FLANDERS, N.J. -- The Montville football team's quest for perfection came to a sudden and stunning halt on Friday night.
On a night where the team admittedly did not play its best against an upset-minded Mount Olive squad, it decided to take advantage of an opportunity to win the game in overtime after Mike Burke's touchdown pass to Reese Martinelli set up a point after attempt.
Rather than kicking the extra point to tie the score with its ultra-reliable kicker in Blaine Franc and send it to another overtime session, Montville decided to go for the win with a two-point conversion play that it had seen much success with in the first six weeks of the year.
But the 'muddle-huddle' play that the Mustangs had converted on several occasions earlier in the year, ended with the ball being snapped over quarterback Mike Burke's head and out of bounds, sending the Mount Olive sideline into a frenzy as it ended Montville's unbeaten run with a dramatic 21-20 win at Mount Olive High School in Flanders.
"They played their hearts out and we did what we’ve been doing," Montville coach Rick DeBonta said. "We’ve been working hard at the two-point conversion and thought we would’ve had that, and it slipped through our hands.”
DeBonta added: “We weren’t trying anything different there. We were going right to the guy that we wanted to go to (Burke). It just didn’t get there, that’s all.”
The opportunity in overtime came after its offense had struggled to generate much throughout the first three quarters of the game. But with the team trailing 7-0 in the fourth quarter, the tide began to turn. After the Montville defense forced a three-and-out, Reese Martinelli came up with a momentum-changing play, as he blocked the ensuing punt and returned it down to the Mount Olive 3-yard line. Three plays later, Burke tied the game with a 1-yard TD run with 7:47 to go.
Then, Mount Olive decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 from its own 44. But the snap was fumbled on the quarterback sneak attempt, and Montville had a golden opportunity to take its first lead. On the ensuing five-play drive, Burke avoided what appeared to be a sure sack by scrambling out of the pocket, and finding a wide-open Blaine Franc for a 20-yard gain down to the Mount Olive 2-yard line. He sneaked it in on the next play, giving the Mustangs a 14-7 lead with 4:10 left.
"When you have Mike Burke, you never doubt what’s going to happen," DeBonta said. "He stepped up at the right times and made the right plays. He had a big run down there, and he’s just a heck of a player.”
At that point, it was reasonable to think that the Montville defense, which had been lights out all season and was having a strong game, would come up with the stops needed to secure the win- even without the defense's leader in Alex Garcia, who exited the game with an injury.
However, Mount Olive embarked on an epic, 12-play, 77-yard drive, which included Lockwood's 45-yard pass to A.J. McKay on 3rd-and-13 deep in its own territory. It ended with Hunter Perez's 4-yard TD run with 29 seconds left, which tied the game and sent it to overtime.
In overtime, it took Mount Olive just two plays to score on its possession, as Perez took off for a 17-yard touchdown run to give the Marauders a 21-14 lead.
Montville fought back, as Burke found Colin Regan for a big fourth-down conversion to keep the game alive. Then, Burke hit Martinelli for a 4-yard TD pass, setting up the two-point conversion opportunity.
“It’s hard to recall it right now, but it was just a roller-coaster of emotions going through it," DeBonta said. "Having our backs against the wall, we just kept on fighting and we put ourselves in position in the end. That’s, to me, grit in itself, just to keep on battling. We were down against Jefferson but this was the toughest fight we’ve had so far. They’re a well-coached team and they were prepared for us, and we battled back and forth. It came down to a 21-20 overtime loss.”
While it was certainly disappointing for Montville to experience a loss for the first time in 2019, there is still much to look forward to. With a 6-1 record, the team finds itself in good position to return to the state playoffs for the second-straight year. More importantly, it has a showdown with Sparta next Friday night, in a game that will likely determine the Super Football Conference-Patriot Blue Division title, as both teams are still undefeated in the division.
A division title has been Montville's first goal from the beginning of the season, and it will have an opportunity to accomplish just that, just one week after a heart-breaking defeat.
“That’s our number one thing, is win the conference," DeBonta said. "After that, everything else is a plus. We want to be in the playoffs obviously, but to win a conference championship and compete for that, that’s huge for us. We’re going to prepare for it, we’re going to work hard for it, and we’re going to bounce back from this and have a great week of practice.”
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