EAST ORANGE, NJ – In a rare set of occurrences, the Columbia High School varsity football team Cougars found themselves outpacing the East Orange Campus High School Jaguars as they escaped with a 34-28 upset in the Jaguars’ home opener this past Saturday. Campus was riding a 61-15 rout over Week 1 opponent Memorial High School and was looking to do the same to Columbia.
The Cougars had other ideas right from the opening kickoff as they returned the ball 90 yards to the East Orange 10-yard line. Two plays later, they threw the first punch with a two-yard touchdown skip by FB C.J Nwanonyiri early in the first quarter. The Cougars continued to press the gas pedal when they found their way to the end zone again when QB Luke Hayes found Nile Garcia on a 25-yard strike for the go-ahead 14-0 lead which capped a five-play, 58-drive. But the Jaguars suddenly woke up with just over five minutes to go in the opening quarter.
The Jaguars, with just two quick, big runs by RB Giovanni Shine, were in striking distance of the end zone. The Jaguars decided to air it out after their running attack found a little snag from the Cougar defense, giving East Orange QB Quraan Dixon an opportunity to find his streaking WR Naseem White on a 45-yard connection to pull within a touchdown, 14-7, in a four-play, 62-yard drive with just 5:03 left in the first quarter.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Cougars put on their track shoes and torched the field with a big run of 40 yards. A personal foul called against East Orange put the ball on the Jaguar 25-yard line. Columbia QB Luke Hayes squeezed through the Jaguars’ tough defensive front three plays later on a third-and-short play and scooted 11 yards to put the Cougars back in control with a two-touchdown lead of 21-7 with 3:34 left in the first quarter. East Orange responded with an 11-play, 77-yard march that spanned the remainder of the first quarter and the beginning of the second. The Jaguars were led by RB Giovanni Shine, who had three key first downs to spark the Jaguars offense with runs of 15, 25, and 10 yards, along with QB Quraan Dixon’s 15-yard scramble and short-yardage specialist Nasir Neal helping on key conversions. The Jaguars found paydirt when Dixon found Fayeson Carney sneaking through the middle of the Cougars’ defensive backfield for a 22-yard strike and once again giving the Jaguars an opportunity to pull within a touchdown, 21-14, with 10:26 remaining in the half.
After trading a pair of three-and-outs, Columbia decided to catch an unsuspecting Jaguars defense with a fake knee with the first half drawing to a close with just 27.1 remaining. The combination of QB Luke Hayes and his WR proved to be deadly as they connected on a 60-yard quick strike that put the Cougars up 28-14 at the half.
“We were caught unprepared on that play,” stated East Orange Head Coach Al-Majid Hutchins. He felt that his team should have been on alert for this and could have prevented this from happening. But the Jaguars came roaring in the second half. QB Quraan Dixon engineered an eight-play, 58-yard drive that was capped with a 22-yard strike to his WR Fayeson Carney bringing East Orange within a touchdown. East Orange’s defense found a way to stop the Cougars’ quick strike attack. They held to a scoreless quarter, giving East Orange an opportunity to pull even and a possible late-game victory.
With the third quarter drawing to a close, East Orange backup QB Rady Jose Rojas-Portilla found running room as he led his team to an impressive seven-play, 46-yard drive that he capped off with a 1-yard dive into the house to tie the game 28-28 at the top of the final quarter. The Cougars were scrambling to keep the Jaguars off balance as East Orange was starting to show their grit. However, the Cougars took advantage of a low East Orange snap as the Jags were set to punt on fourth down with under 5 minutes left in the game. The referees ruled the ball dead on the East Orange 22-yard line when punter Naseem White knelt down to retrieve the ball and inadvertently touched the ground with his knee. That was all Columbia needed as the Hayes-to -Garcia duo connected on 23-yard quick strike to put their squad back on top after the missed PAT 34-28 with 4:10 left in the final frame. East Orange was able to get down into Columbia’s territory, but a costly dropped pass from East Orange QB Quraan Dixon to his WR Eddie Marshall with less than two minutes left sealed the victory for Columbia as they escaped with the win.
“We underestimated our opponent. It is just that simple,” said Hutchins to his squad after the game. “There were things we will work on this week in preparation for Friday’s game against Livingston at 7 p.m.” When asked about the last time East Orange lost to Columbia, he stated, “It has been a long time. It’s not that often that we will lose to them on the football field.”
Columbia, which was coming off a 42-6 loss to Bloomfield, was ecstatic with this victory. They will go on to face West Orange on Friday Night as well in West Orange. Meanwhile, East Orange will host Livingston at home at Paul Robeson Stadium before taking a bye week and hitting the road for Paterson Kennedy and Montclair.