By Anthony Caruso
As family, friends, alumni and students gathered for the Homecoming festivities, the football team had the breakthrough they had been waiting for all season and overcame the Montclair State University Red Hawks, 23-20, on Saturday, Oct. 24 at Lions’ Stadium.
This win snapped the Lion’s losing streak in their first triumph since last November against Kean University. Their record is now 1-5.
Coach Wayne Dickens is now 2-1 in Homecoming games as the Lions’ head coach. He’s also 2-1 against the Red Hawks in his three-year tenure at the school.
“It’s tough in the sport of football, as you have to physically come out and play hard every week,” Dickens said. “When you don’t get that joy at the end of winning, you have to dig deeper the following weeks to come out and play. We’ve been able to do that, and it finally paid off for us. Montclair has a heck of a team —they’re strong at just about every position. The difference was we made some key plays when we needed to make them.”
As the time was expiring, Red Hawks quarterback Ryan Davies threw a pass into the end zone as the six remaining seconds were coming off the clock. The ball hit several players’ hands but fell to the ground, prompting the Lions to rush out onto the field to celebrate the triumph.
“That’s a huge play,” Dickens said. “You go over it in practice, but we don’t rep it in practice. You want to high-point the ball, and I saw a defensive players hands higher than the rest. He made sure the ball didn’t get caught in the end zone. That’s what you have to do in that play.”
With the Lions up by 10 in the fourth, the Red Hawks went on a four-play drive that resulted in a 28-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Julanee Prince from Davies.
The Lions led, 10-0, against the Red Hawks after they had several fumbles that set up scoring plays. First, kicker Brian Nagy connected on a 25-yard field goal for the 3-0 lead.
On the next drive, Lions’ junior quarterback Michael Marchesano threw a pass, which was deflected into the hands of wide receiver Nick Craig for a 27-yard touchdown.
“It’s always hard to play catch up, but we had the lead this time,” Craig said. “We knew it wasn’t enough, and thankfully, we were able to go out there and score some more. Our defense really helped us out today.”
In the waning minutes of the first half, the visitors got on the board, as running back Denzel Nieves scored on a five-yard touchdown.
Davies hit wide receiver Aaron Williams for a three-yard touchdown for the lead. However, the extra point was blocked for the 13-10 lead.
“Neither of them were to me, as they were both to Conor (Mulholland),” Craig said. “I went up and tried to make something happen. Luckily, I was in the right place at the right time.”
After an interception by Lions’ junior defensive back Jordan Rogers in the third quarter, quarterback Trevor Osler hit wide receiver Mulholland for a 22-yard touchdown. With the extra point, to put the Lions up, 17-13.
Marchesano’s pass deflected into the hands of Craig for a 25-yard touchdown. The extra point was missed for a 23-13 lead.
“It says a lot about the guys, and that’s who these guys are. These TCNJ guys are going to do that now when they’re football guys and do it after graduation when they’re out in the business world,” Dickens said. “That’s the way they are. That’s their make-up. They will always play hard. We don’t always get the success at the end of it that we want, but we’ll play hard.”
Montclair State drops to 3-4 on the season. In addition, the loss snaps their three-game win streak.
The Lions will, appropriately, take on the orange and black William Paterson Pioneers for a Halloween away game on Saturday, Oct. 31, in Wayne, N.J.