Montclair State Football Optimistic for Future Despite Early Season Loss

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Published September 18, 2019
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The Montclarion

The Red Hawks came into the season with lofty goals and high expectations for a banner season, but unfortunately, this plan took a hit in week one.

A 34-21 loss to an underdog team, the Southern Virginia University Knights, for the season opener certainly was not the way the Red Hawks or their fans had hoped for the start of the season. This was especially disappointing considering how dominant the Red Hawks were against the Knights a season ago.

The Red Hawks’ quarterback, junior Ja’Quill Burch, wasn’t anticipating the performance the Knights brought to the field.

“Southern Virginia came out and really [caught us off guard] since we didn’t expect them to come out with as much juice as they did,” Burch said.

Burch believes that this was a huge wake-up call for a team that was stunned by the loss.

“The Southern Virginia game made us realize that we are going to get every team’s best, and we aren’t surprising teams anymore,” Burch said. “We want to let every team know that they are going to get our best effort every time.”

The Red Hawks certainly gave a much better effort the second around against Salve Regina, punishing the Seahawks for over 400 yards of offense en route to a 28-11 victory last Saturday.

Offensively, the Red Hawks put up a much more consistent performance this week than they did against Southern Virginia, as most of their points scored the week prior came in garbage time. The run game took a noticeable improvement with Red Hawks’ junior running back Craig Merkle rushing for 112 yards on 21 carries.

However, it was none other than Burch leading the way for the Red Hawk offense, throwing for 292 yards and three touchdowns on 12 out of 22 passing attempts. His efforts in week two led him to be named the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Offensive Player of the Week.

Despite all of his success, Burch has remained humble and gives credit to the rest of the offense for making his job easier.

“I really don’t think it’s just me,” Burch said. “I truly believe we have the best offensive line and running backs in our conference, and a top-five defense in the country.”

Speaking of the offensive line, they have not lost a step since last year. Only allowing one sack in the past two games, the Red Hawks’ paved the way for over 883 yards of offense to date. Led by senior guard Stephen Gaffney, who was a Preseason All-American in 2019, the group has been a well-oiled machine this year.

Gaffney believes that experience and trust as a unit has contributed to the success of the group.

“It always helps when you can bring guys back, and we have four starters on the offensive line who came back this season,” Gaffney said. “Our first-year starter [Mike Desarno] has played well, but it really comes down to us being able to mesh and trust each other.”

Defensively, the Red Hawks have continued to develop as a unit and made a noticeable jump against Salve Regina, holding them to only 217 yards of offense throughout the game. With several defensive starters graduating last season, senior defensive lineman Brandon Burdge is extremely optimistic about the Red Hawks’ defense this season but knows that there is still room for improvement.

“From camp all the way until these first two games, our defensive guys have really stepped up and progressed from week to week,” Burdge said. “However, we are far from perfect, and we have to continue to get better as a unit instead of individually.”

Burdge, who stands at 6’1 and weighs 260 pounds, does not exactly always get the highest statistics on the team, but knows that his role on the team is crucial to their success as a defense.

“My job is to free up the linebackers so they can make tackles, and I take pride in that,” Burdge said. “If I can’t [do] my job, then the linebackers can’t make plays which leads to teams running up the score on us.”

The Red Hawks are currently on a bye week as they will head off to Hobart next week on Sept. 28. With NJAC play coming up and the potential for a conference title and a national tournament berth on the line, the Red Hawks are taking it step-by-step on their journey to achieve their bigger goals.

“Our short term goals will lead to our long-term goals being achieved,” Gaffney said. “We have to win each day, win each session, and have a better day of practice than we did the day before.”

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