With a slow start and costly miscues, the Lions football team suffered a tough 21-14 loss to rival Montclair State University on Saturday, disappointing a packed Lions Stadium crowd at the annual Homecoming game.
The Lions ended the game just as they started it, with critical turnovers. With 42 seconds remaining, the Lions found themselves 21 yards away from tying the score, but sophomore quarterback Jeff Struble threw an interception near the end zone. However, on the next play, the Red Hawks gave the ball right back after a lost fumble, but another Struble interception on the subsequent play sealed the Lions’ fate.
The turnovers were especially detrimental because they opened the door for Montclair scoring opportunities. “Every mistake we made they capitalized on,” head coach Eric Hamilton said.
In the opening drive, senior running back Leeaire Brown coughed up the ball to set up the Hawk’s first touchdown. Behind excellent blockers, Hawks’ sophomore running back Ryan McCoach ran untouched down the left sideline for the easy 25-yard score. McCoach scored two touchdowns and ran for 75 yards in the game.
Later in the first quarter, the Hawks once again took advantage of a Lions mistake. Struble, who has taken over punting duties with senior place-kicker Blake Abbot out suffering a broken jaw, scrambled to recover a bad snap that sent the ball sailing over his head. Struble was able to fall on the ball, but the 30-yard loss on the play gave the Hawks good field position, and they scored on the ensuing drive.
Cold and windy field conditions made things even more difficult for the Lions’ offense, which was unable to get into any sort of rhythm, turning the game into more of a defensive battle.
Despite giving up a few big plays that led to Red Hawks touchdowns, the Lions defense played well, limiting the Hawks to just one trip into the red zone. “They were coming at us from all angles,” Hawks head coach Rick Giancola said. “They did a good job against us defensively.”
Freshman defensive end Justin Laurence came up with several outstanding plays including a touchdown, after he recovered a bad snap to put the Lions on the board early in the third quarter. “I was really excited over the touchdown,” Laurence said. “It doesn’t really matter though, unless you win.” He also added several tackles for losses and a blocked punt.
The Lions’ other touchdown came on a 41-yard pass play as Struble found senior wide receiver Alan Kotteles slashing across the middle of the field.
In their pre-Homecoming game last week, the Lions picked up their third win of the season despite a desperate comeback effort by the Explorers of LaSalle University in a 21-16 win on a rainy afternoon on Oct. 22.
Senior wide receiver Ryan Ross hauled in a go-ahead 67-yard touchdown and Struble ran for a pair of one-yard touchdowns to cap off two impressive Lions’ drives to secure the victory.
Following a grinding six-minute, 15-play drive that ended with a diving one-yard Struble touchdown, the Lions took a 21-10 lead. The game appeared to be over as the Lions held the 11-point lead late in the fourth quarter, but with less than three minutes remaining, the Explorers took advantage of two Lions’ penalties to put together a 76-yard scoring drive with wide receiver John Zabel catching his second touchdown of the game as he slashed across the middle for a 14-yard score.
The Explorers would get the ball back with 29 seconds left on the clock, but the Lions’ defense stuffed the Explorers’ last stand for the hard-earned victory.
“We played well as a unit,” sophomore defensive back Mike Ferris said about the Lions’ defensive effort.
Earlier in the game, the Explorers would take the lead, but only for 20 seconds. Following Zabel’s first touchdown reception that went for a 34-yard score, the Lions took the lead right back on their first play of the drive as Ross beat his man down the left sideline and ran it in for a 67-yard score to put his team up 14-10.
Ross finished the game with a career-high 117 receiving yards on five catches.
The win was especially important for the team that was coming off a disappointing 30-17 comeback loss at Western Connecticut last week.
“We really needed this win to get the confidence back,” Struble said. Struble threw for 186 yards and a touchdown in addition to the two rushing scores.
The Lions made sure not to let this one slip away. “After the tough loss, we could have bowed our head and gave up on this season, but we’re going to try and win the rest of the games,” Ferris said.
Ferris did his part, making a spectacular play to give the Lions the ball back following a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half.
The Explorers recovered the fumble on the kickoff, but Ferris got the ball back with an amazing interception. Extending his arms with his toes on the sideline, he snatched the ball out of the air as Explorer’s sophomore quarterback Mike Jump did his best to throw the ball away with an underhand toss.
By splitting the last two games, the Lions now stand at 3-5 overall with a 1-4 conference mark. They will look to end on a high note in their last home game Saturday against SUNY-Brockport at noon.