OAK RIDGE, NJ - After rolling through its first three games and outscoring its opponents by a 77-0 margin, it was fair to wonder how the Montville football team would handle its first bit of adversity.
That adversity came early on in Friday night's game against Jefferson, as it got out to a slow start and found itself in a 10-0 hole early on, and it went into the locker room at halftime facing an eight-point deficit.
But while it would be easy for a team that hasn't faced this type of situation yet to hit the panic button, Montville did exactly the opposite.
"It was crazy, because going into the locker room at half, the positivity that was coming out of the kids mouths," Montville coach Rick DeBonta said. "You come in at 3-0, you haven’t given up any points, now all of the sudden you’re in a situation where you’re behind, and you’re not really sure how the team’s going to react. Their attitude in the locker room at halftime was positive, the talk was ‘it’s alright, everything’s going to be fine, let’s go get it.’”
The positivity paid off in a big way, as Montville erased an eight-point deficit by scoring 36 unanswered points in the second half to pull out a big 44-16 win over previously-undefeated Jefferson at Jefferson Township High School.
The win improved Montville to 4-0 for the second consecutive season, and gave the team a key win in the SFC-Patriot Blue Division race. Mike Burke completed 11-of-20 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, and also rushed 15 times for 81 yards and a touchdown, while the Montville defense intercepted five passes, including four in the second half.
The Mustangs found themselves behind, 16-8 at halftime after a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Bam Johnson to Caleb Rippey of 6 and 44 yards, as well as a 40-yard field goal by Johnson.
However, it came out of the locker room in the second half and turned the game around almost immediately. Michael Conrad jumped a slant route and intercepted a pass on the second play of the half, which gave Montville the ball in Jefferson territory. It took just six plays to find the end zone, as the drive was capped off with Zach Walch's 5-yard TD run, followed by Colin Regan's two-point conversion pass from Burke to tie the game.
"I knew we needed a big play. We watched so much film this week and we saw that play so many times," Conrad said of the momentum-changing interception. "I knew that slant was coming, he threw a low ball and we both got our hands on it, but I knew we needed a big spark so I ripped that ball (out of his hands) as hard as I could and I got the ball. We went down and scored and the rest was history.”
On its next drive, Burke found paydirt on a 3-yard touchdown run, in which he ran over the defender while reaching for the goal line, which gave Montville its first lead of the game.
“I just wanted to set the tone, that we’re not here to back down, we’re here and we’re coming right now. So, I just wanted to set the tone and let them know," Burke said.
Then, the Montville defense forced another interception, when Nick Amoroso came up with his third interception of the year. He returned this one 33 yards to the house, extending the lead to 30-16. Burke then found Reese Martinelli for an 11-yard TD in the fourth quarter, before Mylo Lee capped the 36-point second half with a 55-yard TD run.
While the offense will grab most of the headlines for the amount of points it put up in the second half, the defense turned things around in the second half as well. After Johnson went 8-for-15 for 147 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, Montville ramped up the pressure and tightened its coverage in the second half, and held him to just two completed passes out of 14 attempts down the stretch for a final stat line of 10-for-29 for 171 yards.
“We inserted a new defense for their trips set, they run a really good passing offense out of that," Conrad said. "We didn’t change anything, we just tightened up our coverage in the second half. I dropped an interception in the first half, but when I got an opportunity in the second half I was not dropping that. We just did what we did, and it worked, and we got five interceptions.”
Colin Regan finished with eight carries for 46 yards- including a 15-yard TD in the second quarter- while also catching four passes for 40 yards. Zach Walch had six carries for 20 yards and a score, and Reese Martinelli caught four passes for 54 yards and a TD in the win.
Montville will now face yet another big test next Friday, when it hosts a perennial power in Morris Hills at 7 p.m., a team that handed Montville its first loss last season, a 55-26 defeat.
“This is huge because I feel like we needed this win," Conrad said. "Especially against Morris Hills, our Morris Hills game last year was horrible. We needed this to boost our confidence even more. We needed to face a good offense to prepare us even more for next week since Morris Hills' offense is really good. This win means everything to us. We’ve been working so hard.”
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