WEST LONG BRANCH – Monmouth University did what it was supposed to do Saturday and they did it in impressive fashion steamrolling winless Stony Brook 56-17 in front of a packed house at Kessler Stadium on Family Weekend.
Monmouth racked up 588 yards of total offense with quarterback Maquez McCray, running back Jaden Shirden and wide receivers Dymere Miller and Assanti Kearney all having monster games for the Hawks.
“I can’t give enough credit to the guys on this team,” said Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan. “It was an all-around team effort, a team win. We had a number of guys who contributed and had big days on the offensive side. And on the defensive side they played lights out in the first half and maybe had a little lapse in the second half but for the most part they did a great job turning that offense away. Anytime you can play team football like that you put yourself in a really good position to win a game.”
What was particularly satisfying for the Hawks was their first half domination of the Seawolves (0-9). In Monmouth’s tough losses the past two weeks, slow starts were huge factors in their eventual defeat. But Saturday the Hawks put up 35 points and 345 yards of offense in the first half alone, scoring on five of their first half possessions.
Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan consistently stresses the importance of playing complementary football and Saturday the Hawks excelled in all facets of the game, offense, defense and special teams and came close to playing a complete game.
“When we play that way that’s when we’re at our best,” Callahan said of his teams complementary play Saturday. “We have a number of veteran players who have a lot of experience and they all did a really good job out there today. Our goal today was to go out and start fast and I think we did just that. Eddie (Morales III) came up with the interception down there in the end zone and we didn’t look back from that point on.”
McCray was 22-of-27 for 323 yards and four touchdowns giving him 19 touchdown passes and 2,095 yards passing for the season so far. He had scoring passes of eight, 14, nine and 46 yards on the day.
“Eddie (Morales) started off with a huge interception and then Jaden was being Jaden and that got our offense confident, and everyone was rolling,” said McCray. “When Dymere gets the ball in his hands he can make a lot happen. It’s just important that we get everybody involved in the game plan because we have a lot of really good players. Dymere had a really big first half for us and then A.K. had a really big second half which was really good.”
“I can’t say enough about what Marquez did today from the quarterback spot,” Callahan added. “He was right on today and played an almost flawless game today from what I saw.”
Shirden was his usual dynamic self rushing for 171 yards on 17 attempts (10.1 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns, including his trademark touchdown run of 81 yards where he broke free down the right sidelines and outran the entire Stony Brook secondary. His 153 yards rushing and two scores on 11 carries in the first half propelled Monmouth to a 35-3 halftime lead.
The unassuming Shirden now leads the country in rushing yards (1,344) and rushing yards per game (149.3).
Miller and Kearney took turns dominating halves with Miller having a huge first half which saw him haul in eight McCray passes for 118 yards, including an eight-yard touchdown catch which pushed the score to 28-3. Miller finished with 11 catches for a career-high 150 yards and a touchdown. On the season, Miller has 74 receptions for 910 yards while averaging 101.1 yards per game – good for first in the CAA in all three categories.
Kearney had been quiet in his last couple games but responded with his best game of the season Saturday. After catching just one pass for eight yards in the first half, Kearney broke out with four catches for 116 yards, including a pretty 46-yard touchdown reception in the second half.
“We had a lot of guys step up and have season highs and just do a great job,” said Callahan of his team offensive explosion.
Cornerback Eddie Morales’ end zone interception on Stony Brook’s first possession of the game just might’ve been the most important play of the game. The Seawolves received the opening kickoff and drove all the way to the Monmouth 13-yard line where they were facing a second-and-9. On the play, Morales III had tight coverage and undercut the pass for an interception right in front of the pylon for a game-changing pick.
“Eddies play got us going on both sides of the ball,” said Callahan.
So, instead of possibly trailing 7-0 early and feeling like, “here we go again,” Monmouth took over at their own 20-yard line and proceeded to march 80-yards in nine plays for the go-ahead touchdown and from that point on it was all Monmouth. Shirden capped off the drive with a sensational 17-yard touchdown run where he broke two tackles, spun out of another and pranced into the end zone - no surprise there.
“That’s our job on defense to get the ball back to our offense and let them do what they do,” said Morales III. “At the end of the day if we can take that ball away regardless of where at on the field and give the ball back to our offense that’s a win.”
Two possessions later on first-and-10 at their own 19, Shriden took it to the house for 81 yards and a 14-3 lead. Monmouth then scored on its next three possessions while the defense forced three, three-and-outs and the Hawks rolled into halftime with a 35-3 lead.
Sone Nitoh scored on a one-yard burst, McCray connected with Miller for an eight-yard touchdown and Dre Tucker hauled in a 14-yard McCray pass completing the process with an acrobatic toe-tap to stay in bounds.
The Hawks kicking game which has been a sore spot this season, was solid Saturday with junior Vincenzo Rea connecting on all five extra-point kicks in the first half and going seven-for-seven for the game with Eric Berstein converting on one extra-point kick on the games final score.
In the first half the Hawks offense was 4-for-5 on third down conversions and 5-of-8 for the game, while the defense held Stony Brook to just 5-of-12 on third downs for the game.
The Hawks had just one penalty called against them in the first half for excess celebration following Nitoh’s touchdown and finished with three calls against them for 25 yards.
For the game, Monmouth was a perfect 6-for-6 in the red zone, which speaks for itself.
Receiving the second-half kickoff, Monmouth drove 65 yards in seven plays to inflate the lead to 42-3. McCray faked a handoff to Shirden on a perfectly executed play-action before finding tight end Jack Neri wide open in the back of the end zone for the score.
With a 42-3 lead, the Hawks defense was then lulled to sleep and gave up two quick scoring drives to make the score 42-17. They eventually woke up and forced a three-and-out and a punt and the Hawks offense went back to work driving 80 yards in five plays with Kearny grabbing a 46-yard touchdown pass from McCray for a 49-17 lead with 7:48 left in the game.
Jake Brown led a solid Hawks defensive effort with 10 tackles, including four solo tackles and a TFL.
Callahan emptied his bench at this point and the second unit, led by sophomore quarterback Enzo Arjona and sophomore running back Makhi Green, drove 67 yards in nine plays to put the finishing touches on the rout. Makhi, who finished with 48 yards rushing and a touchdown on eight carries, scored on a seven-yard touchdown run to cap off the scoring.
The unsung hero in the game, however, was Monmouth's offensive line which had another outstanding game.
"None of our guys would be able to do what they do without the play of our offensive line upfront," said Callahan. "They did a great job of protecting Marquez and then they opened up some great holes. They just grind it out play after play and they don't get enough recognition for what they do. They get their satisfaction out of seeing the other guys have stat lines like they did today."
With the win, Monmouth improves to 4-5 overall and 3-3 in the CAA. Saturday, Elon defeated Delaware to forge a five-way tie atop the CAA standings with Delaware, Villanova, UAlbany, Richmond and Elon all sitting at 5-1 in the conference.
In hindsight, if Hawks had beaten Elon and William and Mary in games they lost by a combined five points and could’ve and should’ve won, they would now be tied for first in the conference with two games to go. But that’s life in CAA as the Hawks are finding out the hard way.
“We’re coming off two very tough weeks against two outstanding teams in Elon and William and Mary and we were right there at the very end with chances to win,” said Callahan. “Unfortunately, they didn’t go our way, but it hasn’t dampened our spirits at all. We have a lot of resiliency on this team and I think that showed here today. I’m very excited for them to get this win.
“We’ve got two really good teams in front of us (New Hampshire at home next week and the University of Albany on the road the following week) and we’re going to go out and play as good as football as we can.”
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