Photos by Steve Ellmore: Robeson All-Star Football Classic
EAST ORANGE, NJ – The 2018 High School sports calendar has come to a close as top seniors from the class all participated in H.S. all-star games throughout the state before heading off to college after their upcoming graduations.
One of the all-star games was the 25th Paul Robeson High School Football Classic held at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange on Thursday, June 14.
The West All-Stars, comprising Passaic, Morris and Sussex counties, defeated the East All-Stars, comprising Essex and Hudson counties, by a score of 28-0. It marked the second straight year that the West All-Stars won the Robeson Classic. The West won last year’s contest, 17-13, in come-from-behind fashion.
This year’s squads showed a high competitiveness, but the West, led by Parsippany Hills QB Nick Verducci and Passaic DB Deondre Tosen, proved to be a handful for the East All-Stars. The East, led by Shabazz RB Michael Fields, Montclair WR DJ Williiams, Orange DE Mahkye Boswell, and East Orange Campus LB Rady Rojas, had shown flashes of potent attacks, but the West All-Stars shut them down on three potential scores.
The West had their foot on the gas pedal from the opening kickoff, going 82 yards in 11 plays with the help of two penalties against the East. The West would open the scoring on a 10-yard pass connection with just under six minutes in the first quarter. The East was able to move the ball just as quickly, going 72 yards in just 7 plays. But the West’s Deondre Tosen committed an aerial robbery in the end zone, intercepting the East’s scoring pass and thwarting their first scoring attempt inside the redzone.
Wasting no time, the West, led by Verducci, took advantage of a couple missed opportunities by the East’s defense to pin them behind their own 30-yard line and force a punt. The West converted 3 of 7 fourth-down plays, including a crucial late second quarter conversion that set up a 7-yard dart to TE Michael Radomski of Hanover Park, giving the West All-Stars a 14-0 halftime lead.
The West found the end zone fairly quickly after recovering a fumble to open the second half. They went 22 yards in 3 plays with QB Dave Jechera of Pequannock scoring the 5-yard plunge into the end zone. The East couldn’t find an answer for the West but had some spectacular second-half plays which included an aerial robbery for themselves, stopping an already dominant West offense whose roster included members of three state championship teams and four teams with state playoff berths this past 2017 season. East LB Quaison Horne, of Newark Weequahic, stepped back into coverage and snagged the interception right at the East goal line late in the third quarter. But once again the West’s bend-but-don’t-break mentality was on full display. The East went almost the length of the field in 12 plays, giving them a much-needed spark in front of a packed house, but the West’s Tosen struck again as he picked off his second interception of the night. Verducci then went to work, scoring his third touchdown of the night to lock the West’s eventual victory 28-0.
Throughout the game, several active coaches were in attendance to support their graduating seniors. “We are looking to rebuild and take on new challenges,” said Montclair Head Coach John Fiore. He said that they are looking forward to take on Massilon High School out of Massilon, Oh. “We are excited to play one of the winning high school football programs in the state of Ohio, just as we are one of the long-standing winning programs here in New Jersey.”
Meanwhile, Malcolm X Shabazz Head Coach Darnell Grant is looking forward to defending his undefeated state title as the new high school bowl system will take effect this upcoming 2018 season. He stated he wasn’t sure how the new system will help in determining the new true state champion but he is glad that he gets the opportunity to play the sectional finals before their traditional Thanksgiving Day Game.
East Orange Campus Head Coach Rae Oliver has been hinting on some big things happening with his squad for the upcoming season. “We have a few things coming our way, which includes a few key players who had the opportunity to play at other schools. Now it’s time for them to come home.”
In a postgame interview, East Orange senior LB Rady Rojas, who was the lone East Orange player selected to play in the Robeson Classic, said he was happy to have played while having his breakout year as a junior leading his Jaguars to two straight playoff berths. “I am ready for the next chapter,” he stated.
Rojas will continue his football career at the NCAA Division II American International University where he will study Criminal Justice as part of their five-year accelerated bachelor’s and master’s program. “I am excited to see where my journey takes me. And I am confident knowing that my family and coaches all gave me the tools to succeed.”
AIU, located in Springfield, Mass., is a member of the Northeast 10 Conference, which has 15 schools hailing from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
The Robeson Classic was also the first of three testing sites for the newly installed instant replay rule which will go in effect for the 2018 season.
For additional information on the upcoming changes in the 2018 football season, visit www.njsiaa.org/sports/football, or www.nj.com/hssn-mms/2018/05/ new_jersey_reveals_instant_rep.html.
The game was scheduled to be broadcast on Verizon’s Fios 1 on June 18 and will be scheduled to rebroadcast throughout the month at various times of the day.