EAST ORANGE, NJ — In the past couple of weeks, the East Orange Campus High School football Jaguars found themselves in a fight to remain playoff eligible. They dropped back-to-back games to tough opponents. After losing in the season opener against Clifton, the Jaguars lost to neighboring Irvington in a classic double-overtime, heart-stopping, 27-21 defensive struggle.
They next faced an old familiar foe from the old Iron Hills Conference, Randolph High School, on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 17, at Paul Robeson Stadium. Randolph prevailed, 34-27. East Orange Campus is now 0-3 on the season.
The history between EOCHS and Randolph can be charted back to the 1980s and 1990s, when there was an unprecedented Randolph winning streak that East Orange nearly broke on many occasions. The Randolph Rams entered last week’s contest 2-0 after defeating Mount Olive and Roxbury by a combined score of 76-23.
With the opening whistle and subsequent kickoff, these old Iron Hills foes played as if they never stopped playing each other since 2008. Randolph’s ground-and-pound game versus East Orange’s versatile assault kept everyone present at East Orange’s Paul Robeson Stadium on the edge of their seats. The Jags, led by dual-threat quarterback Kyree Fisher, running back Irijah Wright, wide receiver and defensive back BJ Covington, and wide receiver Joshua Richards, made things difficult for the Rams, led by quarterback Sean Clark, running backs Stephen Petruzziello, Jesse Wilfong and James Kratochvil, and wide receiver James Fusco.
The Jags got things going when Covington snagged the open interception that put EOCHS in the driver’s seat. But they were not able to capitalize, as they were stopped after a big run by Wright.
Randolph and East Orange battled it out for much of the first quarter, with Richards snagging his first of two interceptions to close out the quarter.
East Orange drew first blood in the second quarter after the interception. Wright found some running room, breaking six tackles along the way for a 45-yard sprint to the end zone, making it 7-0 with 11:50 left in the half.
But the Rams answered right back, taking only 20 ticks to score with Clark finding Petruzziello for a 55-yard strike to put the game even at 7-7 after the point-after kick.
Randolph scored three more unanswered touchdowns — Petruzziello’s 2-yard push into the end zone, Clark’s pass to wide receiver Ryan Novak from 5 yards out, and a 38-yard airmail to Fusco to put the Rams up 27-7 with just 4:45 left in the half.
East Orange battled back, taking the ball the length of the field on a sustained drive with Fisher connecting on big pass plays, finding wide receiver Michael Henderson, Richards and Covington. After a 30-yard scamper and a defensive pass interference penalty on Randolph, East Orange sent Wright for the late 1-yard touchdown answer with just eight seconds left in the half. The momentum was in the Jaguars’ favor.
The third quarter had all the necessary ingredients for a classic finish. The Jaguars, riding the momentum of the late first-half touchdown, found a way to stall the rumbling Rams’ ground attack, forcing another interception by Richards. But Randolph still found the end zone, controlling the ball for most of the third quarter. Sean Clark herded his squad on 12-play, 52-yard march, sending Petruzziello on another 2-yard dive into the house to give Randolph a 34-14 stretch.
But wait, don’t put your game towels away just yet. East Orange found its rally hats and started giving Randolph a true scare in the final quarter of the game. Fisher connected with Richards on a stretching 19-yard touchdown to pull the Jaguars closer at 34-21. The Jaguars continued to rally for the remainder of the game as Fisher and Richards connected again on a 9-yard touchdown, pulling within striking distance of the Rams. But Randolph played keep-away with the ball, notching a crucial first down with just under three minutes left in the game.
“We have to give East Orange credit,” stated Randolph head coach Will Nahan. “They are a very good team. I wouldn’t have it any other way to play this game 48 minutes wall-to-wall, playing at our best.” He said that the four touchdowns in the second quarter made a difference in the outcome of the game.
East Orange head coach John Jacob joked that he would rather have the win. He stated that there were some small mistakes that he and his team will work on this week. “We want to approach the season one game at a time and not get too far ahead of ourselves,” he said. “We’re not playing as well as we could at this point, and that’s my fault. I have to do a better job. We’ll watch film, make corrections, and get back to work in preparation for Bloomfield.”
East Orange will play the second of its three-game homestand against Bloomfield on Saturday, Sept. 24, at Paul Robeson Stadium with a 1 p.m. kickoff. Randolph will play host to Chatham at home under the lights at John Bauer Memorial Field in Randolph on Friday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m.
Photos Courtesy of Kerry E. Porter.