The College’s football team posted a 37-0 victory over Kean University in its regular season finale Saturday. Fittingly, the seniors playing in the last home game of their careers were the players who led the Lions to victory.
The Lions defense allowed just 31 total yards, forced an impressive six fumbles, recovered three of them and sacked the opposing quarterback eight times for their third shutout of the season.
Senior linebacker Steve Vogt tackled six Cougars, had one sack and recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Senior linebacker Michael Sykes added six stops and his second three-sack performance of the season.
“They have been doing it all year,” head coach Eric Hamilton said. “For the last two to three years we’ve been very competitive. They have been the model of consistency and competitiveness every year. I think that is a credit to them.”
Sykes, who was limited to seven games this season due to injuries, finished second in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) this season with eight and a half sacks and seven of them solo, while Vogt tallied 29 solo tackles and 52 total to lead all Lions defensemen on the season.
Junior defensive back John Sher picked off two passes from Cougar sophomore quarterback A.J. Roque to top the NJAC interception leaders with five on the season.
Despite faltering for just 30 yards on 21 rushes in the first half, the Lions capitalized with a number of big plays to put their points on the board.
Facing a third-and-goal at the Cougars 20-yard line, freshman quarterback Jeff Struble connected with junior receiver Alan Kotteles for a 19-yard gain, in which Kotteles impressively wrestled the ball out of the hands of a Cougar defensive back in midair while falling to the ground.
Sophomore running back Cory Schoonover punched the ball into the end zone on the following fourth-and-one play to give the Lions a 13-0 lead at the half.
A 52-yard kickoff return by speedy senior cornerback Steve Andrews started the Lions’ first drive of the second half at the Cougars’ 44-yard line. Struble passed 19 yards to sophomore running back Mike Markey to move the College closer to the end zone and Struble eventually ran four yards untouched on a bootleg for the touchdown.
Abbott nailed a 27-yard field goal to tack on three more later in the third.
Schoonover hooked up with Struble for a 10-yard touchdown pass to start the scoring in the first quarter. A botched snap prevented the Lions from even trying the point-after attempt.
Sophomore quarterback Chris Bell added a one-yard touchdown on a keeper play in the fourth to cap the Lions’ 10th straight win over the Cougars.
The game was marked by a large number of penalties. Both teams drew 26 flags for a total of 200 yards.
“When you have a 2-7 team playing a 7-2 team, you do some things to take the 7-2 team out of their game,” Hamilton said. “They tried to play intimidating, not necessarily ‘X’ and ‘O’-wise. You have to stand up and let them know it’s not going to work. Every once in awhile, you kind of get your hands dirty a little bit. The penalties didn’t help us but they didn’t hurt us.”
Struble finished with 10 completions on 23 passes for 105 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also led all rushers with 44 yards on the ground and one touchdown of his own. Schoonover managed his two touchdowns on just 26 rushing yards and 35 receiving yards.
Senior defensive lineman Justin Mannick added five tackles and senior linebacker Ray Bateman had four, three of them solo.
Outstanding play from the seniors, especially defensively, has been the trademark of the Lions season.
“When you have an experienced group, you got to kind of ride the horse and keep riding it,” Hamilton said. “I think the biggest testimony to how much they mean to us is not how they are playing now but how much you will miss them next year. Replacing them is not something I’m looking forward to doing.”
The College now stands at 8-2 on the season and 5-1 in the NJAC, and will be considered for an Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) playoff bid on Monday, after failing to receive an NCAA tournament bid. There are currently 13 teams eligible for the ECAC Southern region and only six will be chosen.
“I’d be surprised if we didn’t get in the mix,” Hamilton said. “If you go 8-2 and 5-1 in your conference you got to think your guys deserve a chance to keep playing. You got to keep your fingers crossed. I think our guys deserve an opportunity to play another game. We want a chance to win something. We didn’t make the big dance but we want to go to the party.”