MAPLEWOOD, NJ -- It took awhile for the West Orange offense to hit its stride against previously undefeated Columbia Friday night. But the Mountaineers' defense set a ferocious tone right away.
West Orange's offense eventually started clicking. But its defense made absolutely sure that the Cougars' offense never did.
Juniors Shaki Carson and Jayson Raines each scored two touchdowns as West Orange, after a scoreless first quarter, broke away for a 35-0 victory over Columbia before a packed house at Underhill Field.
Carson rushed for 71 yards on 16 carries. Raines caught four passes for 100 yards. Mason Murdock completed 10 of 22 passes for 147 yards with two TD passes and no interceptions for West Orange (3-1).
And, while the offensive contributions of all three were integral to the Mountaineers' victory, their defense throttled all efforts by a Columbia team that came into the game flying high with its first 3-0 record in nearly a decade. Consider that, on the Cougars' second play of the game from scrimmage, Stephen Henry gained 20 yards on a carry to his own 40-yard line.
The rest of the game, Columbia gained a total of minus-12 yards with one first down.
"We are really improved on defense," West Orange's first-year head coach Darnell Grant said. "We do have a lot of talented guys on that side of the ball. It was a great team effort. I don't know if it was our best of the season, but my standards are high. We played a good defensive game against Montclair, too (a 29-6 win on opening night)."
Columbia, which played well defensively for large portions of the game, as well, couldn't sustain any offensive rhythm against West Orange's pass rush and defensive coverage. In fact, the Cougars did not complete a pass until early in the fourth quarter.
"Our pass rush was relentless," Grant said. "(Defensive linemen) Aquan Robinson and Jason Dort played strong games, and our DBs were very good in coverage."
Columbia, which got a standout defensive game from linebacker Abdoul Kone, put forth a stifling defensive effort of its own in the opening quarter, holding West Orange to just 17 yards and one first down. A 28-yard gain on a screen pass from Murdock to Carson on the second play of the second quarter seemed to spark the Mountaineer attack.
That was the long gain in a 63-yard, 10-play drive that saw Carson exploit blocks on the left side of his offensive line, where tackle Robinson and guard Luke Stennett were winning their battles up front to spring Carson loose. The junior halfback gained 17 yards off left tackle to the Columbia 2-yard line, then plowed through for the game's first TD on the next play with 7:35 left in the half.
A 25-yard punt return by Aiden Healy to the Cougar 22-yard line set West Orange up for its next TD. Carson went in behind Robinson's block at left tackle for a 3-yard TD run with 3:47 to go in the half, and Bryan Reitberger kicked the second of his five extra points for a 14-0 lead.
West Orange took over after a punt on the Columbia 41 with 48 seconds left in the half. Not content to go into halftime with a two-touchdown lead, the Mountaineers went into their two-minute offense. Murdock completed a 6-yard pass to Raines and a 10-yarder to Mehki Branch for a first down at the 25 with time winding down.
On the next play, Murdock threw a deep fade to Raines, who outleaped his defender in the left corner of the end zone with 22 seconds left for a touchdown and a dagger-like 21-0 lead.
"I thought we were gonna call a spike there," said Raines, a 6-5, 202-pound Division 1 recruit with size, speed and hands. "Then they called a 'go' (pattern) instead, Mason got the ball to me and I was able to take it off his (the Columbia defender's) back. That took the wind out of their sails before halftime. You have to keep your foot on the gas. That (touchdown) energized us."
While Raines' first TD was spectacular, he caught another TD pass late in the third quarter that was even more picturesque. But, before that, Robinson, at end, scored a defensive TD with 2:01 left in the third quarter when he fell on a loose ball in the end zone after a scramble following a high snap by Columbia.
On the final play of the third quarter, Murdock dropped back on first down and threw deep down the left sideline, where Raines caught the bomb in stride and outraced Columbia's secondary into the end zone for a 35-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The TD wasn't critical to the game's outcome, but it sure will look good on any recruiting mix tape video Raines wants to assemble for major college programs.
"I didn't even know he was coming to me then," Raines said of the final TD. "But Mason looked to me and he knew I had (my man) beat."
Although the demanding Grant will want to see West Orange clean up some issues, including a few too many penalties, the showing of the defense, and the flashes of brilliance Carson displayed on the ground and Raines showed on his receptions, all add up to the possibility of big things later this season for the Mountaineers.
"We can be scary good," Raines said. "We just need to buy in and work hard every day, and maybe we can shock the world."