WEST ORANGE, NJ — The East Orange Campus High School football team suffered its first loss of the season as the Jaguars fell to Seton Hall Prep, 31-12, Saturday, Oct. 5, in front of a packed crowd at Brendan P. Tevlin Memorial Field in West Orange. EOCHS moved to 3-1. SHP won its third straight and improved to 4-1.
The game was billed as the battle of old foes who are familiar with each other and destined to clash down to the wire. SHP is not ranked in the state but has come up big in three out of four outings, which included a statement win over Paramus Catholic. EOCHS was ranked ninth in the state, out-scoring its opponents, 121-8.
The game started as billed – an all-out grudge match. Seton Hall coughed up the ball on the first play of the game. East Orange senior quarterback Nasir Montgomery, who is a major collegiate prospect, was looking to take the game over on the Jaguars’ first play. But a well-disciplined Pirates defense made it difficult for the Jaguars to move the ball, coupled with several penalties that kept the high-octane Jags from striking paydirt first.
The Pirates found their stride first when quarterback Zander Zebrowski and Matt Colantuono decided to take matters into their own hands at the end of the deadlocked first quarter. They already found wiggle room through the tough middle of the Jaguars’ defense, led by Keshawn Munford, Locksley Burke, Ian Brown and Quadir Scott.
As the second quarter started, Zebrowski found wide receiver Nicholas Gullace down the middle of the East Orange defensive backfield for a 42-yard hook-up that would set up a seven-yard quarterback throwback play between Colantuono tossing to Zebrowski for the opening score with 10:15 left in the first half.
Montgomery had other plans. He orchestrated a 56-yard, eight-play march which included a fabulous toe-tapping, foot-dragging, juggling catch that was intended for Brown, but caught by Scott. The play set up Burke’s one-yard plunge into the house to pull close at 7-6. The Pirates stymied the Jaguars’ ensuing two-point conversion.
The Pirates rattled off two more touchdowns, thanks to Gullace, who found room to roam freely. He set up another one-yard push for Colantuono to stretch the lead to 14-7 after placekicker Austin Kuterka’s point-after kick. Gullace found more open real estate when he beat Brown on a seam pass from Zebroski for a 68-yard strike and a 21-6 lead into the half.
East Orange opened the second half. Montgomery didn’t have much time to operate as the Jaguars’ offensive unit was held to three first downs in the third quarter. On a routine quarterback keeper, Montgomery went down awkwardly only to pop right back up and then go back down. In a panic, the officiating crew called for immediate assistance as Montgomery suffered a severe ankle dislocation. The onsite medical team was able to stabilize his ankle. Both East Orange and Seton Hall’s fan base were visibly worried for the heart and leader of the Jaguar squad. With the outright show of emotion, Montgomery’s teammates, friends and immediate family rushed to his side on the field to cheer him on and make the trip to the hospital. The game continued with a one-yard touchdown from Colantuono as SHP extended the lead to 28-6.
The fourth quarter saw an inspired Jaguar squad get amped up completely as they shut down the Pirates, only allowing a 30-yard field goal with just 10 minutes left in the game. By then, the damage was already done. East Orange still showed some fight as the Jaguars called upon Scott to come back to his old quarterback duties and fill the void for Montgomery.
“We saw something today,” said East Orange head coach Rae Oliver. “We’ve been punching people in the mouth and it was our turn to get punched. Now it’s about how we get back up and fight back.” He explained that it was devastating to lose Montgomery, but it will be interesting how his squad will respond. “It takes a lot for our kids to accomplish this much in the environment that we come from, but we are East Orange and we say it with pride.” As he concluded his post-game wrap-up with his team and reporters, he made it clear that West Orange is on the clock, as he made a speedy exit to go check on Montgomery at the hospital.
Seton Hall head coach Bill Fitzpatrick was optimistic at the start of the game, but was able to sigh relief as his squad took care of business. “We weren’t sure how our team was going to play today. East Orange is a strong veteran squad ranked number nine in the state. They surely didn’t get that by mistake.” Although he was pleased with the victory, extending the all-time series to 13-3 since East Orange Campus’ inception and inherited status from its predecessor East Orange High School, he was visibly devastated to see Montgomery go down, stating, “It is never easy seeing a player like Nasir go down with an injury like his. We want to send our prayers and well wishes to Nasir, his family and the whole East Orange Campus football team.”
Zebrowski felt that he had a great opportunity to compete against a talent like Montgomery. “It shows me where I am as a player as I look to improve as the season goes on.” He said the difference was finding the opportunity to make plays that counted the most. “We knew that East Orange was big, fast and physical going in. We wanted to prove to ourselves that we can still hang with them.”
East Orange has another tough test Friday evening, Oct. 11, with Darnell Grant’s West Orange Mountaineers. The “Battle of the Oranges” pits veteran head coaches Grant against Oliver for the top spot in the Super Football Conference-Liberty Blue Division title race. East Orange will roll into West Orange for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Meanwhile, Seton Hall will face a struggling Montclair Mounties squad (2-3) that still shows that they are dangerous despite their early-season struggles. “We know that they are in a rebuilding period,” said Fitzpatrick, “but we can’t discount them out yet. They are still a dangerous team in which they can make any opponent going forward nervous.” That game will be at Montclair’s Woodmen Field for a 1 p.m. showdown on Saturday, Oct. 12.
Photos by Kerry E. Porter