WEST LONG BRANCH – Monmouth University's million-dollar scoreboard got a real workout as the Hawks and Fordham University combined to put up 101 points Saturday at Kessler Stadium.
The back-and-forth shootout was eventually won by the Rams on 14-yard scoring pass from FCS Preseason All-American QB Tim DeMorat to CAA First Team wideout Fotis Kokosioulis with 56 seconds remaining in the game.
Monmouth got the ball back at their own 25-yard line with just under a minute left in the contest and moved to the 42-yard line. But with Fordham in a prevent defense and keeping everything in front of them in the secondary, quarterback Tony Muskett’s last second Hail-Mary pass was batted down at the goal line and the Rams held on to a crazy 52-49 victory.
“We didn’t finish on defense, at the end of the half or at the end of the game,” Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan said. “If you’re going to win games that’s something you got to be able to do – being able to finish and we weren’t able to do that today. We couldn’t get ourselves off the field, we couldn’t win third-down situations and we gave up too many big plays. There’s a lot we have to get better at, especially on the defensive side, before we’re going to be a good football team.”
The two teams combined for a whopping 1,419 yards of total offense with the Hawks barely outgaining the Rams 713 to 706. The Rams, however, had a distinct advantage in first downs, 35 to 23, time of possession 35:37 to 24:08 and plays 91 to 62.
The Hawks' 713 yards of total offense was the second most in school history.
Monmouth’s quick-strike offense was on display with the Hawks scoring on two one-play drives, a three-play drive and a four-play drive while the Rams had sustained scoring drives of 11, 10, nine and eight plays that took its toll on the Hawks defense.
DeMorant connected on 34-of-51 passes for a career high 452 yards while tying his own single game mark of six scoring strikes. With his six touchdown passes Saturday, DeMorant became Fordham’s career passing touchdown leader with 76. The record-breaking quarterback also rushed for 50 yards on seven designed keepers that were instrumental in extending drives.
One of the areas Monmouth needed to improve upon entering Saturday’s game was its pass rush. However, its top two pass rushers, Nick Shoemaker and Zamon Robinson, were inactive Saturday and the Hawks once again struggled to put any pressure on the quarterback finishing with 0 sacks. With all day to pass out of a clean pocket, DeMorant repeatedly picked apart the secondary.
“We got to find ways to pressure (the QB) and also make sure we’re not isolating to many of our guys in coverage," Callahan said. "We believe people have to step up and play no matter who we have out there. We need to do a better job of putting pressure on the quarterback which we weren’t able to do today with any consistency. There were to many times when we did have pressure, he (DeMorant) was able to escape the pocket, extend the play and find somebody to dump it off too and give them a key first down.”
Not to be overshadowed, Muskett was superb in his own right completing 14-of-27 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns while digging the Hawks out of a late 10-point deficit to take a four-point lead.
The Hawks were held to 62 yards rushing and a 1.7 yards per carry average in last week's loss to New Hampshire and entering Saturday’s clash with Fordham one of its main objectives was to get the running game untracked – mission accomplished.
“We said coming out of last week that we had to run the ball better,” Callahan said. “We definitely did that today and when you can do that it opens up a lot of other things in your offense. It all goes into that balance you want to have on offense being able to both run and pass the ball equally well and today we demonstrated we have the ability to do that.”
Behind a reinvigorated offensive line, Monmouth sophomore running back Jaden Shirden set the Monmouth single-game rushing record with 299 yards on just 12 attempts while averaging 24.9 yards per carry with touchdown runs of 95 and 80 yards. As a team, the Hawks rushed for 390 yards which is second most in school history.
“I want to congratulate Jaden and our offense, they did a phenomenal job today,” said Callahan. “They kept answering the bell, getting us out of a hole and giving us a lead. The numbers speak for themselves. Jaden really demonstrated his explosiveness, his ability to take it to the house and he had great vision finding the right holes, having patience with it and being able to accelerate when he got to that point.”
Juwon Farri added 55 yards on 11 attempts for a 5-yard average while Owen Wright picked up 34 yards on the ground averaging 5.7 yards on six carries.
After Fordham scored on its first possession to go up 7-0, Muskett connected with Alex Bryant for a 60-yard touchdown. Bryant got loose down the left sidelines and Muskett hit him in stride with a perfect spiral to tie the game at seven.
The Hawks then forced a Rams three-and-out and punt, taking over on their own 5-yard line after a holding penalty on the kick.
With Monmouth now looking at a first-and- 10 from the 5-yard line, Muskett handed off to Shirden who turned on the dime cutting towards the right sidelines before kicking it up a notch and outrunning what seemed like the entire Fordham defense for a 95-yard touchdown run and a 14-7 lead.
“They blitzed to the left side, I saw a cutback lane and I took it to the house,” Shirden said of his epic run. “If I see an open crease, I’m going to take it and if I can make them miss, I make them miss.”
On Fordham’s ensuing possession, cornerback Eddie Morales III picked off DeMorant with acrobatic one-hand grab at the Monmouth 28-yard line. The interception was Morales’ second of the season.
Shirden then ripped off a nifty 35-yard run on first down to the Fordham 37-yard line. A 35-yard Muskett to Assanti Kearney completion set up Wrights 1-yard touchdown plunge for a 20-7 lead after a failed extra point attempt with 5:42 left in the first quarter.
Kearney finished with five receptions for 121 yards and showed up big on Saturday.
Monmouth went up 26-14 on a Dre Tucker 15-yard touchdown catch from Muskett with 11:58 left in the first half. However, two DeMorant touchdown passes – the second with 21 seconds left in the half – gave the Rams a 28-26 lead at intermission.
After falling further behind, 35-26, to start the third quarter, Shirden sprinted for an 80-yard touchdown run to pull the Hawks to within 35-32 with 9:58 remaining in the third. Shirden found a hole off left tackle and broke it into the second level before his blazing speed took over again and he outraced the nearest defender into the endzone.
Monmouth’s defense was just as porous against the run as it was the pass, surrendering 254 yards on the ground with Fordham averaging 6.4 yards per attempt. 2022 Patriot League Preseason First Team running back Trey Sneed torched the Hawks for 110 yards on 17 attempts for a 6.5-yard average while sophomore Julius Loughridge added 94 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
The Hawks fell behind 45-35 with 14:46 left in the fourth quarter before staging what at the time seemed like a game winning comeback - but it was not to be.
A Muskett fueled nine play, 65-yard touchdown drive pulled the Hawks to within one score, 45-42, with 11:20 left in the fourth. Two straight Muskett to Carrington completions gave the Hawks a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. Two plays later, Wright took it over from the 1-yard line and the Hawks were in business.
Fordham promptly drove to the Hawks 22-yard line, but the Monmouth defense stiffened and on fourth-and-4 from the 16-yard line DeMorat – pressured by linebacker Ryan Moran and end Justin O’Bannon – was intercepted by Terrell Smith at the 8-yard line.
Now, down by three with 6:29 to go, Muskett engineered a six play, 92-yard touchdown drive to take a 49-45 lead.
Shirden gained 19 yards on second down, then on first-and-10 from their own 39-yard line, Shirden bolted another 37 yards to the Rams 24-yard line. On the next play, Wright took up the middle all the way to the house for the go-ahead score, 49-45.
Unfortunately, there was still 4:01 left on the clock and DeMorant worked his magic one more time against a totally gassed Monmouth defense for the win.
A dejected Morales III tried to look on the positive side after another tough loss for the Hawks, “We’re playing hard, we know we’re playing hard. Obviously, the score in the passing game is not what we wanted and going 0-2 is not how we wanted to start the season as a team. At the end of the day we still have 9,10,11 games to play and we still have stuff we need to do in and out of conference. We’re not losing because of lack of effort or lack of focus. We’ve got to keep pushing and work together, especially as a defense.”
Monmouth falls to 0-2 on the season but if they can somehow right the defense there is definitely reason for optimism moving forward with the way Muskett and company lit up the scoreboard Saturday.
“I’m very happy with the resiliency this team showed and how they responded to adversity,” Callahan said. “We found ourselves down by 10 and we came back from that to take the lead, so it is a very resilient group. They’re fighters, they’re going to play hard and they’re going to play a full game. And that’s a very valuable trait we can build on. If you have those things going for you, you’re going to be okay. We just have to fix some things of what we’re doing.”