IRVINGTON, NJ – Without question, Irvington has been one of the top teams in the area since “Smoke” Pierre became head coach in 2016. With a roster boasting a bevy of collegiate Division 1-caliber players, the Blue Knights have posted back-to-back eight-win seasons in Pierre’s two years at the helm.
But unfortunately, the team has come up short in its quest to win the program’s first state sectional title. In each of the past two seasons, the Blue Knights lost by one point in the NJSIAA playoffs. And in each case, the difference was a failed two-point conversion late in those games. In 2016, the Blue Knights lost at home to Randolph, 13-12, in the North 1, Group 4 quarterfinals to finish 8-2. Last season, they lost at Phillipsburg, 21-20, in the North 2, Group 4 semifinals, to end with an 8-3 record.
So it’s no wonder that Pierre is quick to point out the goal for this season.
“State championship,” said Pierre, who grew up in Irvington.
And what will it take to win that elusive state sectional title?
“A lot of effort and heart,” Pierre replied.
This year, a “state championship” means winning a Bowl game, under the state’s new expanded playoffs. The Bowl games will consist of the North 1 vs. North 2 champs and the Central Jersey vs. South Jersey champs in each public Group.
The last two quarterbacks for Irvington went on to sign with Division 1 collegiate teams. Jyvon “Silky” Brown, who was the 2016 QB, signed with UMass, while last year’s quarterback, Brandon Robinson, signed with Liberty University.
This year’s new quarterback, junior Taiyon Battle, hopes to carry on that great QB tradition for the Blue Knights, with the tutelage of assistant coach Madee Williams, a renowned quarterbacks coach.
The offense has a slew of returning playmakers such as sophomore running back Zahir Salaam, junior twins Zakee Swan and Zahir Swan, a running back and receiver, respectively; and senior receiver Mohammed Toure. Nasir Clark, a junior, is another receiver.
The offensive line comprises senior left tackle and University of Cincinnati commit Savion Herring, senior left guard Nashawn Brooks, senior center Nasir Harrison, senior right tackle Elton Jean-Baptiste, and freshman right guard Justin Evans.
Pierre has raved about Evans. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound freshman is the cousin of 2009 IHS graduate Josh Evans, who played safety at the University of Florida before playing in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins.
The defense also is strong. Brooks is a three-year starter at linebacker who has committed to Morgan State. Darren Fields, a senior safety, has committed to the University of Albany.
Junior Raymond Simmons in another solid linebacker.
On the line, sophomore end Mikal Gbayor has much talent, Pierre said.
Pierre credits much of the Blue Knights’ success to a quality coaching staff. Along with Williams, some of those assistant coaches are Nhemie Theodore, Kyle Steele, Tyshon Gurley, Andre Callender, Qua Hopkins, DJ Singleton, and Ibn Jihad.
The Blue Knights, though, aren’t looking at the playoffs just yet. Right now, their focus is on the season opener against Orange.
August 31, Orange, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7, Union City, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14, at Ridgewood, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22, at Millburn, 1 p.m.
Sept. 29, at Bergen Catholic, 1 p.m.
Oct. 5, North Bergen, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13, at Ferris, 1 p.m.
Oct. 20, Barringer, 1 p.m.
Oct. 26, Montclair, 7 p.m.
Photos by Steve Ellmore