EAST ORANGE, NJ – On a seasonally cold wet and rainy Saturday afternoon, Oct. 22, the Bengals of Bloomfield High School saw their undefeated football season go away as the Jaguars of East Orange Campus High School pounced on them in a statement win.
“We were looking forward to this game,” said Bloomfield High School Head Coach Mike Carter before the game “They always play us close and I expect nothing less from them.” Carter had his squad riding an unblemished record of 5-0 and leading their opponents 186-57 in combined points prior to the start of Saturday’s contest.
From the opening kickoff the two big cat squads squared off to a defensive struggle of seismic proportions as they both instituted a bend-but-don’t-break attitude as they exchanged three-and-out series coupled with four punts throughout the first quarter and into the second. East Orange DT Khalil Holcolmb led the way with a break out game as he finished with eight tackles, which included a sack and three tackles for a loss. But that was not all as his teammates all got in on the fun midway through the second quarter starting with big plays from QB Q’uran Dixon as he was found wide receivers Eddie Marshall and Naseem White on big play passes that gave the Jaguars a 12-0 lead going into the final four minutes in the first half. Dixon with the help of RB/WR Rady Rojas-Portilla and WR Eddie Marshall the Jaguars took advantage of a 7-play 94 yard drive of which Dixon picked apart the Bengals defense through the air and scrambling for big chunks of real estate before finding a streaking Naseem White for a picture-perfect 28-yard strike for the game’s opening score of 6-0.
The Jaguars’ stingy defense was also able to capitalize on a Bloomfield mistake with just over 2 minutes left in the half. Bloomfield QB Joey Gilberti held the Jaguars at bay after the kickoff moving the ball with a mixture of runs and passes led by WR Brandon Fernandes and Myles Toppin along with RB Zavion Stevens. However, the Jaguars defensive front four led by DT Khalil Holcomb and DE Donovan Holloway decided to have a little meeting with Bengals’ QB Joey Gilberti. Holloway got there first in the attempt to sack Gilberti and forcing him to fumble the ball on the Jaguars 45 yard line. In a mad scramble for the ball which bounced and rolled to the East Orange 49 yard line, it was Jaguars DB Nasir Neal who scooped up the ball and returned it the rest of the way for the 12-0 lead.
Bloomfield went back to the drawing board and engineered methodical quick strike of their own. QB Joey Gilberti found a wide open WR Myle Toppin as he took the ball 52 yards to set up a 4-yard plunge into the end zone three plays later by RB Brandon Fernandes to cut East Orange’s lead to 12-7 with just 39 ticks left on the clock for the conclusion of the first half.
Bloomfield opened the second half with the ball as they stayed with their game plan and half time adjustments. Back up QB Ryan Mondo found passing lanes to get the ball to his WR Myles Toppin who was just sitting open in the Jaguars secondary. After trading punts the Bengals took control of the second half. They drove the ball 52 yards in 10 plays dominating the third quarter with an 18-yard bruising run by RB Zavion Stevens which followed up by RB Brandon Fernandes 2-yard punch into the end zone giving the Bengals a slim 14-12 lead over the Jags.
The fourth quarter was when the race to the finish began. Both squads were looking for the knockout blows as they tried to put the other’s defenses on the ropes and out for the count. Bloomfield was looking to preserve their undefeated win streak and knock East Orange out of the North Jersey Section 2 Group 5 Playoff hunt. East Orange, who is coming off a bye week, was looking to keep their playoff hopes alive and leapfrog back into the three or four slot of the N2G5 race with just three weeks left. The Jags already had a tall order trying to put the Bengals back a notch. “We wanted this game very much,” stated East Orange Head Coach Al-Majid Hutchins after the game. “We knew that they were going to come in here and try to play to our weaknesses but we were ready for them.”
The opportunity for the Bengals came with just over 10 minutes left in the game. Bloomfield safety James Bonilla snagged an East Orange pass that was intended for WR Naseem White to keep the Bengals in the driver’s seat. With two big passes from QB Ryan Mondo to WR Myles Toppin, Bloomfield went into power mode and fed the ball to Zavion Stevens who motored in for the score from 18 yards out stretching the close game to 21-12 after the PAT Kick. But hold everything; East Orange had something to say about that. Once again, going the length of the field in 12 plays on one series, they found the end zone twice on two big bombs of their own. Using two different quarterbacks, the Jaguars found Eddie Marshall streaking towards the house for a 57-yard special delivery from QB Q’uran Dixon (8-11, 165 Passing, 31 Rushing, 2 TD) to pull within 21-18, with just 3:14 left in the game. The momentum shifted back into East Orange’s favor when they recovered a loose ball from the Bengals on the ensuing kickoff. The next series the Jags found him again with just over 2 minutes left as they turned the helm over to Backup QB Naseem White (65yd 1 Rushing TD 1 Passing TD). He engineered his team to a five play 34 yard march when he also found his mark with a diving Marshall from 34 yards out and the go-ahead score 25-21 with 2:15 left in the game. East Orange added a second defensive score for insurance as the Bengals were putting on their rally caps with time expiring. Bloomfield QB Ryan Mondo found his go-to target Myles Toppin on an inside cut pattern as they were attempting to complete a pass play but East Orange DB Faison Carney and DB Giovanni Shine converged on the tackle forcing a fumble which their teammate DB Rady Rojas- Portilla scooped the ball up from the Bengals 35-yard line and sprinted home to extende the score to 32-21 with just 1:10 left in the game.
Bloomfield saw their chance and took it. Bloomfield immediately worked their way downfield to score again. Two big clutch plays which included a 40-yard hook-up from Mondo to Toppin that set up a 2-yard dive into the endzone by RB Brandon Fernandes. The Bengals tried to regain the final possession but the Jags just went into victory formation and took a knee to end a thrilling game knocking Bloomfield from the ranks of the unbeaten.
East Orange will play its final regular season home game this Friday at 7 pm against former Iron Hills rival the Colonials of Morristown High School and will celebrate Homecoming as well. East Orange will play West Orange on the road at West Orange High School who defeated Montclair 29-26 over the weekend. East Orange will face the Blue Bears of Barringer High on Thanksgiving at Schools Stadium.