WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange High School football program has been in existence for a long time.
The Mountaineers can finally say they are state sectional champions!
Playing in their first-ever state sectional championship game, the sixth-seeded Mountaineers defeated top-seeded and previously-undefeated Phillipsburg, 28-7, in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1 state final on Thursday night, Nov. 10, at Phillipsburg.
The Mountaineers, under fourth-year head coach Darnell Grant, improved to 8-3 this season. Phillipsburg, which has won eight sectional titles and appeared in its 16th sectional final, ended the season at 10-1. Phillipsburg was ranked No. 10 in the state by the Star-Ledger.
West Orange jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Senior wide receiver and University of Illinois commit Saboor Karriem caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Amir Stewart to open the scoring. Stewart ran for a 2-yard touchdown later in the quarter. Senior Sam Godinez kicked the extra points.
After Phillipsburg scored a touchdown to cut it to 14-7 in the second quarter, junior running back Adonis White ran for a 5-yard touchdown, and Godinez kicked the extra point, to extend the Mountaineers’ lead to 21-7 at halftime.
Senior defensive back Jarvis Jones returned an interception 18 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the sectional title victory.
Stewart completed 12 of 18 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown. Karriem finished with nine catches for 112 yards and the touchdown, and Jones had three catches for 28 yards.
White rushed for 157 yards on 12 carries. Rayel Hunter carried 10 times for 30 yards.
Defensively, senior lineman Jhensen Touze and Jones each had 12 tackles. Touze had four tackles for loss and Jones had five tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Al-Jahmir Newsome and junior defensive back Myles Snead each had eight tackles. Senior lineman and Georgia Tech commit Gensley Auguste had seven tackles, and sophomore linebacker Chris Barrino had six tackles.
The game was originally scheduled for Friday, Nov. 11, but was rescheduled to Thursday, Nov. 10, due to the forecasted inclement weather.
“As a coaching staff we felt really confident going into the game,” Grant said. “We knew we played a really tough regular season schedule and were battle-tested going into the playoffs. We looked at Phillipsburg’s schedule and saw that they played no teams who were similar to us, we had an edge.
“I just told them all week if they gave their best effort for 48 minutes that they would leave Phillipsburg with a championship. When I was hired four years ago, they asked how long it would take to get West Orange to a championship level. I said if we did everything the right way, we could get there in four years. I guess we did things the right way and now we’re here. I’m so happy for everyone involved and all the people who helped us come to the West Orange public schools.”
The Mountaineers will face North 1 champion Passaic Tech in the Group 5 state semifinals on Sunday, Nov. 20, at Franklin High School in Somerset at 2:30 p.m. West Orange is looking to avenge a 12-6 home loss to Passaic Tech on Friday, Sept. 16, in the Mountaineers’ third game and first loss of the season.
In the North 1 final, top-seeded Passaic Tech defeated No. 2 seed Union City, 14-7, on Saturday, Nov. 12, at home. It was Passaic Tech’s second win over Union City this year as they improved to 10-2.
The other Group 5 semifinal pitted Central champion Edison against South Jersey champion Toms River North. The Group 5 state championship will be held on Friday, Dec. 2, at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium in Piscataway at a time to be determined.
West Orange has won three playoff games, all on the road. In the quarterfinals, they defeated No. 3 seed Watchung Hills, 18-10, on Friday, Oct. 29. West Orange defeated second-seeded Ridgewood, 34-31, in overtime in the semifinals on Karriem’s 10-yard TD catch from Stewart to end the game.
This year, the state playoffs will have Group state champions for the first time ever. The current state playoffs began in 1974 and had only crowned sectional champions for the public schools. In 2018, the state playoffs added an extra round and Group regional finals were held.
“We have had a long and grueling season and we have many of the boys with nagging injuries,” Grant said. “I have confidence in our training staff that they will work hard this week and get us back in the field.”
White and Hunter stepped up for the Mountaineers in place of senior Jekhi Williams, who was injured in the Ridgewood game.
Grant concluded his remarks by saying, “Finally, I just want to state how proud I am of all my players, their families, and the township as well. I’d like to see us come out in force and support the boys in the next round.”
Editor’s notes: This article has been updated to include the date of the Group 5 semifinal against Passaic Tech, and comments from Coach Grant.
Cynthia Cumming contributed to this article.