MONTVILLE, NJ - Sometimes, all it takes is one play to completely shift the momentum of a football game.
Although the Montville football team held a one-score lead in the second quarter over West Milford on Friday night, the team's offense stalled on multiple drives, and the team needed some sort of boost to break the game open.
Then, with West Milford pinned on its own 1-yard line after an impressive punt by Blaine Franc, Michael Marucci stepped up.
On third down, Marucci made a near-perfect read on a pitch play by West Milford. He managed to deflect the toss, knocking it out of the back of the end zone for a safety. That moment on defense proved to give a boost to the rest of the team, as the Mustangs marched down the field and scored twice more before halftime, before scoring on its first drive of the third quarter in a 31-0 win over West Milford at Montville Township High School.
“I saw the quarterback get the ball, and he turned around and stood still for a second, so I knew something was going on," Marucci said of the safety. "I just did what my coach told me to do and stayed home. I saw him pitch the ball and got a couple of fingers on it and got the safety.”
“I felt the momentum definitely shift," senior Alex Garcia added. "I felt like that’s what we needed, because once we get that spark we’re unstoppable.”
Quarterback Mike Burke completed 12-of-16 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown, which was a 58-yard strike to Reese Martinelli on the Mustangs' first play from scrimmage. Burke also rushed seven times for 34 yards, while Martinelli hauled in six passes for 102 yards. Zach Walch carried five times for 45 yards and one TD in the win.
The win improved Montville to 3-0 for the second-consecutive year. Even more impressive, Montville's defense held strong yet again, as it posted its third-consecutive shutout to open the year.
It recorded three turnovers, which included a fumble recovery by Kristof Behrens, as well as an interception each by Mike Conrad and Nick Amoroso.
"We’re savages. We don’t expect to give up points, we don’t want to give up points, and we’re not going to give up points," Garcia said defiantly. "It’s going to be really tough, and we’re going to make teams really work for it because we know that you’re going to be getting hit every single play. Every single play. You’re going to get hit, and it’s going to hurt.”
Garcia added: “It really means a lot. Just because we work hard for this in practice, and we expect this. We expect nothing less than to put 31 points up on the board and give zero touchdowns up, or zero points at all. Because we have the hardest-working guys on the field, and it’s going to be hard to stop us.”
Walch's 13-yard TD run came on the ensuing drive after the safety, which saw Montville drive 45 yards in just four plays. It marked Walch's first touchdown of the 2019 season, and it gave the Mustangs some breathing room with a 17-0 lead late in the second quarter.
“It was outside zone, and I saw one of the defenders was outside so I cut it off of him," Walch said. "My teammates made excellent blocks and there was a wide-open path and nobody touched me.”’
Walch added: “I’ve been waiting to get my chance and I finally did. It was awesome.”
Montville forced West Milford to punt on the next drive, and the Mustangs got the ball back with 1:35 left in the half. It needed just 46 seconds of that time to find the end zone again, as Burke led a four-play, 55 yard drive which ended with the senior signal-caller taking off on a 16-yard TD run.
“That last drive we had, once we got the ball back with under two minutes, we drove down and that showed what kind of firepower we have offensively," Montville coach Rick DeBonta said. "It was a 30-second clip and we put the ball in the end zone. That was impressive. They just put together a perfect scheme to go down the field. That’s what we’re capable of doing at any time, and that’s the exciting part about it.”
The scoring was capped in the third quarter, when Colin Regan punched it in from 1-yard out to extend the lead to 31-0 after a 10-play, 57 yard drive.
Now, Montville will face its toughest test to date next Friday, when it faces another unbeaten team in Jefferson, which is coming off an impressive win over Mount Olive. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Jefferson Township High School, and it is just the type of test that the team is looking forward to.
“It’s the same mindset every week," Walch said. "We want to go for that goose egg and we want to win. I think we’re going to practice hard, and that’s going to make us win.”
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