WEST ORANGE, NJ -- The West Orange Mountaineers looked to halt their 13-season-long football playoff victory drought by getting past defending North Jersey, Group 5 champion Piscataway.
West Orange defied the odds and defeated Piscataway, 30-18, in the first round of the Section 2, Group 5 playoffs at home Friday night. It was the first victory in a playoff game for West Orange since 2006.
West Orange added a key piece of its defensive unit for the first round of the playoffs, as linebacker Luke Stennett returned from an Achilles tear that occurred early on in the season. However, the Mountaineer defense still would be without star cornerback Dorian Rawls, who had missed the previous two weeks with a lower body injury he had suffered against the Passaic Tech Bulldogs.
Mason Murdock hit Amiyn Hanks for a 15-yard touchdown pass to give West Orange (7-3) the lead midway through the first quarter. The Mountaineers scored the first points of the game for the ninth time in their games.
Piscataway was unable to move the ball downfield on its following drive, but would gain an opportunity at redemption. The Chiefs would receive possession of the football, nearing the conclusion of the first quarter. Mountaineer middle linebacker Chris Parsons had stepped in the throwing lane of the Chief quarterback Kristopher Hernandez. The football was nestled in the arms of Parsons, who generated the games first turnover and gave his offense a chance to make the game a two-possession contest. The junior captain had earned the teams “Moneybag,” which is distributed to those who make game changing plays throughout the game.
West Orange was unable to cross the goal line, however, Bryan Reitberger would cash in three points for his team, making 30 yard field goal, giving his team an early 9-0 lead.
Piscataway would begin to shorten the Mountaineer lead, as the Chief offense would answer with a touchdown of their own, as senior receiver Sherrod Cooper would break the plane of the goal line after a 19-yard reception resulting in their first score of the night. Jalen Rutherford of the Mountaineers got a hand on the PAT attempt, and the Mountaineers led, 9-6.
The Chiefs went up, 12-9, with 1:14 left in the half, but Shakhi Carson recharged the West Orange attendance, sending them into a frenzy, as he took the ensuing Piscataway kickoff up the sideline 73 yards for a score. West Orange would trot into the locker room with a 19-12 lead after Bryan Reitberger put a PAT through the uprights.
West Orange would come out of the half with a boom, as Makhi Green, the star running back with a knack for chunk plays and explosive scores, took a designed screen pass 62 yards from Murdock for a TD. The sophomore phenom, who had emerged as a reliable, spark-providing back for West Orange, had stretched the Mountaineer lead to 11 points, as they led, 23-12 with 10:48 remaining in the third quarter.
It would then be the West Orange special teams unit that sent Suriano Field into celebration.
Green, who not only created big plays on offense, had blocked a Chief punt and fell on it in the end zone for another Mountaineer score. As the clock ran down and the Mountaineer lead increased to 30-12, West Orange grew more and more hopeful in terms of winning the opening round of the 2019 postseason.
With just 7:06 in regulation, Piscataway running back, Demetrious Stephens ran for 4 yards and a TD.
In the running game, Carson concluded his game with 21 carries for 161 yards, and a 73-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and Green finished his night with two total touchdowns, one on offense, and one on special teams. The stout Mountaineer defense had held the Piscataway Chief offense under 100 rushing yards.
West Orange hopes to carry its momentum into Union, as the Mountaineers are set to face the undefeated Union Farmers in the semifinal round of the Section 2, Group 5 playoffs on Friday, Nov. 15.
(Mark Mincolelli is a student at West Orange High School.)