East Orange Campus HS football team falls to Passaic County Tech in rematch of last year’s sectional final; Jaguars honor late EOC student Letrell Duncan during game

EAST ORANGE, NJ — It has been a little over a week since the loss of East Orange Campus’ Letrell Duncan, and the East Orange Campus football Jaguars held a moment of silence and prayer for the Duncan family before the opening kickoff of this past Saturday’s contest, Oct. 15, against the Bulldogs of Passaic County Technical Institute at Paul Robeson Stadium. It also set the stage for these two squads to face each other for the first time in the regular season. When we last saw the PCTI Bulldogs, East Orange had run roughshod all over them 35-7 in the 2021 New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s North Jersey, Section 1, Group 5 championship at the same location. East Orange Campus lost to Passaic Tech 14-6 in the 2019 Group 5 sectional semi finals in Wayne that year.

East Orange is fresh off its Super Football Conference-Freedom Red Divisional championship win over West Orange last weekend, handing the Mountaineers a 25-12 defeat. The Jaguars are no longer the hunted as the defending state regional champions. They have become the hunters as they channel their energies for all comers who wish to tangle with them. They defeated Bloomfield, Montclair, and West Orange by a combined score of 97-31 in stark contrast of their first three games against Clifton, Irvington, and Randolph where they lost by a combined score of 84-48, which included the double overtime backyard barn burning Friday Night lights thriller with the Blue Knights on Sept. 9. Not to be out done, the Bulldogs pulled up to Paul Robeson Stadium heavily favored as they are sporting a 6-1 record where they bookended their sole defeat to Ridgewood with wins over Bridgewater=Raritan, Union City, Passaic, West Orange, Columbia by forfeit, and Clifton.

East Orange is led by the wide receiver/defensive back corps of Josh Richards, BJ Covington and Michael Henderson, along with the running back/linebacker duo of Kasim Cross,and Irijah Wright, with Elijah Pullins anchoring the front line on both offense and defense and quarterback Kyree Fisher calling the shots. Passaic Tech was also looking for a way to stop the Jaguars from imposing their will on them as they are led by the Dye Twins, Trashon and Travon who both play running back and linebacker, running back Cashmere Jones, quarterback RaySun Belton, and defensive lineman Kaiden Rex who all were a part of last season’s lost to the Jaguars.

The game got going with a tough defensive struggle where neither squad was able to score in the first quarter. The Bulldogs stuck to their ground-and-pound style of play where they were able to flesh out decent yards with the help of Cashmere Jone, Trashon Dye, RaySun Belton and Travon Dye. The group rushed a combined 38 times for 213 yards and three touchdowns. But the Jaguars turned on the scoring in the second quarter with a punch counterpunch style which threw the Bulldogs off their defensive schemes to stop the potent offensive attack. The Jaguars would march downfield 55 yards in six plays with Fisher homing in on Richards for a 6-yard pass and score with 9:03 left in the quarter. The Bulldogs flexed their muscles as well, responding in kind with a steadfast 11-play, 72-yard march of their own with Travon Dye going in for the Bulldogs’ first score of the game from 1 yard out taking a slim 7-6 lead into the half.

The momentum shift swung back in the Jaguars’ favor most of the second half as they played ball control keeping the steady diet of Wright out of the backfield and dangerous receiving corps of Richards, Covington, and Henderson in the third quarter. This time Fisher flashed his wheels as the Bulldogs gave chase. Fisher went 11 for 17 in the air with a touchdown and an interception, and was sacked twice, including one for a 20 yard loss. To highlight the quarter, Fisher nosed into the end zone from a yard out to give East Orange Campus the 13-7 edge.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t go away quietly as they were looking to atone for last season’s playoff game. But with a sudden rash of fumble-itis between both squads there wasn’t a clear path for victory until Passaic Tech got their paws on a costly loose Jaguars fumble with 7:04 left in the game. They would find the end zone 9 plays later as Trashon Dye broke a 20-yard scamper off a big block by his twin brother to close out a 66-yard drive to pull even with the Jaguars 13-13 with 2:19 left in the game. With the game on the line and a possible high playoff spot on the line, the Jaguars began their rally from their own 22-yard line. Fisher would have to scramble to keep the Bulldogs at bay but one Bulldog broke free into the backfield, LB Aslton Jordan, and dropped Fisher for a 20-yard loss and an eventual fumble the next play put Bulldogs back in the driver’s seat. They scored with just 29 seconds on the clock with Cashmere Jones finding an escape hatch off his left side scooting for the 13-yard touchdown. But East Orange had something to finish for their lost classmate, Letrell Duncan, whose funeral was on homecoming day. East Orange went to a hook-and-lateral play to gain some crucial yardage giving Fisher a third shot after back-to-back incompletions to Covington and Henderson. Fisher put all of his big arm into a Hail Mary for a prayer of a walk-off touchdown and possible upset of Passaic Tech. But Bulldogs DB Owen Juskiewicz interrupted that prayer by out=leaping the entire East Orange receiving corps for the game-clinching interception. 

Passaic Tech’s head coach Matt Demarest said after the game, “East Orange was playing with a lot of emotion, and we had to adjust to that in order to play our brand of football.” He also stated that the difference in last season’s squad versus this year, was that he only had 13 seniors on a squad of mostly sophomores, who are now mostly juniors and seniors and veterans. “This was a playoff style of game” he said. “East Orange has the toughest schedule in all of North Jersey Group 5.” He tipped his cap to all the East Orange Campus Jaguars as they all were still dealing with the tragedy that occurred two weeks ago. East Orange head coach John Jacob stated that they had a lot to deal with over that period. He continued to say the team is a work in progress and will look to get better. 

East Orange (3-4) is very battle tested. The Jaguars are looking to pull out a win against the Knights of West Essex Regional High School in North Caldwell, New Jersey Friday night on Oct. 21, 2022, at 7 p.m. This will be the last game before the start of the playoffs and the annual Thanksgiving Day rivalry game with Barringer. Passaic Tech (7-1) will play their final regular season game on Oct. 20  at 6 p.m. when they will travel a short distance down the hill to Paterson’s Schools Stadium to face the Ghosts of Paterson Eastside. 

Like the beginning of the game, there wasa  moment of silence as the school dedicated the game to Letrell ‘Trell’ Duncan. The school released three homing pigeons to symbolize his spirit’s release. As the game drew to a close, there was a sunset that shown brightly on an emotional day at Paul Robeson Stadium. East Orange Campus is celebrating its 20th  anniversary as well and they continue to ask for prayers for the Jaguars faculty, staff, student body, and most importantly the Duncan family.