EAST ORANGE, NJ – It’s the last weekend of what was a mostly rainy summer and most high school teams are usually breaking summer training camp right about now. However, with the new state playoff rules implemented by the NJSIAA this summer, teams statewide didn’t have enough time to prepare for the 2018 Week 0 Kickoff extravaganza.
“The schedule certainly threw off our normal way of doing things in preparing for our first game of the season after school had open for the year,” said East Orange Head Coach Rae Oliver. But needless to say, his squad was not showing any signs of inexperience or lack of being prepared. In fact, the Jaguars were exact opposite.
Both the Jaguars and the Warriors of Watchung Hills Regional High School came into last Friday’s game (August 31) sporting rather young squads. Both were mostly sophomores and juniors as they played an extremely competitive game. Watchung Hills wasn’t sure what to expect when they came to Paul Robeson Stadium but was happy to compete at a high level of football against a very athletic East Orange Campus squad, which won the game, 50-17.
The first quarter was all East Orange as they wasted no time in scoring the game’s opening touchdown. The Jaguars defense first forced the Warriors to punt after allowing only one first down in the opening series. On the third play of the Jags’ opening series, Bryant Manuel found a small crease in the middle of the Warriors’ defense where he just turned on the jets for a 67-yard touchdown to put East Orange on top 6-0 with just 8:22 left in the first quarter. The second score came from East Orange QB Nasir Montgomery, who showed his flashing escapability (201 yards rushing on 8 carries with 4 TDs, 8 for 10 passing for 100 yards 2 TDs) when he was forced out the pocket on their second possession of the game. Montgomery was looking to pass but the Warriors had all his available receivers covered as they continued to apply pressure. But Montgomery simple rolled to his left slipping a tackle and was off to the races. He would go on to score a 74-yard touchdown and tossing a quick strike to WR Quadir Scott for the 2-point conversion to give East Orange the 14-0 lead with just 5:02 in the first quarter. The pair wasn’t done as they would link up again to cap a 7-play 63-yard march that was strife with penalties. Montgomery was looking towards the end zone again finding a streaking Scott to deliver a perfect money ball to front nearside corner of the end zone with a Warrior defensive back draped all over him. The Jags were in complete control with a 20-0 lead with 1:23 left in the first quarter.
The Jags would find the end zone again by sustaining a nearly 7-minute drive in the second quarter. The drive was started by an interception of Watchung Hills QB Chad Martini’s pass and returned to the Warriors 12-yard line. The Jags did not score off that interception which proved to be the first positive stop for the Warriors. But the Jags forced another punt, giving them excellent field position. Nasir Montgomery, who was just shy of 100 yards rushing by halftime, would later cap off a seven-play 48-yard march with a 5yard push into the end zone to stretch East Orange’s lead 26-0 with just 5:30 left in the first half. Watchung Hills found a way to avoid the first-half shutout when sophomore QB Chad Martini, found two targets in quick succession for 30 yards and 29 yards before sneaking in for the Warriors’ first touchdown of the season and game. Martini’s touchdown sparked a very dangerous offensive threat with 2:06 left to cut into East Orange’s commanding lead of 26-7. Martini found his stride in the air by hitting two more receivers and feeding senior RB Kevin Badger four times to put their squad in striking distance after recovering a fumble on the kickoff to East Orange. But East Orange tough defense led by DT Keshawn Munford, LB Leonard Munford Jr., and DT Chris Stultz found creative ways to shut the offensive weapons of Watchung Hills down and allowing a 34-yard field goal to end the first half with a 26-10 lead.
The second half was pretty much all East Orange as they continued to put the game out of reach. Nasir Montgomery took the team on a 7:22, 65-yard drive. He reversed his field to break away from Warriors’ front eight and scooted 6 yards for the 32-10 touchdown untouched. However, the Warriors were trying to turn the tide into their favor. East Orange was set to receive a punt with under four minutes left in the third quarter but muffed and fumbled the reception, giving Watchung Hills a much-needed break and opportunity to score. But the Jaguars’ stingy defensive line wouldn’t have any of it and produced its second goal-line stand of the game. They made quick work of Martini and his eventual replacement Jake Carter. The defensive stand put East Orange deep in their territory, starting on their 12-yard line. Montgomery struck again three plays later, calling his number on a quarterback draw play which he parted the Warriors’ defense like he was a man on a mission. He sprinted 86 yards for the extended 38-10 lead with 38.1 remaining the third quarter.
Watchung Hills was still having problems trying to keep the Jaguars at bay going into the final quarter of the game. Montgomery found the end zone once more tossing a 30-yard strike to Jasim Brown and the convincing 44-10 lead with 9:07 remaining in the game. The Warriors were not going home without a fight as they were able to stop East Orange’s quick strike offense and forced them to punt for the first time in the game. They since put their plan back in motion by going over the top in 8 passing attempts completing 4 passes for 51 yards and taking almost the full quarter to score. WR Trevor Smith caught the 2-yard touchdown to spring hope for the late rally the Warriors were mounting. But the Jaguars responded in kind and quickly with just 45 ticks left in the game. On the ensuing kickoff the Warriors were caught off guard when East Orange KR Nasir Weems exploded through the oncoming traffic creating a foot race up the Watchung Hills sideline and scoring from 95 yards out putting a final nail in the already dominating lead.
“We knew we were in for a tough game,”said Watchung Hills Head Coach Rich Seubert after the game. Seubert, who is a former pro lineman for the New York Giants, felt his squad had their work cut out for them. “We wanted to see if we can come down and make it a game. I can’t say we were ready for this game but we felt it was necessary in order to be competitive in the newly-revamped system that the NJSIAA put into action.” He went on to say that several coaches voiced their concerns in regarding the week 0 options that gives schools the option to start early versus the normal first game after schools have opened for the year. “We would normally be using this week for our last scrimmage/preseason game,” said East Orange Head Coach Rae Oliver, who echoed Seubert’s sentiments in the early-game scheduling. Oliver went on to say he was very appreciative of Watchung Hills for coming down to East Orange which says a lot for the program and Coach Seubert. “We are looking at this as a thirteen-step ladder and Watchung Hills was the first step. We have a good Passaic team next week and we will be looking forward to that game come Friday night (Sept. 7) in Passaic.”
Watchung Hills will play the Cardinals of Plainfield High School in their home opener Friday night. Both games will have a 7 p.m. kickoff. East Orange will have a bye week before taking on their backyard rival Montclair on Saturday, September 15 at 1 p.m.