A big-play offense is what the Lions have lacked for the past two weeks. After anemic performances against Muhlenberg College and LaSalle University, the offense came alive with 326 total yards as the College beat Fairleigh Dickenson University-Florham, 20-14, on Saturday afternoon at Shields Field.
“I wouldn’t say that our offense was explosive,” head coach Eric Hamilton said. “It was a matter of it coming together.”
The upperclassmen led the Lions on both sides of the ball, displaying the big-play potential that has been talked about since the season started.
Senior running back Cory Schoonover rushed 17 times for 142 yards and a touchdown, while senior wide receiver Ryan Ross caught three passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was a total team effort; there’s no question about it,” Hamilton said. “We got rhythm, we got some consistency.”
“We were able to run the ball,” Ross said. “They brought guys to the line and we started seeing some man coverage.”
Junior defensive end Joe King had a great defensive game as he collected seven tackles (five for a loss) and four sacks. The Lions’ defense forced two fumbles and recorded five sacks in total.
After a scoreless first half, the Devils broke the silence in the third quarter on a 15-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Dan Huff to make the score 7-0.
The Lions answered with a 13-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Jeff Struble to Ross, but the Devils blocked the extra point attempt by junior kicker Matt Dalessio to keep the Lions trailing 7-6.
Struble replaced sophomore quarterback Kevin Velliard in relief in the second half and finished 8-for-12 for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
Freshman Chris James was supposed to start but was forced to the bench due to injury from last week’s contest against LaSalle University.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Lions forced a fumble on a punt return and recovered the ball on their 43-yard line. On the very next play, Struble hit Ross for a 67-yard touchdown pass to make it 12-7 with 14:23 left in the game. The Lions then had an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt when Struble was stuffed at the goal line.
The Devils went three-and-out on the next drive and the Lions marched down the field with a nine-play, 85-yard drive that was capped off with a 54-yard touchdown run by Schoonover. Schoonver bruised his way through the Devils’ defense for a two-point conversion to put the Lions up 20-7.
“That’s the Cory Schoonover we know,” Hamilton said.
“Schoon played great,” Ross said about Schoonover’s performance. “I was really proud of him. It starts with the guys up front.”
Things got interesting when the Devils capped a 13-play, 72-yard drive on a 15-yard pass from Huff to senior wide receiver Mike Smeja to make it 20-14. Huff finished the day 14-for-29 for 171 yards and a touchdown with 10 yards rushing and a score. Smeja had four catches for 57 yards and a touchdown.
With the clock running down, the Devils attempted an onside kick, but the Lions recovered. Schoonover broke a 27-yard run that allowed the Lions to run out the clock.
For the Devils, junior running back Daniel Harrison rushed 12 times for 57 yards, while senior wide receiver David Nemeth had three catches for 57 yards. On defense, junior defensive end Tom Capra had seven tackles, one for a loss, and half a sack while sophomore defensive end Rob Roberts had two sacks.
With the win, the Lions improve to 2-1 and have an 8-0 record against the Devils since the teams first met in 1989.
The Lions are coming together on both sides of the ball, but there is still room for improvement. The offense did not have any turnovers for the third straight game. There were still several mental mistakes on the field. According to Hamilton, a touchdown run by Schoonover and a 70-yard punt return were called back because of penalties.
The Lions have a bye next week, but they return to the field when they visit Montclair State University on Saturday, Sept. 30 at 6 p.m.