MONTVILLE, NJ - For the Montville football team's 21-player senior class, Friday night most likely was the last time that the players would make the walk from the school, down the valley to the stadium to play in front of the home crowd.
While it's unclear who or where Montville will be playing next Friday in the state playoffs, the most likely scenario based off the latest standings is that its road to the program's first state championship will be forged on the road.
Add in the fact that it was coming off back-to-back losses, it made the game on Friday night even more important, just for the team to get back on the winning side of things in time for states.
Led by a career day from senior running back Zach Walch, Montville did just what it set out to do, as it snapped its two-game losing skid and got a win for its seniors with a convincing 40-7 win over Vernon at Montville Township High School.
Walch led the way on offense for Montville, as he carried 11 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns. His scores came on runs of 12, 12, and 16 yards, respectively, in the first half as Montville built a 33-0 lead going into halftime.
“It was great. I haven’t really gotten the ball as much as I wanted to this year, but this was a great game to get the ball," Walch said. "I have to thank my teammates for blocking for me, 100 percent.”
Walch added, "First of all, it’s senior night, so we wanted to win for our seniors- all 21 of us. Those two losses were tough. (Mount Olive) by one point, then Sparta, we let that one slip away from us. But this one puts us on track where we should be for the playoffs.”
Senior quarterback Mike Burke had another solid night, which included a 45-yard scramble for a touchdown with 1:21 to go in the first half. After Reese Martinelli picked off Vernon quarterback Zack Waschek on the ensuing drive, Burke found Martinelli for a 10-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, giving the Mustangs the commanding lead going into the break.
In total, Burke completed 8-of-12 passes for 100 yards, while rushing four times for 78 yards in likely the final home game of his three-year career as the starting signal-caller for the Mustangs.
“It means everything. It’s a bittersweet moment, obviously, it was three quick years," Burke said. "But it just means everything to come back out here one last time in front of these great fans that have supported us these past three years, and all of our work paying off and getting a great win.”
The second half saw senior Timothy Chun take advantage of an opportunity, as he scored a nine-yard TD in the third quarter to extend Montville's lead to 40-0.
Vernon's only score came late in the fourth quarter, as Waschek found Aden Moskovitz for a 22 yard touchdown.
There aren't many senior classes in Montville's history that have been able to reach the state playoffs in back-to-back seasons, but the class of 2020 will be able to say that now, as it finished its regular season at 7-2 and will wait to see which seed it receives in the state tournament next week.
It's a class that has special meaning to fourth-year coach Rick DeBonta, who took over the program prior to this group's freshman year.
“This senior class- I was here for a long time- but when I took over as head coach with this new coaching staff, they were freshmen," DeBonta said. "So we knew what we had coming in. They were a really talented group, you knew they’d stick together, and they’ve led the way. They’ve set the bar for where Montville football should be.”
Burke added, "We’ve lived for this moment. We grew up around this high school. I call our class the culture-changer class. We came in, Montville football was struggling a little bit, but I’m glad that we were able to turn it around. Hopefully all of our hard work pays off.”
Now, Montville will turn the page as the season starts anew next week in the state playoffs. It suffered back-to-back losses to Mount Olive and Sparta, which likely cost the team a chance at a first round home game as well as a Patriot Blue division title.
But all of that is in the past now, and the ultimate goal of a state championship and a trip to MetLife Stadium is still very much on the table.
“It’s awesome. To be honest, I wouldn’t say that it’s a good thing that we lost, but it’s good that we got a sour taste in our mouth, and we don’t want that to ever happen again," Burke said. "This win means everything to the seniors. All of the hard work we’ve put in, we’re happy, and now we’re going to get ready to make a state championship run.”
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