WEST LONG BRANCH – Monmouth University’s star wide receiver Dymere Miller broke the school’s single–season reception record then went on to break the school’s single–season receiving yards record and single-game receiving yards record on the same play Saturday at Kessler Field.
However, Miller’s historic effort was all for naught, as the Hawks let another one slip away in an agonizing 31-24 loss to New Hampshire.
With the score knotted at 24-24 with just under seven minutes to play in the game, the Hawks drove to the New Hampshire 18-yard line where they were facing a fourth-and-3. Instead of going for the field goal and the lead, Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan opted to go for it on fourth down, but quarterback Marquez McCray’s pass to tight end Jack Neri went for a one-yard loss turning the ball back over to the Wildcats on downs.
New Hampshire then drove 82 yards in 10 plays on its final possession of the game to score the deciding touchdown.
“I think the result of that game was really on me 100 percent,” said Callahan in the post-game press conference. “I think we had fourth-and-three in field goal range, kick the field goal and we walk away with the win. I think I got a little greedy there and went for the first down.”
Callahan’s decision to go for it there was definitely questionable but at the same time understandable.
Monmouth was using its third kicker of the season on Saturday and his confidence level in the kicking game was probably hovering around zero after a blocked field goal on a low kick and a missed extra point played pivotal roles in Monmouth’s losses to Elon and William and Mary.
The Hawks, however, still needed to stop New Hampshire from scoring, which they hadn’t been able to do in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats scored touchdowns on their final three possessions of the game, including on their final scoring drive which gave them the lead for good at 31-24 with 2:18 left in the game.
Monmouth’s defense had the chance to get the ball back to its offense but a fourth-down play by the Wildcats resulted in the winning touchdown.
Taking possession at their own 18-yard line after turning Monmouth over on downs, New Hampshire drove to the Monmouth 38-yard line where they went for it on fourth-and-three. On the play, Wildcats reserve quarterback Matt Vezza scrambled out of the pocket under pressure and found Myles Thomason for a touchdown and the lead.
Vezza was in for Max Bosmer, who entered the game as the top FCS passer in the nation, after Bosner was hit hard on a scramble and left the game. Bosner completed 28-of-45 passes for 239 yards, well below his average of 319.3 yards, with one touchdown and one interception before he took a seat late in the game.
The Hawks weren’t through though. Taking over at their own 17-yard line following the kick with 2:13 remaining they almost pulled off a miracle comeback to tie the game. Advancing to the New Hampshire 32-yard line, McCray’s Hail Mary pass into the end zone with no time remaining bounced off a couple of defenders hands before Miller made a desperate diving attempt to grab the ball before it hit the ground, coming within inches of making the catch.
“Literally off my fingertips,” said Miller when asked how close he came to catching it.
Miller’s 333 receiving yards Saturday broke former Dallas Cowboys All-Pro wideout Miles Austin’s single-game record of 235 yards set in 2005. It was the most receiving yardage in a game this season in the FCS and second most in CAA history. Miller’s 11 receptions Saturday gave him 85 for the season and his 333-yards receiving Saturday gave him 1,243 yards for the season, both single-season school records.
“I set goals for the season, and I reached them, but I have bigger goals than just myself,” said a dejected Miller following the game. “I wanted to win championships and win games and we didn’t. It’s frustrating, the records are cool but they’re really not going to be the first thing on my mind throughout the rest of this weekend.”
The Hawks failure to convert on fourth down late in the fourth quarter was just one of a number of plays that contributed to the Hawks crushing loss.
Monmouth also failed to convert on a fourth-down play late in the third quarter that gave the Wildcats good field position and they eventually scored to tie the game at 17-17. Looking at a fourth-and-5 at the New Hampshire 41-yard line, McCray rushed his throw under pressure and it fell incomplete handing the Wildcats excellent field position. They then drove 59 yards in four plays to knot the game at 17 with 14:32 remaining.
It only took the Hawks one play to answer and take the lead back. On first down from the 25, Miller took a shovel pass from McCray around left end for a 75-yard touchdown gallop to give the Hawks a 24-17 lead.
McCray finished with 402-yards passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions completing 21-of-32 attempts. He was sacked five times though and they were significant enough sacks to end a couple of potential scoring opportunities.
Also, late in the first quarter of a scoreless game, New Hampshire decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Monmouth 36. Junior defensive tackle Isaiah Rogers stuffed New Hampshire star running back Dylan Laube for no gain, but Monmouth was called for an illegal substitution on the play handing the Wildcats a first down at the 31-yard line.
That was an absolute killer call against the Hawks, as New Hampshire scored five plays later to take a 7-0 lead.
Monmouth was just 2-of-14 on third down conversion attempts and 3-of-6 on fourth down. New Hampshire fared better, converting 4-of-4 on fourth down and 6-of-17 on third down while Monmouth outgained the Wildcats 472 yards to 406 yards.
Eddie Morales III had his second end zone interception in as many weeks, snuffing out a potential New Hampshire scoring drive that had the Wildcats at the Monmouth 25-yard line on their second possession of the game
The Monmouth defense was stout in the first half allowing just 10 points and 151 total yards against the explosive Wildcats offense, which came into the game ranked first in the CAA, but they tired down the stretch in the second half and were unable to make a stop when it counted most.
Jake Brown again led the Hawks in tackles with 12, including a half a sack. T.J. Kamara also had double-digit tackles with 10 and Mike Reid had seven tackles, TFL and two pass breakups. End Antonio Colclough might’ve had his best game as a Hawk registering two sacks, six tackles and he deflected pass.
The epic battle between New Hampshire running back Dylan Laube and Monmouth’s Jaden Shirden never materialized with the Wildcats holding Shirden, the nation’s leading rusher, to 89 yards on 18 carries while the Hawks held Laube to 47 yards on nine attempts.
So, another game goes in the books as a loss for the Hawks when it could’ve and probably should’ve been a win if not for its self-inflicted wounds. The margin of error in the CAA is so low that failure to execute even one play can be the difference between winning and losing as Monmouth has repeatedly found out this season.
Monmouth’s last three losses have come by a combined 12 points.
“You’ve got to finish and play a full game,” said Callahan. “We did a lot of great things today. Dymere had a sensational day and there were a lot of other guys who played extremely well. When you play in this conference every week you are in for a dog fight, there’s so much parity.”
Monmouth (4-6, 3-4) will close out its season next week on the road against the University of Albany (8-3, 6-1) with a chance to play spoiler against the first place Great Danes, who are in a four-way tie with Delaware, Villanova, and Richmond.
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