Football Falters Against Kean, 21-17

Union, NJ (11/15/08) - The Kean University football team scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to rally past #18 Montclair State University, 21-17, in the regular season finale in New Jersey Athletic Conference action at Kean Alumni Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Junior Alex Cade (Galloway, N.J.) caught a 14-yard touchdown pass in the back of the endzone from freshman quarterback Thomas D'Ambrisi (Eatontown, N.J.) to give the Cougars (7-3, 6-3 NJAC) the lead with 8:47 remaining in the game. 

The Red Hawks (8-2, 7-2 NJAC) had three more drive opportunities and had the ball in the final two minutes, before Kean senior linebacker Matt Ali ( Keasbey, N.J.) (pictured right) intercepted the ball at the Kean 20-yard line to seal the victory and give the Cougars at least seven wins in a season for just the fifth time in program history.

The Cougar win was also a crushing blow to the Red Hawks' NCAA playoff chances, as both teams are also strong contenders for a bid to one of the six Eastern College Athletic Conference Bowl Championship games. Montclair State had entered the weekend ranked No. 3 in the NCAA Regional Rankings

For Kean, senior Durell Dukes ( Elizabeth, N.J.) finished with 12 catches for 128 yards and broke his own school record for single season receptions with 61 for the season.

Montclair State University running back Jeff Bliss ( New Milford, N.J.) finished with 73 yards rushing to become the 12 th back in school history to accomplish the feat.  It was also the third straight season MSU had a running back rush for over a 1,000 yards, marking just the second time in program history the Red Hawks accomplished the feat.

Trailing 17-0 after just 16 minutes of action, the Red Hawks appeared to be headed into halftime with a comfortable lead before Kean sophomore Chris Lauda (Staten Island, N.Y.) intercepted a pass off of Montclair State freshman quarterback Tom Fischer (Livingston, N.J.) and ran the ball from one sideline to the other on the 40-yard touchdown return with just 1:40 remaining in the first half to trim the deficit to 17-7 at the break.

After a scoreless third quarter in which every drive resulted in a punt, with the two teams combining for six punts, the Cougars moved the ball 73 yards in just under three minutes on their first drive of the fourth quarter.  D'Ambrisi capped the seven-play drive with three-yard touchdown run to pull the Cougars to within 17-14 with 11:02 remaining.  On the drive, the rookie quarterback completed all four of his passes, including three to Dukes for a combined 43 yards.

On the first play of the ensuing Montclair State drive, rookie safety Jamahl Williams ( Passaic, N.J.) intercepted the Fischer pass at the KU 35-yard line and moved the ball back into Red Hawk territory with the 16 yard return. 

D'Ambrisi went right back to work, completing a 20-yard pass to Cade to move the ball to the Montclair State 27-yard line.  After a 12-yard completion to Dukes moved the Cougars inside the red zone, D'Ambrisi again connected with Cade, this time for the 14-yard touchdown pass for the go-ahead score.  Junior Rick Jaeger ( Hazlet, N.J.) converted his third extra point attempt of the afternoon to give the Cougars the 21-17 lead with 8:47 remaining.

The Red Hawks had three more drives in the game, with the first two resulting in turning the ball back over to the Cougars on downs.  However, the Cougars were forced to punt on both of their possessions and the Red Hawks eventually had the ball back at their own 15-yard line with 2:27 remaining.

Montclair State moved the ball inside Cougar territory and down to the Kean 35-line before a holding penalty pushed the Red Hawks back 10-yards to KU-45.  On the next play, Ali intercepted the Fischer pass with just 38 seconds remaining and the Cougars took a knee on the final two plays to defeat the Red Hawks.

In the first quarter, the Red Hawks threatened on the first drive of the game, as senior fullback Jason Scott ( Bayville, N.J.) had a 19-yard rush to move the Red Hawks into Kean territory and back-to-back penalties on the Cougars set-up a first and 10 at the Kean 34-yard line.  The Cougars ended the drive three plays later when Kean senior Markal Ginyard ( Cape May Courthouse, N.J.) intercepted the pass at the 20-yard line to end the threat.

The Cougars came out throwing the ball on their first drive, as D'Ambrisi connected with Dukes for 39 yards on the first three plays of the possession to move the ball out near midfield.  On D'Ambrisi's next pass attempt, Red Hawk defensive back Jesse Shenker (Freehold, N.J.) stepped in and intercepted the tipped pass and ran the ball back 46-yards before being pushed out of bounds by D'Ambrisi at the two-yard line. 

Montclair State wasted little time, giving the ball to Bliss on the first play, where he ran the ball in for the two-yard touchdown run and the early 7-0 lead after the Marco Capozzoli ( Bloomfield, N.J.) extra point. 

Kean went right back to Dukes on the first play of the next drive, as D'Ambrisi completed the 10-yard pass to the senior to give the Cougars a first and 10 back near midfield at the KU 45-yard line.  However on second down, D'Ambrisi was picked off again, this time by sophomore Mario McLean ( Boonton, N.J.) to give the ball back to the Red Hawks.

On the ensuing drive, the Red Hawks gave the ball to Bliss on five straight plays, as he rushed the ball 32 yards to set-up first down inside the red zone.  The Red Hawks settled for the field goal, as Capozzoli connected on the 30-yarder for the 10-0 lead with 3:04 remaining in the opening quarter.

The Cougars were once again unable to hold onto the ball on their next drive, as junior running back Jared Chunn (Tinton Falls, N.J.) carried the ball seven yards on the first play of the drive before Montclair State senior Shawn Gibson (Hillside, N.J.) forced a fumble that senior defensive lineman Chris Merkle (Nutley, N.J.) recovered at the Kean 29-yard line.

Montclair State extended the lead to 17-0 at the start of the second quarter, taking advantage of the short field position as Bliss punched the ball in from one-yard out to cap the seven-play, 37-yard drive just 50 seconds into the second quarter.

After the Cougars' turned the ball over on downs deep in Montclair State territory, Kean caught a break when senior defensive end Rodney Holliday (Willingboro, N.J.) forced a fumble that sophomore Jordan Cagle (Mount Holly, N.J.) recovered at the MSU 34-yard line. 

The Cougars again gambled on fourth down and were unable to convert on the fourth and one, however Lauda got Kean on the scoreboard on the following Red Hawk drive, when he intercepted the Fischer pass and ran it back for his second interception return for a touchdown against the Red Hawks in his career.  A year ago, Lauda had an 80-yard interception return against Montclair State.

After his two early interceptions, D'Ambrisi (pictured right) settled down and finished 20-of-37 for 214 yards, giving him 1,844 passing yards this season to move into fourth place in single season history.  His 16 touchdown passes this season are also tied for fourth in single season history. 

Chunn ran the ball 15 times for 59 yards, bettering his own single season rushing record to 1,375 yards this season.

In addition to Dukes, senior James Felton ( Plainfield, N.J.) added three catches for 16 yards, while Cade had both of his receptions on the go-ahead touchdown drive. 

Four different Cougars intercepted passes in the game, the most picks Kean has made in a game this season.  Junior lineman Darnell Butler ( Rahway, N.J.) and Darryl Jackson (Red Bank, N.J.) each made eight tackles, as Butler also had a key fourth quarter sack for a nine-yard loss.  Ali, sophomore Victor D'Arrigo ( Staten Island, N.Y.) and senior Jake Pew ( Sussex, N.J.) each made seven tackles for the Cougars.

For the Red Hawks, freshman Byron Lewin ( Carteret, N.J.) had three catches for a team-high 62 yards, while senior wide receiver Omar Sevilla ( North Bergen, N.J.) had a team-high five catches for 37 yards.

Defensively, McLean made a game-high nine tackles, while senior linebacker Cornell Hunt ( North Brunswick, N.J.) added eight tackles, including five solo stops.