Red Hawks Drop a Heartbreaker to TCNJ in Annual Homecoming Game Showdown

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Published October 11, 2021
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The Montclarion
Junior running back Abellany Mendez stiff-arms a defender. Photo courtesy of David Venezia

Five seconds left on the clock. Senior quarterback Ja’Quill Burch drops back to pass. He throws to the corner of the end zone. Laces cutting through the air, the ball spirals to its target.

The Montclair State University football team had been going through a back-and-forth battle with The College Of New Jersey (TCNJ) for just about 60 minutes. After a block in the back on a punt return, the Red Hawks started their final drive on their own 11-yard line, down 14-9 with 2:09 on the clock.

The Red Hawks, 13 plays later, found themselves on their opponent’s 16-yard line, one play away from victory.

Lining up for the final play of the game, Montclair State came out with three wide receivers to the right and one out wide on the left. Burch, controlling the offense, motioned the running back to the left, making it five wide receivers and the quarterback alone in the backfield.

Senior quarterback Ja'Quill Burch launches a pass right before being tackled. Photo courtesy of David Venezia

Senior quarterback Ja’Quill Burch launches a pass right before being tackled.
Photo courtesy of David Venezia

The ball was snapped. Burch dropped back to pass. Finding his man, he threw the ball to the far corner of the end zone.

Just out of the reach of his receiver, the ball hit the turf. The clock read 0:00. Game over. Hands covered heads and faces on the Montclair State sideline. The Red Hawk receiver sat in the far corner of the end zone on his knees.

Fists pumped overhead on the opposite sideline as the TCNJ bench rushed the field, celebrating their third straight win of the season and their first week above .500.

The 14-9 loss to TCNJ marks the fifth of the season for Montclair State. This is the first time Montclair State has notched five losses since 2017 when the Red Hawks finished 5-5.

The Red Hawks won 15 of the last 20 match-ups against the Lions and had a four-game winning streak entering the contest: a streak that has since been snapped.

The homecoming matchup was an extremely defensive game. Montclair State averaged 2.62 yards per play. TCNJ boasted 3.91 yards per play at the game’s conclusion.

Everyone in attendance felt the intensity of the game, even head coach Rick Giancola, who was pulled off the field by three other coaches after two unsportsmanlike conducts by Montclair State in the third quarter. Both led to a 30-yard gain for TCNJ, leading to an uproar of boos from the crowd.

Graduate student and captain Matt Schnoll signals to the offensive line. Photo courtesy of David Venezia

Graduate student and captain Matt Schnoll signals to the offensive line.
Photo courtesy of David Venezia

Graduate student and defensive back Zahir Wilder spoke about the effect his coach’s fire had on the team.

“It just got us more motivated to see he was that passionate and that he brought that fire back,” Wilder said.

Wilder showed out in the homecoming game, scoring the only touchdown of the night for the Red Hawks with a pick-six in the second half. Fitting to the game, the extra point was no good.

Senior defensive back Mike Ramos wraps up a TCNJ ballcarrier. Photo courtesy of David Venezia

Senior defensive back Mike Ramos wraps up a TCNJ ballcarrier.
Photo courtesy of David Venezia

Wilder said he felt compelled to help his team.

“I just saw the ball and I was just like, ‘I gotta make a play for my team,'” Wilder said. “The offense is struggling. I just want to help my brothers out and get in the end zone. Every year since I’ve been here, I’ve been in the end zone and I’ve just been waiting my turn and my time.”

Wilder not only dominated on defense, but he also led Montclair State in receiving yards, raking up 51 off two receptions with a long of 34. The Red Hawks will need another big performance from him if they hope to get a win when they travel to Virginia to take on Christopher Newport University next Saturday.

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