Monmouth Hawks
Photo courtesy of Monmouth University

Monmouth collapses in home opener falling to Campbell

WEST LONG BRANCH – Monmouth was hoping for an encore presentation of last week’s exhilarating conference road win at Towson, but instead they gave a performance they’d like to forget.

In front of a packed house in their home-opener, the Hawks blew a 23-7 first-half lead before eventually losing 45-31 to conference foe Campbell University Saturday at Kessler Field in West Long Branch.

“Coming out of Towson a week ago, maybe we felt we were further ahead than we really are,” said Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan. “And we have to take a good hard look at where we are and the reality of it and find out the things that are fixable and then go to work and try to fix them.”

The Hawks looked like they were on their way to a blow-out win. They recovered a fumbled kickoff return at the Campbell 35-yard line and on the next play, All-American running back Jaden Shirden took it to the house for a 35-yard rushing touchdown and a 23-7 lead with 4:26 left in the first half. Michael Calton Jr.’s extra-point kick clanked off the upright, so the score remained 23-7.

Up to this point, the defense was living up to the hype they’d been receiving for their improved play in the first two games of the season. They turned Campbell over on downs on their first possession and forced a punt on the Fighting Camels third possession.

However, it was here that the roof caved in on the defense and they never recovered looking a lot like last year’s unit that finished last in the CAA. Following the Hawks' touchdown that made it 23-7, the Camels scored 24 unanswered points and went on to score on seven of their next eight possessions only failing to score when they missed a 48-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.

“In the second half we weren’t efficient,” said captain and linebacker Ryan Moran, who again led the defense with 12 tackles (7 solo) and a TFL. “That’s on us. We’ve got to take a step back and take a look at each of us. But we’ve got a group of guys who won’t say die. We’re going to come back strong.”

About the same time the defense was self-destructing, the offense began to bog down and having a hard time getting on track in the passing game. Transfer quarterback Marquez McCray had his first rough outing as a Hawk overthrowing his receivers on occasion. His wideouts didn’t do him any favors by dropping a few crucial passes that ended potential scoring drives. McCray, for the first time as a Hawk looked uncomfortable in the pocket and at times rushed things.

Monmouth was 5-for-16 on third down conversions and 5-of-9 on fourth down conversions.

“We might’ve forced some things and failed to execute as clean as we would’ve wanted too,” McCray said. “They’re a great team, but I don’t think it was anything they were doing, it’s all stuff we can clean up as an offense.”

McCray completed 19-of-36 passes for 211 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

Campbell outscored Monmouth 28-7 in the second half as they were basically unstoppable.

The one bright spot for Monmouth was the rushing attack which gained 223 yards. Shirden was once again a workhorse for the Hawks running the ball 31 times for 167 yards and one touchdown. He also caught four passes for 31 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown reception from McCray for Monmouth’s only score in the second half.

Harvard transfer running back Soen Ntoh was again unstoppable around the goal line and in short-yardage situations. The 5-foot-11, 235-pound bruiser scored on touchdown runs of five and four yards and converted a number third and fourth-down plays. He finished with 31-yard rushing on six attempts.

Shirden’s touchdown had tied the score at 31-31 with 11:48 still left in the game. However, Campbell  drove the length of the field in five plays to take a 38-31 lead and then two possessions later after stopping Monmouth on 4-and-4 at the 37-yard line, scored again in four plays for a 45-31 lead with 1:13 left in the game.

Campbell, a former member of the Big South along with Monmouth, had never beaten the Hawks before Saturday in three tries. The Camels are first-year members of the Coastal Athletic Association and are now 1-0 against the Hawks in the CAA. Monmouth was picked to finish eighth in the CAA Preseason Poll, while Campbell was picked 12th out or 15 teams, which seems a little low considering how they’ve been playing.

In their season opener, they came within 10 points of beating fourth-ranked William and Mary - the CAA Preseason favorite - and last week they destroyed the Citadel 56-7 when Williams threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 51 yards and two touchdowns.

Monmouth did hold Williams, last week's CAA Offensive Player of the Week, in check to a degree. Williams was 16-of-25 for 184 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 46 yards on nine attempts, however the Camels rushed for 269 yards while averaging 5.6 yards per attempt.

Sophomore NaQuari Rogers ran wild rushing for 153 yards and three touchdowns on just 21 carries for a 7.2 yards per carry average.

Monmouth did suffer a number of significant injuries and although you don’t want to make excuses, the impact was noticeable.

In the first quarter, the Hawks lost starting left tackle Jordan Hall to a lower leg injury. Hall, a two-year starter, is an important cog in the Hawks offensive line. Then star cornerback and punt returner Eddie Morales III went down in the second quarter and did not return. In the second half, defensive end Antonio Colclough was injured and did not return, and standout linebacker Jake Brown was helped off the field for what looked like a serious knee injury. Brown, a graduate transfer from Harvard, who has already cemented himself as leader of the defense, was a huge loss. He had five tackles, including a TFL before he was injured.

Monmouth travels to Lafayette next week then hosts Lehigh the following week. Both are non-conference games and, on the surface, appear to be winnable games for the Hawks before they get into the meat of their CAA schedule.

“The first thing we have to do as a team and as a program is evaluate where we’re at after this game,” said Callahan. “It really doesn’t matter who the next opponent is, it matters what we do to correct the things we thought we didn’t do properly today. And that’s going to be the focus of our week coming up.”