EAST ORANGE, NJ — Spring football is back! But this time it is the ladies’ turn to take the field. Thanks to the New York Jets in partnership with Nike, and the New Jersey Super Football Conference, eight high schools throughout North Jersey are participating in a pilot flag football league for girls.
The game is played on an 80-yard field with no kickoffs. Much like the more traditional game, each team has four timed downs to reach a first down to keep their drive alive and score. There aren’t any field goals for extra points, nor the traditional 3-point try. The game has two halves timed at 19 minutes each.
Indian Hills High School in Oakland, Passaic County Technical Institute in Wayne, Ramapo High School, Morristown High School, Dickinson High in Jersey City, East Orange Campus High School, Irvington High School and Shabazz High School in Newark are in this pilot league. League officials are looking to make this a NJSIAA-sanctioned sport for high school girls for the 2021-2022 school year.
So far, the first three weeks of the season have been active, with all eight teams playing.
For the Lady Jaguars, led by senior running back and linebacker Jessica Felix, it was a tough couple of games, as they lost their inaugural game to the Lady Knights of Irvington High School 12-8, and a remarkably close game to the Lady Rams of Dickinson High School 7-6. So, this week was something for all to try and break into the win column.
With a trip to the playoffs and the Inaugural Girls Flag Football State Championships at MetLife Stadium on the line, the competitive nature of two familiar football rivals was on full display with the girls of Motown and East Orange Campus.
East Orange head coach Rae Oliver had his Lady Jaguars controlling the tempo of the game from the opening snap. Led by Felix, the Lady Jags recorded six sacks and five pass breakups, combined for four forced turnovers on downs, all while frustrating the Lady Colonials at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange on Thursday, May 6. Keeping control of the first half, the Lady Jags were looking to score with time winding down. Halfback Amani Perdue caught a 25-yard pass that led to a 15-yard pitch and catch as she put on her best Saquon Barkley imitation, making the Motown Lady Colonials trip, whiff and eat turf on her way to the game’s first touchdown and the point after from the 3-yard line.
But Motown’s Katie Duff was a tour de force for the Lady Colonials, as East Orange did all it could to keep the momentum from swinging in Morristown’s favor. Duff, along with quarterback Olivia Schubiger, connected on a 30-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 to start the second half. Duff followed that up with a sweep to her right as East Orange’s Felix blitzed in and missed the would-be flag to force a fourth down, giving the Lady Colonials a 14-7 lead. East Orange would not be denied as they played tempo and ball control on the ensuing possession. Felix and company drove the length of the field with time winding down. East Orange was within striking distance of a tying score when Motown’s Duff swooped in for the interception and the walk-off 60-yard interception return, sealing the game at 20-7.
Morristown head coach Lou Vanorski, who recently left his head coaching position at Mendham High School, said he was excited for what this program can mean in the state. His squad, which has played games against Ramapo and Indian Hills, was ecstatic after earning their first victory.
“We are looking for more to come as we get closer to the first-ever playoffs,” Vanorski said.
Oliver was appreciative of the opportunity his girls were getting.
“We are hoping to draw in more girls, as they are traditionally not into the sport,” Oliver said. “We have to help them understand that there is a difference between flag and tackle football, and with that we will have a stronger program.”
As for the Lady Jags, they had a special opportunity to participate in the 2021 NFL draft selection. As team captain, Felix was selected to announce the New York Jets’ Day 3 selection.
“I am grateful for the experience,” Felix said. “It gave me something to aspire to.”
Felix also played on the boys football team as a running back. She will be only the third girl in the school’s history to have played football with the boys and the first to successfully play on both the boys and girls squads. She volunteers with the East Orange All Stars of the East Coast Spring Youth Football League, working with coaching staff and players as she prepares for college in the fall.
East Orange will play its next game this week on the road against the Lady Bulldogs of Passaic County Tech on Thursday, May 13, at 6:30 p.m. As for Motown, they will host the Lady Bulldogs of Shabazz High School on Friday, May 14, at 3:30 p.m. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, all games will be subjected to game-time decisions as far as being open to the public. For more game information, contact the local high school athletic departments.
Photos Courtesy of Kerry Porter