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Courtesy: Monmouth University Photo

MONMOUTH FOOTBALL FALLS TO No. 19 LEHIGH, 28-25

Courtesy: Monmouth Sports Information
         
Release: September 14, 2013
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WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. –Wide receiver Neal Sterling (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan) caught 13 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown and running backs Julian Hayes (Middletown, Conn./Xavier [The Hun School]) and Kwabena Asante (Silver Spring, Md./James Hubert Blake [WVU]) each ran for over 100 yards, but the Monmouth University football team fell to Lehigh, 28-25, Saturday afternoon at Kessler Field. With the loss, the Hawks fall to 0-3, while the Mountain Hawks improve to 2-0.

Monmouth pulled ahead 25-21 on a 21-yard Asante run with 12:20 to play in the fourth quarter, then the Hawk defense forced a three and out deep in Lehigh territory and appeared to be in complete control of the game. Disaster struck for MU on the next play as a blocked punt ended up in Lehigh full back Zach Hayden’s hands and he went 37 yards for a first down at midfield. Two plays later Lehigh pulled ahead, for good, on a 40 yard touchdown pass.

“It’s crazy, what appeared to be a tremendously big play for us, in our favor by our special teams resulted in the turning point of the game for them,” said head coach Kevin Callahan. “We blocked the punt, our guys that blocked it continued past the block point. A Lehigh player in the shield caught it behind the line, our blockers had completely been up the field past it and all that was left were two guys who were working against their cover guys and a return man left.  You would think at that point we’d block the punt and we would be in good shape.”

Hawks quarterback Brandon Hill (Audubon, N.J./Audubon [UMass]) completed 29-of-41 attempts for 316 yards and a touchdown. Hayes ran for a team-high 106 yards on 24 carries, while Asante added 103 yards and a touchdown on just seven rushing attempts. Eric Sumlin (Dover, Del./Dover) added six receptions for 71 yards. Dave Damirgian (Churchville, Pa./Council Rock) and Gary Onuekwusi (Baltimore, Md./Paul Laurence Dunbar [Temple]) led the Hawks’ defense with eight tackles apiece, while Clark Coe had a sack and a 42-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Lehigh quarterback Brandon Bialkowski threw for 375 yards on 24-of-39 passing, including three touchdowns. Lee Kurfis was on the receiving end of most of Bialkowski’s throws, making 10 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Sergio Fernandez-Soto also made six receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown. Keith Sherman rushed for a game-high 107 yards. Tyler Ward led the Lehigh defense with 11 tackles and an interception.

Monmouth opened the scoring at the 8:09 mark of the first quarter when Coe sacked Bialkowski, forcing and recovering a fumble before rumbling 42 yards for the touchdown. Eric Spillane’s (Howell, N.J./Colts Neck) extra point made it 7-0.

The Mountain Hawks drew even at the 13:25 mark of the second quarter when Bialkowski and Kurfis connected on a 55-yard touchdown pass. Ryan Pandy’s extra point tied the score at 7-7. Later in the quarter, Lehigh quickly drove 80 yards on five plays covering 2:16. The drive was punctuated by Sean Farrell’s six-yard touchdown run, giving Lehigh a 14-7 cushion with 4:27 left in the half.

After the Hawks’ next drive stalled on a failed fourth-down conversion, the Hawks regained possession when Joe Johnson (Manchester, N.J./Manchester Township) intercepted Bialkowski, returning the ball 15 yards to the Lehigh 45-yard line with 16 seconds remaining in the half. Hill completed an 18-yard out to Thaddeus Richards (Columbus, N.J./Northern Burlington) before finding Sterling for nine more yards, setting up a 35-yard field goal attempt for Spillane. The senior kicker’s try was true as time expired on the first half, cutting the Hawks’ deficit to 14-10.

The Hawks were driving at the Lehigh 21 early in the third quarter when Hill was intercepted in the end zone by Ward. The Mountain Hawks then went 73 yards on eight plays, utilizing a fourth-down conversion and a pass interference call inside the Monmouth five yard line to set up a four-yard touchdown pass from Bialkowski to Fernandez-Soto to put the Mountain Hawks on top, 21-10, with 4:20 left in the third quarter.

The Hawks responded with a 64-yard touchdown connection between Hill and Sterling on a broken play on 3rd-and-5. Sumlin found the end zone on a reverse for the successful two-point conversion, pulling the Hawks to within 21-18 with 2:43 to play in the third quarter.

After a missed field goal by the Mountain Hawks, Kwabena Asante (Silver Spring, Md./James Hubert Blake [WVU]) led a six-play, 79-yard drive with four carries for 72 yards on his own. Included in the drive were a 34-yard scamper on the second play of the drive and a 21-yard touchdown run to put the Hawks on top, 25-21, with 12:20 to go in the fourth quarter.

The Hawks’ defense forced a three-and-out deep in Lehigh territory on the next drive. But after Tim Divers’ punt was blocked behind the line of scrimmage by Tevrin Brandon (Bethlehem, Pa./Bethlehem Catholic [UConn]), Zach Hayden gathered the ball behind the line of scrimmage and advanced 37 yards to midfield, keeping the Mountain Hawks’ drive alive. Two plays later, Bialkowski found Kurfis for a 40-yard touchdown pass, their second TD connection of the day, to put Lehigh ahead, 28-25, with 10:02 remaining.

Monmouth got the ball back three times in the final 10 minutes of the game, but couldn’t advance past the Lehigh 45-yard line.

The Hawks return to action next Saturday, Sept. 21, when they travel to Worcester, Mass., to take on Holy Cross. Kickoff from Fitton Field is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Additonal Quotes:
CALLAHAN: I thought what you saw was kind of a crazy game. The game had swings to it where both defenses were playing very well and then you had times where both offenses played extremely well. I really think that game swung when we blocked the punt, which you would think would be a big play in our favor, turned out to be the biggest play of the game probably in Lehigh’s favor and they capitalized on it to their credit. I think they are a good football team, they’re well coached and it’s no surprise that they’re top 20 nationally ranked. I thought we had an opportunity to win the game and I thought our guys played really hard.

Callahan on the running game: I thought we started slow, but particularly in the second half, we started generating some explosive plays. We had some big plays and were able to get some points on the board. In the first half, Lehigh did a pretty good job against our run game but I think we really got that going in the secondhalf. We had two running backs go over  100 yards and I thought we did a pretty good job in that area, and I think we made some timely throws that resulted in big plays for us.

Hawk Notes:
-Monmouth had two players go over 100 yards rushing for the first time since 2007 when Sinisi (200) and Giles (119) did it against Sacred Heart in 2007.
-Sterling’s 13 receptions and 126 yards were both career highs, with his 64 yard TD reception also a career long
-KB Asante’s 103 yards was a career high, he now has 197 yards in two contests against Lehigh
-Monmouth’s offense was 8-of-16 on third down while Lehigh went just 4-of-13
-Monmouth’s defense yielded a program record 590 yards to Lehigh’s offense, breaking the record set in last year’s shootout against Cornell (581)
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