On Sept. 2, senior captain Ryan Ross set a new career high with an 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Muhlenberg College. Friday night, he surpassed that mark with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to lead the Lions to a 24-21 win over the Division I-AA LaSalle University Explorers.
Ross’ kickoff return gave him more total yards than the entire Lions’ offense in the first half, 35. The 95-yard return ties the College record set by Tom Casperson against Glassboro State in 1981.
“I feel great; it helps us win,” Ross said about his kickoff return. “But I’m happier that we won the game.”
“It’s not something you see every day, that’s for sure,” head coach Eric Hamilton said. “You got to give him a little bit of credit to be a senior and stepping up and making plays when we need it.”
The Lions’ offense, led by freshman quarterback Chris James, finished with only 142 total yards yet still managed to win the game on a 29-yard field goal by junior kicker Matthew Dalessio with 6:12 left to play.
The key statistic for the Lions the entire game was zero turnovers with only two penalties. With the win, the College is 1-1 on the season.
“I don’t worry about our offense at all; we’re going to get going,” Ross said. “I think we have a great deal of potential.”
Dalessio had an extra point blocked in the first quarter and missed a field goal in the third quarter, but that did not phase him from hitting the game winner.
“This early in the season, I knew it wasn’t a high pressure situation,” Dalessio said. “But I knew it was going to mean something.”
James finished the game 4-for-12 with 48 passing yards. He hit Ross for a 15-yard score in the first quarter and rushed for another touchdown in his collegiate debut.
“(James) brings a combination of things: strong arm, pretty mobile. He’s a pretty tough kid,” Hamilton said. “He deserves an opportunity to see what he can do under fire.”
Senior runningback Cory Schoonover led the team in rushing with 49 yards on 11 carries.
LaSalle managed a late-game run to give the Lions a scare. The Explorers blocked a punt and scored a touchdown on a pass from sophomore quarterback Chris Hanson to junior Bernie Cevis, pulling them within three.On the ensuing kickoff, LaSalle recovered an onside kick on the Lions’ 45-yard line with 2:25 left in the game.
The Explorers’ offense gained more total yards than the Lions, 343-142, but could not gain yards in crucial situations.
LaSalle faced a fourth-and-one with 1:10 left on the clock. Both teams called back-to-back timeouts before the Lions’
defense stood its ground as freshman lineman Marc Fabiano made the game-saving hit on a quarterback keeper. LaSalle turned the ball over on downs on the Lions’ 22-yard line.
Lions’ junior defensive back Andrew Larkin came up big on defense with 10 tackles, including nine solo stops, while senior Derek Tranchina added nine tackles, including one for a loss. Senior running back Kevin Sullivan led the Explorers with 20 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown.
Under center for the Explorers, junior quarterback Joe Procopio was 6-of-11 for 99 yards with a 23-yard touchdown strike, while Hanson finished 6-of-10 for 33 yards and a touchdown. LaSalle blocked an extra point attempt and followed that with a 25-yard rushing touchdown by Sullivan in the second quarter to take a 7-6 lead.
On the very next play, Ross returned the kick 95 yards for a touchdown. James rushed in for a two-point conversion to put the Lions up 14-7.
In the third quarter, both teams had missed field goal tries and failed to break the 14-14 tie.
“Special teams isn’t where it needs to be,” Dalessio said. “Yet, it’s coming together.”
In fact, the whole team is coming together.
“I feel that between the first and second week we made huge strides in becoming a team,” Ross said. “We’re not playing as three different units, we’re playing as one team.”
The Lions snapped the tie on a 7-yard rush by James to cap a 65-yard drive to put the Lions up 21-14.
Lions’ football continues Saturday, Sept. 16 against Farleigh Dickinson University-Florham at 1 p.m. in Madison, N.J.