The Rowan University Profs showed why they have the No. 1 defense in the nation by collecting five sacks and three interceptions against the Lions on Friday night.
In the College’s home opener, junior and senior quarterbacks Jeff Struble and Chris Bell could not stand upright. The Profs blitzed from every angle and even got to the quarterback by rushing three linemen. The Lions were held to 102 total yards of offense and committed seven turnovers in the 14-6 defeat.
“They had a really good defense,” Struble said. “We tried to stick to the game plan.”
“They came after us at the end,” head coach Eric Hamilton said. “You live and die by the blitz.”
“We came out strong and can’t blame our offense,” junior defensive lineman Joe King said. “We came up with the short end of the stick.”
Struble, who started the game, finished 3-for-11 with five yards passing and three interceptions. Bell relieved Struble in the third quarter and gave a spark to the Lions offense, finishing 5-for-12 on 65 yards passing. Although Struble was replaced by Bell, Hamilton said that Struble is not going to be taken out of the running for starting quarterback.
In the fourth quarter, the Lions came out running the ball, using senior running back Cory Schoonover and junior fullback Dan Dornacker to establish a previously non-existent rushing attack. Schoonover finished with 47 yards on 17 carries while Dornacker had 21 yards on three carries.
Bell followed with a 14-yard completion to junior tight end Chris Opdyke on third-and-12 to move to Rowan’s 28-yard line.
On the next play, Bell connected with freshman Mark Gardner in the end zone, but junior free safety Eric Bailey steamrolled Gardner to dislodge the ball for an incompletion. Had Gardner been able to hold on to the ball, the score would have been 14-12 with the Lions going for a two-point conversion to tie.
After the lost opportunity, Bell was hit by junior linebacker Robert Niszczak and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Profs. Niszczak wreaked havoc on the Lions’ quarterbacks, collecting three sacks and six tackles.
On the ensuing drive, Rowan’s senior quarterback Mike Orihel fumbled the ball on his own 45-yard line. The College got the ball back with 4:51 remaining in the game, but Bell lost the ball after a hit by junior defensive back Kelvin Bellamy. Rowan got the ball back and marched down field for a field goal attempt. With 1:34 left on the clock, King blocked the field goal on the 19-yard line.
The Lions had their last chance to score with the clock winding down. On third-and-10, Bell completed a pass to Opdyke for a 17-yard gain. Bell was then sacked twice on the next two plays. On fourth-and-12, his pass was batted down by Bailey to seal the game for the Profs.
In the opening drive of the game, Struble attempted a shovel pass near his own goal line that was intercepted by senior defensive lineman Keith Heimerl and returned for a touchdown to give Rowan a 7-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Rowan sophomore running back Davon Edwards took a handoff on his own 8-yard line and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Lions.
The Lions’ lone score came on the next drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by Struble, making the score 7-6. The point-after attempt was botched as Bell mishandled the snap.
Following a Struble interception by senior defensive back Tim Harrison, Rowan mounted a drive that ended with a 27-yard touchdown run by Edwards with 9:58 left in the third quarter to make it 14-6.
To lead the nation’s No. 1 defense, Bellamy had seven tackles, one forced fumble, four pass deflections and one sack. Senior cornerbacks Dawaine Whetstone and Tim Harrison and Heimerl each intercepted Struble.
“They’re a great defense: big, physical, … tough,” Bell said. “We can say the same for our defense as well. They played unbelievable. They kept us in the game.”
The Lions defense forced four turnovers with three forced fumbles and an interception by junior defensive back Andrew Larkin.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Hamilton said. “But we’re getting better. With the second home game we need to turn things around and make something happen.”
Next up for the Lions is the Homecoming game against William Paterson University on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Lions’ Stadium.