After calling timeout with 7:55 remaining in Montclair High School’s annual Thanksgiving Day football game against Bloomfield, defensive coordinator Jamie Bittner had a message for his beleaguered defenders, who were on their heels against a strong Bengal run game.
“I told our guys that we’re going to make an adjustment, move some people around to help us out,” Bittner said. “But I told them that ultimately, I don’t have any magic formula. It was all about them. They needed to be more physical, they needed to make a play.”
The very next snap after Bittner’s message, the Mountie defense did just that, as senior linebacker John Lewis stripped Bloomfield running back Zavion Stevens and sophomore Willie Matthews recovered.
Given new life, Montclair’s offense exploded for two touchdowns in the next four minutes to earn a come-from-behind 30-23 win over the rival Bengals Thursday afternoon at Woodman Field.
“It was just a big cluster of people in there,” Lewis said. “Willie managed to get a wrap on [Stevens], and I was able to just kind of gave him a little pull and was able to get the ball out. It was a huge momentum swing, we really needed it.”
The Mounties (7-4, 5-1) recaptured the Investors Cup rivalry trophy for the fifth time in the trophy’s six-year history, and the win also earned MHS a share of the North Jersey Super Football Conference’s Liberty Blue Division title with West Orange.
Junior tailback Daniel Webb was the star of the day, carrying 19 times for 240 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the go-ahead 12-yard score with 3:30 to play. It was Webb’s third straight 200-yard rushing game, and he eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark for the season (2,064 rushing yards, 26 all-purpose touchdowns).
“Danny’s best football is ahead of him, which is scary, scary stuff,” said Montclair head coach John Fiore.
“I think this was the first time we’ve had our starting five offensive line all healthy, and they did an amazing job today,” Webb said. “[Tackles]
Owen Drexel and Jabril Salaam made some good blocks, [center] Chris Toone did a nice job, [guards] Brandon Doggett and Bo Bigelow were solid. This game was all about our seniors, and I’m so proud of them. It’s a blessing to have the skills I have, but it’s more of a blessing to have the teammates I have.”
Josh Crawford added 65 rushing yards and a score for MHS, while Tarrin Earle completed 8 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. Senior defensive tackle Liam Devine-Carter earned Montclair’s team MVP honors, earning a $500 college scholarship from Investors Bank.
Things looked bleak for Montclair after Bloomfield (7-3, 4-2) dominated the third quarter, taking a 23-13 lead into the final period by dominating the line of scrimmage.
Former Mountie Jeremy Witherspoon put the Bengals ahead, 17-13, on a 60-yard dash early in the third. Then, after a Montclair turnover on downs inside the Bloomfield 5-yard-line, the visitors drove 97 yards, keyed by a 57-yard run by Stevens and capped by Brandon Fernandes’ 2-yard touchdown plunge with 1:14 left in the third quarter.
Montclair pulled within 23-16 a minute into the fourth quarter when a 37-yard run by Crawford set up Harry Wylie’s 26-yard field goal.
But the Bengals looked like they might put the game out of reach with their next drive, which went 53 yards on 6 plays before Matthews recovered the fumble just at the Montclair 22-yard-line with 7:43 to play.
The Mounties capitalized immediately, as Webb burst through the line for a 53-yard run on the next play, and Crawford followed with runs of 13 and 12 yards, the latter producing the game-tying touchdown with 7:12 left.
“Those two backs are real good football players,” Fiore said. “And when we get our five guys up front blocking the way they blocked late, we can beat anyone. High school football is all about emotion, and that turnover energized the team. The team playing with the most emotion is the team that’s going to win most of the time.”
The Mountie defense then rose to the occasion, forcing its first three-and-out of the day on Bloomfield’s next possession, as Lewis made a pair of tackles and safety Walter King batted away Ryan Mondo’s third-down pass.
Webb began what ended up being the game-winning drive with another highlight-reel run to get Montclair out of a 2nd-and-12 hole, carrying two defenders downfield on a 60-yard run. The junior tailback then burst through a big hole three plays later for the 12-yard touchdown run to give Montclair the lead for good.
“Ultimately we were just having fun today, we never got nervous,” Webb said. “In the beginning of the game, we all were talking to ourselves, and just saying, like, ‘Play like we’re in the park.’ And the game was like that. Both teams played well, there wasn’t any trash talking. It was a lot of fun.”
Mondo kept Bloomfield alive in the waning minutes with a 33-yard scramble on 3rd-and-19, but another Bengal fumble on the next play allowed the Mounties to run out the clock and preserve their win against their traditional Thanksgiving rivalries that dates back to 1922.
“We showed our true character today,” senior co-captain Chris McCoy said. “We always fight, even though we’ve had adversity all season and today. Defensively, we know our offense has our backs and is going to score, so we knew we just had to come up big and the rest would take care of itself.
“It means a lot to go out with a win. There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears we’ve given up on this ‘M,’ a lot of things we’ve all gone through, and it’s just a great feeling to go out as winners.”
MHS defeated Bloomfield for the second time in 13 days, after a 40-14 rout in the opening round of the NJSIAA playoffs Nov. 11. The Bengals had won last year’s Investors Cup game, 41-27, snapping a 13-game win streak for MHS in this historic series. The Mounties lead the all-time series with their next-door neighbors, 70-26-1.
Bloomfield (7-3, 4-2)73130-23
MHS- Daniel Webb 45 run (Harry Wylie kick), 5:13
BLM- Khair Bowman 2 run (Victor Saccaro kick), 1:09
BLM- Saccaro 28 field goal, 7:11
MHS- Ivan McDaniel 44 pass from Tarrin Earle (kick missed), 5:33
BLM- Jeremy Witherspoon 60 run (Saccaro kick), 7:29
MHS- Wylie 26 field goal, 10:57
MHS- Josh Crawford 12 run (Wylie kick), 7:12
MHS- Webb 12 run (Wylie kick), 3:30
MHS: 7-4, 5-1BLM: 7-3, 4-2