By Maximillian C. Burgos
For the second time in five years, Kean University came into Lions Stadium and spoiled the College’s Homecoming game.
The Lions struggled on both sides of the ball in the 26-3 loss to Kean, their fans sitting quiet for most of the game. When the Lions did have success, it was short- lived. After the game, head coach Casey Goff discussed the team’s struggles.
“We came out flat,” Goff said. “We came out flat and played uninspired, unemotional football. We’re going to look at the film and see what we got.”
Earlier in the week, the Lions looked sharp during practice.
The team got in many snaps, preparing for Kean’s explosive offense. Goff preached to his players that the game would be different than others.
Homecoming would provide a lot of distractions, but they needed to shut those things out.
“There’s a lot of distractions at Homecoming,” Goff said. “There are a lot of things that take you out of your mindset. Frankly, it is what it is. It’s great opportunity to see the team and see old friends. It simply is what it is. As a football team, you must learn to overcome outside distractions. That’s something that comes with time.”
The Lions were only able to amass 169 yards on offense, a far cry from what they have been able to field the past two weeks. Senior quarterback Trevor Osler struggled to get the ball to his receivers without tossing interceptions.
The offensive line was blown up at the point of attack and as a result, Osler was under constant pressure and was knocked down frequently. Osler came into the game after two back-to-back career games.
Unlike his previous performances against Rowan and Montclair State, Osler spent most of his time under duress against the Cougars. In the fourth quarter, Osler left the game with a non-throwing shoulder injury and did not return.
“Trevor is a little banged up,” Goff said. “He got a little banged up in the game. A lot of that was making sure we are protecting our starting quarterback. Trevor is our guy. We are going to finish the season out with Trevor. He is playing at a high level. He is playing intelligent football. We are going to protect him and that shoulder.”
Sophomore defensive back Sam Jackson set his team up with excellent field position after catching a clutch interception in the middle of the field. Osler rallied the offense and drove the ball down field, showing his football intelligence in the process.
To start the drive, the Lions ran the ball with senior running back Khani Glover, who racked up six yards. Then the Lions set up a screen play where Osler pump faked to a deep route, stunning the defense and allowing him to flip the ball out to Glover, who picked up a first down.
The Lions offense stalled, but Osler made veteran decisions. His first was to run out of bounds, on what could have been a sack for a massive loss, then to throw the ball away to set up for a Lions field goal. Senior kicker Zach Pharo kicked the 36-yard field goal to put up the team’s only points on the board.
The Lions offense stalled a lot during the game. The Lions went two for 11 on third down and only managed to pick up 11 first downs. The rushing attack just was not active for the third straight week, only squeaking out 40 yards.
Prior to the Homecoming game on Thursday, Oct. 19, defensive lineman coach Marcel Wynychuk noticed the offense’s identity change.
“I think it’s the team coming together,” Wynychuk said. “I think it’s the offense starting to believe in each and in the system. Especially on the offense, it takes time for the team to start to gel and they are really getting to that point. Trevor has battled through a lot of different things. But, let’s be honest, he gets hit a lot. He always bounces up though. He’s a competitor.”
Ultimately, the Lions took steps backward at Homecoming. The Lions were not able to gel the way they did in the previous week where Osler had 340 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
When Osler was pulled out of the game, freshman quarterback Andrew Donoghue came into the game. Donoghue has played a few times this season, showing potential as the Lions’ future signal caller.
Donoghue showed athleticism when he entered the game. On a second down play deep in Kean’s territory, a Lions’ passing play broke down which allowed multiple Kean defensive linemen a path straight into the backfield. Feeling the pressure, Donoghue faked left and spun right, slipping two tacklers in the process. He got a few yards with his legs and the Lions lived to fight another down.
Junior wide receiver Ibn Bailey tried to spark the Lions offense. Bailey woke the crowd with a few catches and some gutsy maneuvers. Unfortunately, it was all a mute point at the end of the game.
There were some bright spots on defense as well. Senior defensive back Rob Agoni proved to be a true student of the game. On one play, he broke up a pass that could have extended the Cougars lead even further. Kean’s quarterback delivered a dime to his receiver and Agoni managed to win the battle in the air with precision positioning.
Junior linebackers Jesse Streb and Max Busca also had impact on the field. Streb recorded 10 tackles and Busca recorded seven, including one for loss. However, there were also many missed tackles and a feeling of confusion on the defensive side.
Goff talked about the missed tackles and how the team played better in previous games.
“It’s something we have worked hard to correct,” Goff said. “It’s something we’ve been better at since the Wesley game, where it was a mess looking at the missed tackles. Today, we have to look at focus and those things. Defensively we missed a ton of opportunities. We had plays made in the backfield didn’t hold on.”
The Lions will look to bounce back against NJAC rival William Paterson University this week on Saturday, Oct. 28.