IRVINGTON, NJ – After their first-ever State Section Championship, the Irvington High School football team will end their standout season when they face Northern Highlands in the North, Group 4, of the Interschool Athletic Association of New Jersey State at Rutgers University SHI Piscataway Stadium on Saturday, December 4 at 4 p.m.
The Blue Knights, under sixth-year head coach Ashley âSmokeâ Pierre, are 10-2 this season and have a six-game winning streak.
No.1 seed Irvington defeated second seed Middletown South 28-13 in the NJSIAA North Jersey Division 2 Group 4 Championship game at IHS on Friday, November 19. It was the third state of the program. championship match and the first hosted by IHS.
The Northern Highlands beat Ramapo, 35-30, on a last-minute touchdown pass in the Championship North 1, Group 4 on Friday, November 26, at home in Allendale to move to 12-0 this season. Ramapo, who finished at 10-2 this season, was playing his first game since the sudden death of his longtime head coach Drew Gibbs, who collapsed during a training session on Monday, November 15, a few days after the team’s semi-final victory over Crete.
The Blue Knights’ number one goal this season was to win the program’s first sectional championship. IHS junior safety Adon Shuler said it was great to have achieved this goal, noting that he has confidence in the advice of the coaching staff and his teammates.
âGetting there was a great thing, but getting there and winning is an incredible feeling,â Shuler said in a phone interview on Nov. 26. âI talked about it, I dreamed about it and it happened. At first it didn’t even seem real, until my trainer showed me the ring design. I was like, ‘Wow, we really won a state championship.’ It was something really good.
Shuler, who verbally pledged to play at the University of Notre Dame in August, is looking forward to playing in the Northern Championship, Group 4, and playing for the last time with the seniors who influenced him. Among those seniors are quarterback Saquan Gordon; receivers Zaheem Crawford-Patterson and Trenton Jones; defensive end Tafari Thompson; defensive linemen Justin Evans-Jenkins, Nasir Shabazz and Zamar Grove; linebackers Stanley Corneille, Isaiah Augustin and Lensley Therlonge, other defensive backs Mohammed Diakite, Omar Jackson and Raheem Wright; attacking center Jeffrey Gunn; offensive guard JosÃ© Cristales; and kicker Anthony Ellis. Wright also plays the running back and Evan-Jenkins is also an attacking tackle.
âUnfortunately, this will be the last time I get to play for the seniors this year,â said Shuler. âI have built a very strong relationship with them over the past few years. It’s sad, but they’re going to go to college and stuff.
The Blue Knights played their first-ever sectional championship game in 2006, when they lost to New Brunswick in the North 2, Group 3 final at Rutgers in Darnell Grant’s fifth year as a IHS head coach.
In 2018, the Blue Knights lost to Phillipsburg in the Championship North 2, Group 4, in Pierre’s third season at the helm.
The Blue Knights are seeking revenge against the Northern Highlands, who beat Irvington in the semi-finals of the North 1, Group 4 playoffs in 2019, the last time the playoffs were held before this season. Last season’s playoffs were called off due to the pandemic.
â¢ Grant graduated from IHS in 1991 and completed his third season as head coach at West Orange High School this fall, leading the Mountaineers to a 7-4 record. They lost to East Orange in the semi-finals of Group 4 North. In Grant’s second year at Irvington in 2003, the Blue Knights advanced to the State Section playoffs for the first time since 1975. The current playoff format began in 1974. In 2003, the Blue Knights were the No. 1 seed in North Group 2 4, but lost to Piscataway in the first round. In eight seasons as the IHS head coach from 2002 to 2009, Grant was 64-21, leading the Blue Knights to the playoffs in his last seven seasons. After leaving Irvington, Grant became the head coach of Shabazz from 2010 to 2018, where he led the Newark School to five State Section games and three State Section titles. Grant returned to Irvington for the first time as an opposing coach when West Orange traveled to Irvington on October 29, Irvington winning the Super Football Conference crossover by a score of 21-7 in the final game of the regular season.
â¢ The Blue Knights won a divisional Super Football Conference title for the fifth straight season this fall, winning the SFC â Freedom White Division Championship with a 4-0 division record. In fact, the Blue Knights have gone division undefeated in each of the past five seasons, extending their divisional winning streak to 20 games. In the Freedom White division they were 5-0 in 2017 and 4-0 in 2018 and 2019. They were 3-0 in the Liberty Red division in 2020.
Irvington 2021 Results
â¢ September 3: loss to Mount Olive, 2-0.
â¢ September 10: victory against Union City, 22-6.
â¢ September 17: win over Hudson Catholic, 32-26, overtime.
â¢ September 25: victory at Newark West Side, 28-0.
â¢ October 2: win Wayne Hills, 21-16.
â¢ October 9: defeat to DePaul, 21-0.
â¢ October 16: victory over Ridgewood, 7-0.
â¢ 22 Oct .: victory in Bayonne, 53-27.
â¢ October 29: victory against West Orange, 21-7.
â¢ November 5, win over Linden, No. 8 seed, 11-6, quarter-finals. *
â¢ November 12, victory over Colonia, seeded No.5, 14-7, semi-finals. *
â¢ Nov 19, win over No. 2 seeded Middletown South, 28-13, final. *
* NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4, playoffs. Irvington was the No.1 seed.
Photo courtesy of Felicia Laguerre Owens