WEST ORANGE/EAST ORANGE, NJ — This past week, the East Orange Campus High School football team experienced tragedy close to school grounds. One of their own, Letrell Duncan, a standout sophomore on the basketball team, was shot multiple times in the head on the way home from school. The 16-year-old did not survive. For what was supposed to be a fun rivalry football game between the East Orange Campus and West Orange High School, was now played with heavy hearts.
East Orange Campus defeated West Orange, 25-12, on Friday night, Oct. 7. EOC won its third straight win to improve to 3-3 on the season, while West Orange had its two-game winning streak end and moved to 4-2.
East Orange Campus had been on a tear lately as they defeated rivals Montclair 20-7 on Sept. 30 week after handing Bloomfield a solid wake-up call the week prior. East Orange lost their first three games in succession to Clifton, Irvington and Randolph. West Orange was looking to break up the stranglehold that the Jaguars have on the Freedom Red Division by taking it straight to them. East Orange had won four-of-five head-to-head matchups, including last year’s NJSIAA sectional playoff semifinals.
The Mountaineers entered the game with a 4-1 record defeating Montclair and Bloomfield by a combined score of 47-14, while losing a tough defensive struggle to Passaic Tech 12-6. The final two games were against Mount Olive in which the Mountaineers outplayed the Marauders 28-14 before taking the Bees of Bayonne to the woodshed for a 35-0 victory.
This year’s game was once again played at West Orange’s Joe Suriano Stadium with a packed Friday night lights crowd. Empire State of Mind was this year’s Mountaineer homecoming theme as they crowned their royal court. But that wasn’t what was on everyone’s mind as the whole stadium gave a moment of silence before kickoff for East Orange’s late classmate.
With the Jaguars electing to kick the ball away in the opening kickoff, West Orange led by stand out senior wide receiver Saboor Karriem, senior running back Jehki “Choo Choo” Williams and senior quarterback Amir Stewart were looking to jump on the board early, but East Orange’s stingy defense had other plans. The Jaguars, led by Maryland commit Josh Richards, took the first bite into the hide of the Mountaineers. Richards snagged the first of two team interceptions for a 65-yard pick-six touchdown to open the scoring at 7-0 very early in the first quarter. Richards was feeling it as he had a near interception on the Mountaineers’ next possession and almost single-handedly forced a three and out. With that in mind, the Jaguars offense would step out onto the field led by junior quarterback Kyree Fisher, the senior running back duo of Irijah Wright and Kasim Cross, along with the receiving corps of Michael Henderson, BJ Covington and Richards.
The Jags made quick work of a four-play, 72-yard drive with Wright breaking free for a 65-yard gain and Fisher pulling one of his many magic tricks to skip into the house seven yards for the 13-0 lead with 4:49 left in the first quarter. That only stirred the pot as the Mountaineers found the end zone on their very next possession. Stewart found a way to direct traffic and fed the ball evenly to his playmakers. With a healthy ground game from Williams and Adonis White, Stewart found the opening he was waiting for when he threw a 20-yard dart to a streaking Karriem for the Mountaineers’ first score of the night that cut East Orange’s lead to 13-6.
The score remained the same for the rest of the first half. Both squads battled it out getting within striking distance of each other’s end zone twice but failed to convert.
East Orange came out of the half firing on all cylinders, exploding for two more touchdowns in going up 25-6. Scoring on both sides of the ball was the theme of the night as they adjusted on the fly, keeping West Orange guessing in what they are dialing up next. The first touchdown of the quarter came with the help of the running tandem of Fisher, Wright, who rushed for 184 yards on 14 carries, and Cross, who finished off seven-play, 58-yard drive by bullying his way through the West Orange defense fighting off a facemask as he trucked his way to the house for a 16-yard touchdown to make it 19-6.
The Jags forced the first three-and-out of the quarter picking up where they left off by sticking to the ground before Richards made his presence felt with back-to-back ball snags of 46 yards and 15 yards respectively. Fisher kept the Mountaineers on their heels as he called his number to add on 10 more yards rushing down to the West Orange 5-yard line. With emotions running high and the Jags sensing another score, Mountaineers defensive back Justin Laniyan picked the pocket connection of Fisher to Henderson. Laniyan scrambled to return the ball but the angry Jags pounced on him at the 1-yard line. East Orange defensive back Na’il Johnson returned the favor the very next play and scored on the ricocheting pick 6.
West Orange answered again with the help of a couple of penalties that would give them good field position at the East Orange 40-yard line. Mountaineers went up top for a 16-yard gain with Stewart finding White before he peeled off three runs of 8, 12 and 4 yards to set up Williams for a bruising 4-yard plunging 25-12 score.
West Orange forced a turnover on downs taking their rally caps out with just 3:01 left in the game. They took over deep in Jaguars territory looking for their opportunity to pull closer with another late score. Stewart dropped back and let loose a high-arcing pass for Karriem who hauled it in for a touchdown but as the saying goes, hold everything there was a penalty on the field. West Orange was called for an illegal shift that nullified the play. The game ended as East Orange would pounce on a fumble and gave the Jags the Super Football Conference–Freedom Red Division championship for the second year in a row.
West Orange head coach Darnell Grant stated that East Orange deserved to win as they came out with intensity, while his squad didn’t. He also understood the magnitude of the win as he would send his heartfelt condolences to the whole East Orange community for the loss of Duncan. East Orange head coach John Jacob stated that his team had a rough week too. He said that his team is improving and will continue to be a work-in-progress.
West Orange will go on the road to face the Bruins of North Bergen who at press time was winless in the 2022 -23 season. Kickoff is set for Friday night, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m. in North Bergen’s Bruins Stadium.
It is homecoming week for the Jaguars. The visiting Passaic Tech Bulldogs will look to slow down the Jaguars march to the NJSIAA playoffs as the Jaguars dominated the Bulldogs in the sectional championship last season on their march to perfection. Kickoff is set for Saturday, Oct. 15, at 1 p.m.
Photos Courtesy of Kerry E. Porter.