The Lions offense struggled mightily these past two weeks en route to suffering two critical road losses in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC).
In their first game back after an emotional overtime victory in the Homecoming game against William Paterson University two weeks ago, the Lions suffered a letdown game against Western Connecticut State University, dropping a 10-3 decision.
The following week against No. 6 SUNY-Cortland, the Lions squandered an early 14-0 lead, thanks to the efforts of the special teams and defense, to lose 26-14 as Cortland scored 21 unanswered points.
“We’ve been in every game we’ve lost,” senior defensive lineman Gary Bach said. “We took two nationally-ranked teams (Rowan and Cortland) to the wire. We just came out on the short end of the stick.”
The short end of the stick could be a theme for the past two weeks of Lions’ football, as the two NJAC losses put the final nail in the coffin for the year, all but eliminating their hopes of a winning season.
The Lions played exceptionally well on the defensive side of the ball, limiting Cortland to 194 yards on offense and causing two turnovers, despite being left on the field for the majority of play.
One of those two turnovers was an early interception that was returned for a touchdown by sophomore linebacker Justin Laurence, as he scampered up the sideline 67 yards for the score.
Special teams then added to the Lions’ lead as sophomore linebacker Frank Schulteis blocked a punt right on Cortland’s doorstep. Senior running back Ernie Covington scooped up the loose ball and made a mad dash 10 yards into the end zone for the touchdown.
The Lions were not letting the pressure of an upset get to them after taking the early lead.
“It felt great, but I wasn’t surprised,” Bach said. “Everyone was talking about an upset. But, I wasn’t looking at it that way. We are a great team and it (was) just about time we were playing like it.”
But the Lions, leading 14-5 into the half due to a safety and a field goal by the Red Dragons, couldn’t keep up the pace. The team was shut out in the second half, mustering only 83 yards of offense.
The Red Dragons took advantage of a worn-down Lions defense, scoring 21 consecutive points, seven through the air and 14 via ground, and finished off any Cinderella upset dreams.
Against Western Connecticut, the offense again sputtered with 155 total yards. The passing game especially struggled, as freshman quarterback Chris James completed 5-of-21 passes with one very costly interception.
The defense kept the Lions in the game, however, keeping the Colonials off the scoreboard until the last five minutes of the game when, due to a botched snap on a Lions punt, the Colonials were able to notch a field goal and take a 3-0 lead.
The Colonials finished off any hopes of a Lions comeback as James threw the aforementioned interception on the next possession to sophomore Colonials linebacker Chad Milling.
Milling returned the pick 34 yards to the Lions’ 8-yard line, setting up senior tailback Jeff Ward’s outstanding effort, bouncing off several defenders to reach pay dirt and extend the lead to 10.
The Lions’ only points of the day came on a 38-yard field goal by junior kicker Matthew Dalessio with 2:12 left on the clock, but the Colonials then retained possession on an onside kick to end the game for the Lions.
“It’s obvious our offense is struggling,” Bach said. “To point the finger would be ridiculous, because that’s not what we are about here. We are a family, and we play as one, win or lose.”
The Lions will have to come together in a big way to win their last two games of the season, both at home, as they face two NJAC opponents: SUNY-Buffalo and Kean University.
“In the beginning of every season, teams set certain goals. Our goal right now is to finish 5-5, which can be an improvement from last year’s 3-7,” Bach said, “We are still a young team, and winning our last two games, at home, can give some of the young players the confidence and motivation to work hard in the offseason and come back next year stronger and more dedicated.”
To reach that goal, the Lions will need some kind of a spark to ignite their offense and continue solid play on the defensive side of the ball.
The College will host Buffalo on Saturday at noon.