Football Season Ends in NCAA Playoff Loss to Mount Union
Cecil Shorts and Terrance Morring accounted for five touchdowns for Mount Union (12-0) which now advances to meet Albright College in the quarterfinals next Saturday, December 5 in Alliance.
Sophomore wide receiver Dan Keegan (Fairfield, NJ / West Essex) had four catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns for Montclair State, which saw it improbable season end at 10-2. The Red Hawks, who had their 10-game winning streak snapped, were picked to finish third in the New Jersey Athletic Conference this season, but reeled off 10 straight wins (tying a school-record) following a season-opening loss to Wilkes University. Included in those victories were all nine NJAC contests as MSU won its first conference championship since 2003 (and 18th overall) with a 14-6 victory over Kean.
That win put Montclair into the NCAA Playoffs for the first time in six years as the Red Hawks took advantage downing Maine Maritime 38-22 at Sprague Field last week.
Mount Union took the opening kickoff and moved 58 yards in five plays capped off by an 18-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Rocco to Judd Harold as the Purple Raiders jumped on top 7-0 just 1:42 into the contest. Montclair would turn the ball over its first possession as Drew McClain intercepted a pass giving Mount Union the ball at the MSU 36. That drive would end in another score as Shorts ran in from seven yards out for a 14-0 lead with 7:58 left in the opening quarter.
“Their line play was very good,” said MSU head coach Rick Giancola. “They won both sides of the ball. The turnovers destroyed us, but they have very skilled players and when they are doing their job they are tough to stop.”
Montclair State would be forced to punt the next time they touched the ball putting the Purple Raiders on their own 26. But Mount Union went 74-yards in 10 plays as Vince Petruziello pulled in an 11-yard pass from Rocco to make the score 21-0 with 1:58 remaining.
But after watching the Purple Raiders put the first three scores on the board, Montclair delivered a blow of its own. Taking the ball at its own 31, quarterback Tom Fischer (Livingston, NJ / Livingston) laid a perfect ball over the top to Keegan, who raced the final 20 yards for a 57-yard touchdown as MSU cut the deficit to 21-7 with 38 seconds left in the opening quarter. The play was the longest against the Purple Raiders this season.
Mount Union made it 4-for-4 as it went 60 yards in 10 plays. Terrance Morring ran in from two yards out as the Purple Raiders went up 28-7. Back came the Red Hawks on the arm of Fischer, who found Keegan in the end zone for a four-yard strike to finish off a 63-yard drive as Montclair trailed 28-14 with 9:46 to go before halftime.
“One of the things we have done all year is overcome adversity and we found a way to battle back,” said Giancola. “We thought that if we could come back, get the score a little closer we could have an opportunity.”
Shorts cap off Mount Union’s first half with his second touchdown, this one from three yards out as the Purple Raiders led 35-14 at halftime.
Three turnovers to start the second half would hinder Montclair’s chances to close the gap further. Mount Union would turn the second into points as Short scored his third touchdown out of the “Wildcat” formation rumbling in from three yards out as Mount Union extended its lead to 42-14 with 5:56 left in the third quarter.
Morring finished with 146 yards on 31 carries for the Purple Raiders who rushed for 310 yards and finished with 597 yards of total offense. Zac Lemon added 93 yars while Rocco was 22-of-31 for 277 yards. Petruziello and A.J. Claycomb each had six receptions for 94 and 63 yards, respectively.
Fischer completed 12-of-23 passes for 163 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter. Jeff Bliss (New Milford, NJ / New Milford) finished with 24 yards on the ground for Montclair which gained 239 yards of offense. Sophomore wide receiver Byron Lewin (Carteret, NJ / Carteret) led MSU with six receptions for 44 yards.
Defensively, junior Kevin Cloghessy (Hempstead, NY / Hempstead) and senior Jesse Shenker (Freehold, NJ / Freehold) had 13 tackles apice while line backer Brian Tweer (Butler, NJ / Butler) collected 10 tackles. Senior lineman Chris Merkle (Nutley, NJ / Nutley) added six tackles and also had a sack.
Montclair finished with eight turnovers in the game tying the school playoff record set against Rowan in the 1999 NCAA Quarterfinals.
The 10-2 record marked the fourth time that Montclair State has won 10 or more games in a season and the first since 1986. The other 10-win campaigns came in 1981 and 1985 and all have included NCAA Division III Playoff appearances.
“Our season was quite honestly unexpected,” said Giancola. We knew we were going to be young at some positions, but we thought that if we could plug some holes we could have a good season. What happened was things began to unfold, we got better and things turned our way. We got some bounces that went our way and all of a sudden it becomes a very nice season.”
The appearance in the NCAA Division III Playoffs was the Red Hawks ninth. MSU is now 8-9 all time those trips.