PISCATAWAY, NJ — The Darnell Grant era of West Orange football could not possibly have gotten off to a more scintillating start.

Upon Grant’s hiring in March, the West Orange football program instantly became touted as a championship contender — but the Mountaineers still had yet to prove anything on the field. Well, if there were any questions about whether this team was for real, there won’t be any more after Saturday night.

West Orange and its revitalized football community invaded Rutgers’ SHI Stadium and completely dominated rival Montclair, 29-6, in the Mountaineers season opener Saturday night. The white-clad Mountaineer fans blew the metaphoric roof off the place, and so did the the product on the field, as West Orange avenged a season-ending loss to Montclair in last year’s sectional playoffs — and downed the Mounties on opening night for the second consecutive season. 

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“I laughed, but I said I want to be back playing on a big stage and see what happens,” Grant told TAPinto West Orange. “I’m not at the end of my career, but I’m at the point now where I can see the end. That’s why when taking the job, I said, ‘Let’s give it one more shot’. Let’s get back as high as we can go, and let’s see what happens.”

What happens this year in West Orange could be special, and Saturday night showed why. Part of what makes this Mountaineer team so highly touted this year is its wealth of talent. That was on full display, with a balanced effort and contributions across the board.

First, there were the feats of Adonis May in the first quarter, which included a 40-yard fumble return for a touchdown on Montclair’s first drive of the game, then another recovery on the Mounties' next drive. Later in the quarter, May blocked a punt attempt into the end zone for a safety, which made it 9-0, West Orange. 

By all accounts, that was all West Orange would need, and it carried that momentum throughout the game.

“In the preseason, I was sort of missing out, but this week in practice [Grant] coached me hard and I did what I had to do today,” said May. “We knew this was going to happen because of all the film we watched and work in practice, and we just came out here and were disciplined and did what we were supposed to do.”

West Orange’s defense effort was stunning, completely neutralizing a Montclair offense that is perennially a power. In fact, the Mountaineers “D” was so tight, that it forced Montclair to a 4th-and-46. Equally as dominating, however, was the Mountaineers’ offensive game.

Junior quarterback Mason Murdock was rock solid, throwing two touchdowns — first to Jayson Raines and then one to Amiyn Hanks — to put the Mountaineers up, 22-0. Shakhi Carson later added an 11-yard rushing touchdown to make it 29-0 late in the third quarter, before Montclair eventually got on the board in the fourth. Murdock was 16-for-24 for 171 yards passing on the night. Hanks caught seven of those aerials for 87 yards.

“We work really hard in practice all week; we just wanted to get together as a team,” said Carson, a Power-Five Division I prospect, who holds offers from all over the country, including Rutgers. “Our defense worked really hard; our offense worked really hard, so we just wanted to win this as a team. It was all together — this was a team effort.”

“We wanted to come in here with a new attitude and that’s what we did,” Carson added. “We wanted to build a family around Coach Grant. We got a new coach, and we had to really work hard and build a mentality here.”

Perhaps this shows how the tables are turning in Essex County. Montclair has been the class of the county for decades, while West Orange has struggled with inconsistency. But the Mountaineers made a major statement in dismantling Montclair, adding the first building block in what could be a special season for Mountaineers.

“If you look at the game and how it went, we were the more conditioned team tonight,” Grant said. “We were in better shape and I think we outlasted them. That attests to my assistant coaches. Everybody did a great job — everybody. It’s a building block, but the best thing about this game is that you’ve got to prove it every week."