Nov. 20, 2010

Courtesy of Montclair State Athletics

Montclair State defended a two-point conversion play with 5:14 remaining as the Red Hawks held off Hampden-Sydney, 16-14 in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Playoffs as Fulton Field on Saturday afternoon. It was the teams first meeting against one another since the 1970 NCAA Knute Rockne Bowl won by Montclair, 7-6. In that game, John Brunelli tipped a two-point conversion pass that was picked off by Alex Kaplanovich to preserve the lead for Montclair State.

This time around there was a tip and an interception as the two plays, plus a key third-down conversion in the final minute that sent Montclair State into the second round. The Red Hawks, now 10-1, will face top-seeded Wesley College in the second round at Wolverine Stadium in Dover, DE on Saturday, November 27 at Noon. It will be the first time MSU will take on Wesley since a 27-26 win in 2006.

The Red Hawks posted their 10th win of the year, marking the second straight season in which Montclair has recorded double-digits in victories and the fifth time in program history (1981, 1985, 1986, 2009, 2010). Montclair also evened its record in the NCAA Division III Playoffs at 9-9 and 10-9 overall including the Knute Rockne Bowl victory.

The victory on Saturday was not without its anxious moments as Montclair had virtually shut down and shut out the Hampden-Sydney offense, which came into the game averaging 35 points per contest, through the first three quarters. But the Tigers (9-2) found the end zone with 13:36 to trim the lead to 16-8 following a two-point conversion.

Hampden-Sydney then cut the deficit to 16-14 with 5:14 left as Andrew Bruckner pulled in a nine-yard pass from Travis Lane. Like they did 40 years ago, the Tigers went for two, however, Andrey Green (East Orange, NJ / East Orange) caught a piece of the ball as it fell to the ground allowing Montclair to maintain its two-point lead.

Montclair would go three-and-out on its next possession and punted back to the Tigers with 3:25 to go. On the first play from the 27, Lane tried to hit his receiver down the sideline, but cornerback Gary Knoeppel (West Long Branch, NJ / Shore Regional) made an acrobatic interception to give the Red Hawks the ball back at the Tigers 48 with 3:18 on the clock.

The Red Hawks would still need to gain a first down as Hampden-Sydney still possessed two timeouts. On the first play, Matt Jimenez (Waldwick, NJ / Waldwick) rumbled nine yards and then added four more to move the ball to the 39. The Tigers would use their timeouts and left Montclair with a pivotal 3rd-and-6 with inside 2:20 remaining. Jimenez converted the play with a 12-yard run as Montclair then ran out the clock for the victory.

Jimenez finished with 113 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown. His 17-yard run in the second quarter gave Montclair State a 7-0 lead with 6:27 to play in the first half. Hampden-Sydney responded with a 66-yard drive on the ensuing possession, but the Tigers came away empty-handed as a 26-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.

The Red Hawks took over with 4:08 left and marched 73 yards running all but the final nine seconds before settling for a 24-yard field goal by Jake DelVento (Island Heights, NJ / Toms River South) as MSU took a 10-0 lead into the locker room.

Hampden-Sydney tried to turn momentum back in their favor in the second half as they intercepted passes on each of Montclairs first two possessions. But again the Tigers couldnt cash in as the first pick resulted in a turnover on downs as Knoeppel and Dan Avento (Montvale, NJ / Pascack Hills) batted down passes on third and fourth down, respectively.

The second missed opportunity would really hurt the Tigers the most. After the interception, Hampden-Sydney had the ball at the MSU 20. On first down, Lane scrambled and ran 19 yards to the one. On the first play, Montclair stuffed Evan King for no gain. The Tigers went back to King on the next play and he tried to leap over the pile only to be met by linebacker Ed Kirschenbaum (Lake Como, NJ / Manasquan), who forced a fumble that was recovered in the end zone by Mario McLean (Montville, NJ / Montville) for a touchback as the score remained 10-0.

After trading possessions, Montclair would add to its lead as Tom Fischer (Livingston, NJ / Livingston) found Dan Keegan (Fairfield, NJ / West Essex) along the right sideline for an 81-yard touchdown reception as the Red Hawks lead was 16-0 with 1:32 to go in the third quarter.

Montclair State had a chance to get on the scoreboard first as its first drive of the game went 76 yards to the Hampden-Sydney 12 before ending with an interception in the end zone. After the defenses held throughout most of the first quarter and into the second, the Red Hawks would get on the board. Taking over at its own 33, Fischer connected with Keegan for 39 yards to the Tigers 28. Jimenez would do the rest as he went 11 yards on the first rush and 17 on the second barreling his way into the end zone as Montclair State held a 7-0 lead.

Keegan finished with six receptions for 139 yards while freshman Bobby Roesing (Secaucus, NJ / Secaucus) had six for 85 yards. Fischer completed 18-of-33 passes. Kirschenbaum collected eight tackles, including his 100th of the season and a key sack on the drive that ended with the missed field goal. Green added seven tackles with Kevin Cloghessy (West Hempstead, NY /Hempstead) recording six tackles.

The Red Hawks, who held the ball for 38:18 of the game, outgained Hampden-Sydney 436-351, including 166-37 on the ground.