Montclair State Red Hawks

Red Hawks football finish 2023 season at Sprague Field

The Montclair State University Red Hawks football had its regular season finale moved from Saturday, Nov. 11 to Friday Nov. 10, but that did not help them at all. In fact, the Red Hawks' wings were clipped from the opening kickoff, and could never take full flight on a cold November night at Sprague Field.

Montclair State's opponent, the Muhlenberg Mules only scored one touchdown in the first quarter but would stretch their lead to 28-7 by halftime and never look back. Sophomore running back Henry Lewis ended up being the biggest bright spot for a Red Hawk team led by first-year head coach Mike Palazzo, as Lewis finished with 129 yards and a touchdown.

With the Red Hawks trailing 21-7 late in the second quarter, their quarterback Aidan McLaughlin threw a pass down the right side of the field that was intercepted. Muhlenberg's Dominick Visintin ran the ball all the way into the end zone for a pick six and gave the home team a 21-point deficit heading into halftime.

When the Red Hawks lost McLaughlin early in the second half, junior Mason Murdock took over the signal-calling duties. However, neither he nor the entire offense would be able to make a dent in the Muhlenberg defense, which shut them out for the third quarter.

Three minutes inside the fourth quarter, Murdock handed the ball off to Abellany Mendez who dipped and dodged his way into the end zone, thanks to great blocking. This gave the Red Hawks 14 points, but by that point, the game was well out of reach because the visitors held a 42-14 lead.

Montclair State's veteran defense didn't want to give up 50 points in the final game of their college football careers, so they stood their ground while Muhlenberg were looking to pound the ball into the endzone once more. With less than a minute left and Muhlenberg at the ten-yard line, the Mules' quarterback handed the ball off to his running back. Red Hawk junior, Jake Colon ran into the backfield and tackled him behind the line of scrimmage.

As a result of Colon's big play, Muhlenberg had to settle for a field goal. The kick attempt from Nick Stannard was good and raised the Mules point total to 45 and that's where it remained until the final whistle blew.

The Mules came into the campus of Montclair State University and crushed Red Hawk hopes of ending their first season under Palazzo with a winning record by handing them a tough, 45-14 loss.

Red Hawks Reflect on Season

This season marked the start of a new era because before it started, Montclair State's longtime head coach Rick Giancola retired after 40 years on the sidelines. Mike Palazzo took over and was able to guide the Red Hawks to a 5-5 overall record and 4-2 record against the NJAC Conference.

After the game, Palazzo reflected on his team's effort all season long as well as the future of the program which is now his to lead.

Tonight, we saw the top of the mountain. We know the work that has to go into getting there. Excited for the future. Also, want to thank the seniors for taking a chance on us and helping the program be in a better place.

This year's MSU Football team included a grand total of 19 seniors and fifth years. The entire offensive line was made up of seniors and one fifth year player and while it isn't clear which will be returning for a fifth year, the program may lose both fifth year running back Abellany Mendez and senior wide receiver Clarence Wilkins, who led the team in yards and touchdowns.

If Friday was the end for Rutherford's Abellany Mendez, he went out with a bang. He scored a touchdown at Sprague field, which he's called home for the last five years. Additionally, Mendez led the team in both rushing yards and touchdowns for each of the last two seasons.

Nevertheless, the future of the Red Hawk backfield looks bright because Henry Lewis sho0uld be within its ranks going forward. In the season finale, the sophomore from Mercer County gained 129 yards in addition to scoring a touchdown. Lewis also finished the season with the most yards (597) and fourth-most TDs (3).

Montclair State's conference record placed them fourth in the NJAC standings and as the last moments of their season ticked away, they remained in contention to win the NJAC.

Although they didn't win any titles or make too much noise, this year's Football team accomplished some things in the face of a major transition for the program. And if this is the rockiest year that Coach Palazzo ends up having, he will have a successful career.

Anthony Paradiso
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