War of the Oranges concludes in grand fashion

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — The War of the Oranges spilled over into East Orange’s Paul Robeson Stadium this past Saturday afternoon when the West Orange Mountaineers came down Route 280 for a highly anticipated game against the undefeated East Orange Campus Jaguars. West Orange was coming off a 35-6 win over Montclair the week before, while East Orange had shut Montclair out 13-0 two weeks earlier. The game was personal for both squads, as there were students and coaches who had switched sides. For East Orange, it was about the ability to have a three-peat in their grasp for the Liberty White Division Title. For West Orange, on the other hand, it was retribution for last year’s emotional homecoming overtime loss with an 8-6 final score.

On paper, the teams are evenly matched. West Orange had only one blemish against them, when the state’s top team, St. Peter’s Prep, came calling, taking a 62-21 decision against them. Both squads were undefeated in the division, so it made for an interesting pot to stir. With the division title on the line, it was high time for the head coaches, Darnell Grant of West Orange and Rae Oliver of East Orange, to start their chess match. 

With West Orange winning the coin toss and deferring the ball until the second half, East Orange wasted no time in putting the Mountaineers on their heels a little. Playing like a team possessed, the Jaguars took the opening drive 85 yards in 12 plays, giving senior running back Matthew Zaio the first shot from 2 yards out. East Orange was out in front 7-0 with 6:18 in the first quarter; from the other side of the stadium, West Orange tried to flex its muscle. But the Jaguar defense, led by Locksley Burke, Al-Shadee Salaam and Zaio, made it really tough for West Orange quarterback Mason Murdock to get going. East Orange gave up only a 31-yard field goal by West Orange kicker Owen Murphy late in the first quarter.

The score remained 7-3 with the defensive struggle that both teams put up in the second quarter. East Orange’s Burke registered two back-to-back sacks in the second quarter, while West Orange defensive lineman Chris Parsons led the Mountaineers with seven tackles and one sack. 

The game did not pick up until late in the third quarter, when West Orange’s coach dialed up a series of screen plays, moving the ball little by little. Wide receiver Makhi Green received the passes, as East Orange looked to stop the plays. But Green found pay dirt after capping a 57-yard march, taking a handoff for 3 yards and barely squeezing through for the go-ahead score of 10-7. 

“They are an exceptionally good defense,” Grant said after the game. “We felt that we had a slight advantage over them because of our conditioning.” He explained that he noticed a few nuances that he was able to use to get a leg up on the game. 

Oliver was more in a frame of mind that they had a chance to come back, but West Orange was able to shut down East Orange’s scoring threats in Zaio, Damon Phillips, Terrell Neals, Burke, Salaam and Raeden Oliver late in the game, forcing a punt that would be the crux of the next series for the Mountaineers. Murdock finally found his deep threat in Jared Massay, after being slowed down by the Jags all game, for a 25-yard pass and the Liberty White Division Title for the first time under Grant’s coaching tenure, providing that they remain undefeated in the division. 

Coach Rae Oliver was not available for a postgame comment, but he did tip his hat to Grant for another great game.

“We should get some kind of gauntlet for all the Oranges, where we can have a trophy crown the champions as the winner of all the games against each other,” Grant suggested. 

The Mountaineers will close out the season with a two-game home stand against Livingston on Oct. 30 and Barringer on Nov. 6; both games will have a 7 p.m. kickoff. East Orange will head over to Bloomfield for a Friday-night tilt at Foley Field this week, before coming home to host Paterson Eastside for their homecoming game on Friday, Nov. 6. Both of those games are at 7 p.m. as well.

The War of the Oranges will continue next season.

Photos Courtesy of Kerry Porter