EAST ORANGE, NJ – The Colonials of Morristown High School came into Paul Robeson Stadium this past Friday night to try and do the impossible. They wanted to slow down the momentum that the East Orange Campus High School varsity football Jaguars were using to propel them into the current fourth seed of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 5 state playoff race. East Orange on the other hand controls its destiny with a win over Morristown and then West Orange this coming Friday night. With a win over Morristown, East Orange can lock in a playoff spot but where they land in the seeding all depends on a few teams who are battling with them for the coveted fourth spot and home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. “Sure there’s a lot at stake, but I’m confident that our squad will hold up to the challenge,” said East Orange Head Coach Al-Majid Hutchins after their win over Bloomfield High School the week before.
Morristown, which was coming in off a 29-28 loss to Livingston last week, came out swinging for the fences as they raced to an early 10-0 lead in the opening quarter of East Orange’s Homecoming game. The Colonials, led by junior QB Jake Buchner, wasted no time pressing the gas pedal as they marched with ease to gain their first points of the game with a 37-yard field goal by Ryan Devaney. East Orange did not have an easy start as they punted and turned the ball over four times in the first quarter. The Colonials, however, found the end zone with a 65-yard bomb from QB Jake Buchner to WR Joshua Szott to give Morristown the early lead.
East Orange, led by QB Q’uran Dixon, WR/DB Naseem White, RB/K Rady Rojas-Portilla, DL Khalil Holcolmb, WR Eddie Marshall, and RB/DB Giovanni Shine, suddenly erupted late in the first quarter. Driving almost the length of the field in 10 plays, the Jaguars followed the Colonials lead with a 35-yard field goal of their own by Rojas-Portilla with just 20.8 ticks left in the opening frame. The Jaguars shredded the Colonials with two unanswered scores in the second quarter. The first came on a pick-six thanks to DB Giovanni Shine (10 carries for 100 yards rushing, 1 TD, 4 tackles, 1 interception, 1 TD) who returned the Jake Buchner thrown ball for a 35-yard touchdown untouched to pull the Jags within a point 10-9. The Colonials didn’t have an answer as they lost two key players over the course of the second quarter. The Jaguars’ next possession took the remaining time off the clock late in the first half after a Morristown punt. They marched 72 yards in 12 plays giving the ball to QB Q’uran Dixon on the one-yard sneak into the house. The touchdown gave East Orange the lead after a two-point conversion 17-10 at the half.
There was no love lost between the two old Iron Hills Conference Irons Division foes at the beginning of the third quarter. That is because Morristown took advantage of a slow moving kickoff coverage team for East Orange. The Jaguars faltered slightly as they watched Colonials KR Nathan Estivern scoop the ball up at his own 12-yard line and hit the outside edge with an explosive burst up the East Orange sideline, taking it the distance for the very quick 18-17 lead after the two-point conversion and 11:47 still remaining in the third quarter. That was all the Colonials could muster as the Jaguars roared to life in the second half. Most of the game up to that point, East Orange QB Q’uran Dixon (4-7 for 95 yards passing 1 TD, 9 carries for 175 rushing, 1 TD) was looking for his big play WR Eddie Marshall (3 receptions for 80 yards, 2 TDs) and WR Naseem White. The Colonials defense was able to keep Dixon from hurting them too badly in the first half as they forced him to tuck and run for most of the game. But they answered Morristown’s touchdown with one of their own as they racked up the yards with a balanced passing and rushing attack. Dixon found Marshall for a 26-yard strike that gave the go-ahead 23-18 edge over the Colonials.
But that was not all. Dixon took the team to the promise land two more times in the third quarter and once more in the fourth and final quarter. The Jaguars did not look back as they took the lead for good, keeping Morristown out of the end zone, forcing fumbles, and turnovers by punts. Dixon scored on a two-yard run, followed by the two-point conversion, to make it 31-18.
Giovanni Shine, who was also a part of the Homecoming Royal Court, found open turf to roam and gallop as he broke out of a host of Morristown defenders and smoked the rest of the field for a 36-yard touchdown late in the third quarter as they prepared for the knockout blow with a 38-18 lead. The Jags cruised most of the fourth until the Colonials tried to drive their way into East Orange’s territory. East Orange, led by DL Khalil Holcolmb (8 tackles 3 sacks), had enough of that and thwarted Morristown’s attempt to rally as they forced a 10th turnover on downs after a set of penalties pushed Morristown back into their own territory.
East Orange RB Nasir Neal found paydirt four plays later as he swept to his left from 25 yards out, giving the Jaguars the decisive 43-18 lead and eventual win with just 2:54 left in the game. The win over Morristown sealed the Jaguars’ bid to the playoffs but also turns the table as they will go head long into the “Battle of the Oranges: East vs. West.” Both teams have to win out for different reasons. East Orange is in a tight race with Union and Elizabeth for the final home-field advantage spot or the eventual leap frog into the third slot and bumping Ridge High School which has a 32-point lead in the power point totals prior to Friday’s game. With both Elizabeth and Union losing to Ridge and Bridgewater-Raritan respectively, East Orange will need to defeat the Mountaineers in order to keep their spot. West Orange on the other hand will need to thwart East Orange’s home field hopes as they are also on the bubble and need to win this important game to stay in the hunt for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group 5 Playoffs. West Orange will feature former East Orange junior standout C.J. Wilson, who transferred just before the start of the season. “We were sorry to see him go at that point but we also know what he can do,” stated Jaguars Head Coach Al-Majid Hutchins, “but this will make it just that much better as we prepare to go into the final week before playoffs. This game will be very important for us to win and the implications to win on the road will be very big.” East Orange will travel to West Orange Saturday for a 7 p.m. kickoff.