Football Advances in NCAA Division III Playoffs, 38-22

Montclair, NJ (11/21/09) –  Senior running back Jeff Bliss (New Milford, NJ / New Milford) rushed for 132 yards and scored three touchdowns as 24th-ranked Montclair State scored on four of its first five possessions en route to a 38-22 victory over Maine Maritime in the opening round of the 2009 NCAA Division III Football Championship at Sprague Field on Saturday afternoon.

Junior tailback Matt Jimenez (Waldwick, NJ / Waldwick) also had a pair of touchdowns as the Red Hawks posted their 10th straight victory, improving to 10-1 on the year. MSU will head to Alliance, OH for next week’s second round as they take on defending national champion and top-ranked Mount Union College on Saturday, November 28 at Noon.  The 10 straight wins mark just the second time that MSU has posted a win streak of that kind (1985) and the double-digit win total is only the fourth in school history and first since 1986. Montclair also won 10 games in 1981 and 1985.

Senior fullback Jim Bower (South paris, ME / Oxford Hills) ran for 138 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns for Maine Maritime, which ended its season at 9-2. The Mariners had earned their way into the NCAA Division III Playoffs for the first time in school history by capturing the New England Football Conference last weekend. Maine Maritime knocked off defending champion Curry, 48-42 on a last-second 36-yard touchdown pass.

Maine Maritime took first possession and moved to the MSU 43 yards line in three plays, but on the fourth, safety Mario McLean (Montville, NJ / Montville) caused a fumble forcing the Mariners all the way back to its own 42. Maine Maritime would then punt handing over it MSU, which marched 80 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead.

Bliss would account for most of those yards – 53 to be exact, however it was a Tom Fischer (Livingston, NJ / Livingston) to A.J. Letizia (Dumont, NJ / Dumont) connected on 3rd-and-9 the kept the drive alive at the MSU 45. Bliss then ripped off two runs for 35 yards to the Maritime 20 and a Fischer completion to Byron Lewin (Carteret, NJ / Carteret) for 12 yards put the ball to the 2. Bliss then rumbled in for the touchdown with 7:22 left.

Maine Maritime answered back with an 78-yard drive of its own to tie the score. Nick Bourassa (Jay, ME / Jay) ran 22 yards to midfield and Bower carried three times for 22 yards down to the MSU 28. Tyler Angell (Leeds, ME / Leavitt) added an eight-yard run and Todd Murphy (Middlesex, VT / Union 32) rushed to six yards to the 14. Bower would finish off the drive with a nine-yard scamper as the Mariners knotted the game at 7-7 with 3:11 left in the opening quarter.

Montclair’s Chris D’Andrea (Union, NJ / Union) returned the ensuing kickoff 27 yards to help set up the Red Hawks’ next drive. On the first play, Bliss ripped off a 19-yard run to the Maritime 42 and later added a 22-yard burst down to the one as he was pushed out of bounds before the pylon. On the next play, Bliss barreled in for his second score as Montclair State led 14-7 after one quarter.

The Red Hawks next possession would produce its longest drive of the game – 91 yards on six plays. Taking over following a punt to the 9, Fischer hit Scott Kubrak (Caldwell, NJ / Caldwell) for 28 yards on a 3rd-and-9 to out to the 42. After a run by Jimenez, Fischer found Lewin for 31 yards for to the Maritime 22. Jimenez scampered around the right side on the next play and into the end zone as MSU took a 21-7 lead with 9:56 to go before halftime.

After using its running game early, MSU turned to the pass for its next score. Fischer completed five straight attempts for 63 yards, the last to Joe LaSala (Clark, NJ / Colonia) for 21 yards down o the Mariners 6. Jimenez carried two straight times, the last from a yard out for the touchdown as Montclair increased its lead to 28-7 with 43 second left in the half.

The Mariners did not go quietly however as Jon Hussey’s (South Berwick, ME / Marshwood) 41-yard kickoff return gave Maine Maritime the ball at its own 45. Using its passing game and timeouts well, Angell completed three passes, including one to Nate Duford (Claremont, NH / Stevens) for 11 yards to the MSU 15 with nine ticks remaining. On the next play Angell floated a pass into the end zone for Alex Coulombe (Kennebunk, ME / Cheverus), who pulled down the ball with three seconds left as Maritime cut the lead to 28-14 heading into the locker room.

Maritime’s first turnover of the game proved costly as Angell’s pass from his own 16 yardline was intercepted by Kevin Cloghessy (Hempstead, NY / Hempstead) at the Mariners 33. The Red Hawks would take full advantage as Fischer found Kubrak and Lewin for gains of 11 and 18, respectively down to the Maritime 3. After a penalty pushed the ball back to the eight, Bliss rushed for seven yards and then managed his way into the end zone for the third time as MSU went up 35-14 with 9:52 left in the third.

The Mariners had an opportunity to answer in the fourth quarter with a drive that took them to the MSU 12. But following an incompletion, a personal foul penalty pushed the ball back to the 27 and Montclair followed with two straight sacks, the final coming as Dan Poehls (Delran, NJ / Delran) forced a fumble that was scooped up by Ed Kirschenbaum (Lake Como, NJ / Manasquan) and returned 56 yards to the Mariners 4.  A false-start penalty would stall the drive and MSU settled for a 23-yard field goal by Marco Capozzoli (Bloomfield, NJ / St. Joseph’s (Montvale)) for a 35-14 lead with 8:52 left in the game.

Bower capped a 70-yard drive with a two-yard run and added the two-point conversion as well as Maritime cut the lead to 38-22 with 3:20 to go. The Mariners then successfully recovered the onside kick as Vinnie Moulton (Cape Elizabeth, ME / Cape Elizabeth) came up with the ball. But two plays later, Cloghessy recovered a fumble to end any further threat.

Kirschenbaum finished with a game-high 15 tackles for Montclair State, which got 14 from Poehls and 10 from linebacker Brian Tweer (Butler, NJ / Butler). The Red Hawks held the Mariners’ No. 1 ranked rushing offense to 250 yards. Maine Maritime entered the game averaging a Division III-best 416 yards per contest. Fischer finished an efficient 14-of-19 for 200 yards for the Red Hawks who out gained the Mariners by a yard in total offense, 374-373. Lewin led all receivers with six catches for 60 yards.

Bliss tied the MSU playoff record with his three TD’s as he matched the mark set by John Walker versus Hofstra in 1989 and duplicated by Joe D’Iorio against Buffalo State a decade later (1999). His three scores also moved him into second place for career rushing scores at Montclair with 31.

Murphy finished with 72 yards on the ground for Maritime while Bourassa added 57 on 11 carries. Angell was 11-of-23 for 123 yards as he nearly matched hi season output. Angell had entered the game 13-of-32 for 378 yards in 10 games. Defensively for Maine Maritime, Mike Riley (Milton, VT / Milton) had eight tackles while Franklin Sawyer (Lisbon, ME / Lewiston), Wade Mondoux (Berwick, ME / Noble) and Travis Fergola (Mexico, ME / Mountain Valley) each had six tackles.