Special teams play dooms Lions

Special teams can make or break a game. Montclair State University used a pair of blocked punts in the second half to break the game for the visiting Lions on Saturday.

The Red Hawks scored 10 points off of the blocked punts as they scored 27 straight points in a 27-7 Homecoming victory.

At the end of the first quarter, Lions sophomore defensive back Dave Fontura forced a fumble that was recovered by junior defensive lineman Dan Jacoby at the Red Hawks’ 48-yard line. The fumble recovery would help set up the College’s lone score of the night.

Senior running back Cory Schoonover dove into the corner pylon as he rushed for a 12-yard touchdown to give the Lions a 7-0 at the start of the second quarter. Schoonover would finish the game with 89 rushing yards on 21 carries.

On the next possession, Montclair tied it up with a 60-yard drive. Junior quarterback Michael Jump completed a 20-yard pass to junior wide receiver Rashon Walker on 3rd-and-14 to put the Red Hawks on the Lions’ 44-yard line.

Jump hit senior wide receiver Fred Carter on the next play to put Montclair at the 15, and junior running back Ryan McCoach added a nine-yard reception at the 6-yard line. McCoach capped off the drive with a six-yard rush to even the score at 7.

The College’s special teams breakdown would begin on the next possession. Junior defensive back Mike Ajadi blocked junior punter/kicker Matt Dalessio’s attempt for the first of two Montclair blocked punts. The Red Hawks regained possession at the Lions’ 15 and settled for a 27-yard field goal by senior kicker Vin Doffont.

“It’s a game where in the first half, we missed the opportunity to go into halftime with the lead,” head coach Eric Hamilton said. “We let them hang around and keep it close. Then the first blocked punt came; we didn’t handle adversity well.”

With five minutes left until halftime, the College moved the ball into Montclair territory with help from two Red Hawk penalties. On the 12-yard line with 20 seconds left, Schoonover rushed seven yards to the Red Hawks’ 5-yard line, but was stopped at the line of scrimmage. Junior quarterback Jeff Struble spiked the ball with eight seconds left to stop the clock for a 22-yard field goal attempt. Dalessio’s attempt hit the right upright as Montclair took a 10-7 lead at halftime.

“It’s hard to say,” Dalessio said about the special teams’ difficulties. “We’re not clicking on all cylinders.”

The Red Hawk special teams would strike again in the third quarter as freshman defensive back Emmanuel Ihim blocked Dalessio’s punt attempt at the Lions’ 17 and rolled into the end zone, where sophomore fullback Jason Scott fell on the ball for the touchdown and a 17-7 lead over the Lions.

“I think they just had our number on special teams,” Dalessio said. “They did their job and we didn’t.”

Doffont would add a 33-yard field goal in the third quarter to extend the lead to 20-7, while Jump added a 24-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to sophomore wide receiver A.J. Letizia.

The College outgained Montclair in total offense, 213-200, including 129-26 on the ground. The special teams for each was the deciding factor in the game.

“The name of the game is putting the ball in the end zone,” Hamilton said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t do that and we couldn’t keep them out.”

Struble finished 14-of-30 for 84 yards and an interception while being sacked three times. Junior wide receiver Dylan Leith caught four balls for 44 yards. On defense for the Lions, freshman defensive lineman Marc Fabian collected four tackles and a sack.

For Montclair, Jump finished 12-of-21 for 174 yards. Carter had 48 yards and Walker had 44 yards, both on four receptions. Defensively, sophomore linebacker Cornell Hunt had 11 tackles while senior defensive lineman Gary Andrewshetsko collected nine tackles and two sacks. Junior linebacker Sal Fama totaled nine tackles, an interception and a sack.

The College (2-2) continues New Jersey Athletic Conference play next week for the Lions’ home opener after four straight road games to start the season. The College will host Rowan University on Friday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m.