WEST ORANGE, NJ - Even though the West Orange football team piled up 44 points on Homecoming, the Mountaineers' offense really didn't have to do much heavy lifting Friday night.
A proficient effort on special teams and a bone-jarring performance by a defense that held Columbia to negative yardage in the second half helped West Orange overcome more than 100 yards of penalties and some inconsistency on offense.
West Orange pulled away from a six-point halftime lead for a 44-7 victory over Columbia, which netted minus-8 yards of total offense in the second half after controlling the ball for much of the first half.
The game was tied, 7-7, late in the first half before kicker Brian Reitberger kicked field goals of 42 and 37 yards--both into the wind--in the final 2:04 of the first half to give West Orange (2-2) a 13-7 lead at halftime.
"Reitberger was lights out with his kicks into the wind," said West Orange head coach Jim Matsakis. "Not only with his field goals and extra points, but he flipped field position for us by pinning them deep with his long kickoffs."
Columbia fumbled the first four times it touched the ball in the first half, yet still was very much in the game until Reitberger's two long field goals gave West Orange some momentum going into the long halftime break. Matthew Almonte recovered a Columbia fumble on the opening kickoff at the Columbia 27-yard line, setting up a 20-yard touchdown pass from Jahmil St. Pierre to Jordan White on a fade pattern to the right corner just 1:26 into the contest.
But Columbia (1-3) later in the opening quarter put together a marathon drive covering 75 yards in 19 plays and consuming 10 minutes off the clock bridging the first two quarters. The Cougars scored on a 9-yard TD pass from Kai Arrington to Michael Caines and an extra point by Stephen Henry. Largely on the strength of that lengthy march, Columbia actually outgained West Orange from scrimmage, 89 yards to 67, in the first half.
But West Orange's punishing defense didn't give an inch--literally--in a second half which saw middle linebacker Kevan McLaughlin, safety Jordan Johnson and a host of other Mountaineers consistently penetrate into the Columbia backfield to throttle plays before they had any chance for success.
"McLaughlin at middle linebacker just shut people down left to right," Matsakis said. "He was all over the field. We changed things defensively at halftime so that the defense could just pin their ears back and go after them. We have some tremendous athletes who are relentless in pursuit."
West Orange scored 18 points in a span of two minutes of elapsed time in the third quarter to take full control of the game. There were two safeties--both on Columbia punt snaps that went out of the back of the end zone--in that stretch. After the first safety, West Orange scored on a 35-yard TD pass from Sean Brown (the third West Orange QB in the game) to Tayo Akinboade. After the second safety, Dorian Rawls returned the ensuing free kick 57 yards for a TD, and West Orange had a 31-7 led with 6:27 left in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Michael Charles scored on a 4-yard TD run and Nate Dalger returned a Columbia fumble 29 yards for another TD.
While West Orange's defense, which will get even better when Division 1 (Pitt) lineman Bryce Nelms--who played one half Friday night--returns from a knee injury that kept him completely out of the previous two games, is one that should command statewide respect, the Mountaineers' young and inexperienced offense is a work in progress.
Friday night, the offense performed in spurts of inconsistency, committing numerous penalties, but also flashing moments of athletic brilliance.
"Our problem right now is our youth on offense," Matsakis said. "We have been using a Rolodex of different quarterbacks, but we have some great athletes."
COLUMBIA 0 7 0 0 -- 7
W. ORANGE 7 6 18 13 -- 44