In the past two weeks, the football team not only picked up their first win of the season but also faced the Chippewas of Central Michigan in the program’s first ever game against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.
The Hawks’ football team made history on Saturday, Sept. 12 when they traveled to Mount Pleasant, Michigan to take on the Chippewas of Central Michigan in what was the program’s first ever game against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.
Playing in front of 21,092 fans at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Central Michigan came out motivated after a 24-13 loss to Oklahoma State the previous week. Their offense recorded six first downs on the drive, which ended in a Mark Chapman 11 yard run for a touchdown. The 14-play, 73-yard-drive took 6:02 off the clock and Central Michigan had an early 7-0 lead.
“We knew going in that they had a very effective defense, particularly their front seven,” said Head Coach Kevin Callahan. “They were a pretty dominant group, as we saw, in their previous game against Oklahoma State. They were able to control the line of scrimmage at times but I think as the game went on, we started to have a little more success and our players began adjusting to what they were seeing.”
The Chippewas showed an impressive start to the second quarter. With a 17-yard-pass to sophomore wide receiver Corey Wills, CMU extended their lead to 14-0.
CMU added three more points with a 30-yard-field goal by junior kicker Brian Eavey. The Hawks punted again and the CMU offense exploded for an 83-yard touchdown pass from Rush to senior tight end Ben McCord on the second play of the drive. This lengthened the lead to 24-0.
The Hawks would get on the board on their next drive as sophomore kicker Matt White connected for a 37-yard field goal, but CMU answered and scored another touchdown to extend their advantage to 31-3 going into the locker room.
MU was able to make adjustments defensively at halftime, as they shut out the Chippewas offense in the second half.
“We just really settled down and had a greater focus on our execution,” Callahan said. “There were some new things that we were doing in the game plan, specifically for Central Michigan. In the first half we made some mistakes, particularly in the secondary with coverage. We seemed to get those straightened out at the half and went out in the second half and executed much more effectively.”
The only scoring play of the second half was on the first drive. Junior running back Zach Welch had a seven yard touchdown run to give MU their first ever touchdown against an FBS team.
“As the game went along we began to adapt to the pace of play,” Welch said. “We tired them out a little bit. We found some openings and ran the ball outside more and it started to work out.”
The final score was 31-10, and the Hawks fell to 0-2 on the season.
“Going up against an FBS opponent, everyone you go up against is bigger, faster, and stronger than players you will see in the FCS,” junior linebacker Payton Minnich said. “Moving forward we can use this to our advantage.”
Thankfully for the Hawks, they used this to their advantage immediately.
The Hawks renewed their rivalry with the Wagner Seahawks on Sept. 19. The two teams have faced off every year since MU’s football program had its inaugural season in 1993. The two teams were conference rivals in the Northeast Conference for 16 years from 1996-2012.
MU received the opening kickoff and made a statement on their second play from scrimmage when junior running back Lavon Chaney completed a touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Ugo Ezemma that went for 68-yards to give Monmouth an early 7-0 lead.
The MU defense did not allow any points to the Seahawks in the first quarter and kept them out of the end zone until the final minute of the game.
The Seahawks began the second quarter with a third and nine. Kicker Bryan Maley got Wagner on the board with a 41-yard field goal to make it 7-3. The drive took 9 plays for 30-yards and took 4:54 off the clock. It left 14:31 to play in the first half.
The MU offense completed their first third down conversion in their next possession as Cody Williams found junior wide receiver Darren Ambush for 10-yards. On the next play, Williams found Reggie White Jr. for a 25-yard gain on a flea flicker play and another MU first down. The Hawks would get back into the end zone as Williams connected with Ambush once again for 26-yards to extend the lead to 14-3.
After both teams were forced to punt, Wagner running back Otis Wright fumbled and the ball was recovered by junior defensive lineman Dimitrius Smith at the Wagner 27-yard line with 5:39 left in the half.
MU took a few chances at the end zone but Williams was sacked for a loss of eight yards on second down, knocking MU out of field goal range and forcing them to punt.
The Hawks got the ball back after an interception by senior defensive back Malcolm Powers at the Wagner 35 with 1:41 left. After a two yard run by Chaney, Williams found Ambush once again for a 21-yard gain to move the Hawks offense into the red zone. But Matt White’s 23-yard field goal attempt was wide left, and the Hawks were unable to add to their lead heading into halftime.
Wagner got the ball to start the second half and their drive ended after Maley failed to make a 45-yard field goal. The Hawks offense answered back by driving down the field with a 15 play, 72-yard drive resulting in a 15-yard touchdown run by Chaney to extend the lead to 21-3.
The fourth quarter saw junior running back Zach Welch score from two yards out to extend the Hawks lead to 28-3.
The ensuing kickoff was returned by Otis Wright for a touchdown to make the score 28-10. The Hawks would grind down the clock on their next possession, as they drove for 69-yards over 19 plays and took 9:04 off the clock. They were able to add three points to the scoreboard as Matt White converted from 22-yards out extending their lead to 31-10 with 2:30 left to play.
Wagner attempted to make a final comeback, but were unsuccessful. The final score read 31-16 as MU came away with their first victory of the season. MU improved to 13-10 all-time against Wagner with the victory and the visiting team has now won 10 of the last 12 contests between the two programs.
Cody Williams had the best game of his career, as the redshirt freshman finished 23-34 for 243-yards and a touchdown. Ambush finished with 7 catches for 117-yards and a touchdown.
“Darren had a terrific performance tonight,” Callahan said. “He’s very dynamic with the ball in his hands and shows the ability to split defenders and run with the ball after the catch. He’s also making some difficult catches. He’s one of our playmakers on the offensive side.”
Ugo Ezemma finished with four catches for 79-yards and a touchdown. The Hawks’ running game was able to bounce back after facing a physical defensive line at Central Michigan. Chaney ran for 66-yards and a touchdown on 20 carries (he also threw a touchdown) and Zach Welch gained 63-yards on seven carries and also found the end zone. Sophomore defensive back Mike Basile set a new career high with 17 tackles. Minnich added 10 stops to the Hawks’ defensive attack.
“As we saw last year, Mike is an outstanding player that has great field awareness,” Callahan said. “He was all over the field tonight, he was in on a number of plays in both the run and the pass game. It is an outstanding performance on his part.”
The Hawks will next take the field on Sept. 26 when they travel to the Bronx to take on the Fordham Rams of the Patriot League at 1 pm.
PHOTO COURTESY of Taylor Jackson