After 59 minutes of struggling offenses and a battle for ripe field position, the College found the end zone just out of a Kean University defender’s reach.
Junior quarterback Jay Donoghue’s 26-yard pass found sophomore wide receiver Brian Mills in the corner of the end zone for the game’s only score, as the Lions (5-4) upset the Cougars 7-0 at home for their fourth consecutive win.
The winning touchdown came on third down with 11 yards to go within field goal range — a somewhat gutsy call considering Donoghue had thrown two interceptions on the day already.
Head coach Eric Hamilton felt the pass was worth a try.
“In a 0-0 game, what is playing safe?” he asked. “Going for a field goal or overtime — both are chances. We took the shot. We had opportunities early in game from close, and we have to pick and choose when we take shots — that was as good as time as any. It was a good throw, and a great catch.”
Donoghue had his reasons as well.
“They came out playing man to man with one safety and linebacker, both sitting right on the middle routes,” he said. “So pre-snap I knew it was Mills one on one to the outside. He’s one of the fastest kids on our team so I knew he’d beat him deep. Then he made a great over the shoulder catch. It was just awesome.”
Donoghue led the team in rushing as well as passing, with 57 yards on the ground on 12 attempts.
The College had a chance to pull ahead early, but a Donoghue interception on the Kean 3-yard line halted the drive. The Cougars also stymied the Lions on the goal line in the second half, in addition to blocking a 45-yard field goal attempt by junior kicker Tyler Olsson.
The Lions defense bent but it never broke, accounting for the College’s first shutout victory since a 30-0 win over SUNY Cortland in 2007. Kean gained only 265 yards of total offense in the contest.
“Our defense is getting better each week,” Hamilton said. “Even with the different faces, they are improving. The game plan was basic but the effort was outstanding. A big reason is that they believe they can do it if everyone just takes care of their responsibility. Our tackling was much better and we played with intensity — maybe the challenge of the big back or rising to the level of competition.”
The defense was led by sophomore linebacker Greg Burns and junior defensive back Shawn Brown, each with eight tackles on the day.
“We put hard work in this week, watching film on Kean, and work ethic was higher at practice,” senior defensive back Matt Kreider said. “We didn’t really change the plan , we just did it better.”
With the win over Kean, the College is above .500 overall for the first time this season and hopes to continue its winning ways on Saturday, hosting Rowan University (8-1) in the season finale.
“(Rowan) needs to win to have a shot at NCAA, so they will be fired up,” Hamilton said. “We need another effort out of our guys, especially those who may be playing their last game at home. Just wish our student body would lighten up a little and take a day off from studying and enjoy the day outside with us. Our guys could really use the support and we need all the help we can get Saturday.”
Bobby Olivier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.