By Maximillian C. Burgos
The football team lost its fourth game to the Salisbury University Sea Gulls on Saturday, Sept. 23, at Lions Stadium.
The Lions fell 27-7 after a tightly contested game in the first half. The Lions kept their heads high the entire game and the defense fought hard.
The Lions felt prepared coming into the game. Senior linebacker Kevin Hennelly discussed the Lions preparation in the College’s game notes.
“Defensively this week, our focus is to do our job,” Hennelly told TCNJ Athletics. “Salisbury runs the triple option and the only way to stop them is to play responsible football. Coach Goff has done a great job preparing us for the game and we are confident in his game plan.”
The Sea Gulls received the ball to start the game. After a decent return on the kickoff, the Lions defense punished the Sea Gulls’ misdirected offense. Junior linebacker Jesse Streb came in and scooped up a fumble that was caused by Lions pressure and penetration into the backfield. The crowd erupted as the momentum clearly started in favor of the Lions.
The defense was undeniably solid the entire game. Both Hennelly and junior linebacker Max Busca had seven tackles each in the game. On top of his fumble recovery, Streb had three tackles for losses and five tackles in all. Senior linebacker Troy Domenick also made the backfield feel his presence with a sack, two tackles for losses and five tackles in all.
Senior quarterback Trevor Osler threw a dart to senior wide receiver Thomas Koenig for a Lions go-ahead touchdown, still less than a minute into the game. The crowd continued to cheer as the pep-band played a merry tune.
After the electric start, the Lions struggled to score. The Sea Gulls were known for their heavy running game that confused defenses, but the Lions defense stood strong.
Defensive line coach Marcel Wynychuk commented on the offensive struggles after the game and the overall vibe of the team afterwards.
“The team is progressing,” Wynychuk said. “This was a tough loss but they’ll keep their heads up. Effort is never a question with this group, but learning new systems is not an easy process. There are a lot of new things going in. The offense is almost completely new from last year. Learning takes time.”
The offense yet again showed the ability to move the ball, but was largely unable to score points and finish drives. The rushing attack also struggled. At the end of the game, the Lions had -21 yards.
Head coach Casey Goff talked about the offensive rushing struggles after the game.
“We played three really good teams in a row,” Goff said. “When you can’t run the ball, you put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and the passing game. Their defense was solid. The offense made some mistakes, but they are getting better.”
Osler and freshman quarterback Andrew Donoghue both felt a lot of physical and mental pressure. The Lions offensive line struggled for the second week in a row, allowing nine sacks.
When asked about using both quarterbacks, Goff expressed confidence in both of his signal callers.
“We will put in the right guy for the right situation,” Goff said. “They both have skills that we want to use in certain situations and utilize them for the best results. We are not moving away from Osler or anything like that. We just want to use each of their strengths in the right places.”
Osler had a decent performance. He threw for 192-yards, 12 completions and a touchdown, but his two interceptions hurt the Lions. Both interceptions were deflections that landed in defenders hands.
Koenig had a very exceptional game as he caught six receptions, received 142 yards and scored a touchdown.
After the loss, the Lions fell to 0-4 on the season. At halftime, the score was tied at seven and the Lions were in a good position. After watching the first half, the Lions looked primed to win it, but the Sea Gulls put up 20 unanswered points.
After what can be perceived as a crushing loss against a very good football team, Goff discussed the team’s morale.
“I don’t think that morale will be a problem,” Goff said. “These guys put in work day in and day out. Effort is never a question with them. They are learning new system and are getting better. If you look back, we played three really good teams and we competed with them. I don’t believe in moral victories but we are getting better.”
As the Lions keep their heads up for their next game, they will have an extra week to prepare because of a bye next week. The Lions return home to play Montclair State University on Saturday, Oct. 7, at noon. With the optimism that the coaches have shown, maybe the Lions can pull off the season’s first win against Montclair.