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Pennington's outstanding running back Ian Crosland (33) appears to need to get a better handle on the ball as he faces MKA linebacker Michael Hermo (55) during this past Saturday's 14-0 Red Raiders' victory over Cougars in independent action at Van Brunt Field. (Photos by Doug Allen)

MKA's RB Harrison Walker has his eyes on Pennington's DB Jacob Lowenthal (21)

MKA quarterback John Sweetwood prepares to uncork a pass. (Photos by Greg Corbo)

Pennington QB Brandon West (12) pitches the ball to running back Dante Wilson (32)

MKA's Harrison Walker finds himself totally surrounded by Pennington defenders

Hard-Running Pennington Too Much
As MKA Drops Its Home Opener, 14-0
By Steve Tober

MONTCLAIR- Montclair Kimberley Academy has had its fair share of exciting victories at Van Brunt Field the past two seasons, including a last-second miracle pass play to edge Mater Dei, 13-12, during a memorable 10-1 campaign in 2015 when the Cougars also edged Hackley, 36-33, while making the game’s biggest plays in the waning moments.

Then, there was last fall’s thrilling 33-26 home-standing win vs. Fieldston (N.Y.) as the Cougars finished a fine 7-3 ledger.

Not always, but for the most part, when it has come to crunch time, MKA has responded well during head coach Anthony Rea’s four seasons at the helm.

That was until this past Saturday’s independent clash with longtime private school rival Pennington in the Cougars’ 2017 home opener. MKA had begun the new season with a lopsided 33-14 road win over Bergen Tech on Sept. 7th and looked forward to getting off to a good start at its home field which has been a predominantly successful venue for Rea and company.

However, with Pennington (1-2) racking up 214 rushing yards in a pounding ground assault combined with timely passes from quarterback Brandon West (5-of-7 for 47 yards and a touchdown), the visitors from Mercer County roared to a 14-0 shutout win over the Cougars.

And, the going doesn’t get any easier for MKA (1-1) this weekend as a red-hot Glen Ridge team (2-0), which has scored a total of 97 points in its first two victories over Butler and Newark Collegiate, visits Van Brunt Field.

The Ridgers have lost their last two meetings with the Cougars, including a 14-10 decision last fall at Hurrell Field when MKA won on a TD pass play in the game’s final minute.

To make it three in a row against Glen Ridge, MKA will have to play a lot better than it did this past Saturday vs. Pennington, a team it had also lost to 16-12 last autumn; however, the Red Raiders had graduated last season’s star running back, Nyhsere Woodson, who is a preferred walk-on at Rutgers this fall.

But, not having Woodson around anymore didn’t adversely affect Pennington in its latest meeting with the Cougars as senior fullback Ian Crosland (23 carries for 117 yards) and junior tailback Dante Wilson (19 carries for 92 yards and a TD) were punishing runners behind dominating blocking from his O-linemen including exceptional right tackle Steve Kopits and 6-9 245-pound left tackle Hunter Archer.

“Ian Crossland played a great game and ran hard while our line blocked extremely well,” said Pennington’s veteran coach Jerry Eure. “Once we adjusted to what they were doing defensively we were able to control the football, which was huge because they’re passing attack was giving us trouble.”

MKA also committed too many mistakes, including a dropped, sure-TD catch by a wide open receiver who was wide open near the goal line midway through the second quarter in what was a scoreless game at the time.

It was just one of the five dropped passes thrown by MKA senior quarterback John Sweetwood (6-of-14 for 84 yards and an interception), who deserved much better numbers with the good accuracy he demonstrated on the majority of his passes, while sharing duties at QB with junior Christian Breitweisser (4-of-5 for 69 yards and an Int.) who also threw well in his time behind center.

“With the plays we didn’t make I thought we have gotten a little down on ourselves and this is a new group for the most part which has to get used to having that happen in a game,” said Rea. “We have had some great wins at our field the past couple of seasons, but this was not one of our better games, that’s for sure.

“We knew that 33 (Crosland) and 32 (Wilson) would be a real battle to contain and even when we give up two scores like we did, usually that’s workable for us. However, the turnovers, dropped passes and other mistakes that we made were just too much to overcome today.”

Pennington did not start out like gangbusters in the contest, almost fumbling the ball away on the game’s opening kickoff before recovering and then being forced to punt after picking up a single first down on its opening drive.

MKA proceeded to mount a solid drive, moving from its own 27 to the Red Raiders’ 20 before a 4 th and 11 pass was intercepted by Pennington’s Max Ward at his 13.

The Cougars then moved to the Pennington 32 on its next drive in the second quarter that ended with the aforementioned dropped TD pass.

It was at that point that Pennington got the ground assault churning, moving 68 yards on 10 plays, eight of which were runs by Crosland and Wilson, before West connected with sophomore wide out Rickey Eng on a 7-yard TD pass play on a 2 nd-and-goal play from the Cougars’ 7.

Wilson’s two-point conversion run as he bulled his way into the end zone gave Pennington an 8-0 lead with 3:45 left in the first half.

MKA’s offense began to click midway through the third quarter with Breitweiser connecting with senior running back Harrison Walker (11 carries for 32 yards and three receptions for 50 yards) on a nice 24-yard swing pass which brought the ball near midfield.

However, the Cougars were stopped on a 4 th-and-3 at the Red Raiders’ 45 and that seemed to take away any positive momentum that they may have been getting back for themselves at that point.

Pennington then put together an 8-play, 56-yard drive that ate up four minutes and bridged the end of the third quarter culminating with a back-breaking 3-yard Wilson TD run with 11:14 remaining in the final stanza for a 14-0 lead.

The big play in the drive was a beautifully conceived 3 rd-and-9 slant pass completion with the ball perfectly delivered by West into the hands of the receiver to move the ball 14 yards to the Cougars’ 28.

The MKA quarterbacks were sacked four times with junior D-lineman Bo Hartpence getting into the act on a couple of those big losses which crippled The Cougars’ comeback attempts.

Now, it’s time to try and rebound quickly as standout QB Tyler Liddy and the Glen Ridge Ridgers come to town Saturday in a 1 p.m. kickoff.

“They’ll be ready and we know that they’ll want revenge since we’ve gotten the better of them the past two years (also including 27-11 MKA win in 2015),” said Rea. “We’ve got to have a good week of practice and come out with a much better performance, that’s for sure!”

GAME NOTES- MKA played on Saturday without one of its best weapons, junior slot receiver and kick return artist Trey Wilson, who is out for at least two more weeks with a separated shoulder suffered in the second quarter of the season-opening win over Bergen Tech….The Cougars are already without one of their top returning receivers for this entire season as veteran senior wide out Carter McNeil had to give up football due to suffering multiple concussions…Red Raiders’ coach Eure, a 1975 graduate of the school, is also Pennington’s athletic director. He was once a standout cornerback at the University of Wyoming…MKA’s leading tacklers through the first two games are junior D-lineman Adam Erbes (16 tackles) and senior linebacker Michael Hermo and junior linebacker Ethan Gross with 15 apiece.

PENNINGTON (1-2) 0 8 0 6 -14

MKA (1-1) 0 0 0 0 - 0

P- Rickey Eng 7 pass from Brandon West (Dante Wilson run)

P- Dante Wilson 3 run (pass fails)

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

Pennington's Dante Wilson (right) encounters MKA's Harrison Walker (22) as he looks to advance ball in Red Raiders' potent ground attack. (Photo by Greg Corbo)

MKA cheerleaders get into spirit of their Cougars' home opener. (Photo by Doug Allen)

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