scoring a 29-yard Jack Morgese field goal to pull within a touchdown 21-13. “You came up here to a 1-5 team,” stated Coach Oliver. “They played like they were not a typical 1-5 squad.” He went on to say that he was proud of how his team executed its game plan with the subtle nuances and physicality. “We have a few players who played with some serious injuries, but they kept their heads in, not allowing anything to affect them which I am proud of them for,” he said. When asked about being undefeated, Coach Oliver stated that it was a great feeling but right now his squad is 0-0. 

Now getting back to the question at hand of when was the last time East Orange Campus High School went undefeated through the first seven weeks of the season? The answer would be under former head coach Marion Bell in 2010 and 2011. For added measure, in 2011 East Orange Campus had defeated two non-publics in Seton Hall and Pope John. East Orange will have a week off before closing out the regular season with a neighborhood meeting with the Roughriders of Newark West Side High School on Oct. 30 for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Paul Robeson stadium. Pope John will play its final home game of the season as St. Peter’s Prep will come to Sparta as they both will play for their playoff positioning with two weeks left.