If you were to say that the East Orange Campus High School and West Orange High School football teams were both vying for the top spot in the Super Football Conference–Freedom Red Division, then the conversation would start like this: “East Orange Campus and West Orange for the past two seasons have decided the game with a combined 12 points, and this will look to be something similar.”
Both schools have been on a tear this season, and they both had something to prove as they played for more than just rankings; it was for the neighborhood bragging rights and positioning in the Group 5 playoffs.
Both head coach Rae Oliver of East Orange Campus and head coach Darnell Grant of West Orange High had this game circled on their calendars. Much like the more notable games against Montclair for the EOCHS Jaguars, and St Peter’s Prep for the WOHS Mountaineers, this was one of the most anticipated games of the season. The division title has been decided in the past with the outcome of this very game.
In the end, the Jaguars prevailed 21-14, to improve to 4-0 on the season. West Orange moved to 2-2 on the season.
This year, the game took place in West Orange with a packed house, as it was youth football appreciation night for the West Orange PAL Football and Cheer Program. East Orange brought along the East Orange Junior Jaguars of the North Jersey Pop Warner Football League to join the fun. Both organizations had honorary captains as the coin toss took place, with East Orange winning the decision and deferring the ball to the second half. With the pomp and circumstance over the opening kickoff set to go, one could feel the air go electric as East Orange got the game going. West Orange, led by quarterback Zander Lipsey, wide receiver Jared Massay and running back Makhi Green, started the drive on its own 20-yard line after East Orange kicker Geraldo Gibson booted the opening kickoff for a touchback. West Orange pushed the ball up the field in six plays for two first downs before East Orange Campus’s defense, led by defensive end Ahmad Nalls, defensive back BJ Covington, and safety Kyle Louis, forced a punt. East Orange took over on its own 35-yard line, where its dynamic trio of Raeden Oliver, Josh Richards and Damon Phillips, made quick work of the field position as the Jags marched 65 yards in five big plays with Oliver hitting Richards on a 14-yard pitch-and-catch opening score of 7-0 after the point after with just 3:05 left in the first quarter.
East Orange threw the first punch, but West Orange woke up and countered with a clock-eating punch of its own, going almost seven minutes with Lipsey feeding the ball to Jehki “Choo Choo” Williams and Makhi Green keeping the drive going for 80 yards, capped by Green’s beautiful fake, which had the Jags asking, “Which way did he go?” Green would scoot into the end zone for a 10-yard score, knotting the game at 7-7 with 8:31 left in the half.
Late in the second quarter, the Mountaineers were looking for the go-ahead score, marching 60 yards in 12 plays, but the Jaguars’ defense had other ideas. They shut down the Mountaineers for the game’s first goal-line stand to keep the game at 7-7 going into halftime.
“We wanted to be in the conversation,” said East Orange head coach Rae Oliver after the game. “We don’t have control of what is being said, but I know, after this, we are now definitely in that conversation as a public school.”
West Orange head coach Darnell Grant agreed, adding that both schools are now starting to take over the mantle as the premier programs in the Essex County area.
The third quarter saw Raeden Oliver become the field general that he is. He put the Jags on his back, flipping the ball to Damon Phillips on a screen pass. Phillips carried the ball four times and caught the ball out of the backfield in the series, in which he exploded for a 32-yard run, shaking-and-baking a couple of unfortunate Mountaineer defenders out of their cleats to go up 14-7 with 6:40 to go in the third quarter.
In what was arguably the play of the game, Jags defensive back BJ Covington made a diving interception to keep the Jags ahead late in the third quarter.
But the Mountaineers wouldn’t go quietly. The Mountaineers found a goal-line stand of their own, as the Jags were once again knocking on the door in the waning moments of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter had the Mountaineers scrambling for every trick and kitchen sink, but the Jags again found their groove as Oliver flashed his speed, calling his own number twice by rushing for 10 yards and 5 yards, respectively. He would score on the 5-yarder to give East Orange a two-touchdown lead with 9:22 to go in the game.
West Orange quarterback Zander Lipsey would come back with just 29 ticks left in the game and hit an 8-yard dart to one of his favorite targets, wide receiver Saboor Karriem. With time winding down, the kitchen sink came with the ensuing on-side kick-in, which the Mountaineers recovered. But once again the Jaguars’ Covington was able to slow down the Mountaineers’ passing attack, forcing them to run the ball.
“We call him our Lion King,” said East Orange head coach Rae Oliver of Covington. “He has appeared on Broadway in the play Lion King, and he roared today.” Covington would force a sack and help the Jags seal the 21-14 win over West Orange.
When asked how he would rate the game overall on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the greatest, West Orange head coach Darnell Grant joked, “Oh I would give it a 3, because I lost. But overall, I think we were evenly matched every year since I’ve been here.” Grant is no stranger to close games, as he took on Weequahic while at Shabazz, and Shabazz and Union while at Irvington.
West Orange will make the trek through the South Mountain Reservation to play Columbia on Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. before hopping the Turnpike to Union City the following week.
East Orange Campus will continue its road trip up Route 280, making a stop at Livingston on Friday, Oct. 1, also at 7 p.m. before coming home to face the Red Raiders of Newark East Side. East Orange quarterback Raeden Oliver, who finished the night with seven for 10 passing for 100 yards and one touchdown nd rushed six times for 49 yards and one touchdown, stated that, although they started a little on the slow side, he was able to guide his squad with the help of his front line and the advice that his father, Coach Oliver, gave them. “We proved that we are able to play the tough games.”
East Orange Campus, 4-0
Sept. 3: Win, vs. Montclair, 37-28
Sept. 11: Win, vs. Bloomfield, 34-0
Sept. 17: Win, at Columbia, 52-0
Sept. 24: Win, at West Orange, 21-14
Oct. 1: at Livingston, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9: vs. Newark East Side, 1 p.m.
Oct. 16: at Pope John, 1 p.m.
Oct. 30: vs. Newark West Side, 1 p.m.
Nov. 25: at Barringer, 10:30 a.m.
West Orange, 2-2
Sept. 3: Loss, vs. St. Peter’s Prep, at Montclair State University, 49-8
Sept. 10: Win, vs. Newark East Side, 44-10
Sept. 17: Win, at Livingston, 35-0
Sept. 24: Loss, vs. East Orange Campus, 21-14
Oct. 1: at Columbia, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8: at Union City, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15: vs. Montclair, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22: vs. Bloomfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29: at Irvington, 7 p.m.