WEST ORANGE, NJ - When Montclair took a 16-0 lead into halftime on Thursday, many thought this game was going exactly as predicted. The defending undefeated state champion Mounties seemed to have control over a West Orange team that they drilled, 48-7, just 10 months earlier.
But West Orange wasn’t letting history repeat itself.
Not on this night. Not this season.
An improved West Orange team with championship aspirations dominated the second half and scored 26 consecutive points to rally for a season-opening stunner, 26-19, over Montclair — the No. 8-ranked team in New Jersey — in West Orange. Dorian Rawls ran for a go-ahead 31-yard touchdown and came up with a 45-yard pick-six five minutes later, and Shakhi Carson rushed for 177 yards to lead the Mountaineers, who did not complete a pass the entire night -- a warm night marked by emotion and heat cramps.
“I don’t even know what to say right now — I have so many emotions,” Rawls told TAPinto.net. “I’m happy, I’m excited, and I might have a little bit of tears later. It’s been a while since we beat them and we got crushed by them last year, so it’s just a great bounce back for this season.”
Rawls' 31-yard go-ahead touchdown run with 8:45 remaining in the fourth quarter capped a game-winning drive in which West Orange marched 67 yards downfield after forcing a punt. Starting at its own 33 yard line, the Mountaineers drove deep into Montclair territory behind three Pierre Toussaint runs of 13, 10, and 11 yards, respectively. Shakhi Carson also added 17 yards between two carries, as the Mountaineers picked up the first 53 yards on just six plays.
Then on first-and-10 from the 31, it was Rawls’ turn to make something happen. After getting the handoff from QB Jordan White, Rawls cut right, broke a few tackles, and stormed to the end zone uncontested to give West Orange its first lead of the season, 18-16. Brian Reitberger’s PAT was good, and the Mountaineers would never look back.
But Rawls wasn’t done yet. The sophomore two-way back secured the state's first major upset when he intercepted a pass attempt of Montclair quarterback Charles Murphy, Jr., and took it 45 yards down the left sideline to the house for a pick-six -- his second of three interceptions on the night.
“I was just staring at the ball, looking to see where it went,” Rawls said of his pick-six. “As soon as I saw it in the air and it tipped up, I went up and got it. All is saw was the end zone, and that’s where I went.”
Though Rawls’ two scoring feats put his team ahead, momentum shifted for West Orange as soon as the second half started.
The Mountaineers got on the board for the first time all night on a 96-yard drive to open the half, concluding with Toussaint rushing for a six-yard TD. But Carson really did the heavy lifting on this five-play sequence, opening up the drive with a 22-yard run, then after a small pickup, streaked downfield into the red zone on a 60-yard breakaway. That set up first-and-goal, and Toussaint dove into the end zone two plays later.
That drive was a microcosm of Carson’s night, as he averaged 9.8-yards-per-carry on 18 attempts as the Mountaineers' featured back.
“I knew we were going to come in hard and run it down their throat,” Carson said. “We wanted this game bad, so running the ball down, I was going to try my hardest.”
The argument could be made that momentum was actually shifted in the waning seconds of the first half, when Rawls came up with an interception in the end zone that killed a promising Montclair drive. But, even though West Orange came up empty-handed in the first half, the Mountaineers' game plan of continuously running tired out Montclair and set up second half success, according to sixth-years head coach Jim Matsakis.
“The change for us was that even though we weren’t having offensive success, we were tiring them out," Matsakis said. "The fact that our kids felt more invincible, I’d say, so we came out knowing if we put a drive together, we’d get momentum back. ... We knew if we could get them tired running east to west, that good things would happen.”
Early on, it was quite a different script, as Montclair appeared destined to win its 14th consecutive game dating back to 2016.
The Mounties jumped ahead on Walter King's 28-yard touchdown reception late in the first quarter, then made it a two-possession game in the second on a two-yard TD run by Josh Crawford to complete an 81-yard drive. Those scoring plays sandwiched a safety in which West Orange snapped the ball into the back of the end zone on a punt attempt.
First-year Montclair starting QB Charles Murphy, Jr. -- a major Division I recruit at wide receiver -- threw for 304 total yards and could've had a win to show for it, had some of his passes been caught. But it was not to be, and West Orange exploited all of its opponent's mistakes while sending a major statement throughout New Jersey.
“We’re here," Carson said. "We’re telling the SEC that West Orange, we coming up."