Montclair, NJ (11/14/09) – Montclair State captured its first New Jersey Athletic Conference championship since 2003 as the Red Hawks downed No. 24 Kean University, 14-6 at Sprague Field on Saturday afternoon.

MSU, which won its ninth straight game also earned the automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Playoffs.  The official announcement of the pairings will be unveiled on Sunday, November 15 with the first round scheduled for Saturday, November 21. MSU entered the game ranked No. 6 in the NCAA Regional rankings.

Sophomore quarterback Tom Fischer (Livingston, NJ / Livingston) and senior running back Jeff Bliss (New Milford, NJ / New Milford) each scored on three-yard runs as the Red Hawks (9-1) finished a perfect 9-0 in the conference. The win was also a measure of revenge for Montclair, which was knocked out of the NCAA Playoff picture last season by Kean, 21-17 in Union.

The NCAA appearance will be ninth for Montclair State, which captured its 18th NJAC championship. MSU last appeared in the NCAAs in 2003 reaching the second round.

Fischer gave Montclair State a 7-0 lead in the second quarter as the Red Hawks took advantage of a short field. Scott Kubrak (Caldwell, NJ/ Caldwell) returned a punt 17 yards to the Kean 23. After a one-yard run and incompletion, Fischer connected with Byron Lewin (Carteret, NJ / Carteret) for 13 yards on 3rd-and-9 down to the Kean 9. Bliss went for three yards and Lewin pulled in another pass for three yards. On third down, Fischer raced up the middle on the quarterback draw for the touchdown as MSU led 7-0 at halftime.

Kean would get back into the game as kicker Billy Daniels (Ridgefield, NJ / Ridgefield Memorial) connected from 34 yards out in the third quarter to trim the lead to 7-3. Daniels would hit again, this time from 36 yards as the Cougars pulled within a point with 6:40 to play in the fourth.

The Red Hawks would drive to the Kean 34 with 2:28 left as Fischer hit Tajh Miller (Long Branch, NJ / Long Branch) on a 3rd-and-1. But MSU stalled and punter Steve Layden (Westampton, NJ / Rancocas Valley) came up with a second huge kick as he pinned the Cougars at their own six with 2:22 left. Three incompletions brought up fourth down the Cougars went for it. Tom D’Ambrisi’s (Eatontown, NJ / Shore Regional) pass attempt to Derric Harris (Freehold, NJ / Freehold Township) hit off the receiver’s hands and nearly pulled in by T.J. Denehy (Monroe, NJ / Monroe) for the first down. However the ball bounced out of Denehy’s hands at the last moment giving MSU the ball at the six.
Bliss went three yards on the first play. Following a timeout, Bliss then ran in untouched for the touchdown as MSU went up 14-6 with 1:39 to play.

Down only eight points, Kean would get one last opportunity. D’Ambrisi threw four straight incomplete passes but on fourth down Montclair was called for roughing the passer giving Kean new life. But the Cougars couldn’t capitalize as three more incomplete passes presented another fourth down. This time, defensive lineman Chris Merkle (Nutley, NJ / Nutley) knocked down the pass to turn the ball over to the Red Hawks. Montclair took two kneel downs to end the game.