When the final whistle blew on Saturday, Oct. 28, the scoreboard at Sprague Field read 26-7 in favor of the visiting Wesley College Wolverines, who are ranked No. 14.
Although the concluding margin appeared wide, it deceived the actual flow of the game. Montclair State University’s defensive unit stuffed Wesley’s offensive attack on fourth down during Wesley’s opening series. The team also had an explosive 68-yard reception on the initial drive at the hands of Red Hawks’ top wideout, senior Julanee Prince. The first quarter was stagnant with otherwise little-to-no offense mustered by both squads.
It was not until the Red Hawks’ final drive of the first half that their offense started to simmer. On a third and three from their own 32-yard line, Montclair State’s junior running back Anthony Traviasano took a handoff and busted loose for a 41-yard gain down to the Wesley 27-yard line. Shortly thereafter, junior quarterback John Apicella hooked up with nascent receiver, senior Taj Huggins, for a 17-yard touchdown. With Wesley unable to convert on the ensuing series, the Red Hawks possessed a 7-3 edge to go along with immense momentum trotting into the locker room at halftime. They were in this thing and refused to back down.
Receiving the kickoff at half, the Red Hawks were presented the opportunity to apply pressure and bolster their slim lead on the dormant Wolverines by tacking on another score. Apicella, who completed 14 out of 24 pass attempts on the day, slinging for 185 yards, provided a spark. By using his legs to pick up two first downs, his efforts were thwarted following a couple of consecutive costly penalties.
A holding penalty on Travisano went along with a controversial unsportsmanlike conduct drawback slapped solely on senior wide receiver Joe Schultz. Despite the fact players from both squads partook in a tussle, it resulted in a loss of 15 yards. It consequently thrust the Red Hawks back to their own 32-yard line in a second and 28 situation. The Red Hawks overall played a fairly disciplined game, limiting their penalties to only six for a loss of 65 compared to Wesley’s eight for a loss of 73. However, this isolated sequence of penalties certainly can be pinpointed as a moment that deflated their rambunctious impetus coming into the second half.
“We were ready to take it to play and wanted to take it to them,” said head coach Rick Giancola. “There’s no doubting our guys’ [competing] level. As circumstances developed, the third [quarter] was successful for over 11 minutes, but unfortunately we could not capitalize and score.”
The failure to execute allowed Wesley, behind the arm of poised quarterback Khaaliq Burroughs and the vision of fiery running back E.J. Lee, to storm back in the fourth quarter with a flurry of touchdowns to coast to a comfortable cushion. Burroughs finished the game with a striking performance of 21-for-31 for 296 yards as well as a touchdown. Lee finished with 157 yards on 20 carries and a pair of touchdowns for the day.
The Red Hawks just endured their most perilous portion of the schedule, falling to three nationally ranked teams within the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) in succession. The playoffs are now out of reach, sitting with a 3-5 record. However, that does not deter this team from holding true to the mantra of revered Montclair State alumnus Sam Mills, and they will “keep pounding” in their remaining two contests.
“The desire to want to play and win every game regardless of long range consequences does not waver,” Giancola said. “Just because the chance to win the conference or qualify for the playoffs is off the table, that does not alter the belief and competitiveness in our players and coaches.”
The Red Hawks will travel to Rowan University on Saturday, Nov. 4, to clash with their NJAC rival. Pride, plain and simple, will be the fuel to the fire for this squad moving forward.
“If you’re not excited to go out and compete each game, you shouldn’t have a uniform on,” Giancola said.