SMITHFIELD, R.I.- Monmouth University (6-5) withstood a late charge by Bryant University (4-7) to come away with a 21-18 victory on Saturday afternoon.
Monmouth dominated the first half, earning a 21-3 advantage at halftime. Bryant scored a pair of touchdowns in the second half and converted a two point conversion to cut the lead to three with 12:31 to play in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs got the ball back with just over nine minutes to play at their own 19 and marched to the MU 19, converting a third and 24.
Linebacker Dave Damirgian (Churchville, Pa./Council Rock) stuffed back to back runs on the goal line to set up a third and goal from the three. Bulldog quarterback Mike Westerhaus appeared to throw the go ahead strike to reigning NEC Offensive Player of the Year Jordan Harris but Harris was flagged for pass interference on the play. After an incomplete set up a fourth and goal from the 18, Bryant senior Tom Alberti was called on to attempt the game-tying 35 yard field goal with 3:27 remaining.
Alberti’s kick sailed wide left and the Hawks took over from their own 20. Six consecutive Kwabena Asante (Silver Spring, Md./Hubert Blake/WVU) runs got the ball over midfield and the Hawks were able to take a knee to preserve the win.
“I thought it was a game where at the half we were in control of things, I liked what we were doing on both sides of the ball,” said Head Coach Kevin Callahan. “You have to give Bryant credit, they rebounded from that and were able to do a good job in the second half. Defensively, they really limited what we were able to do on offense and offensively they were able to get some things going through the air that got them back in the game. To the credit of our players, I thought when we had to make a stop on defense we did. In the last four minutes when we needed to run the clock out our offensive line and backs did a good job of getting first downs.”
Junior running back Julian Hayes (Middletown, Conn./Xavier/The Hun School) became the third back in school history to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark on a five yard run in the second quarter. Hayes finished with 86 yards on 20 carries, including a 23 yard touchdown scamper. Quarterback Brandon Hill (Audubon, N.J./Audubon/UMass) was 10-of-18 for 130 yards and an interception. Tight end Mike McLafferty (Morgan, N.J./War Memorial) had 80 of those yards on four catches with a touchdown reception.
Bryant took over after a partially blocked punt on MU’s first possession and worked the ball down the Monmouth 17 mostly by keeping third down manageable. The defense held in the redzone, forcing a 38 yard field goal with 5:47 to play in the first. Alberti’s kick split the uprights and the Bulldogs took a 3-0 lead.
The Bulldog appeared to get another stop but MU punter Eric Spillane (Howell, N.J./Colts Neck) was roughed on a punt and Hill hit McLafferty for 52 yards on the next play setting up a first and 10 from the Bryant 11. After a Hawk timeout, Hill zipped a perfect pass to McLafferty in the endzone to put Monmouth up 7-3 with 2:56 to play in the first quarter.
Tevrin Brandon (Bethlehem, Pa./Bethlehem Catholic/UConn) put the Hawks up 14-3 after coming clean on a punt, blocking it and then scooping and scoring from 18 yards out with 41 seconds remaining in the 1st quarter.
Hayes’ 23 yard touchdown run with 3:48 to play in the second gave Monmouth a 21-3 cushion. The run came one play after the Middletown, Conn. native became the third MU back in school history to eclipse the 1,000 yard rushing plateau.
Bryant broke into the endzone with 3:36 left in the third quarter on a 14 yard Ryan Black run. The Bryant drive was aided by a 23 yard punt and then a roughing the passer call. It was on that drive that Harris caught his first pass from Westerhaus and his second pass overall. The drive went four plays for 52 yards and eating up just 1:18 of clock.
The Bulldogs pulled to within three with just over 12 minutes left in the game, when Westerhaus hit Harris for a 12 yard touchdown strike. The senior quarterback then came back and hit a wide open Jose DePadua for the two point conversion to cut the MU margin to 21-18. Bryant would get one last chance to tie the game or go for the win but would be turned away after the missed field goal.
Asante finished with 78 yards on 13 carries, including 40 on Monmouth’s game-sealing driving when he ran the ball six straight times. Brandon had 7.5 tackles for MU in addition to his punt block returned for a touchdown. Fellow corner Joe Johnson (Manchester, N.J./Manchester) had seven tackles while Damirgian finished with seven tackles including three for a loss and a sack.
Bryant held a 365-239 advantage in yardage and had the ball for 30:15 while converting eight of 17 third down attempts. Westerhaus threw for 264 yards and a touchdown, 96 of those yards going to Chad Ward. Harris finished with six catches for 76 yards. Bulldog backs Michael Perry and Ryan Black finished with 59 and 55 yards respectively. Linebacker Marquise Watson finished with a game-high 8.5 tackles for Bryant.
Monmouth returns to the field next Saturday on Senior Day for a 12 p.m. showdown with Duquesne.
-Brandon’s blocked punt for a TD was the first since Andrew Sutton did it against Saint Francis in 2012
-Hayes joins David Sinisi (3x) and Chris Reed as the only backs to go over the 1,000 yard mark in a season
-Monmouth did not throw a pass in the fourth quarter, running the ball 12 times
-MU’s defense had 11 tackles for a loss, including four sacks
-At halftime Bryant had zero yards rushing (including sacks against) and 115 total yards
- Harris had just one catch at halftime, on a fake punt and two catches heading into the fourth quarter
-The MU offense will have a chance at history next week as Asante needs just 54 yards to hit 1,000 and team with Julian Hayes to be the first MU tandem of backs to eclipse 1,000 yards in a single season
Coach Callahan on limiting Jordan Harris until the fourth quarter
“Our guys up front did a good job of putting pressure on the quarterback. Even times when we didn’t have a sack we were able to knock him down . We mixed up our coverages and did a lot of different things to limit him. Due to some injuries in the secondary we weren’t able to keep mixing it up the way we would have liked in the second half. Jordan Harris is a good receiver, he made some terrific catches there.