With five interceptions and an inconsistent offense, the Lions football team came up short in its season-finale conference game at Kean University 21-14 on Saturday.
It was too little too late as the Lions failed to complete a late comeback. Trailing 21-7 in the fourth quarter, the Lions cut the lead in half as sophomore running back Mike Feaster punched it in from one-yard out with just over three minutes remaining.
The Lions recovered the ensuing on-sides kick, but the offense couldn’t move the chains and turned the ball over after failing to convert on fourth down.
With solid defense and good clock management, the Lions were able to get the ball back with 48 seconds left, but once again, the offense stuttered as the final seconds ticked away and closed out their season.
With the loss, the Lions finish the year at 3-7 with a conference record of 1-5. It is the first losing season for the team since its 4-5 mark in 2000. The game also marks the first time the Lions have lost to Kean since 1992.
The opening drive exemplified the team’s play all season, as offensive inconsistencies contribued to the loss.
The Lions forced the Cougars to punt, but sophomore quarterback Jeff Struble coughed up the ball on the ensuing drive.
The Cougars recovered and were in the end zone two plays later, after sophomore quarterback AJ Roque found freshman wide receiver Chase Long for the 20-yard touchdown.
“That’s been the story all year,” senior wide receiver Ryan Ross said of the turnovers that have plagued the team all season. “I would hope by now we wouldn’t be doing that.”
Likewise, the Lions could not get it done in the red zone, converting on just one of their four trips inside the 20.
In first quarter, the Lions were one yard away from tying the game after Ross was brought down just short of the goal line for a 49-yard pass play.
“I dove but didn’t get in and that hurt us because it would have tied the game,” Ross said. “I gotta get in the end zone especially when we struggle to score points.”
After two unsuccessful downs, the Lions brought out their halfback option trick play, but senior running back Leeaire Brown was intercepted in the end zone on his attempted jump pass.
The Lions eventually got on the board but not until late in the third quarter, and it was the defense that put up the points.
Sophomore defensive back Mike Ferris intercepted a Roque pass and took it to the house for a 19-yard touchdown return, trimming the Cougar lead to 13-7.
Regardless, the frustration on the offensive side set in like a dense fog that wouldn’t go away at the end of the first half. Kean intercepted the Lions on three straight drives to end the half, including a pick-off in the end zone.
“That’s how things have been going for us all season,” Struble said. “It was just a bad game.”
The Cougars made some mistakes, but they were able to capitalize on one of their own critical blunders.
Following Ferris’ touchdown interception, the Cougars settled on a field goal attempt from the five-yard line after they put together a 74-yard drive. But the play broke down when sophomore holder and back-up quarterback James Felton felt the pressure after the snap.
He picked up the ball and rolled to his left and found back-up tight-end Matt Bouchard for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
The Cougars played an excellent defensive game, forcing five interceptions and a lost fumble. They were led by senior linebacker Kenny Hodge who picked up 10 tackles. In addition, their offensive line did not let up a sack, allowing Roque to throw for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
“This season, we experienced the worst,” Struble said. “Next season, we’ll be a year stronger and it will be a turnaround.”