The Montclair State University football team pummeled Salve Regina University 37-14 in their 2018 home opener last Saturday afternoon.
It was clear watching from the stands Saturday that the Red Hawks came out ready to play an aggressive style of football in front of their home fans. The Red Hawks’ defense held Salve Regina to just two passing touchdowns while the Montclair State offense scored 30 of their 37 points in the first half of the game, punctuated by junior wide receiver Kason Campbell’s 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Head coach Rick Giancola discussed the impact that the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) preseason poll that picked the Red Hawks to finish eighth out of 10 in the NJAC, had on his team.
“We talked about it right from the start of camp,” Giancola said. “The word during camp was five-five-eight, [which means] we don’t want to be five-and-five and we don’t want to finish eighth in the league.”
Giancola explained how he would motivate his team to play their best.
“[The coaching staff] used that as a motivational factor to see how the players would respond, and they responded well,” Giancola said.
The Red Hawks’ running game ran for a total of 175 yards on the day, including separate 50-yard touchdown runs by both senior running back Willie Barr and junior running back Craig Merkle.
Barr described the impact that the preseason poll had on himself and his teammates during training camp.
“During camp, coach always preached ‘five-five-eight,’” Barr said. “At first, we didn’t know what [coach Giancola] meant, but once he explained it, we all bought in and became a family, honestly.”
The Red Hawks were eager to make a statement Saturday and made sure to jump on the Salve Regina Seahawks early. Barr opened the scoring for Montclair State about halfway through the first quarter when he scored on a 50-yard run.
Junior Ja’Quill Burch was making his first start as the Red Hawks’ quarterback Saturday, replacing senior quarterback John Apicella. Burch stepped up to the plate and threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions that day.
Coach Giancola had nothing but praise for Burch’s performance.
“Ja’Quill played in the game today as he practiced,” Giancola said. “That’s what got him in the lineup, and we’re happy with how he played today.”
Near the end of the first quarter, Burch floated a long pass down the right side, which Campbell caught for a 23-yard touchdown pass. That touchdown pass gave the Red Hawks a strong 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
After the game, quarterback Burch offered another opinion on how the NJAC preseason poll made him and his teammates feel in the weeks leading up to their home opener.
“It did bother us, we felt disrespected,” Burch said. “We were motivated and that’s how we came out and played today. The offensive line played great.”
Salve Regina did answer five minutes inside the second quarter when quarterback Jake Kelleher threw a six-yard touchdown pass and cut the Red Hawks lead to 14-7.
However, the Red Hawks seemed to always have an answer every time their opponents put a number on the scoreboard. On the ensuing kickoff, Campbell sprinted past the Seahawks special teams unit for 92 yards and scored a touchdown that gave the Red Hawks a 21-7 lead.
Seahawk quarterback Jake Kelleher was tackled for a six-yard loss in his own end zone giving the Red Hawks a safety, stretching their lead to 23-7 with 5:28 remaining in the first half. Burch dished a two-yard touchdown pass to Merkle, which gave the Red Hawks a commanding lead 30-7 over their opponents from Newport, Rhode Island. Merkle’s 50-yard touchdown run gave him a total of two touchdowns and 225 receiving and rushing yards. It was a big day for the junior from nearby Nutley, New Jersey.
After the game, coach Giancola discussed how he plans on solving the team’s penalties after his team took 14 penalties Saturday, most of them were holding penalties, six coming in the second half.
“The game was a story of two different halves though,” Giancola said. “I’m of the mindset that regardless, you can always say [to yourself and teammates] we can be better at this and we got to work on penalties, but I liked their effort as far as [having a] desire to be successful.”
The Red Hawks will play their next home game against winless Southern Virginia University, a team picked ninth in the Preseason Coaches Poll, in their NJAC conference opener on Saturday, Sept. 15, at 1 p.m. The Red Hawks were motivated by that NJAC preseason poll which picked them to finish eighth out of 10 teams in their conference in 2018. The Red Hawks should take Saturday’s conference opener as an opportunity to show that their win last week was not a fluke.