SPARTA, NJ - After it came out of the locker room staring a two-touchdown deficit in the face, the Montville football team had plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the second half in Friday night's game against Sparta.
For one, it had moved the ball reasonably well in the first half, and was going to get the ball to start the third quarter with a chance to cut the deficit to just one score. It appeared to be on its way to doing that, as it embarked on an 18-play drive that took almost eight minutes off the clock, and found itself just five yards away from paydirt.
Then, in the blink of an eye, the game got away from Montville.
Sparta's Tyler Szabo intercepted Mike Burke's pass on third down in the end zone, and ran it back 102 yards to put Sparta up by three scores. From that point on, the Mustangs were unable to recover, and it dropped its second game in a row with a 48-13 loss to Sparta at Sparta High School.
The loss all but ended Montville's hopes for a division title, as Sparta clinched at least a share of the Patriot Blue division title, and can win it outright next week with a win against Morris Hills. If Sparta loses and Montville defeats Vernon next week, Montville would finish in a three-way tie for first in the division.
"We didn’t feel terrible at half. We were down by 14 but we’ve been in that situation before," Montville coach Rick DeBonta said. "It was a positive atmosphere in the locker room, kids were excited about coming out. We knew we were going to get the ball. We drove the ball down, and we had it right on the edge right there. It just got away from us. It is what it is. A big play for them, and that caused us to go into a little bit of a hole."
The game could not have started any better for Montville, as Michael Conrad intercepted Sparta quarterback Austen Frattura on the game's opening drive. Eight plays later, Colin Regan ran it in from four yards out, giving Montville the early 6-0 advantage.
Sparta struck back with a pair of touchdowns before the end of the quarter, as Frattura hit Szabo for a 48-yard TD, before Austin Castorina scored on a 23-yard run to take a 14-6 lead going into the second quarter.
On the opening drive of the second quarter, Burke found Blaine Franc for a 49-yard touchdown, which cut Sparta's lead to 14-13.
That was the closest that Montville would get for the remainder of the game. Frattura threw a pair of touchdowns before the half- a 77-yard TD to Szabo, as well as a 41-yard strike to Castorina- and Sparta took a 27-13 lead into the break.
After Szabo's interception return for a touchdown, Sparta came up with another interception on Montville's next drive, as James Maloney picked off Burke. Three plays later, Castorina took off for a 50-yard TD.
Sparta put the game well out of reach with Castorina's 13-yard TD in the fourth, which capped the scoring.
Montville will be back in action next Friday, as it hosts Vernon for the final game of the regular season at 7 p.m., and it will look to snap a two-game losing skid in time for the state playoffs.
"I’m proud of our guys. We still have a lot of football ahead of us, and that’s the conversation," DeBonta said. "There’s a lot of football left, so let’s just keep our heads up and keep playing and get after it.”
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