Lions suffer Homecoming heartbreak

What seemed like it would be an emotional win for the College on Homecoming turned into a crushing defeat on Saturday, Oct. 20. An 11-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Chris Johnson with 32 seconds remaining put Kean University in front for good, giving them a 34-30 victory over the Lions.

The game got off to a rough start for the College (1-4, 2-5), as an offsides penalty on the opening kickoff followed by a 46-yard pass from junior quarterback Christian Bailoni to senior wide receiver Deandre Fowlkes put the Cougars inside the 5-yard line. However, the Lions’ defense held strong and stopped them on three rushing plays, while junior defensive back Matthew Chierici blocked an 18-yard field goal, his third block in the past two games.

“That series was a microcosm of what type of character this team has,” head coach Eric Hamilton said. “Our guys have been picking each other up all season. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to put it together for a complete 60 minutes.

On their first offensive drive, the College took the ball down the field and got a fourth-down conversion by senior running back Justin Doniloski. Senior quarterback Dan Dugan followed by hitting senior wide receiver Glenn Grainger for a 12-yard touchdown pass to put the team up 7-0.

From then on, it was a defensive struggle for both teams that involved a lot of punting. The Lions’ defense, a defense that thrives on turnovers, came through with a fumble recovery by Chierici and an interception by senior linebacker Michael Lambert.

Shortly after Lambert’s pick, Dugan threw a 23-yard bomb to senior running back Nicholas Tyson, who made the grab in the end zone for the score. A missed extra point left the College with a 13-0 lead.

Later on in the second quarter, the Lions had a defensive series that they would like to forget. A fake punt by Kean saw their junior wide receiver Prince Stewart take the ball 22 yards down field. Then, a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone set the Cougars up at the College’s goal line. Johnson ran the ball in for a 1-yard score to cut the deficit to 13-7.

Just when it seemed that Kean would catch up, the momentum swung back to the Lions as Chierici got an interception for a big gain, giving him the hat trick for defense and special teams plays.

“Matt played his butt off, as did most of our guys Saturday,” Hamilton said. “He is a kid who just wants to play every snap and do whatever he can to help us win. He is a team player who gives 100 percent all the time.”

With the half winding down, Dugan wasted no time by immediately throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass to Tyson, giving the College a 20-7 lead going into the half.

Despite the loss, the team plays with pride.

“When we are going well, forcing and getting turnovers is what we need,” Hamilton said. “We practice that every day. Generating points, especially when we gain field position, is something our offense has capitalized on during the season.”

The Cougars stopped the Lions on their first drive of the second half and another momentum shift occurred. Bailoni threw two big chunks of yardage to Fowlkes, 28 and 29 yards, the latter resulted in a touchdown.

The back-and-forth game continued with a fluky play for the College. Dugan passed the ball to Grainger for a short gain, but he spun off a defender, ran to the right, got a block, and sprinted to the end zone for a 57-yard touchdown, giving the Lions a 27-14 lead.

As the fourth quarter began, it seemed like the College’s defense began to slow. Johnson hit Fowlkes for a 34-yard strike and junior running back Sean McKee punched it in for the score.

A 39-yard field goal by Lions’ senior kicker Derrick Hughes increased the lead to 30-21, but those were the last points that the Lions put on a board.

Kean took a long, methodical drive to the house as McKee barreled for pay dirt from two yards out. The Lions couldn’t hold onto the ball long enough to kill the clock, and Johnson’s eventual field goal was the dagger.

“With all the talent a team like Kean has, we never felt like we had the game under control,” Hamilton said. “A couple of plays in the fourth quarter might have helped us keep them out, but in the end, they wore us down and made the plays they had to.”

That makes three straight losses for the College, who couldn’t conjure up their magic from last year’s Homecoming. The start of the game was promising, but once again, they were unable to hold onto a lead. However, after playing on the road so much to start the season, the team was happy to be home.

“Playing away four of the first six games has been tough, but Saturday’s crowd and support was huge,” Hamilton said. “College football on a beautiful day can generate so much excitement on a campus.”

The Lions return to action on Friday at home against William Paterson University, looking desperate to get back in the win column.

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