Despite playing one of its best games of the season, the Lions’ football team could not hold onto a lead and fell short in a disappointing 30-17 loss at Western Connecticut State University Saturday afternoon.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Lions took a 17-10 lead after senior place-kicker Blake Abbott converted a season-long 42-yard field goal, but that’s when the Colonials used a little Homecoming magic to get back into the game and score 20 unanswered points in the final frame.
On the ensuing kickoff, junior wide receiver Adamis Gonzalez, who leads the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) in punt return yards, ran across field to take a kickoff that was purposely kicked away from him and went coast-to-coast for a 100-yard return, tying a school record and knotting the game up at 17.
“That was the turning point of the game,” head coach Eric Hamilton said. “It was like a dagger in the heart.”
Hamilton knew the elusive Gonzalez was a dangerous playmaker, similar to the Kansas City Chiefs’ return man Dante Hall, but Gonzalez made sure he would get an opportunity to showcase his talents by taking the kickoff even though it was not intended for him.
The game remained tied nearing the two-minute warning when the Colonials of Western Connecticut made their way inside the Lions’ 10-yard line.
They were able to take advantage of two pass interference calls against the Lions and senior tailback Jason Adamson scored the go-ahead touchdown on a two-yard run to put the Colonials on top 24-17 following the extra point.
The Colonials tacked on another score when senior linebacker Jason Alcin took an interception 32 yards into the end zone with 54 seconds remaining, putting an exclamation point on the Western Connecticut comeback.
“This is a tough loss for all of us,” Hamilton said. It would have been huge to get the road win and come back home at 3-3 with three home games, Hamilton said. Instead, the Lions fall to 2-4 overall and 1-3 in the conference.
With junior running back Cory Schoonover out, senior back Leeaire Brown and sophomore back Dan Dornacker carried the load, rushing for 80 and 73 yards, respectively.
The Lions showed a consistent offense for most of the game, but simply could not make the timely plays that would cost them the game.
“I felt for three quarters, we had control of the game,” Hamilton said.
Despite dominating the running game, the Lions did not take advantage of good field position or convert in the red zone, going 0-for-2 on the day while the Colonials were 3-for-3 from inside the 20 and made the clutch plays down the stretch.
“We didn’t stop them when we had to and they stopped us when they had to,” Hamilton said.
After Gonzalez’s remarkable return, he was flagged for excessive celebration and given a 15-yard penalty.
After a short return, the Lions began their drive at the 50-yard line.
Sophomore quarterback Jeff Struble hooked up with senior wide receiver Ryan Ross for a 23-yard gain, but that was as close as the Lions would get to the end zone.
Two sacks and a penalty later, the Lions found themselves back near the 50 and had to punt the ball away.
Credit the Colonials’ defense which came up with the big plays and kept the Lions out of the end zone for the entire second half.
The Lions had their opportunities, beginning two drives from inside Western Connecticut territory in the third quarter, but came away empty on each.
“When we had the lead, we had the chance to build on it and we didn’t do it,” Hamilton said.
The Lions were able to build a 14-10 lead by half time with senior wide receiver Alan Kotteles scoring both touchdowns. Kotteles was the favorite target of the Lions’ quarterbacking crew on the day as he caught six passes for 82 yards.
Midway through the second quarter, he hauled in a 39-yard pass from Struble to put the Lions in front at the half.
His other score came late in the first quarter on a 22-yard strike from junior quarterback Chris Bell. That was part of the Lions’ 12-play opening drive that tied the game at seven.
The Colonials got on the board first when senior quarterback Joe DiMeglio found sophomore tight end and younger brother, Mike DiMeglio for a three-yard touchdown.
Joe DiMeglio, who had thrown for 11 touchdowns in the past two games, threw for 175 yards and one touchdown.
Struble finished with 141 yards going 10-for-19 with a touchdown and an interception.
The Lions will try to bounce back next week as they begin a three-week home stand and host LaSalle University for a 1 p.m. matchup.