By Maximillian C. Burgos
The football team lost to Rowan University in a heartbreaker 17-14 on Oct. 13, dropping its record to 0-5. This past weekend, however, the Lions pulled together a win against Kean University, 13-8, earning their first win of the year.
Both games were defensive struggles until the very end. Rowan’s defense shut the door on the Lions’ offense to end their potential comeback. Kean’s offense choked, allowing the Lions to pull ahead and achieve a win in the last minute of the game. In both games, the defense played much better than it had in weeks past, which Head Coach Casey Goff attributes to stability.
“For the first time in consecutive games we’ve been healthy,” Goff said. “This is the first multiple game span that we have had the same secondary each week.”
The Lions got off to a hot start against Rowan. Sophomore linebacker Gavin Liepe intercepted a pass in the red zone on the first drive of the game, but the heat was short-lived in the first half.
The Lions failed to score on their first drive, giving the ball right back to Rowan, who punched into the endzone, getting out to a 7-0 lead.
Before the half, Rowan intercepted an ill-advised pass by freshman quarterback Dave Jachera, putting its lead out to 14-0.
After the half, the Lions’ defense roared to life. Junior defensive lineman Erik Graham got a key sack on the opening drive on the half, setting up for junior linebacker Jeff Konzelman to tackle the punt deep in his own territory, giving the Lions a great field position.
Jachera picked the defense apart on the drive. He connected with freshman wide receiver Jaiden Elliot for a 10-yard completion on a critical third down play. Jachera later found junior Vinny Guckin for a seven-yard touchdown pass to put the Lions on the board with 4:38 to-go in the third quarter.
The Lions scored again on a 12-play 75-yard drive, cutting Rowan’s lead down to 17-14. On the drive, Jachera impressively converted a key third down with a 23-yard scramble that got the Lions deep into Rowan territory. On third and goal, Jachera again worked his magic scrambling all over the field, breaking tackles left and right, somehow keeping his balance and delivering a dime in the back of the endzone to Guckin.
A potential comeback was in the air, but Rowan’s defense did not bend much more in the end. Jachera finished out the day with 274 total yards, two touchdowns through the air and two interceptions. Junior wide receiver Jack Clevenger finished with six catches for 78 yards, Elliot finished with four catches for 54 yards and Guckin finished with five catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
Goff discussed Jachera’s performance and development in the game against Rowan.
“Dave is an athletic freshman,” Goff said. “But he’s still a freshman. He’ll make a dynamic play and then one that makes you scratch your head, but that’s life with a freshman QB. What he brings consistently is a swagger, a confidence and an undeniable love of the game. The kid is just having a blast playing football and that’s contagious.”
Against Kean, the Lions’ defense again came out to play, shutting the door on Kean’s offense frequently and often, only allowing them to score eight points in the game.
To open the game, Jachera connected with Clevenger on a 46-yard bomb to put the Lions out to an early lead in the game with 9:07 to go in the first quarter.
After the first score in the game, both teams struggled to move the ball offensively. Kean’s only score came with a little less than 10 minutes to go in the first half. Kean blocked a punt from deep within the Lions’ territory and recovered it in the endzone. They converted a two-point conversion, taking the lead 8-7.
The defense had five sacks on the day, putting immense pressure on Kean’s passing game. Senior wide receiver and defensive back Ibn Bailey benefitted from that pressure and also made the difference in the game in the first half. On two drives where Kean made it into Lions territory, Bailey made two interceptions.
Goff spoke about Bailey’s transition from wide receiver to defensive back.
“He has been a big part of that stability in the secondary,” Goff said. “He’s done what’s asked, picked up quickly with the scheme and is making plays.”
The second half of the game was largely a defensive struggle. With less than three minutes left in the game, Graham made a clutch sack, ending Kean’s drive and forcing them to punt the ball. After a bad punt for Kean, the Lions were set up with a short field with two minutes to go in the game.
Sophomore quarterback Andrew Donoghue took the helm and drove the Lions into the endzone, finding Guckin for a 12-yard touchdown pass. The Lions reclaimed the lead 13-8. Goff commented on Donoghue’s comeback drive.
“Andrew showed a lot of poise and maturity stepping in when his number was called and driving us down the field,” Goff said. “He showed the confidence we have been looking for from him.”
Kean tried to reclaim the lead with under a minute left to play. Trying to get too much on one play, Kean’s quarterback heaved a deep pass that was intercepted by sophomore defensive back Jalen Harmon. The game ended 13-8, giving the Lions their first win of the season.
“Build on the positives and keep improving,” Goff said. “It’s one win, we still have massive improvements that have to be made in every phase.”
The Lions return home to play William Paterson University Oct. 27th for their homecoming matchup.