MONTVILLE, NJ - Prior to kicking off the 2019 season, the Montville football team had high hopes for what the team's defense would be able to accomplish, with a strong returning core coupled with a new, aggresive mentality.
It didn't take long for the results to begin to show. In the team's season-opener, the Mustangs defense notched a shutout with a dominant performance in a 26-0 victory over Mendham on Friday night at Montville Township High School.
The defensive unit put relentless pressure on Mendham quarterback Gage Armijo throughout the night, as it recorded three sacks and held the dual-threat passer to just 31 passing yards and 12 yards on the ground. Nick Amoroso and Niko Barbosa each came down with interceptions, while Zach Stolz-Illge, Kristof Behrens, Mike Marucci, and Alex Garcia provided the majority of the pressure up front.
“It was really exciting," Garcia said of the team's defensive performance. "We expected that, so we didn’t expect to come out here and let up a touchdown or anything else. We expected to pound them and stop them.”
While there were certainly some mistakes on offense, Montville was efficient throughout the game, led by quarterback Mike Burke's performance. Burke completed 15-of-22 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown, while also rushing 19 times for 103 yards.
Things got off to a bit of an inauspicious start in the first quarter, however. Montville embarked on an 11-play drive to open the game all the way down to Mendham's 3-yard line, but the drive ended when a snap went over Burke's head and was recovered by Mendham.
But like it did most of the night, Montville's defense held strong and did not allow the momentum to swing too far in Mendham's favor, as it forced the Minutemen to punt on that next drive. And Montville quickly notched its first score of 2019, as an eight-play, 50-yard drive concluded with Burke's 1-yard TD run, followed by a 2-point conversion run by Garcia.
“Staying positive and having each other’s backs (is key)," Reese Martinelli, who finished with six catches for 98 yards, said. "We’re all family, we’re all brothers. If one person makes a small mistake, we’re all rallying behind each other to make a better play and get the momentum back on our side.”
The defense came through again with another three-and-out, before Montville blocked a punt which was recovered by Steven Olsson, which gave the Mustangs the ball at Mendham's 5-yard line. It was forced to settle for a field goal, however, as Blaine Franc nailed a 29-yarder in the second quarter to extend the advantage to 11-0.
Montville held the ball for the majority of the second quarter, but was unable to get back onto the scoreboard after Franc's 36-yard field goal attempt was no good with over five minutes left. Then, Montville came up just short of a fourth down conversion in the final minute deep in Mendham territory, and it took the 11-point advantage into the half.
“We had too many mental mistakes in the first half," Burke said. "If we didn’t have as many, we could’ve been up by more. But hey, it’s the first game and a lot of things are going to go wrong and you just have to clean them up as the weeks go along.”
It started to take advantage of opportunities in the third quarter which effectively put the game away. Burke led a 10-play, 74-yard scoring drive early in the third, which concluded with a nice throw on the run to an open Reese Martinelli for a 28-yard touchdown.
“It definitely gave us a nice cushion there and made us more comfortable," Martinelli said of the touchdown. "I think we had a good night on offense but it could’ve been a lot better if we fix up those mistakes. But that first score (in the third quarter) meant a lot to us.”
Nick Amoroso picked off Armijo on the next Mendham drive to give Montville a golden opportunity to pad its lead. Just three plays later, the junior raced to the left sideline before cutting it back to the middle where there was open space, and eventually found paydirt for a 17-yard TD.
“I just kind of waited for my blocking to develop," Amoroso said. "Once I saw the blocks from some of our outside guys, I just cut it back and did the best I could with it.”
After that touchdown- which ended with Burke's 2-point conversion run- both teams began to substitute in their reserves, and Montville was able to run out the clock in the fourth quarter for the all-important first win of the season.
While Mendham is considered a steadily improving program, Montville set out to make a statement on opening night, and will now look to carry that momentum as it prepares for next Friday's road game against Kinnelon.
“We wanted to pick up where we started off last year," Burke said. "We wanted to make that statement that Montville’s still here and we’re not afraid of anyone, and we’re not going to slow down.”
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