NEWARK, DEL – On the second play of the game, Monmouth's star running back Jaden Shirden raced 69 yards for a touchdown giving the Hawks a quick 7-0 lead after Eric Bernstein's extra-point kick.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, that was as good as it would get. Things rapidly spiraled out of control as 19th-ranked Delaware dominated Monmouth on both sides of the ball en route to a 49-17 drubbing of the Hawks.
"This was a game where we had to play our absolute best in every single aspect of the game and we weren't able to do that," said Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan. "When you don't do those things and you play against a really good team you really make it difficult on yourself. Delaware's a hell of a football team, I'm not taking anything away from them, but today we didn't help ourselves in a number of different instances and other times we hurt ourselves. And when you do that, it makes for a long afternoon."
Delaware came into the game angry after taking one on the chin last week in its 27-7 upset loss to Elon, and they subsequently took it out on the Hawks Saturday at Delaware Stadium in front of over 16,000 fans.
By halftime, the Blue Hens had already piled up 42 points on the beleaguered Monmouth defense and gained a whopping 365 yards of total offense, including 21 first downs, which would've been productive numbers for an entire game.
Monmouth, however, was still very much in it until late in the first quarter trailing by only four, 14-10, when the roof fell in on the snake-bit Hawks.
The Hawks' defense forced a rare three-and-out after an eight-yard sack by Remi Johnson on third-and-7 at the Delaware 31-yard line. Hens punter Ben Dinkel then boomed a line-drive punt that Monmouth returner Dymere Miller unwisely attempted to make a running over-the-head catch but fumbled the ball away with Delaware recovering at the Hawks' 8-yard line.
"That was kind of a bad decision by our punt returner," said Callahan. "It's going over his head, he's running backwards and tries to field it. It's probably going to bounce into the end zone but instead they end up getting the ball at the 8-yard line. You can't give anyone, let alone Delaware, an opportunity like that."
Two plays later, Marcus Yarns took it in from four yards out, pushing the Hens' lead to 21-10, and they never looked back, increasing their lead to 42-10 by the end of the first half.
So, instead of being down by just four with the ball, the Hawks were suddenly in an 11-point hole that they never recovered from, with Delaware scoring touchdowns on their next four possessions while its defense shut the door on the Hawks' offense.
Monmouth, playing without standout quarterback Tony Muskett for the second consecutive game, was held to just 55 total yards in the second quarter and 40 in the third quarter as the Delaware defense gave true freshman quarterback Enzo Arjona fits in his second career start. Arjona ended up completing 8-of-19 passes for 90 yards on the day.
Former Saint John Vianney standout linebacker Johnny Buchanan led the Delaware defense with ten tackles for his sixth double-digit performance of the season. He also added 0.5 sack, one tackle for loss and a fumble recovery. Buchanan entered the game as the FCS leading tackler with 102 while averaging 12.8 tackles per game.
"They're a complex defense to figure out; they give you an awful lot of looks," said Callahan. "In game planning for them you have to be careful how much you put in because there's so many variables involved in that. And defensively we knew we had to play perfect football and we didn't. We gave up some big plays early and if you do that against a team that has the ability to grind it out it's going to make it tough."
Delaware finished with 506 yards of total offense and 30 first downs. It was the third time in the last five games that the Monmouth defense gave up 500-plus yards. The Hens scored touchdowns on seven of their first eight possessions of the game and missed a 36-yard field goal on their ninth possession.
On the bright side, Shirden continued his assault on Colonial Athletic Association defenses rushing for 202 yards and a touchdown on 26 attempts. Shirden has now eclipsed the 200-yard mark four times this season, one behind Peter Guerriero's record five 200-yard games. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound speedster now has an FCS-leading 1,588 rushing yards on 183 attempts for an 8.6 yards per carry average.
Delaware received the second-half kickoff and promptly marched 75 yards in six plays to extend their lead to 49-10. On their second possession of the half, an 11-play drive ended in a missed field goal. At that point, Delaware head coach Ryan Carty began substituting freely with two critical games remaining against Richmond and Villanova, respectively, with the Hens (7-2, 4-2) still in the hunt for the CAA title or in the least an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs.
Quarterback Nolan Henderson connected with junior wideout Marcus Yarns for a 23-yard touchdown reception for his fifth touchdown pass of the game – tying a Delaware record and becoming the first player in program history to do it twice in his career. Henderson completed 22-of-28 passes and five touchdowns for 323 yards and ran for a touchdown giving him six scores on the day.
Nine Delaware players combined to rush for 183 yards while Henderson targeted eight different receivers, with Townsend's three receptions for 85 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown, leading the pack.
Monmouth got on the board late in the fourth quarter, driving 78 yards in 12 plays, with running back Juwan Farri finishing off the drive with a 20-yard burst to make it 49-17.
It seems like only yesterday that Monmouth was in the thick of things in the race for the CAA title. They had won four games in a row to improve to 4-2 and 2-1 in the CAA, with their two losses coming by a combined 13 points. But then the grind of playing in the elite CAA weekly against one tough team after another took its toll on the Hawks as things went south rapidly.
Monmouth has now lost four in a row to fall to 4-6 and 2-5 in the conference.
Six CAA teams are now ranked in the latest STATS Perform Top 25. The Hawks knew coming into the conference that it wasn't going to be a cakewalk, but after such a promising start, their rapid decline is such a hard pill to swallow. With one game left against Stony Brook following a bye week, they have time to regroup, heal up and finish the season on a high note with a win in their final game.
"It's always important to close out your season with a win," said Callahan. "It shapes your attitude and mindset as you go into the winter and spring. Obviously, every game in the CAA is important and we knew that going in. We got to try to pick the pieces up and put it together and put our best effort on the field next time out against Stony Brook."
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