Freshman quarterback Tom Fischer ( Livingston, NJ / Livingston) was 11-of-12 for 129 yards in his collegiate debut as MSU captured its third straight season-opener while moving to 4-2 all-time against Wilkes. Last year, the Red Hawks knocked off the Colonels 14-7 in Edwardsville, PA.
Freshman placekicker Chris Horn (New Tripoli, PA/ Northwestern Lehigh) connected on a pair of field goals as Wilkes dominated the statistical categories but could not come up with the key play as it fell to 0-2 on the year.
The Colonels outgained Montclair State 282-187, ran more plays (75-35) and had a time of possession of 38:01 in the game, but could not get into the end zone on any of its nine possessions in the contest. On its second touch of the ball in the first quarter, the Colonels used a clock-eating 15-play, 62-yard drive that ate up 7:45. But the drive ended with no points as on a 4 th-and-4 from the MSU 10 the Colonels tried a fake field goal with holder Jason Prushinski ( Wapwallopen, PA/Crestwood) apparently running for the first down. But he tried a lateral at the last moment and the Red Hawks’ Dominique Dixon ( Wharton, NJ / Morris Hills) scooped up the ball to end the drive and keep the game scoreless.
Two possessions later, Wilkes committed a miscue on a punt as a low snap forced Mario Della Fortuna ( North Plainfield, NJ / North Plainfield) to run and he was tackled at his own 33 yard line giving Montclair great field position. Fischer connected with Jeremy Mercer ( Leonardo, NJ / Middletown South) for 13 yards. Two plays later, Bliss took a draw and raced up the middle for a 24-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Montclair lead with 7:24 to go before halftime.
Wilkes would answer back on the ensuing drive as a 28-yard return by Darius Harrison (Morristown, NJ / Fork Union Military Academy) and a 22-yard pass from Rob Johnson (Bridgewater, NJ / Bridgewater-Raritan) to Gennaro Zangardi (Pittston Twp., PA/Pittston) brought the ball to the MSU 30. A sack would stall the drive, but Horn connected from 41-yards out to cut the lead to 7-3 with 3:28 to go.
The Colonels then caught a break as they recovered a Montclair fumble on the kickoff and took over at the MSU 35. Ryan Cushman (Monroe Township, NJ / Monroe) hit Jordan D’Emilio (Stowe, PA/St. Pius X) for a 15-yard gain on 4 th-and-7 to keep the drive going and added an 11-yard pass to Zangardi following Wilkes’ final timeout put the ball at
the MSU 1 with seconds ticking away. Cushman spiked the ball to stop the clock and tried a sneak with 16 seconds left but was stuffed by Montclair’s Cornell Hunt ( North Brunswick, NJ / North Brunswick) and Nick Giangrande ( Belleville, NJ / Belleville). The clock kept running and another spike attempt could not stop the clock as the half ended with Montclair holding on to the 7-3 lead.
In the second half, Horn trimmed the lead to a point as he hit from 37 yards out with 10:08 to play capping a seven-play, 44-yard drive.
Montclair regained possession and on the first play from scrimmage, Fischer scrambled and found junior Jeff Papcun ( Hazlet, NJ / Raritan) down the right sideline. Papcun made a one-handed, over-the-shoulder grab and broke away from two defenders before being pushed out at the Wilkes 2. Following an MSU timeout, Bliss barreled in for the touchdown, extending the Red Hawks’ lead to 13-6 with 9:37 left.
Each team would get opportunities to try and add points however both teams squandered those chances. Montclair’s Shawn Gibson ( Hillside, NJ / Hillside) intercepted a pass and returned it to the Wilkes 28. This time it was MSU’s turn to not capitalize as Tim Lombreglia ( Sparta, NJ / Pope John) blocked a field goal attempt keeping the margin at seven points. Back came Wilkes with a drive into MSU territory that would be ended as safety Mario McLean (Montville, NJ / Montville) intercepted a Cushman pass at the goal line 1:40 into the fourth quarter.
Montclair would go three-and-out on its next possession and Troy Cyburt’s ( Hillsborough, NJ / Hillsborough) 50-yard pun pinned the Colonels back at their own six with 11:04 to go. Wilkes would slowly moved the ball down the field as the running tandem of Harry Reese ( Plymouth, PA/ Wyoming Valley West) and Jamar Beverly ( South Plainfield, NJ / Kent (CT)) along with a 19-yard completion by Johnson on 3 rd-and-10 moved the ball to midfield. Johnson hit Zangardi for 14 yards to the Montclair 42 on 3 rd-and-14 and a pair of Beverly runs for 15 yards gave Wilkes at first down at the MSU 27. Alex Pearson ( Lawrence, NJ / Lawrence) ran for seven yards on the next two plays. On 3 rd-and-3, Pearson tried to go around the left side and appeared to have a running lane, but he was dragged down by Hunt for no gain which brought up fourth down where Johnson’s attempt came up incomplete and Montclair was able to run out the final 1:48 for the win.
Hunt, the Preseason All-American, finished with 12 tackles as senior linebacker Dan Krainski (Sayreville, NJ / Sayreville) and Giangrande had 10 and seven respectively. Bliss had 16 carries to pace MSU’s running attack while Mercer and Jason Scott ( Bayville, NJ / Central Regional) each had three receptions.
Beverly had 17 carries for 53 yards for Wilkes while Johnson (6-of-15) and Cushman (2-of-7) were a combined 8-of-24 for 117 yards. Zangardi and Prushinski each had three receptions for the Colonels. Linebacker Drew Letcavage ( Kulpmont, PA/ Mt. Carmel) had eight tackles for Wilkes while Lombreglia added six. Chris Swinarski ( Old Bridge, PA / Old Bridge) recorded a pair of sacks for the Colonels.Montclair State returns to action on Saturday, September 20 as the Red Hawks travel to Morrisville, NY to take on NJAC newcomer SUNY-Morrisville at Drake Field beginning at 1:00 pm.