(This story appeared in the September 16th issue of The Outlook, the student run newspaper of Monmouth University.)
Football is back. The Hawks kicked off their 2015 season against the Crusaders of Holy Cross on Sept. 5. The football program is entering its second season in the Big South Conference, where they finished 6-5 overall and 1-4 in conference play in 2014. They opened the season at Monmouth Stadium against the Crusaders of Holy Cross, a member of the Patriot League who went 4-8 a season ago and finished 2-4 in conference play. The two teams played once previously in 2013 at Holy Cross, with the Hawks coming out on top 21-14.
The opening kickoff was sailed out of the end zone by Holy Cross junior kicker Zane Wasp (Port Washington, N.Y. (Chaminade) to start the season for both schools. The Hawks offense, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Cody Williams (Springfield, Mass. (Central), went three-and-out in their first offensive possession of the season. Sophomore kicker Matt White (Gibsonia, Pa. (Mars Area) punted to Holy Cross return man senior Kalif Raymond (Lawrenceville, Ga. (Greater Atlanta Christian) who returned the punt inside the Monmouth five yard line, but a block in the back penalty nullified that return.
The Crusaders’ offensive possession was highlighted by a long 33 yard run on third down by junior running back Gabe Guild (Overland Park, Kan. (Shawnee Mission South) to set up a first and goal inside the one yard line. Guild checked out for the next play and in entered sophomore running back Diquan Walker (Clearwater, Fla. (Clearwater Central Catholic), who ran the ball into the end zone to cap off a four play, 42 yard drive and put the Crusaders on top. Senior kicker Connor Fitzgerald (Bloomington, Ind. (Bloomington North) added the extra point to extend their lead to 7-0 with 11:22 left in the first quarter.
Another touchback on the ensuing kickoff placed the football on the 20 yard line for the Hawks’ next possession. On first down, Cody Williams completed his first collegiate pass to fellow redshirt freshman Reggie White Jr. (Randallstown, Md. (Milford Mill Academy) for a gain of three yards. Two plays later, Williams converted a third and eleven play on a 23 yard pass to senior tight end Hakeem Valles (Sicklerville, N.J. (Peddie School), to pick up a Hawks first down. Valles was converted to tight end from wide receiver a season ago, when he finished fifth on the team with 18 receptions for 255 yards (fourth on the Hawks) and three touchdowns.
After a first down run by junior running back Lavon Chaney (Edgewater, Md. (South River), Williams, who is a dual threat quarterback and can make plays happen with both his arm and his legs, had a 14 yard run for another Hawks first down. A late hit penalty on the Crusaders put Monmouth inside the red zone at the 14 yard line. The Hawks would add three points on the drive with a Matt White 38 yard field goal to get on board, 7-3, with 6:07 left in the first.
The next Holy Cross possession began on their own 15 yard line. They would go onto drive 85 yards down the field over seven plays, ending with a 15 yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Peter Pujals (Glenview, Ill. (Loyola Academy) to extend their lead to 14-3. The Hawks would punt in their next possession and the first quarter came to an end.
The second quarter began with the first three-and-out of the day for Holy Cross. The Hawks took over at their own nine yard line, but Cody Williams fumbled which was recovered by the Crusaders, who took over five yards away from the end zone. After a penalty knocked them back five yards, Pujals would find junior wide receiver Brendan Flaherty (Beverly, Mass. (Beverly) for a ten yard touchdown pass to increase the Crusader lead to 21-3 with 12:23 remaining in the first half.
Both teams would go three-and-out in their next two possessions when the Hawks got the ball with only 31 seconds to go before halftime. On the first play, Cody Williams hit junior wide receiver Darren Ambush (Dickerson, Md. (Urbana) on a screen pass, who breezed right through the Holy Cross defense and ran 81 yards into the end zone for the Hawks’ first touchdown of the season. The two-point conversion attempted failed, and the Hawks went into the half down 21-9, but had some momentum going into the locker room.
The Hawks kicked off to begin the second half to the Crusaders, who would quickly go three-and-out. The Hawks’ ensuing drive would wind up being the longest of the game. They went a total of 56 yards over 14 plays and took 8:34 off the clock in the process. Chaney ran for three first downs on the drive, including a 26 yard run that got the Hawks into the red zone. Williams connected with Hakeem Valles for an eleven yard gain on the next play to get the Hawks to the three yard line. A one yard run by Chaney would get the ball down to the Crusader two yard line, but a botched snap that was recovered by Chaney on the next play sent the Monmouth offense back to the 22 yard line. A Matt White field goal attempt from 37 yards out was blocked, and Holy Cross regained possession.
The Crusaders would quickly go three-and-out and the Hawks got the ball back at their own 44 yard line. Lavon Chaney would start with a one yard run, which was followed by a seven yard run by Darren Ambush. The Hawks’ offense got across into midfield and into Crusader territory after Cody Williams found Chaney for a first down. Williams and Chaney hooked up again four plays later for a 26 yard completion to take the ball inside the red zone to the 15 yard line. A four yard rush and a false start wrapped up the third quarter.
The fourth quarter began with the Hawks at the 16 yard line with a third and eleven. After a Darren Ambush seven yard rush to pick up a first down, Lavon Chaney took the direct snap on second and goal and ran two yards into the end zone for a touchdown to cut the deficit to five, 21-16.
The Crusaders were forced to punt on their next possession, but they recovered a Lavon Chaney fumble on the first play of the Hawks’ next drive. Connor Fitzgerald would tack on three more points with a 22 yard field goal to increase the Crusaders lead to 24-16.
Cody Williams threw an interception and Holy Cross would turn that into three more points with a 40 yard field goal by Fitzgerald. The Hawks would add three more of their own after Matt White made good on a 27 yard field goal attempt, making the score 27-19 with 1:18 left in regulation.
Sophomore kicker John Coleman came on to attempt an onside kick and he did so to perfection. Reggie White Jr. recovered the kick and the Hawks still had a chance to tie the game and force overtime. But Williams threw an interception taking a shot at the end zone and that sealed the victory for the Holy Cross Crusaders. With the loss, the Hawks dropped to 7-9 all-time against opponents from the Patriot League.
The Hawks were led on offense by Cody Williams, who finished 22-33 for 258 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 38 yards on 15 carries. Lavon Chaney ran for 99 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry and also had 4 catches for 31 yards. Darren Ambush caught six passes for 102 yards and a touchdown and Reggie White Jr. had 5 catches for 39 yards. Holy Cross quarterback Peter Pujals was 16-26 for 165 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 38 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown. Diquan Walker had 51 yards on 9 rushes (5.7 average) and a touchdown. Gabe Guild ran for 48 yards on 7 carries (6.9 average). The Crusaders’ receivers were led by Brendan Flaherty (4 catches, 22 yards, 1 TD). Junior Jake Wieczorek (Cumming, Ga. (West Forsyth) and Senior Kalif Raymond (Lawrenceville, Ga. (Greater Atlanta Christian) each had three receptions.
On defense, sophomore defensive back Mike Basile (Brick, N.J. (Brick Memorial), who was the 2014 Big South Rookie of the Year, led the Hawks with ten total tackles while three Crusaders, junior defensive back Luke Ford (Glenview, Ill. (Loyola Academy), sophomore defensive back Ahmad Tyler (Kansas City, Kan. (Rockhurst (Mo.) and sophomore linebacker Nick McBeath (Miami, Fla. (Christopher Columbus) each had six stops to lead their team.
The Hawks return to action on Sept. 12 when they travel to Central Michigan (0-1) of the Mid-American Conference in what will be the program’s first FBS game in their history. Kickoff at Kelly/Shorts Stadium is set for 3:00.