As far as “must-win” games go, rarely does the second game of the season fall into that category. But Monmouth University’s 42-23 road win against conference foe Towson University Saturday night at Johnny Unitas Stadium sure felt like one.
“To come on the road and win that game like we did today, and the fashion that we did, speaks volumes for not only our players and the character they have, but the ability we have and the feeling that we can be a pretty good team moving forward,” said Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan.
Monmouth’s much improved defense might’ve played its best quarter football in years in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s win turning what was starting to feel like a deflating loss into a rousing victory. And they did this while overcoming stifling heat and humidity that led to numerous players cramping up over and over in the second half.
“I can’t say enough about our defense,” Callahan said. “Our defensive line and linebackers did an exceptional job. I think we rolled probably eight to 12 guys through on the defensive line and that helped us keep guys fresh and it kept them hungry. And then on the back end we came up with some really big plays.”
Towson had just pulled to within five points, 28-23, with 7:37 remaining in the game and the Tigers had regained all the momentum, especially after the Hawks went three-and-out on their ensuing possession.
Following a Luke Schabel 40-yard punt, Towson took over at their own 33-yard line with 6:14 left in the game. On first down, defensive tackle Pat Hayden and end Miles Mitchell combined to stop Towson running back Devin Matthew’s after a three-yard pickup. Then on second-and-3, linebacker Jack Brown came on a blitz and sacked Tigers quarterback Nathan Kent forcing a fumble that was recovered by Mitchell at the Towson 29-yard line.
“That was a great call, we expected that look and prepared for it,” said Brown. “The D-line occupied the offensive line, and it opened up a lane for me and I made the play. It was a blitz all the way.”
Brown, a graduate transfer from Harvard, led the team with seven total tackles, including three solo tackles with two sacks, a forced fumble and two tackles for loss.
On first down, Monmouth quarterback Marquez McCray connected with tight end Jack Neri for a 25-yard completion down to the four-yard line. On the next play, running back Sone Ntoh took a direct snap off left tackle for a four-yard touchdown pushing the lead to 35-23 with 4:42 left in the game.
Then on Towson’s ensuing possession Monmouth’s defense rose to the occasion once again. On second-and-3 from the Towson 32-yard line, defensive ends Antonio Colclough and Justin O’Bannon combined to sack Kent for a seven-yard loss.
“We prepped for this all week coming off a tough loss to FAU,” said Brown. “We knew we had to clean up some things and we went to work. Coaches prepared us for this game, playing fast and flying around after the ball. We got guys that can really play and we’re coming together, and we trust each other and trust the coaches. Skies the limit for this defense. As long as we keep playing tough, do our job and keep doing the work and fixing mistakes, the skies the limit for this defense.”
Monmouth's defense held Towson's offense to 275 total yards, 200 passing and 75 yards rushing.
The sack party continued on the next play when junior linebacker Remi Johnson, who had a sack and two TFL, came on a blitz up the middle and sacked Kent for a three-yard loss setting up a fourth-and-8 from the Towson 27. Kent’s fourth-down pass was incomplete, and Tigers turned the ball over on downs.
Monmouth then went 27 yards in six plays to essentially put the game away for good. McCray converted on fourth-and-4 finding T.J. Speight for eight yards and a first down at the 13-yard line. All-American running back Jaden Shirden then picked up 10 for a first-and-goal at the three-yard line. Ntoh then took a direct snap up the middle for his third touchdown of the game and a 42-23 Hawks lead.
Shirden was a workhorse for the Hawks on the evening running the ball 33 times for 145 yards and a touchdown and catching three passes for 29 yards. Iron-man stats having done this in the brutal heat and humidity.
“Jaden had to earn everything he got today,” said Callahan. “There were no 50-yarders he’s used to ripping off; he really earned it today. He ran hard and that can be attributed some of that to the 10 pounds of additional muscle that he put on in the off season.”
Hawks safety Davis Smith put the finishing touches on the game with his first interception of the season giving the Hawks their fourth forced turnover of the game with three of them turning into points.
“When you turn a team over four times, three on defense, one on special teams, it sets up our offense in really good field position with short fields and they were able to punch it in,” said Callahan. That’s what I was talking about when I said we played good complimentary football.”
In contrast, the Hawks only turned the ball over once, but it turned into points for Towson. On their first possession of the game the Hawks had a second-and-12 from their own 44-yard line when McCray was sacked and fumbled with Towson recovering at the Hawks 34-yard line.
Two plays later Kent connected with Da’Kendall James for a 27-yard touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead.
Following a 45-minute weather delay, the Hawks ensuing drive stalled at the Towson 41-yard line when McCray’s fourth-and-8 pass intended for Assanti Kearney fell incomplete with McCray under heavy pressure.
Towson took over in good field position and marched to the Hawks eight-yard line. However, on third-and-goal from the eight, Kent was hauled down for no gain by defensive end Nick White and the Tigers settled for a 25-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead.
The rest of the second half belonged to Monmouth with the Hawks dominating time of possession 21 minutes to nine minutes and plays 46 to 20. In the second quarter alone, the Hawks outgained Towson 172 yards to 23.
After falling behind 10-0, the Hawks scored 21 unanswered points.
Following the Towson field goal, Monmouth was facing fourth-and-1 at their own 34-yard line. Already down by 10, Callahan gambled and went for it on fourth down deep in their own territory and it paid off handsomely for the Hawks.
Ntoh took a handoff from McCray off left guard and burst through the line while showing surprising speed as he outran the second level of defense for a 66-yard touchdown sprint to pull the Hawks within 10-7.
Monmouth defense, which played a brilliant first half holding Towson to 113 total yards and no points after the Tigers scored 10 on their first two possessions.
The Hawks defense then forced consecutive three-and-outs with true freshman Logan Barnes making a big stop on third down and cornerback Eddie Morales III knocking down a pass on third down with both plays forcing punts.
Monmouth then took a 14-10 lead driving 81 yards in 13 plays while taking 7:10 off the clock. Shirden extended the drive converting a third-and-3 with an eight-yard run then later scored on a six-yard run up the middle to give the Hawks the lead at the half.
On Towson’s first possession of the second half, the Tigers were called for offensive pass interference and the Hawks defense forced a three-and-out after that.
Following a punt, Monmouth took over at their own 46 and marched 54 yards in six plays to take a 21-10 lead. The Hawks converted a fourth-and-3 from the Towson 47 to keep the drive alive with McCray finding Dymere Miller for eight yards and a first down. Two plays later, McCray connected with Kearney for a 36-yard touchdown.
Towson answered right back though driving 68 yards in six plays to pull within 21-17. Kent completed a 44-yard pass to wideout Lukkas Londono to set up a Devin Matthews one-yard plunge for the score.
The Hawks then went three-and-out on their ensuing possession and Towson threatened to take the lead driving to the Monmouth 21-yard line. But on first down, Towson attempted a trick play that backfired when Londono’s pass was intercepted by Morales III at the one-yard line.
Monmouth advanced to the 20-yard line after that, but Shirden was stopped on a third-and-1 run and the Hawks were forced to punt. The Hawks defense held again with Colclough making a big stop on third down and forcing a punt.
However, the Monmouth offense went nowhere on their ensuing possession. But Schabel’s punt was muffed by Londono at the Monmouth 39 with Dre Tucker recovering at the Towson 40-yard line.
Shirden rushed for nine yards on first down and on second down McCray’s deep pass was incomplete, but the Towson defender was called for a facemask penalty giving the Hawks a first down at the 16-yard line.
On the next play, Kearney got free in the endzone splitting two defenders and McCray threw a dart for the touchdown and 28-17 lead with 9:41 left in the game.
McCray had another solid game for the Hawks, completing 21-of-30 passes for 237 yards and two touchdown passes. Kearney finished with four catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
“I tell you what, Marquez is the guy, he’s a player,” said Callahan of his new quarterback. “He does a good job of managing our offense, putting the ball where it needs to go and he’s an accurate passer and he’s smart with the ball. He just does some really good things out there and never seems to get rattled.”
Monmouth's offense put up 437 yards of total offense, 237 through the air and 200 on the ground.
Towson’s All-CAA kick returner, D’Ago Hunter returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards setting the Tigers up at Monmouth’s 35-yard line and they scored five plays later with Kent finding Danile Thompson IV for a 12-yard touchdown. The Tigers attempted at a two-point conversion failed so the score remained 28-23 with 7:37 remaining in the game.
Monmouth’s defense then took control of the game the rest of the way and the Hawks went on to a 42-23 victory moving to 1-1 on the year but more importantly 1-0 in the CAA.
The Hawks were picked to finish eighth in the CAA this season with Towson picked ninth. Last season, Towson beat Monmouth 52-48 in West Long Branch and finished seventh (6-5, 4-4) in the CAA while Monmouth finished ninth (5-6, 3-5) so this game was a good barometer for the Hawks to use.
Anytime you can pick up a conference win on the road no matter who you’re playing, it’s a job well done.
- Monmouth's Season Of Frustrating Losses Comes To A Merciless Conclusion - November 20, 2023
- Monmouth wastes Miller's record-breaking day in loss to New Hampshire - November 12, 2023
- Monmouth overpowers winless Stony Brook at home - November 5, 2023