The Montclair State University football team started the season on Saturday Sept. 3. with a bang after beating the Thiel College Tomcats 27-6 in their home opener. The Red Hawks get to start their season with a record of 1-0 as the Tomcats add to their losing streak that dates back to Sept. of 2017.
The game got off to a rough start as sophomore quarterback Mason Murdock threw two interceptions, one being returned for a touchdown, in the first two offensive drives. However, Murdock was able to quickly bounce back ending the day with nine completions for 171 yards and one touchdown.
Associate head coach Mike Palazzo had some words of encouragement for the young quarterback.
“[The] first game as a starter is always tough,” Palazzo said. “I really appreciate how he battled back. A lot of guys could’ve thrown in the towel, but he really fought back through the adversity and kept pounding the whole game and it turned out well.”
The Red Hawk defense played an unstoppable game as they held Thiel College to zero points after the interception for a touchdown. The defense was able to record two sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and four tackles for a loss of yards.
“It makes it a lot easier when you don’t give them any points,” Palazzo said. “We just gotta keep striving for that. Obviously, some things are gonna happen, some teams are going to score points and we just gotta keep battling back.”
Montclair State’s special teams were on a whole other level. They were able to force a fumble on a kickoff, block an extra point attempt and even return a blocked punt for a touchdown. They had everything going their way and never lost focus on the game at any point.
Sophomore linebacker Steven Tafuri, who blocked to punt and was returned for a touchdown by sophomore defensive back Jalil Terrell, had high praise for the special teams.
“We hold special teams very highly at Montclair State,” Tafuri said. “[Special Teams Coordinator Tony] Grandinetti really studies us hard on what we’re supposed to do. It’s not just an extra part of the game for us, it’s just as important as offense and defense. If you can perform on special teams to a higher caliber than the other team, you will win.”
The Red Hawk offense was able to take part in the team’s success, earning three touchdowns. Junior running back Makai Mickens ended the day with 57 rushing yards and two touchdowns while senior wide receiver Clarence Wilkins recorded three receptions for 103 yards and one touchdown.
“I think [Wilkins] and [sophomore wide receiver] Reilly Nelson did extremely well,” Tafuri said. “They stepped up and took charge. And I really want to give credit to [Murdock] too because he had a hell of a game.”
The Red Hawks are off to a great start for Rick Giancola’s 40th season as head coach of Montclair State. It helps when the Red Hawks doubled the passing yards the Tomcats had. And then some.
The mindset going into next week is to treat it the same as this week. The Red Hawks look to repeat what they did no matter who they play.
“It’s a faceless opponent,” Palazzo said. “We gotta do our job, do what we’re asked to do and execute and we’ll be fine.”
If the team can perform like they did Saturday, they will be in very good shape going into next week.
“Game plan moving forward is to do exactly the same thing but better,” Tafuri said. “Score on special teams again, offense keep doing what they’re doing and if the defense can let up zero points, how can we lose?”
The Red Hawks will face the Rams of Delaware Valley University next week on Saturday, Sept. 10 at Sprague Field.