WESTWOOD — Coaches always talk about jumping out on top early. Montclair did just that on the second offensive play of the season with a highlight-reel catch-and-run, and the Mounties were off and running at the Jim Grasso Kickoff Classic.
Jahaad Battle was targeted by Maalchi Lewis on a deep ball down the left sideline. Battle tipped the ball up and ran back under it for a catch and a 55-yard touchdown. That was all the momentum Montclair needed as it claimed a 30-15 football win over Clifton on Saturday.
The Mounties kept up the pressure, recovering a muffed snap on the Mustangs’ first play after the score, setting up a Lewis to David Thomas-Rogers 4-yard touchdown pass and a 14-0 lead 4:51 into the game.
Misfortune continued to haunt the ‘Stangs, as a bad punt snap resulted in a safety in the opening minute of the second quarter. Montclair then took over at the Clifton 45 after an out-of-bounds kickoff and scored again, this time on a Lewis pass to Richard Williams for 9 yards. That made it 23-0 with 9:33 left in the first half.
The Mustangs did manage a touchdown before halftime courtesy of a Derek Stroble 23-yard run, and they had a chance to get the deficit down to one score on a third-quarter drive only to see Mountie Sam Sullivan record a sack on second down. Two incompletions ended that opportunity.
The game slowed down on the unexpectedly hot afternoon, thanks to cramps on both sides, but the Mounties got a gift score to finally ice the game with 9:17 to go. On a third-and-26, Lewis evaded a shoulder tackle behind the line and rumbled for 31 yards and a first down.
On fourth down from the Clifton 20-yard line, they lined up for a field goal. The snap was high and ended up in the hands of kicker Benjamin Price, who went right and found a seam, breaking a tackle near the 10 and going in for the touchdown.
Stroble had a second TD on a 2-yard run with 2:53 left and added a two-point conversion catch. Clifton recovered an onside kick, but Thomas-Rogers intercepted a deep pass and Montclair ran out the final two minutes.
What it means
For Montclair, it’s a victory for a young team that is still trying figure out how to use all of the weapons they have on offense. The Mounties can build off of this one, both athletically and with confidence.
For Clifton, it’s about going back to the drawing board and the fundamentals. The Mustangs struggled for any offensive consistency, and Stroble was the only bright spot on offense. Defensively, they had a better second half, but Montclair was able to exploit the outside with its speed.
Besides the opening touchdown and the final score, you’d have to look at the sack by Sullivan. Montclair was starting to wilt in the heat and could not afford to see the lead shrink to a single score.
The other moment came right after the safety, when Lewis went deep to Thomas-Rogers for a 36-yard completion to the Mustang 9. Thomas-Rogers was five yards behind the secondary, but had to wait for the ball that was a bit underthrown. Still, the big play set up the lead-lengthening touchdown.
By the numbers
Lewis had a solid game, completing 6 of 14 passes (0 for 2 in the second half) for 133 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. He also ran 13 times for 84 yards. The Mounties got solid production out of three backs, Ja-Khi Chance (13 carries, 70 yards), Jayden Lee (6-44) and Yasin Latham (15-43).
Stroble ran hard all afternoon for the Mustangs, compiling 134 rushing yards on 17 carries. The passing game struggled, as Romelo Tables was 4 of 17 passing for 44 yards with a pair of interceptions.
Montclair was its own worst enemy, as they were flagged 14 times for 154 penalty yards.
They said it
“Even the pros have those moments where you’re tired and you just make mistakes. We had plenty of them today with the penalties, but that’s something we can work on. It’s so much easier to teach off a win, and we have some youthful energy that needs to be used the right way.” – Montclair coach Jermain Johnson
“He has been catching the ball like a defensive back all preseason, but today he really showed himself.” – Johnson on Thomas-Rogers, who had 2 catches for 57 yards (and two other long gainers called back by penalty) and the INT.