It was fourth and goal with under two minutes to go. The Lions needed one stop to knock off Kean University, and they got it as sophomore defensive back Matthew Fleck stuffed Kean quarterback Robert Meade at the 1-yard line to secure a 7-0 victory.
It was another strong defense effort for the Lions (3-2, 2-0) as they shut out Kean. With the win, the team has allowed an average of six points per game on their current three-game win streak. The team was also ranked 21st nationally in yards allowed going into the game, and after allowing only 222 yards to the Cougars, they’ll likely rise in the rankings.
“Our defense has been incredible this whole year,” sophomore quarterback Sam Paladino said. “They are an experienced group and the most impressive part is we have been rolling in a lot of different players, and we don’t lose a step. If they give up a big play, they don’t panic. They have a short memory and line up and play the next play, and limit the damage.”
The scoring action happened early but not often. A solid kickoff return by senior defensive back Matthew Chierici gave the Lions good field position, which they took advantage of. Palladino led the team on a 68-yard drive that culminated in a 15-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Victor Scalici.
“It always helps to grab the momentum like that in the beginning of the game, especially with the way our defense is playing,” Paladino said. “We executed very well on the first drive. We need to be more consistent throughout the game to take stress off of our defense.”
Once again, the Lions’ defense was firing on all cylinders, especially in the first half. They allowed only three first downs in the first two quarters and were led by junior lineback Ryan Lowe with eight tackles. Fleck added six tackles of his own. Sophomore linebacker Zack Visilenko nabbed an interception, helping out the defense.
“Every week we have a great game plan in place by our coaches that always put us in positions to succeed,” Lowe said. “I feel that we are coming together as a group and understanding the type of play it takes to win. Everybody knows every week that all that is expected is for them to do their part, and fortunately, over the last three games, we’ve done that.
Even on special teams, the College dominated. Kean had a 36-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter as they looked to get on the board. The Lions had other plans, however, as the kick was blocked by none other than special teams ace Chierici.
Paladino’s numbers weren’t flashy. He only completed six of 10 passes for 55 yards and a pick to go along with 22 rushing yards. But this team has played differently with Paladino at the helm. Everyone has followed his lead, which has brought them to a three-game win streak.
“(Paladino) has done a great job and has been a huge part of our recent success,” Lowe said. “He’s been a great team player and has helped us win games. We are confident with whoever is playing quarterback (that) they can help us win, but (Paladino) has given us the extra push to win the close games.”
Next up is the Homecoming game, where the Lions look to win their fourth straight game and defend home turf against SUNY Morrisville on Saturday, Oct. 19. There will be a lot of emotions as the College not only looks to impress the Homecoming faithful, but also stay undefeated in the NJAC.