Jaden Shirden - Monmouth Football
Jaden Shirden rushed for 276 yards and four touchdowns against Hampton. (Photo by Riley Lorenz - JSN)

Monmouth Rolls Over Hampton For Statement-Making Win

WEST LONG BRANCH – How do you get the attention of the other teams in your conference? Score 61 points – the most points the Hawks have scored at home in the 31-year history of the program and the second most in team history - that's how.

Monmouth’s sudden turnaround continued Saturday with their second straight blowout win. This one at the expense of conference foe Hampton, which came into the game tied with Monmouth in the Coastal Athletic Association standings at 1-1 and leading the conference in rushing.

“Every win feels great, I’ll tell you that right now; they’re too hard to get to be honest with you,” Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan said of his team’s 61-10 rout of the Pirates. “I felt if we came out and played up to our ability and up to our potential, we could be successful today. It was one of those games where we’ve been on both sides of them over the years and it just kind of snowballed and today it snowballed in our favor”.

Theoretically, Saturday’s win keeps Monmouth alive for a postseason berth and possibly a shot at the conference title with five CAA games remaining on their schedule.

A loss would’ve dropped the Hawks to 1-2 in the Coastal Athletic Conference and 2-4 overall, but with the win, Monmouth improved to 2-1 in the topsy turvy CAA and 3-3 overall to keep them in the hunt.

“No, I don’t think it was a do-or-die game,” said Callahan when asked if there was any added pressure to win on Saturday to keep his team alive. “We have six CAA games, including today, and we approached this week as six one-game seasons. You have to play them one at a time – you can’t go out and win six games in one afternoon.”

Monmouth Football - Tyrese Wright

Tyrese Wright is all smiles against Hampton. (Photo by Riley Lorenz - JSN)

Another lights-out performance by the Hawks' resurgent defense, an offense that seems to have really found its groove and the long-awaited premier of season two of the Jaden Shirden show highlighted Saturday’s statement making win that was played in a constant downpour at Kessler Stadium in West Long Branch.

The way the game started out, however, made it seem like it might be a long afternoon for the Hawks.

On Hampton’s first possession of the game, they drove deep into Monmouth territory putting together a 17-play scoring drive. The Hawks “bend but don’t break” defense stopped them on consecutive third-down plays, but penalties, first an offsides call, and then a face mask infraction kept the Pirates drive alive giving them a first-and-goal at the eight-yard line.

On first down, cornerback Eddie Morales III shoved Hampton running back Elijah Butts out of bounds for a four-yard loss. Monmouth’s defense then forced two incomplete passes forcing Hampton to settle for a field goal. Overcoming those two third-down penalties and holding the Pirates to a field goal there set the tone for the defense the rest of the way.

“I think on the first drive there was a little bit of feeling out of what they were doing,” Callahan said. “They did a couple of things differently and our defensive coaches made some adjustments on how we were playing some things particularly on the edge of the defense, and I think once we did that we settled in and played pretty well. To the credit of our defensive staff, they did a good job of making those adjustments.”

Hampton picked up 63 yards on their first possession of the game, but then gained just 50 yards for the remainder of the first half. On the next two Hampton possessions, the Hawks defense forced three-and-outs, while the offense was putting points up on the board.

On the Pirates ensuing kickoff following the field goal, Monmouth’s T.J. Speight broke loose and returned the kick 59 yards to the Hampton 16-yard line. On first down, Shirden picked up 12 for a first down at the four-yard line and Sone Ntoh then ran it in for his conference-leading ninth rushing touchdown and a 7-3 lead.

Speight’s dynamic kickoff return seemed to give the Hawks the spark they needed, and they never looked back.

Hampton went three-and-out on their ensuing possession with quarterback Chris Zellous’ third-down pass broken up by cornerback Mike Reid forcing a punt.

Monmouth scored on their next three possessions to take a 28-3 lead with 11:05 left in the second quarter. On their second possession of the game, the Hawks drove 47 yards in nine plays with Shirden capping off the scoring drive with a nine-yard burst off left tackle for a 14-3 lead.

Reid again forced a Hampton punt with his second consecutive third-down pass breakup and after punter Tristan Heaton shanked a punt out of bounds, the Hawks took over at the Hampton 47-yard line. On first down, Shirden found a hole off right tackle and broke it down the right sidelines for a 63-yard touchdown jaunt and a 21-3 lead with four seconds left in the first quarter.

Even though Shirden was second in the CAA in rushing coming into the contest, he still hadn’t had one of his signature games that led to his All-American status. Saturday, however, he proved he’s still the best back in the country putting on a jaw-dropping performance that saw him ring up 276 yards rushing and four touchdowns while averaging a whopping 17.3 yards per attempt.

“It felt good. I knew it was coming anyway,” the soft spoken Shirden said. “I had to be patient and I knew it was going to fine.”

Morales III, who was flawless in fielding punts despite driving rain all game, then picked up his second interception of the season with an acrobatic snag to give the Hawks a first down at their own nine-yard line. Morales III was out the last two games with an injury but him, Reid, strong safety Tyrese Wright (two tackles, PD) and free safety T.J. Kamara formed an impenetrable wall in the secondary limiting Zellous to 45-yards passing on 18 attempts.

Monmouth Football - Matt Fries

Matt Fries against Hampton. (Photo by Riley Lorenz - JSN)

Kamara was once again a force in stopping the run. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound stud had a game-high seven tackles (5 solo), along with 1.5 TFL and a broken-up pass. Kamara was second on the team in tackles a year ago and is currently second on the team with 34 tackles (23 solo) and has taken on a leadership role with his stellar play.

“Last year, I was still learning the safety spot,” Kamara said. “I’m more comfortable now that I know the assignments, not just my position, but everyone’s around me. We try to harp on that for everybody on the defense. If you can know every spot on the field you can play anywhere. The more you know, the more free you can play and that’s how it’s been the past two games.”

Freshman safety Deuce Lee, who had a pick six last week, was once again impressive recording seven tackles, including three solo stops.

The Hawks pushed the lead to 28-3 on the heels of quarterback Marquez McCray’s 57-yard pass completion to wideout Assanti Kearney down to the Hampton 24-yard line. McCray hit tight end Jack Neri for 11 yards down to the five-yard line and on the next play Ntoh rammed his way up the middle for his second touchdown of the day and 10th of the season.

Down 28-3 late in the second quarter, Hampton decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Monmouth 45-yard line, but defensive ends Nick White and Antonio Colclough stopped Zellous on a quarterback sneak for no gain and a turnover on downs. Colclough also made the stop on Butts on third-and-1 on the previous play.

Monmouth then took over at their own 45-yard line with 24 seconds left in the half. On first down, Shirden picked up 24 yards for a first down at the 31-yard line. A perfectly designed play by the Monmouth coaching staff and flawless execution then put another touchdown on the board.

With Ntoh in the backfield, Neri went in motion through backfield drawing coverage before McCray’s perfect play-action fake to Ntoh left junior tight end Ashanti Caviness Jr. wide open, and McCray lofted a perfect spiral just as he crossed the goal line for a 35-3 lead at the half.

With a 33-point cushion and rain pelting the field, it might’ve been easy to get a little complacent heading into the second half, but Speight had an answer for that. The rising junior wideout took the second-half kickoff 98-yard for a touchdown – a new school record – and the game’s momentum stayed with the Hawks.

“I’m just making the best of my opportunities,” said Speight. “I thank God for putting me in a position to be able to compete and do what I do."

Hampton eventually did score to make it 41-10, but the Hawks defense shut the door on them the rest of the way while the Hawks offense tacked on three more touchdowns.

Shirden picked up all the yardage in a two-play, 77-yard scoring drive, capping it off with a 25-yard touchdown. He then went 72 yards for the score to make it 54-10 with 4:34 still remaining in the third quarter. Reserve quarterback Frankie Servino added an eight-yard touchdown run to finish off the scoring and push the lead to 61-10.

Servino’s run was the Hawks seventh rushing touchdown of the day, which set a new school record and their nine touchdowns on the day tied a school record. The Hawks offense racked up 493 yards of total offense for the game.

Monmouth’s defense held the Pirates to 86 yards in the second half and 199 total yards for the game while Hampton converted on just 5-of-14 third-down plays.

“Any time you can play defense like that, it helps, let’s face it,” Callahan said. “Anytime you can get off the field with three-and-outs it gets the ball back to the offense and we have an offense that’s very explosive with a lot of weapons, as you saw today. Our goal on the defensive side is always to get the ball back to our offense in good field position if we can.”

Linebacker Jake Brown returned from a two-game absence due to injury and made his presence felt with six tackles while captain Ryan Moran, the Hawks leading tackler, added five tackles (three solo) and a fumble recovery.

“Obviously, very happy with the outcome today,” Callahan said. “I thought our team was well prepared. Our staff did a really good job over the last two weeks, including the bye, of getting the team ready to play and our guys came out with a great deal of focus, a lot of energy and were really intent of putting our best foot forward as a football team.

“There are always things that we can build on and things we can improve and probably do even better than we did today. We had been close to putting it all together. The last two times out we’ve come close to playing very, very good football. We’re excited where we are right now, but we know we have to be even better than we were today as we go through the next portion of the schedule.”

With Monmouth’s offense clicking on all cylinders and the defense starting to rise to the occasion, it should be an exciting five-game stretch that will write the story of the season. It all starts next week when the Hawks travel to Elon for their first ever meeting with the Phoenix.