Lions’ offense sputters in 24-14 loss to Mules

Senior captain and wide receiver Ryan Ross’ 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown surpassed the net number of yards gained by the Lions’ offense, 79, in Saturday night’s 24-14 loss to Muhlenberg College. The Mules have now collected back-to-back opening day wins over the Lions.

In an attempt to spark the offense, the Lions used three quarterbacks over the course of the game: junior Jeff Struble, who started, sophomore Kevin Veilliard and senior Chris Bell.

“(The) problem is we didn’t develop a personality coming out of camp,” head coach Eric Hamilton said. “Running quarterbacks in and out is not a good situation. We have to find someone who’s going to be consistent.”

The trio combined for one rushing touchdown but no scores through the air. Struble was sacked twice and finished 2-for-9 with 27 yards passing. Bell followed and completed 3 of 5 passes for 17 yards.

Veilliard, a transfer from Morgan State University, played some of the fourth quarter and finished with a 9-yard pass and a rushing touchdown.

With his kickoff return, Ross surpassed his previous career best of an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown last year against Rowan University and was named the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Special Teams Player of the Week. Ross also surpassed the 1,000 career all-purpose yards plateau on the play, after entering the season with 983 all-purpose yards. He also added two catches for 27 yards.

Muhlenberg sophomore quarterback Eric Santagato completed 15 of 21 passes for 145 yards and threw an interception to Lions sophomore cornerback Dave Fontoura.

Sophomore running back John LeDuca led the Mules with 18 carries for 69 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown in the final minute of the game. Muhlenberg dominated time of possession, 35:37-24:23, and total yards, 239-79.

Veilliard led a 15-play, 65-yard drive in the fourth quarter, capped off by Veilliard’s rushing touchdown, to help the Lions pull to within five points. Bell replaced Veilliard to complete a pass to Ross on a two-point conversion, making the score 17-14 with 10 minutes left in the game.

Muhlenberg held the ball for 6:32 for a 71-yard drive before Mules’ senior kicker Timothy Hughes missed a 27-yard field goal attempt wide left, leaving 3:32 for a Lions comeback.

Struble took the helm but failed to hit a receiver as the Lions were forced to punt with 2:44 left. Muhlenberg gained possession at the Lions’ 38-yard line. With 25 seconds left in the game, LeDuca rushed for a 14-yard touchdown to cap a seven-play, 38-yard drive to put the game away.

The Lions looked doomed from the start after a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Mules’ sophomore Brandon Doyle just nine seconds into the game.

In the third quarter, Santagato snuck the ball in from one yard out to cap a 12-play, 67-yard drive as Muhlenberg went up 17-6 with 7:53 left in the third frame.

On defense, Lions’ junior lineman Joe King made eight tackles and recorded a sack for a 12-yard loss, while junior defensive back Andrew Larkin had 10 tackles with two for losses.

Sophomore linebacker Matt Rathbun led the Mules with eight tackles and a blocked kick, helping the Mules limit the Lions to just 79 yards of offense on the night.

Up next, the Lions travel to LaSalle University on Sept. 8 for a 7:30 match-up with the NCAA Division I-AA Explorers.