Former Irvington HS coach and IHS alum Darnell Grant leads West Orange HS football team to sectional title

West Orange High School head football coach Darnell Grant, right, and West Orange High School Principal Hayden Moore hold the championship plaque while standing on the field after the Mountaineers won the North 2, Group 5 state sectional championship at Phillipsburg on Thursday, Nov. 10.

IRVINGTON, NJ — Darnell Grant, a 1991 Irvington High School graduate and former IHS head football coach, guided the West Orange High School football team to its first-ever state sectional championship.

West Orange, the No. 6 seed, defeated top-seeded and previously undefeated Phillipsburg, 28-7, in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s North Jersey, Section 2, Group 5 state sectional championship game at Phillipsburg on Thursday, Nov. 10. It was West Orange’s first-ever state championship game appearance. The current state playoff format began in 1974. Phillipsburg was 10-0 before the loss.

West Orange, which improved to an 8-3 record this season, will face North 1 champion Passaic County Tech in the Group 5 state semifinals on Sunday, Nov. 20, at 2:30 p.m. at Franklin High School in Somerset. West Orange is looking to avenge a 12-6 home loss to Passaic Tech back on Friday, Sept. 16. The Group 5 state championship game will be held Friday, Dec. 2, at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium in Piscataway. The other semifinal pits Central champion Edison against South Jersey champion Toms River North.

Grant, who was also the head coach at Newark Shabazz, is considered one of the top public school head football coaches in the state. This will be his sixth state sectional championship game.

Grant helped resurrect the IHS football program during his eight-year tenure from 2002 to 2009. The Blue Knights made the state playoffs in 2003 for the first time since 1975. Irvington was the top seed that year. 

In 2006, the Blue Knights reached their first-ever state sectional championship game. They lost to New Brunswick 18-14, at Rutgers Stadium in the North 2, Group 3 title game. Grant had a 64-21 record — a .753 winning percentage — at Irvington.

Grant then was the head coach at Newark Shabazz, where he achieved remarkable success in nine seasons, from 2010 to 2018. Shabazz went to four North 2, Group 1 state sectional championship games, winning in 2014 and 2017. 

Shabazz lost to Hoboken in the 2013 final but beat Dunellen in the 2014 final. Shabazz lost to Weequahic in the 2016 final but beat the same opponent in the 2017 final to complete a 12-0 season. Grant was 68-32 overall — a .680 winning percentage — at Shabazz.

Grant arrived at West Orange in 2019. In his first year, the team was a North 2, Group 5 semifinalist and finished with a 7-4 record. In the 2020 pandemic-shortened season, West Orange went 6-1. The playoffs were canceled due to the pandemic. Last season, the West Orange Mountaineers advanced to the North 1, Group 5 semifinals, losing to eventual champion East Orange Campus, and finished with a 7-4 record.

Grant’s younger brother, Barris Grant, is the head football coach at Hillside High School. Hillside also reached a state sectional championship game this season. Hillside lost to Old Tappan, 28-14, in the North 1, Group 3 state sectional final on Saturday, Nov. 12, at Old Tappan, to finish 9-2.

Barris Grant, a 1997 IHS graduate, has been the head coach at Hillside since 2016. The Grant brothers both won sectional titles in 2017 and nearly accomplished that again this season. The Hillside Comets won the Central Jersey, Group 2 sectional title in 2017 and won the South Jersey, Group 2 sectional title in 2019 when they finished 12-0.

The Grant brothers are also both members of the IHS Athletic Hall of Fame.

Photo Courtesy of WOHS Sports Media Association.