There’s no question that the 2012 high school football season was an absolute disaster for Morristown.
The Colonials were uncharacteristically and shockingly on the wrong side of 40-point blowouts, games where the clock ran without stopping in the second half. The Colonials were outscored 269-100 and won only one game before the NJSIAA kindly gave them a consolation game against Kearny. The Colonials lost a game to superstorm Sandy and never rescheduled it.
Simply put, it was a lost season.
“It just wasn’t Morristown football,” head coach Chris Hull said.
“We let up more points than a Morristown team ever had,” senior linebacker Freddy Ruiz said. “We knew we had something to prove.”
So the Colonials opened the new season Sunday afternoon against Seton Hall Prep at West Orange High School with an easy rallying cry.
They had to get back to playing Morristown football – the tough, aggressive, tenacious style that everyone came to know and respect. They had to make sure that last season was a total aberration.
While the Colonials came up on the short end Sunday, dropping a hard-fought 13-7 decision to the Pirates, they came away knowing one thing. They are vastly improved over the team they fielded last year.
The improvement didn’t surprise Hull.
“We expected to be better,” Hull said. “We’re really disappointed that we didn’t come out with a win. The guys had a phenomenal offseason. I expected this team to be very physical. Not only did they improve fundamentally, but they improved mentally.”
The Colonials certainly had their chances early on. They took the opening kickoff and marched 61 yards on nine plays, two of which were fine passing hookups from quarterback Dallas McCall for 16 and 13 yards respectively.
But the drive stalled at the Pirates’ 27-yard line, turning the ball over on downs.
The Colonials’ second possession was also impressive, led by the passing prowess of junior McCall, who hit Nate Brown with a 35-yard pass. They moved down to the Seton Hall 20-yard line, but Ethan Bolson’s 37-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
“We had to get points there,” Hull said. “That hurt us.”
After the missed field goal, the Pirates went on an impressive scoring drive, marching 80 yards on 13 plays, including three passes for 35 yards to tight end Sam Jones, a senior from Madison.
“Getting first downs was definitely important for us there,” said Jones, who had two catches on third down to keep the drive alive. “We kept going and the momentum was in our favor.”
Finally, senior M.J. Mughetto broke the scoreless deadlock with a 20-yard run around the left end, giving the Pirates a 7-0 lead with 5:40 left in the first half.
The Pirates had another chance to score in the second quarter, but the drive was thwarted by an interception from Jordan Powell in the end zone.
The Colonials’ defense came through again in the opening minutes of the second half, when linebacker Joey Murphy made a sensational interception grab.
But the Colonials could do nothing against the Pirates’ stingy defense, going three-and-out after Murphy’s pick.
The Pirates then mounted their second long scoring drive, marching 68 yards on 13 plays, taking 6:58 off the clock. Julian Spain went the final five yards for the touchdown that gave the Pirates a commanding 13-0 lead.
The way the Pirates were swarming to the Colonials, the lead appeared extremely safe.
“Our defense was outstanding today,” Seton Hall Prep head coach John Finnegan said. “We put a focus on our defense and did a great job. We read the schemes well. I credit our defensive coordinator Mark Smith for getting the kids ready.”
In fact, the Colonials had only one first down after halftime.
“You can’t win that way,” Hull said.
But incredibly, the Colonials had a chance in the closing minutes.
Simply trying to run out the clock, the Pirates punted with 1:48 remaining. But Andrew Benvenuto rushed in and blocked the punt and Justin Northan dove on the loose ball in the end zone, cutting the lead to 13-7.
However, Donald Stewart pounced on the ensuing onside kick to secure the win for the Pirates.
The Colonials had to walk off the field with a sense of pride, knowing that they were a much better team than a year ago.
“The toughness aspect is what we worked on,” Hull said. “I wanted to see how we would respond. I liked our aggressive, physical approach.”
Even Finnegan recognized the Colonials’ vast improvement.
“They did some things better defensively,” said Finnegan, whose team scored 45 points in an overtime win over the Colonials last year. “They’re physically much better. They played hard.”
It’s something to hang the helmet on.
“We played really well defensively,” said Ruiz, who led the Colonials with 12 tackles. “We stayed with our assignments and played aggressively. It’s tough losing, but we did our best. We’re much improved.”
Morristown (0-1) 0-0-0-7–7
Seton Hall Prep (1-0) 0-7-6-0–13
SH-M.J. Mughetto 20 run (Ryan McSherry kick)
SH-Julian Spain 5 run (kick failed)
M-Justin Northan blocked punt recovery in end zone (Ethan Bolson kick)