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Hawks in battle for first place in NEC

first_imgBY DOMINICK RINELLI JR. Correspondent BY DOMINICK RINELLI JR.Correspondent Above, Monmouth’s T.J. Cerezo returns a Robert Morris fumble for a touchdown during the Hawks 14-0 win in front of a Homecoming Day crowd in West Long Branch. Below, quarterback Brian Boland fires the ball over the defense. The Monmouth University football team (5-2, 3-1 NEC) accomplished a feat Saturday at Kessler Field on Homecoming Day that only two other teams were able to do when the Hawks shut out Robert Morris University (2-5, 1-3 NEC). Monmouth defeated Robert Morris, 14-0, in Northeast Conference play during a defensively controlled contest by holding the Colonial offense to 222 yards of total offense and forcing five turnovers in a game that was affected by the rain and wind of Mother Nature. PHOTOS BY CHRIS KELLY staff Yet to junior middle linebacker Mike Castellano, the weather could not have been better. “I always like playing in the rain,” he said, “especially on defense; the ball pops out a little more.” Monmouth jumped out in front 7-0 as junior quarterback Brian Boland hit junior wide receiver Shane Sharpley on a slant pattern with 10:06 remaining in the first half. “We had one-on-one, basically, and Shane made a great move on the slant. He got inside and made a great play for a touchdown,” said Boland. Sharpley’s TD reception, his first in his career as a Hawk, capped a two-play, 19-yard drive that ticked only 48 seconds off the game clock. Senior Jesse Orbach gave the Blue and White field position within the red zone after recovering a Robert Morris fumble. Less then four minutes later, sophomore linebacker T.J. Cerezo recovered yet another Colonial fumble, which occurred during the center-quarterback exchange. No. 56 scooped up the loose ball and scampered 44 yards down the sideline to pay dirt to put the Hawks in front 14-0. “Well, they did a great job,” said head coach Kevin Callahan when asked about the defense’s performance. “Not only did we a do a good job of containing Robert Morris’ offense, which was averaging about 30 points per game, we were also able to get a couple of turnovers to put us in good field position.” The Hawks defense is ranked eighth in Division I-AA in rushing defense by limiting their opponents to an average of 94.4 rush yards per game. Boland finished 8-of-21 on the day with 99 yards and one interception, while running back Bobby Smith rushed for 100 yards on 15 carries. Both teams’ offenses ended the day five-of-16 on third-down conversion attempts, which resulted in 15 punts. Callahan praised his punter, Sean Dennis, who booted the ball eight times on the day — four of which pinned the Colonials inside the 20-yard line. “Sean Dennis did a good job by pinning them several times down in their 5-yard line and giving them a long field to go,” the coach said. Not a factor in the victory for the Blue and White was senior wide receiver Miles Austin, who recorded one reception for a 12-yard gain. Austin left the game in the first quarter with an ankle sprain, according to Callahan, but should be ready to play in their next game this Saturday. Despite only seeing limited action in the victory, Austin remains first in Division I-AA in receiving yards per game (133.71), second in receiving yards (936) and third in scoring (10.29 ppg). And then there were two Going into Saturday’s Northeast Conference football matchups, Monmouth was in a five-way tie for first place. After all was said and done, Monmouth was left along with Central Connecticut State University to claim the No. 1 ranking in the NEC — a CCSU team that will host the Hawks this coming Saturday. This Saturday’s game, with a slated 1 p.m. kickoff, has a lot riding on it, and Callahan stresses the magnitude of this game. “This is as big as it gets right now,” he said. “We said a week ago that we had four straight weeks of conference games to determine a championship, and the right things have happened outside of our control — with Wagner losing. Now everything is in our control.” Callahan is not overly concerned if Austin is unable to compete Saturday. The wideout underwent an X-ray earlier in the week. “We have guys that can come in and who have made big plays,” the coach said. “We’re fortunate that that position is one that’s not only talented but fairly deep. “It’s important that we get ready to go play a championship game on Saturday,” said Callahan. The Hawks are 7-4 all-time against the Blue Devils, and were victorious, 9-6, the last time the two teams faced off on Oct. 30, 2004, here in New Jersey. Kicker Steve Andriola broke the 6-6 tie as time expired with a 29-yard field goal to win the game.last_img

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