By Ryan Fennell
West Long Branch – The Monmouth Hawks maintained ball possession for more than half the game, they were perfect inside the red zone, they converted on third-down nearly sixty-percent of the time, and they put 24 points up on the board.
But, with a defense that allowed 9-yards per play and 539-yards in total offense, 24 points was no match against a University of Albany offense that seemingly scored at will to top the Hawks, 41-24, and extend Monmouth’s home losing streak to 5.
“It’s definitely a problem,” said Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan of his team’s defense. “We’re struggling more so on the defensive side of the ball than we have in a number of years. We’re allowing a lot more big plays than I can ever remember.”
“There are certain positions we’re not playing as well as we need to play to be more successful,” Callahan added. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I don’t think there’s any secret about that.”
Monmouth scored on their first drive to open the game going 69-yards in 12 plays to set up a 37-yard field goal from Eric Spillane.
However, after trading punts, Albany scored its first touchdown on its second drive of the game in only two plays; Albany quarterback Dan DiLella completed to wide receiver Cole King for 32-yards and tailback Drew Smith took it in from the one to put the Great Danes up, 7-3.
Monmouth answered with a 78-yard, 16 play drive that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown pass from QB Craig Peterson to tight-end Mike McLafferty to put the Hawks on top 10-7.
But only 3 Albany plays later the Hawks trailed, 14-10, when DiLella hit Brian Parker for a 55-yard touchdown strike.
The Monmouth defense seemed to have found its swagger at the end of the first and in the opening minutes of the second half.
A monumental goal line stand kept Albany out of the end zone after a 1st and goal from the Monmouth 3 became a 4th and goal from inside the one-yard line and Albany turned the ball over on downs to essentially end the first half.
On Albany’s first drive of the second half, Monmouth’s Jameson Zacharias intercepted a DiLella pass at the Monmouth 41 and returned it 20-yards to the Albany 39. Monmouth later scored on a five-yard rush by running back Julian Hayes to go back on top, 17-14.
The Monmouth defense again stopped Albany on fourth and goal to force a 23-yard field goal from Herb Glass to tie the game at 17.
But, Monmouth was forced to punt on its next possession and, once again, Albany’s offense exploded for a touchdown on two plays for 68 yards. On 2nd and 4 from their own 38, Smith broke free for a 62-yard run and the go-ahead touchdown.
The turning point in the game came two possessions later for Monmouth after Albany attempted, but missed a 52-yard field goal and the Hawks took over at their own 35 trailing by a touchdown with 11:27 to go in the game.
Peterson faked a hand-off and kept the ball and broke out for 18 yards and into Albany territory. On the next play Peterson sprinted left under pressure and had a man open down the right sideline, but his pass hung up short and was picked off by Albany’s Leon Sadler. Six plays and 86-yards later Albany was in the end zone again and on their way to victory to stay atop the NEC.
“We actually had them beat on the play,” Peterson said. “I just wasn’t able to get it off as clean as I would have like to.”
“I think we have to be a little bit better about finishing out what we do,” Peterson added. “We had some success early, they got a little pressure on us and we made the mistake with the interception there that hurt us. We’ve just got to be able to finish and be better in those tight situations when we need to be.”
With the loss, Monmouth fell to 5-5 on the year and 4-3 in the NEC, which is good for fourth place with one game left. Albany improved to 7-3, 6-1 and is tied for first place in the NEC with Duquesne.
Monmouth looks to finish the year with a winning record when they take on Wagner (3-7,3-4) this Saturday at Kessler Field.