The Montclair State University Red Hawks football team defeated Southern Virginia University Knights 24-3 in their New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) opener at home on Saturday.
Although Southern Virginia was on offense for most of the first quarter, the Red Hawks’ defense limited them to a 19-yard field goal, giving the visitors a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Red Hawks went to work on offense shortly after. Junior quarterback Ja’Quill Burch tossed a 26-yard pass to junior wide receiver Kason Campbell that gave the Red Hawks great field position at the 25-yard line. The Red Hawks opted to kick a field goal, which senior kicker Hunter Daly knocked through the uprights from 21 yards out to tie the score at three.
On the following drive, the Red Hawks’ defense went to work. Junior defensive lineman Rodney DiPrenda Jr. picked off quarterback Tate Briggs at the Southern Virginia 36-yard line. Shortly thereafter, Burch threw his first touchdown pass of the game to senior running back Willie Barr that gave Montclair State a solid 10-3 lead. The Red Hawks attempted another field goal which Daly failed to convert right as the first half came to a close.
The Red Hawks picked up right where they left off as they entered the second half. On the opening kickoff, Campbell caught the ball at his nine-yard line and found a seam, which he strode through for 91 yards and the touchdown. Going back to the last game of last season, it was the third straight regular season game that Campbell returned the opponent’s kickoff for 90 yards or more and a touchdown, which is a Red Hawks record.
With the score now 17-3, the Red Hawks went back to work on defense. Midway through the third quarter, the Red Hawks defense had the Knights deep in their own territory at the 1-yard line. On the following play, the Knights’ quarterback Tate Briggs stepped up and zipped a pass into the middle of the field that deflected off his wide receiver’s hands and right before hitting the ground, was grabbed by Red Hawks’ defensive back Jalen Harris.
“This was my first pick since being a starter, it felt good, and it felt like it kept momentum going for us,” Harris said. “Big plays like that we [will] need [as we go] further into the season if we want to win the NJAC.”
Harris wants their goal to create turnovers on defense and keep that up.
Harris’ interception helped keep momentum on the Red Hawks side and would set up another scoring drive on offense. Less than a minute later, the Red Hawks were in the red zone where quarterback Burch would throw a 15-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Stepp Oziegbe in the end zone. Burch’s second touchdown pass of the afternoon sealed the deal for the Red Hawks, who would cruise to a comfortable 24-3 victory.
After their dominant performances in week two, senior Mauro Altamura was named NJAC Defensive Player of the Week. The senior linebacker had 14 tackles, a fumble recovery and a sack. Also being honored was junior wide receiver Kason Campbell as NJAC Special Teams Player of the Week for his 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Saturday’s home victory.
After the game, freshman safety Brennan Ray discussed how the impact that senior leaders have had on freshmen like himself.
“They keep us on our toes and encourage us to do better — especially the young guys — and they’re bringing us [young players] in really well,” Ray said. “When they leave, it will really make us think someone else has got to step up and honestly, these are the best captains I’ve ever had.”
Senior captain and defensive lineman Jake Weber also shed some light on how the leaders on this year’s team are leading the way for their younger teammates.
“We keep saying it and I have it written right here, ‘five-five-and-eight’ [five-and-five record last year] and eighth in the conference,” Weber said. “We’re trying to use everything we can as motivation to take this team to the next level.”
Both of the Red Hawks senior captains Altamura and Weber expressed their hopes and aspirations for what this year’s team is capable of doing.
“We want to bring this historic program back and that’s my goal leaving here, as long as I leave here and this tradition of winning keeps going I’ll be the happiest person on the planet,” Weber said.
Altamura explained why he feels that with a good mix of senior leadership and young talent, this year’s Red Hawks team is poised to exceed their expectations.
“We’ve really reflected on the past few years and you know what, we’re hungry, and one thing that we stress as captains is [that] it’s not fun to lose,” Altamura said. “We told them listen to everything that coach says, lean on us as much as we lean on you, and we’re going to be fine, and [one thing we repeat is] we’re 0-0 at the start of each week and we have to keep getting after it.”
After starting the season with two straight home games, the Red Hawks take their talents on the road for the next two games. Montclair State heads to Christopher Newport University on Saturday, Sept. 22 then to Kean University next Saturday, Sept. 29.