It was homecoming game this Saturday, Oct. 14, and the stakes were high. Returning alumni and current Montclair State University faithfuls alike streamed into Sprague Field eager to root on the 3-2 Red Hawks as they chomped at the opportunity to extend their win streak to three games and knock off their New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) leading foe, the 5-1 Salisbury University Seagulls.
After Salisbury’s speedy gadget quarterback, Brendan Lewis, set the tone bursting for a 30-yard scramble on the game’s initial play from scrimmage and the Seagulls proceeded to methodically march down the field for a touchdown pounded in at the goal line by running back Malique Pratt, a cloud of cautious optimism lingered over the now subdued Montclair State fans that packed the grandstand.
The Red Hawks faltered in the crucial match up, 28-10, unable to capitalize and climb closer to their rival in the standings. But to say that the Red Hawks were outmatched is not an accurate assessment considering the squad found themselves smack dab in the thick of things at halftime only trailing 14-10. Their demise came at the hand of Salisbury’s painstakingly efficient approach on offense orchestrating their triple option oriented system throughout the contest.
“They were tough to handle,” said junior linebacker Mauro Altamura.
He bluntly led the Red Hawks with 15 total tackles while flying around the field in attempt to contain the triple option. “They were very disciplined in sticking to their option system.” Altmaura said.
The Red Hawks’ attempted to put a halt to Salisbury’s predictable play calling, but because of the bevy of dynamic weapons the Seagulls boasted, Montclair State simply could not recover as Lewis and company gashed the Red Hawks’ defensive unit for 390 total rushing yards.
The Red Hawks’ offense sputtered, incapable of carrying the momentum from last week’s prior’s performance against The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). Quarterback John Apicella, who had steered the Red Hawks back on course for two consecutive victories coming into this Saturday, had a tough time stringing together productive drives.
“The offensive line did a great job of giving me enough time,” said Apicella, who was sacked only once during the game. “We just didn’t come up with enough big plays. All we can do heading into this week is focus on taking it one play at a time and execute.”
In order to get into the playoffs, the Red Hawks need to win against both third place holder Frostburg State University and second place holder Wesley College, who are both 5-1 respectively. The pressure to win games does not deter the Red Hawks or stop them from keeping their goal in sight.
“We definitely haven’t put ourselves in position for the playoffs because we’re dependent on other teams beating the top two in the conference.” said wide out Taj Huggins, who led the Red Hawks’ receiving corps with a massive ten catches and a 185-yard breakout performance. “It’s certainly still within reach.”
“We have to win out the rest of our games and it’s doable,” Huggins said. “We just have to play our best game, one game at a time.”
Undoubtedly, this squad refuses to acknowledge the term ‘quit’ and are resolute in grinding out each game from here on out. Having to “keep pounding” to find a chance to grasp post season play. Heading into another daunting opponent in Frostburg, P.A. on Saturday, their mission has been unwavering during practice this week in preparation.
“We are implementing new plays and tinkering with ones we already have set,” Apicella said. “It’s going to take a group effort with everybody doing their parts but I know that we can play with these guys.”
The Red Hawks will square off at Frostburg State at 1.pm. this Saturday.
“Nothing is set in stone,” Apicella said. “We just have to make the most of our opportunity.”