West Orange was the team that made a surprisingly deep run last year in North, Group 5, advancing as a sixth seed with wins over the No. 3 (Watchung Hills), No. 2 (Ridgewood) and No. 1 (Phillipsburg) seeds to win the North 2, Group 5 state sectional title, the first such championship in Mountaineers playoff history.
Passaic Tech, with its rugged defense and the Dye twins, Trashon and Tevin, survived against a formidable Union City squad, defeating the Soaring Eagles in a low-scoring game for the second time in 2022, 14-7, to cop N1G5 honors.
PCT would handle West Orange in the Group 5 state semifinals before falling to a Micah Ford-led 14-0 Toms River North 28-7 in the overall Group 5 state final at Rutgers.
Now, it’s year 2 in the overall group champion format and although it remains to be seen who can survive North, Group 5 this time around, it does appear to be a fairly deep bracket which will once again be divided into N1 and N2 sections for the sectional playoffs.
PCT (6-0), which still has a very stingy defense, outscoring opponents 145-35 and giving up more than seven points in just one of its first six games, also still has the Dye twins and Trashon is a veritable machine as far as being one of the top rushers in the state.
The Bulldogs defeated Union City 13-6 back on Sept. 2 to make it three in a row vs. the Soaring Eagles (4-1) in the last 12 months; however, all three have been close decisions and who knows what will ensue once the playoffs commence on Oct. 27?
Union City has its own stern defensive unit which was in full evidence once again in a 7-0 road win at Irvington on Saturday.
Phillipsburg (4-1), which had a narrow 14-13 loss to a very good Hillsborough team (5-1), also has a significant victory vs. a good Ridge squad (21-14), but coach Frank Duffy’s Stateliners do not appear to be quite as strong as last fall.
Watchung Hills (5-1), under former NFL lineman Rich Seubert, could be another factor in the North, Group 5 field; however, the Warriors’ schedule may not quite match up to what some of its sectional rivals face on a week-to-week basis.
The Somerset County team dropped its first game of the season on Saturday, falling to a solid Montgomery team (6-0), 28-21.
Montclair (5-1), which rolled past East Orange Campus, 42-27, on Saturday, at Kean University, has received a huge lift this fall with the presence of junior quarterback Malachi ‘Bubba’ Lewis, the grandson of Mountie immortal Aubrey Lewis, and Montclair is looking like a possible team to watch.
The only stumble so far for coach Jermain Johnson’s team was a 21-13 setback at Union City on Sept. 15.
The Union Farmers (4-2) absorbed a tough 15-7 setback at Hillsborough (5-1) Friday night, but coach Lou Grasso, Jr.’s team has a ton of talent and could surprise as well depending on the eventual state sectional playoff matchups.
Plainfield (4-1), under the direction of coach James Williams, is much improved and Columbia (3-2) has made some inroads as coach Gary Mobley’s Cougars are also battling for a playoff berth.
East Orange Campus (1-4), the 2021 North, Group 5 regional champion, and Elizabeth (0-6), which has dropped six in a row with its opponent scoring a big fourth quarter touchdown to pull each game out from under the Minutement, have yet to get on track this season.
And, it remains to be seen what West Orange (2-3) will put together down the stretch this season now that Don Bosco Prep junior transfer QB Charlie LaMorte, who played his first game of the season at Bayonne Friday night in a 29-0 Mountaineers victory, is ready to be behind center the rest of the way for coach Darnell Grant’s team which needs to have a big October in order to nail down a playoff berth.
“We’re hoping that we can play our best football from this point on,” said the West Orange coach. “Looking around North, Group 5, Passaic Tech has a great defense and can really run the football, while Montclair is getting better and better each week.
“I was watching East Orange and they are a handful with a terrific quarterback in Karee Fisher who just racks up yardage for them.
“Almost anyone can win this section; it’s looking like a real crap shoot.”
All told, PCT may be a favorite at this juncture, but any number of teams could emerge as a North, Group 5 champion in November.
This Week’s Sideline Chatter Essex County Top 10:
1- Caldwell (5-0)- All-state linebacker Julian Casale remains a force for Chiefs
2- Montclair (5-1)- Mounties revved up the offense in win vs. rival East Orange
3- Cedar Grove (6-0) – It’s the Hatfields vs. McCoys as Panthers visit rival Verona
4- Seton Hall Prep (1-4) – Pirates need to score TDs more often once in red zone
5- Weequahic (5-0) – Indians continue to post shutouts while rolling opponents
6- West Essex (3-3) – Knights face old Iron Hills Conference foe Wet Morris Friday
7- West Orange (2-3) – Don Bosco Prep transfer Charlie LaMorte now team’s QB
8- Irvington (2-4) – Big game for Blue Knights vs. Montclair Saturday at The Wood
9- Orange (5-1)- Basketball star Tyshawn Boyd shined as DL and TE vs. Millburn
10- Shabazz (3-3)- Bulldogs ran into defensive juggernaut in loss to Lincoln
This Weekend’s Schedule Involving Essex Teams: (Pick To Win In Boldface):
Thursday night, Oct. 5:
Central at Shabazz, 7
Friday night, Oct. 6:
Bloomfield at Columbia (Underhill Field), 6:30
West Morris at West Essex, 6:30
West Side at Bayonne, 6:30
Randolph at Livingston, 6:30
Cedar Grove at Verona, 7
Weequahic at Boonton, 7
Seton Hall Prep at Paramus Catholic, 7
Glen Ridge at Newark Collegiate (Schools Stadium), 7
Saturday afternoon, Oct. 7:
Irvington at Montclair, 1
Caldwell at Madison, 1
MKA at Hopkins (Conn.), 2
Newark Academy at Horace Mann (N.Y.), 2:30
Millburn at Barringer (Schools Stadium), 3
Belleville at Nutley, 4
West Orange at East Orange Campus (Schools Stadium), 6
Bye week: Orange
Record on picks last week: 16-3; for the season: 80-21 (79%)
Follow Steve Tober on X (Twitter) @Chattermeister