With a tremendous defensive effort, the Lions’ football team picked up its first conference victory against the Pioneers of William Paterson University by a score of 13-7 on Saturday afternoon.
Despite a steady downpour, the Lions weathered the storm and survived two William Paterson drives in the final six minutes, each from inside their own 10-yard line, to take the game.
Deep into the fourth quarter, Lions’ junior linebacker Josh Baker capped off a stellar defensive stand by sacking Pioneers’ freshman quarterback Sean Ryan for a four-yard loss on a critical fourth-and-one. Baker led the team with nine tackles, eight of them solo.
On their next drive, the Pioneers took possession of the ball on the Lions’ 28 with less than three minutes remaining after freshman Harold Green blocked a Blake Abbott punt.
That helped the Pioneers to drive inside the 10 once again, but the Lions defense did not budge, stuffing them on four straight plays. However, a critical pass interference penalty on fourth down gave the Pioneers a fresh set of downs.
“It was an aggressive play and a questionable call,” head coach Eric Hamilton said. “They had nine shots to score from inside the 10.”
The penalty could have been a game-changing call, but ended up being just another opportunity for the Lions’ defense to prove its worth.
On this day, the Lions’ defense was the determining factor and it could not be broken. After stuffing a run play for no gain, the Lions then forced three incomplete passes.
When sophomore safety Andrew Larkin broke up the game-ending pass, the goal line stand was complete, and the Lions were able to walk off the rain-soaked field victorious.
“We had our backs against the wall and we knew that we had to get things done,” sophomore linebacker Nicholas Steffner said of the defensive stand.
Steffner made seven tackles, while sophomore defensive back Jeff Bower and senior linebacker Terence Nish each added six.
Thanks to constant sheets of rain, the turf field was difficult to play on, with players sloshing through puddles and standing water. The sloppy conditions made for an old school grudge match where defense proved to be the determining factor of who won the game.
Neither team was able to move the chains with much consistency with the two combining for 21 punts and just 406 yards of total offense.
As was the case last week, the Lions found themselves in a hole early on. “We have to go out and start the game like we’ve been finishing,” Hamilton said.
After failing to convert on two field goal attempts, the Pioneers got on the board thanks to a 23-yard run by senior tailback Prince Breeden.
The Lions tied up the game late in the first quarter with a 77-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by sophomore quarterback Jeff Struble.
The Lions then took the lead when Struble found junior fullback Sean Farrelly for a one-yard score late in the third quarter. After that, it was all on the defense.
Despite converting just 10 first downs, the Lions were able to muster just enough offense to give their defense a chance to win the game.
“Give our offense credit for coming back under those conditions,” Hamilton said.
Struble finished the game with 117 yards passing and 53 yards on the ground, while senior wide receiver Ryan Ross chipped in by catching five passes for 57 yards.
With the win, the Lions improve to 2-3 overall and 1-2 in the conference. They will look to get off to a strong start when they return to action on Saturday for a 1 p.m. showdown at conference rival Western Connecticut.