The Mountaineers Drop Their 2nd Straight Game in Heartbreaking Fashion

Stephan Zichella
West Orange wide receiver, Amiyn Hanks #4, checks with the referee, pre-snap.

Mark Mincolelli

WAYNE, NEW JERSEY — After falling shy of a win a week prior to the East Orange Jaguars, the West Orange Mountaineers (4-2) seeked redemption, in an out-of-conference matchup versus the Passaic County Technical Institute Bulldogs, the 55th ranked squad in the state of New Jersey. With playoff hopes still very much a factor, the Mountaineers would need to contain the seemingly impeccable PCTI run game, and outscheme the opposition on the offensive side. To win, key players: Shakhi Carson #3, Amiyn Hanks #4, Jared Massay #5, Jahmil St. Pierre #7, Chris Parsons #14, and company would have to continuously come up big.

 Although still without returnman Aidan Healey #27, who suffered a concussion in the prior match, West Orange would have 2 major contributors back on the field, in lockdown cornerback Dorian Rawls #2, and starting quarterback Mason Murdock #11. The Mountaineers were unable to attain more than 60 yards without Murdock in the 4th quarter and overtime combined a week prior against East Orange. They were getting back a major component to the success of this young West Orange team. Murdock however, would play with some limitations- a brace on his left leg.

“I’m going to do my best to be back for next week’s game against PCTI. It is a big game” stated Murdock. Both Murdock and Rawls would prevail over their injuries, and avert the possibility of being sidelined for the game that could make or break their playoff intentions.

Stephan Zichella
The Mountaineer offense preparing for its ensuing drive.

Both teams would surrender valuable points, that would prove crucial at the finale. In the game’s very first drive, PCTI would receive the ball well into their own half of the field. Slowly pushing the ball down the field, on chain-moving runs by running back, Rahmeir McGraw #4, the Bulldogs seemed to be operating smoothly against the hard-nosed Mountaineer defense. However, the football would be punched out and dribble across the field, only to be scooped up by West Orange’s Jared Massay #5, who had made a momentum-shifting play for his squad. The Mountaineers would receive possession very deep into the Bulldog half of the field, and were just yards away from striking distance.

The offensive unit took the ball to the Bulldog three yard line, where Shakhi Carson would punch in a touchdown run. Led by a big block on part of junior center Brian Lazo #66, Carson had an open alley to run through, and gave his team an early 6-0 lead. A failed PAT attempt by kicker Bryan Reitberger #16 would follow. Once PCTI got the ball back, they would drive down the field and respond with a medium range field goal, cutting the West Orange lead in half, making the score 6-3 WOHS.

The following West Orange drive would begin and finish within seconds. On just his first target of the game, 5’6 receiver Mekhi Branch would have a Murdock pass ricocheted off his hands, nestled into the arms of Bulldog corner, #11 Jaheim McGuire, as PCTI’s defense had generated its first turnover of the game. Murdock’s pass would be returned 26 yards to the endzone, in exchange for 6 points. Within minutes, the Bulldogs had cancelled the Mountaineers lead, making the score 10-6 heading into the final minutes of the 1st quarter. The first quarter would come to a finish with yet another turnover on part of the Mountaineers, as Shakhi Carson had fumbled the ball, and PCTI’s Xavier Belton had recovered it on their own 39 yard line, while simultaneously building on the teams momentum.

Stephan Zichella
Mountaineers Amiyn Hanks #4 and Aquan Robinson #50 celebrate a miraculous touchdown reception by the hands of Jayson Raines #8.

The 2nd quarter of the game would start off in a stalemate, with a PCTI  turnover on downs, and a West Orange punt. It was not until the Bulldog’s 2nd possession of the quarter, where there was a Mountaineer spark. PCTI Head Coach, Matt Damarest would elect to go for it on 4th and 20. #5 Jared Massay of West Orange, would come up with his 2nd turnover of the night as he jumped the route of a Bulldog receiver, and returned his interception for 8 yards to the Bulldog 48 yard line. West Orange would not capitalize on this opportunity, and neither could the special teams unit with a faulty snap for Reitberger to pick up 3 points. However, the West Orange defense had proven that they could generate big time plays against this high powered Bulldog offense.

The 2nd half would be a shootout between the teams, trading blows and scoring on 80% of the 5 combined drives. West Orange would begin their first drive of the half on their own 34 yard line. Murdock would lead his team 66 yards downfield for a score. He would deliver a dime of a pass. This dime would go for 6 points, as Jayson Raines #8 would reach up and make the grab in the back corner of the endzone, as his team would rush the corner for a large-scale celebration. West Orange would regain the lead, as the score would reach 13-10 after Bryan Reitberger would put through his first extra point of the night.

The Bulldogs shortened the margin for a West Orange celebration, and prevented the momentum from shifting to the Mountaineer sideline, as they came up with a touchdown of their own. In the opening seconds of the 4th quarter, PCTI running back Rahmeir McGraw #4 would bulldoze into the endzone for 6. The lead was again in the hands of the Bulldogs, as the score rose to 17-13.

Stephen Zichella:
 Mason Murdock and Shakhi Carson

 Murdock and company, were called to the stage again, needing an answer to the quick strike that was the PCTI offense. They would get the ball well into their own territory, looking for a spark. Shakhi Carson would indeed be that spark, yet again, for the Mountaineers. He would go on a 50+ yard dead sprint to the endzone, but would be caught by a defender. Although the run did not result in 6 points, the Mountaineer crowd had faith in its offense, and the unit would not disappoint. Just a few snaps later, Jayson Raines would streak open over the middle, and Murdock would hit him in stride for their 2nd touchdown hook-up of the night, turning the Mountaineer sideline into a frenzy. The score was 20-17 with less than 6 minutes left in the game, and the notion that the Mountaineers were going to upset the Bulldogs, was contagious.

Stephan Zichella
Jared Massay alongside Coaches Darnell Grant and Andrew Mazurek.

It would only take 2 plays for PCTI to answer. On 1st and 10 from their own 30 yardline, a diving Cade Lipsey #15 could not stop a Bulldog 11 yard reception for a confidence boosting 1st down. On the very next play, #25 of PCTI, Jayden Hunt, would burst out of the backfield for a 58 yard touchdown run that took the air out of the Mountaineer sideline. The score was now 23-20, and would stay that way for the rest of the game, as Murdock and the Mountaineers were not able to cross the goal line or reach field goal range a last time. PCTI would regain possession, and get 2 crucial 1st downs and run the clock out to ice the game, providing West Orange with their 2nd straight loss. The Bulldogs get their 5th win of the season, and improve to 5-2.

PCTI would finish with a total of 312 combined yards (282 rushing yards and 30 passing yards). Bulldog starting quarterback Gabriel Balevski went 2 for 5 for 37 yards and 1 interception. Bulldog running back Rahmier McGraw #4 had 27 carries and rushed for 154 yards, and running back Jayden Hunt rushed the ball 12 times for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the game sealer.

Stephan Zichella
The Mountaineer defense.