Basile’s Interception Seals Wagner Nail-Biter

In a tough fought game, the Monmouth Hawks’ football team was able to close the deal on a victory over former Northeast Conference rival, the Wagner Seahawks with a final score of 21-16 thanks to the late-game heroics of freshman Mike Basile. With the victory, the Hawks improved to 2-0 for the season while the Seahawks fall to 1-2. The Hawks have now won three consecutive games against the rival from Staten Island.

“First of all I have to congratulate our team,” said MU Head Coach Kevin Callahan. “I thought that they did a great job. We knew that this game was going to be one that would go down to the wire. Every game against Wagner seems to have done that. It’s always a full four-quarter football game. It’s always back and forth and you’ve got to take advantage of opportunities and I thought that our team did an excellent job on both sides of the ball of taking advantage of opportunities, of coming up big in some tough situations and overcoming some adverse situations.”

Two weeks after showcasing an offensive clinic in the season opener against Delaware State, a game in which the Hawks accumulated 553-yards on 92-plays in a 52-21 victory over the Hornets, this football contest against a familiar foe was dominated by the defense. Both teams delivered bone-crushing hits and made huge impact plays for the full 60-minutes. When it came to who would make the big play to seal the fate of the game, an unlikely hero emerged in freshman safety Mike Basile.

With a little more than a minute remaining in the game after a failed fake punt attempt by the Hawks and the Seahawks driving for the go-ahead score, Basile intercepted Brian Gehring’s pass to the left corner of the end zone to seal the victory for the Hawks. Basile, who was nominated as the Big South conference’s Defensive Player of the Week and Big South Freshman of the Week, also contributed four tackles to go along with the game-clinching pick. It is worth noting that the Brick native now has two interceptions in the first two games of his collegiate career.

“We were playing man-to-man and it was a tight end matchup,” said Basile. “I just tried going up there and attacking the ball.”

“It was a big play. It was a big play in a pressure moment with the game on the line. Mike’s played two college football games and he’s made some big plays,” Callahan added. “Looking at it from where I was on the sideline, it looked like Mike was in a good position as the ball was thrown. It’s going to be in the corner of the end zone, there’s two guys going up for it and I’m hoping our guy comes down with it, that’s for sure.”

The Hawks’ defense, which ranks sixth against the run amongst the FCS (formerly D-1AA) ranks, made a living in the backfield during the course of the entire game. The line-backing duo of juniors Tyler Thompson and John Sieczkowski led the way with ten tackles apiece while senior defensive lineman, Eric Macik, chipped in with five tackles and a sack. Sophomore defensive back, Kevin Butler, also added 5-tackles and also forced a fumble that set the Hawks up for their first score of the game in the first quarter.

Following Butler’s forced fumble on Gehring and senior Nick Carroll’s recovery on Wagner’s opening possession of the first quarter, senior quarterback Brandon Hill found fifth year senior running back KB Asante on a swing pass from 14-yards out for the Hawks’ opening score.

Asante, known mostly for his running prowess, got involved in the passing attack with four receptions for 41-yards and the opening score. He also added took 20-carries for 81-yards and a 13-yard touchdown rumble in the fourth quarter.

When asked about his involvement in the passing game, Asante said, “You never stop getting better. This offseason, we worked on that because we knew we’d be throwing the ball a lot, too. I just wanted to make that a part of my game and just try and get better.”

Hill completed 20-passes for 215-yards and two scores on 33-attempts while spreading the ball around to eight different receivers. Darren Ambush, a sophomore receiver, led the way with four catches for 61-yards. Senior Hakeem Valles, a converted receiver-turned-tight-end, caught three passes for 25-yards, and added an 11-yard touchdown grab from Hill in the second quarter, his first touchdown of his career.

“It felt really good. I feel like all of these years are finally paying off. Brandon [Hill] had a lot of trust in me, a lot of faith in me. It felt really good,” said Valles.

When asked about Valles and what he brings to the tight end position, Hill said, “Hakeem came off of a playing receiver so he’s a very diverse tight-end. He can get up and down the field so he has mismatches all the time when they put backers of even safeties on him. He brings a different aspect of the game with him on the field and he made some big plays today.”

When asked about spreading the wealth to a deep stable of skilled position players, Hill said, “When I’m on the field, I’m just looking for reads. Whoever’s out there, it could be [Matt] Choi, it could be Romeo [Harris], it doesn’t matter. I think they’re all capable and I like them matched up on anybody. I have faith in these wide receivers to get the job done.”

The Hawks will resume play this Saturday when they travel to Pittsburgh to play Duquesne, another former NEC foe. The next three weeks will be a Tour de Pennsylvania for MU, as they will play on the road against Duquesne (Pittsburgh), Lehigh (Bethlehem), and Robert Morris (Pittsburgh) before finally returning home on Saturday, Oct. 11 to host Columbia University for the campus’s homecoming game.

MU, who is 2-0 for the first time since 2006 when they won the NEC conference, will look to keep up their winning ways as the weeks come and go.

PHOTO COURTESY of Taylor Jackson