ORANGE, NJ - The West Essex football team improved to 4-0 on Friday night after defeating Orange, 35-20, at Bell Stadium.
The Tornadoes (1-3) jumped out to an early 20-7 lead, but West Essex came back with 28 unanswered points to come away with the victory.
“We have to figure out how to come out and start firing on all cylinders early in the game,” Knights’ head coach Chris Benacquista said. “But I give Orange a lot of credit. They were athletic and physical and played hard.”
Orange capitalized on their opening drive when quarterback Ariel Fernandez connected with wide receiver D’Andre Smith for a 20-yard gain. Smith’s catch set up a 9-yard run by Raheem Coleman to give the Tornadoes an early 6-0 lead after the extra point was blocked.
Later in the first quarter, Orange moved the ball downfield and eventually scored on a 25-yard scramble by Fernandez. West Essex blocked the extra point again to keep the score at 12-0.
The Knights got on the board in the second quarter after senior quarterback Matt Thies hit Alex Wojtowicz for a 44-yard gain, bringing West Essex to Orange’s two yard line. Senior Jason Russo eventually pounded the ball into the endzone for the score.
Orange responded on their next possession when Fernandez went back to Smith for a 39-yard touchdown pass with just over six minutes left in the half. The Tornadoes increased their lead to 20-7 after converting for two points on a quick pass to Duane Anderson.
On the very next play from scrimmage, West Essex senior running back Peter Norton ran 71 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. The Knights added another score with just under two minutes left in the half on an 8-yard pass to Norton to give West Essex a one-point lead going into halftime.
“Peter’s just a gamer, and we got a lot of guys that are big-time gamers,” Benacquista said. They (seniors) step up in big spots and we needed them tonight.”
On a night dedicated to breast cancer awareness, Orange High School showed their support by sporting pink jerseys and raised money by selling pink t-shirts to students and residents of the town. Halftime was highlighted by the presentation of a check for $3,500 donated to the American Cancer Society.
The second half was dominated by West Essex as Orange was unable to move the ball. Minutes before the end of the third quarter, Norton broke a 29-yard touchdown run to give the Knights a 28-20 lead. West Essex continued to have success in the run-game when senior Joe Scaglia ran 40 yards for a touchdown, putting the game out of reach with only minutes remaining.
West Essex will host Belleville High School on Friday at 7 p.m. Orange visits Millburn at the same time.