It was too little too late for the Lions as they came up short against the fourth-ranked Profs of Rowan University on Friday night, taking the 30-20 loss before a packed stadium at John Page Field.
Despite digging themselves into a seemingly insurmountable 0-23 hole by halftime, the Lions turned a blowout into a nail biter by scoring three unanswered touchdowns in the second half.
As the fourth quarter began, the Lions needed to carry their momentum into the final frame if they had any hope of winning the game. After forcing a Rowan fumble in the end zone, the Lions took possession of the ball and used 10 plays to move 80 yards downfield in one of their best offensive drives of the season.
The drive was capped off by a nifty one-yard halfback touchdown pass, as senior running back Leeaire Brown found sophomore tight end Mike Thormann in the end zone to cut the Profs lead to three.
However, it was not enough and the Lions were unable to complete the miracle comeback as the Profs’ potent offense secured the victory. In the fourth quarter, Profs junior quarterback Mike Orihel, kept the ball and ran it in for a one-yard touchdown, turning the tide and putting his team up 30-20 with just 6:20 remaining. The play was set up by a 43-yard run by junior running back Ulysses Encarnacion.
Credit the Profs for eventually putting this game away, but the Lions defense also came up big. “Our defense kept us in it,” junior wide receiver Ryan Ross said. “We were able to put some points up, just not enough.”
The Profs were able to control much of the game with their powerful running attack led by the duo of Encarnacion and sophomore running back Rob Richardson who rushed for 115 and 109 yards respectively. Likewise, Orihel, who threw for 40 touchdowns last season, had another productive game completing 21 of 33 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown.
Despite the forgetful first half and the loss, Lions optimistic head coach Eric Hamilton saw his squad become a football team in the second half. “What’s encouraging is not only did we come back, we played with a lot of focus and intensity,” Hamilton said.
The Lions came out strong to start the third quarter. “We were a different team,” Hamilton said. “We were making great plays. It felt like last year all over again.”
Following a Lions punt, sophomore wide receiver Vern Feigenbaum came up with a fumble recovery, giving his team a good scoring opportunity with quality field position. Sophomore quarterback Jeff Struble was able to put the Lions on the board with a nine-yard touchdown run seven minutes into the second half.
The Lions then gave their faithful followers who made the 70-minute trip to Glassboro something to cheer about when Ross returned a Profs punt 80 yards for the score. The play was set up by the Lions defense that held the Profs to a three and out, forcing them to punt.
“I got the ball on the 20 and then got some key blocks,” Ross said. “I was tackled and rolled forward, but there was no whistle so I popped back on my feet and kept going.” Ross’ extraordinary run capped a two minute, 13 point swing for the Lions.
With critical mistakes and uninspired play in the first half, the Lions put themselves in a deep hole in the first two quarters. “We did everything badly and you can’t do that against the fourth-ranked team in the country,” Hamilton said of his team’s first-half performance.
With an early fumble in one of their opening drives, the Lions turned the ball over, setting up an easy 26-yard touchdown run for the explosive Encarnacion. “We botched a field goal, and with 41 seconds left in the half, we gave up a cheap touchdown,” Hamilton said.
Although the Lions’ defense was able to hold the Profs to three field goals, Orihel eventually found senior wide receiver Phil Silva in the corner of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown reception to close the first half.
The question remains whether this team will carry over their excellent second half play into next week’s game. With a 1-3 overall record and an 0-2 conference record, the Lions will need to come out strong for their conference match up against William Paterson University on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.