UNION, N.J. – Senior running back Chris DiMicco rushed for a pair of touchdowns while an opportunistic Kean defense forced six turnovers, including an interception return by freshman Matt Clerk as the No. 15 Cougars knocked off Christopher Newport 34-10 in the first round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship at Kean Alumni Stadium Saturday.
Senior quarterback Thomas D’Ambrisi tossed a pair of touchdown passes as Kean (10-1), making its first NCAA appearance, now faces Salisbury in the second round.
Junior quarterback Aaron Edwards threw for 178 yards and scored a touchdown for the Captains, who end their season at 8-3. CNU was making its eighth appearance in its 11-year existence, earning it way in by capturing the USA South championship.
Kean’s first NCAA postseason contest looked like several of its regular-season contests as the Cougars picked off five passes and turned those into 21 points — all in the second quarter as the Cougars scored three times in a span of 53 seconds at the end of the period.
Kean turned six Montclair State turnovers into 20 points a week earlier in its 27-14 NJAC championship game win and during the past two games, has forced 11 turnovers total which have accounted for 41 points.
Leading 14-7, Kean’s Brad Higgins intercepted an Edwards pass at the CNU 36 yardline. After a one-yard run and incomplete pass, D’Ambrisi found Senior Billy Kvalheim open across the middle of the field for a 35-yard touchdown as the Cougars led 21-7 with 2:14 to play.
On the ensuing Captains’ possession, Clerk, who had two picks last week, made a one-handed grab of an Edwards throw and raced untouched as Kean made it 14 points in seven seconds extending the lead to 28-7 with 1:23 on the clock.
Christopher Newport got the ball again and tried to run out the clock. However, with Kean holding all three timeouts, the Captains were forced to pass on third down. This time is was Darren Dixon coming up with the pick at the CNU 21. It took just two plays for Kean to capitalize as D’Ambrisi found Chris Suozzo for the touchdown as the Cougars went into the locker room up 34-7.
The Captains had a chance to close the gap early in the third quarter as they moved the ball to the Kean 12. However on 3rd-and-1, Ray Wegrzynek and Dan Wollman stuffed the run. Christopher Newport settled for a 29-yard field goal by Stephen Denuel cutting the lead to 34-10 with 8:37 left in the third quarter.
That would be a close as CNU would get the remainder of the way.
An interception helped set up the first score of the game as Williams’ first pick on the first offensive play of the game gave Kean the ball at the CNU 44. D’Ambrisi completed a nine-yard pass to T.J. Denehy on a 3rd-and-4 to keep the drive going and three plays later, DiMicco burst up the middle for a 20-yard touchdown as Kean led 7-0 just more than three minutes into the game.
The Cougars came back the other way with a 13-play, 77-yard drive converting a pair of third-downs along the way. D’Ambrisi hit Denehy four times on the possession, including a five-yard catch down to the Captains’ 4. After a false start penalty against Kean pushed the ball back to the nine, DiMicco charged into the end zone on the next play as the Cougars led 14-0 with 38 seconds left in the opening quarter.
DiMicco finished with 73 yards on 19 carries for Kean, which was outgained in the game 338-261, but once again took advantage of short fields as the Cougars started four of its 13 possessions inside CNU territory. D’Ambrisi was 17 of 27 for 166 yards which Denehy pulling in eight catches for 54 yards.
Dixon led the Cougars defense with a game-high 15 tackles, including 10 solo stops while Higgins has eight tackles. Senior safety Jamahl Williams intercepted two passes as he broke the Kean career record with his 17th and 18th interceptions. Williams surpassed the mark set by Paul Mertz (1979-82). Clerk finished with five tackles, including two for loss and two breakups.
Marcus Morrast ran for 72 yards for Christopher Newport while Evan Moog 55 yards on 17 carries. Edwards was 15-of-29 with Antonio Epps among four players with three receptions. Daniel Lewis had eight tackles and an interception for the Captains with Tyler Portell adding seven tackles.
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