Having lost a ton of key players – Alex Benitez, Brandon Feury, Andre Soumeillant, to name just a few, but hardly all – Montgomery football coach Zoran Milich would be forgiven if he wasn’t sure what to expect in 2022.
After dropping its first four games of the season, the Cougars won three in a row and got close enough to the 16th and final playoff spot in South Group 4 to be given a spot as the next team in when Scotch Plains-Fanwood was ruled ineligible for the postseason over a number of early-season disqualifications.
So what has this year’s squad done? Well, with QB Michael Schmelzer starting the year from the very beginning (he sat 30 days last year after transferring in from Notre Dame in Lawrenceville) they have done just fine, thank you, winning their opening three games for the first time since the 2007 Cougar team that finished 9-2, making it to the Central Jersey Group 4 semifinals, where they lost to Howell.
Offensively, that team was led by QB Kevin Watson (2,039 yds, 21 TD), receivers Chris Garcia and JT Tartacoff (700+ yards apiece), and running back Devon Saunders (1,017 yards, 6 TD). Defensivlely, they got after quarterbacks, registering 37 sacks (led by senior DE Matt Tholis with 13 1/2), and the Cougars picked off 11 passes all year.
But this year’s team is forging its own way, with a group of players that isn’t necessarily young, but isn’t exactly rife with seniors either. Schmelzer already has thrown for 760 yards in three games, but more impressively, the junior has thrown seven touchdown passes and just one interception.
Fellow junior Matt D’Avino is his top target (270 yds, 5 TDs) and senior Chris Eubanks can run the ball (253 yards, 1 TD). Gavin Guidette leads the flexible “3-3 stack” defense at middle linebacker with a team-leading 18 tackles, 15 solo, and junior safety Zack Schick already has three interceptions of the year.
And a win over Somerville would go a long way, with the Pioneers being a program that has had immense success over the past several years, including a state title and three finals appearances under the combination of Jeff Vanderbeek and Dallas Whitaker as head coaches.
Central Jersey Sports Radio will broadcast the game live Friday night as its Big Central Game of the Week, with Mike Pavlichko and Justin Sontupe calling all the play-by-play. Kickoff is at 7 pm at Montgomery High School in Skillman, and the pregame show begins around 6:45. Click here to listen.
Somerville leads the all-time series 6-4, but Montgomery has won four of the last six in the series. The Pioneers, however, beat the Cougars 55-12 in 2018 en route to a sectional final, where they lost to Rumson-Fair Haven at Brooks Field.
Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk about Montgomery, and the Somerville matchup, with Cougars head coach Zoran Milich: