While Hurricane Joaquin did not make landfall, the Hawks, the Bryant Bulldogs and 1,086 fans braved the elements last Saturday as the Hawks came away with their first home win of the season, 31-24 in West Long Branch.
The opening kickoff by the Bulldogs went out of the end zone, setting up redshirt freshman quarterback Cody Williams and the MU offense at their own 25 yard line. The Hawks drove down the field for their second opening drive touchdown of the season as Williams ran in from 22 yards out to record his first career rushing touchdown putting Monmouth up 7-0 early on.
After a Bryant three-and-out, MU would move the ball immediately as Williams hooked up with senior tight end Hakeem Valles for a 14 yard gain. Williams found junior running back Lavon Chaney two plays later for a 25 yard gain and another Monmouth first down moving the ball onto the Bryant side of the field. Williams and redshirt freshman wide receiver Reggie White Jr. connected for a 16 yard touchdown reception to extend the MU lead to 14-0. The Hawks drive lasted 12 plays and 85 yards and left 3:04 remaining in the first quarter.
Bryant turned the ball over on their next possession as senior defensive back Malcom Powers picked off junior quarterback Dalton Easton and the Hawks took over at their own 28 yard line. Monmouth would go three-and-out and the Bulldogs regained possession at their own 33.
The visitors got on the board on the fourth play of the second quarter as senior running back Ricardo McCray found the end zone from 38 yards out to cut the MU lead in half, 14-7 with 12:56 to play in the first half.
The ensuing Hawks possession resulted in their first turnover of the game as Williams’ pass was intercepted by junior defensive back Aaron Gilmer. Bryant tied the game at 14 on this drive as Easton threw a 19 yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jose Depadua with 6:30 remaining in the first half.
Both teams would go three-and-out and the Hawks took over with 54 seconds until halftime at their own 29 yard line, but were unable to get anything going as the teams went into the locker room dead locked.
Bryant opened the second half with a three-and-out. On the first play of the drive for MU, Chaney lost a fumble which was recovered by Bryant senior defensive back Karl Sery at their own 45. The Bulldogs took a shot on fourth and seven but could not convert, and the Hawks took over at their own 39.
After a seven yard reception to White Jr., MU went for it on fourth and one and converted as Williams kept it himself and ran for a 27 yard gain to pick up a first down and set up the Hawks at the Bryant 25 yard line. Monmouth would add three more points to the board as sophomore kicker Matt White converted a career long 40 yard field goal to give MU a 17-14 lead with 6:15 remaining in the third.
Bryant went three-and-out in their next possession, but senior kicker Dom Kozlowski’s punt pinned Monmouth down at their own one yard line. Bryant forced a safety as Chaney was stopped in the end zone, which narrowed the MU advantage to 17-16.
The Bulldogs got the ball back after the safety, but they were once again forced to punt. The Hawks took their ensuing possession into the fourth quarter with a one point lead.
The fourth quarter began with a 31 yard run by Chaney which set up the Hawks at the Bryant 34. The run gave Chaney over 100 rushing on the day for the first time this season and the fourth time in his career. MU was forced to punt three plays later, and sophomore defensive back Marcus Leslie returned the favor by pinning the Bulldogs down at their own one yard line. The Hawks were able to take full advantage of the field position as senior linebacker John Sieczkowski picked off Easton on third and ten and returned it five yards into the end zone for a pick six, extending the Hawks’ lead to 24-16.
The Bulldogs would not go quietly however as they hit a home run on their first play. Easton completed a 68 yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Chad Ward that pulled Bryant within two. The visitors converted the two point conversion and tied the game once again at 24 with 11:12 to go.
MU’s next possession took them down to the Bryant 25 yard line, but they decided to go for it on fourth and four and could not convert. They got the ball back on senior cornerback Joe Johnson’s second interception of the year and seventh of his career as MU regained possession at the Bryant 31.
White converted a 27 yard field goal, but a delay of game penalty nullified that and pushed them back five yards. Kicking into the swirling winds, White missed from 32, pushing it wide left. Bryant took over at their own 20 with 2:58 left to go in the fourth.
The Hawks defense was able to force a three-and-out giving their offense a chance to win it as they started at their own 39. Four plays in, Williams and White Jr. connected on a screen pass for their second score of the game, this one for 50 yards giving MU a 31-24 lead with 1:16 remaining.
“We had some really good blocks downfield by our lineman and receivers,” Williams said. “For him to make that play for us was real big. I was excited for him, excited for the team, and excited that the defense came back out and got a stop for us.”
Bryant was able to drive down the field and made it close getting down to the MU 12, but the Hawks were able to hold on to win, 31-24.
Williams finished the day 19-31 for 210 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. White Jr. caught five passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
“Those are two guys that we feel very good about,” said Head Coach Kevin Callahan. “We have a lot of confidence in their ability. It’s their first year playing and every game is a learning experience for them. Today they were able to make some big time plays. We are very happy with their progress and they are going to continue to develop and get better.”
Chaney finished with a career high 140 yards on the ground and sophomore safety Mike Basile, who entered the game as the leading tackler in the Big South, had double digit tackles for the fourth time this season.
MU completed their non-conference slate of their season at 2-3, and Coach Callahan has seen his team grow over the season’s first month.
“I think we’ve had a very challenging and very competitive non-conference schedule, and I think what we’ve done is grow,” Callahan said. “I think that’s going to help us headed into league play because every single Big South game is very tough. We played every team in the Big South last year except Kennesaw State. I think having that knowledge and that previous experience is going to help us as we start preparing for those conference games.”
Big South Conference play begins on the road against Charleston Southern (3-1) at noon on Oct. 10.