WAYNE, NJ — The third-seeded East Orange Campus High School football team dropped a heart-breaking 14-6 decision to second-seeded Passaic County Technical Institute in the semifinals of the North Jersey Section 1, Group 5 state playoffs at PCTI in Wayne on Friday night, Nov. 15.
The Jaguars had their five-game winning streak snapped and moved to an 8-2 record.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of for you all to come this far and close” said EOCHS head coach Rae Oliver to his players after the game. “I am lost for words on how proud I am of all of you. You came to work hard no matter what was going on around us. Some of us were banged up, and they counted us out when we lost (quarterback) Nasir (Montgomery to a season-ending injury). This could have ended differently with us coming home a championship, but they were the better team.”
For the second time this season, East Orange Campus lost to a tough competitor. This time, it was Passaic Tech. Both teams were evenly-matched across the board in all facets of the game going into Friday evening’s contest. By the final gun, it was the Bulldogs who would hold on to the victory.
The game started with the two squads trading punts throughout the first quarter, with the Bulldogs controlling the time of possession over the Jaguars. The Bulldogs, led by QB Jayden Hunt, RB Rahmeir McGraw and WR/DB Jaheim McGuire, proved they were just as tough and gritty as the Jaguars, led by OL/DL KeShawn Munford, QB/WR/DB Quadir Scott, WR/DB Ian Brown and LB Brandon Brown-Shaw. Both teams traded two turnovers as well as plenty of penalties to go scoreless in the first quarter.
But the second quarter was where the game took on a life of its own. It was a standard punt that East Orange kicked to McGuire who fair-caught the ball inside his own 18-yard line at the end of the first quarter. Hunt engineered a ground-and-pound attack that had the Jaguars’ defense on the ropes.
“They didn’t respect the pass, so we had to show them what we had,” Hunt said. The Bulldogs’ drive ate up almost 10 minutes of clock time, going 82 yards, which culminated in a 27-yard desperation completion from Hunt to McGuire.
East Orange was nipping on Hunt’s heels when McGuire appeared all alone in the end zone for the diving reception to take a 7-0 lead with 6:45 left in the first half.
East Orange’s Scott didn’t take that too lightly. He answered smoothly with a drive of his own but PCTI DB Alex Acevedo threw a wrinkle into Scott’s methodical punch backs. With Scott rolling to his right, he was looking for his open receiver in RB Al-Shadee Salaam when Acevedo swooped in and handed Scott his first interception of the season with just 2:06 left in the half. It also would be the first time that the Jags were held out of the end zone and scoreless in the first half this season.
It was a new game, so to speak, by the beginning of the second half. With East Orange taking the kickoff, Scott and Co. shook off the early mishaps of the first half and picked up where they left off. They drove the ball 80 yards in 15 plays, taking almost four minutes off the clock. Scott played a little Houdini, pulling a slip-and-dip 23-yard house call for the Jags’ first score to pull 7-6 after the failed extra point kick.
Still trailing, the Jaguars were finding their rhythm when they had a second touchdown called back due to a penalty and forcing them to turn over the ball on downs to Passaic Tech.
Despite the penalties, East Orange managed to get inside the Bulldogs’ red zone five times, but the Jaguars were not able to reach the promise land because of the opposing defense or penalties that proved to hurt them.
“These kids are phenomenal,” Passaic Tech head coach Mathew Demarest said. “Both teams are well-respected in the football world. They all know each other coming up through the ranks, playing against each other in Pop Warner. That’s what makes this game even better.”
In the final quarter, East Orange’s stingy defense had its ears pinned back as the Jaguars waged a final assault, trying to sway the momentum back in their favor. But the Bulldogs had other ideas, leaving it up to McGraw to find the escape hatch. East Orange’s Munford broke free inside the Bulldogs’ backfield with both Hunt and McGraw dead to rights for a big loss. With the help of Brown-Shaw, the Jaguars would have made the tackle, but a late assist from the Bulldogs’ offensive line broke McGraw free as McGraw scooted away from the tight defensive onslaught of the Jaguars, finding the escape hatch near the Jaguars’ sideline and finding open space to roam while galloping towards a date with destiny, taking a 14-6 lead.
East Orange had its rally caps on and was within striking distance of a late touchdown, but time wasn’t on the Jaguars’ side.
“The mark of a leader is what you make and put into it,” said Brandon Brown-Shaw. “I’ve been to the championship and I tell you it is nothing like being here with all my brothers here in EO. No tears are needed. We may not have gotten what we started out to do, but rest assured, we will get to earn so much more, as well as a lifelong memory of this very moment.”
East Orange’s impressive season will come to a close on the annual Thanksgiving Old Guard game against Barringer, starting at 10 a.m. at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange. Along with East Orange, Irvington, Weequahic, Newark West Side and West Orange all lost in their respective semifinal rounds. Cedar Grove is the lone Essex County school still in the hunt for a title and bowl berth. Passaic Tech will face Ridgewood for the second time this season in the North 1, Group 5 final. “We already beat them and we are confident that we can do it again,” Demarest stated. “We knew coming in that East Orange and Ridgewood pose a difficult challenge. We have nothing but great respect for East Orange and we hope to see them here next year.”
As a testament to East Orange’s character, Oliver was surrounded by his family, and hugged all his players, coaches, parents and a few supporters, thanking each one for being there. “We may not agree on the outcome, but you were the driving forces in our success. For that, I deeply appreciate all that you’ve done.”
East Orange Campus (8-2)
Sept. 6, Won, at Newark East Side, 50-2
Sept. 14, Won, Passaic, 42-0
Sept. 28, Won, Montclair, 26-6
Oct. 5, Loss, at Seton Hall Prep, 31-12
Oct. 11, Won, at West Orange, 8-6 (OT)
Oct. 19, Won, Livingston, 35-7
Oct. 25, Won, Columbia, 46-14
Nov. 1, Won, at Bloomfield, 26-6
Nov. 9, Won, (6) Montclair, 15-14*
Nov. 15, Loss, at (2) Passaic County Tech, 14-6*
Nov. 28, Barringer, 10:30 a.m.
*North 1, Group 5 playoffs (EOC is No. 3 seed)