CHARLESTON, S.C. – One of the main objectives for Monmouth University entering Saturday’s Big South clash against Charleston Southern (1-1, 0-1) was to avoid the turnovers that had plagued the team in its first two games of the season.
A week ago in their win against Fordham, the Hawks were about to go in for a game-clinching touchdown but an interception let the Rams back in the game and it almost cost them.
Saturday, Monmouth (2-1, 1-0) played a clean game and the outcome was never in doubt.
There were no interceptions, no fumbles and no special team gaffs and the result was a dominating 41-14 win at Buccaneer Field in Charleston, South Carolina – Monmouth's third straight road game to open the season.
“For the first time this season in our three games we didn’t turn it over and that was huge,” said Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan. “That was a major problem in the Middle Tennessee game and it hurt us in the Fordham game where we were going in and it looked like we could put that game away but we turned it over and had to hang on at the end. We didn’t turn it over today and we able to turn them over with our defense and give the ball back to our offense.”
It wasn’t a perfect performance - how many games really are? But Monmouth was inarguably the better team on the field Saturday as junior running back Juwon Farri ran for three scores and sophomore quarterback Tony Muskett tossed a pair of touchdown passes to pace the Hawks.
“It was a really good road win to begin conference play,” said Callahan. “We came down here to not only be 1-0 on the night but to go 1-0 in the conference and I think we accomplished that in an impressive way.
“Having said that, there’s still a lot of things I think we can do better and a lot of ways we can improve, but I was very happy with the win and the way we complimented each other as a team. We hadn’t really put it all together yet this year but today I thought we came pretty close to putting it all together. We showed a significant amount of growth today and that’s what you want to do, grow and get better each and every week.”
For the twentieth-ranked Hawks it was nice way to open its Big South schedule and send a clear message to the rest of the Big South that they are alive and well and poised to capture their third-straight Big South title.
It was Monmouth’s 11th straight conference win and they are 18-2 in conference play since 2017.
Monmouth bolted out to a three touchdown lead, 21-0, and each time Charleston Southern made a bid to claw their way back into the game, the Hawks had a reply.
The two times Charleston Southern did reach the end zone, Monmouth answered right back with a scoring drive of their own to thwart any momentum the Bucs may have picked up.
Charleston Southern marched 93 yards in 12 plays to pull within two touchdowns, 21-7 with three minutes left in the half.
The Hawks didn’t waste any time answering.
Following a pass interference call on first down the Hawks had at a first down at their own 45-yard line. Muskett completed a 44-yard pass to Terrance Greene Jr. down to the 11-yard line. A one-yard run by Farri set up a second-and-9 at the 10-yard line and Muskett again found Greene Jr. - this time for a 10-yard scoring strike on a slant pattern for a 28-7 lead.
The drive only took one minute off the clock leaving the Bucs time to get something going before the half but Monmouth’s defense had other ideas.
After an 18-yard completion from Jack Chambers to Cayden Jordan gave the Bucs a first down at the Hawks 47-yard line the defense stiffened and forced a punt. Senior defensive tackle Lorenzo Hernandez then burst through the line and blocked the punt and the Hawks recovered.
The Hawks advanced to the 9-yard line and had a first-and-goal but eventually had to settle for a 30-yard Nick Null field goal when the drive stalled pushing the lead to 31-7 at the half.
On the Bucs second possession of the third quarter they went 54 yards in just four plays. Chambers finished off the drive scoring on a 20-yard read-option keeper to pull within 31-14 with 9:56 still left in the third quarter.
Again, Monmouth answered with a score of their own.
The Hawks drove 75 yards in just five plays to essentially put the game away.
Muskett lofted a perfect ball that Aassanti Kearny plucked out of the air with a defender draped all over him for the score.
Muskett was 18-of-29 for 208 yards and two touchdowns for the game as Monmouth rolled up 386 yards of total offense.
“I thought Tony played well,” said Callahan of Muskett’s performance. “I know he wasn’t completely happy with his performance in either week one or two. This is only the seventh game he’s played in college football and to see him put it all together was a good sign. I think he was comfortable and confident out on the field tonight and was able to put the ball out and our receivers made some great plays.”
Null added a 22-yard fourth-quarter field goal to make the final 41-14.
The elusive Chambers, who was under intense pressure from Monmouth’s front four all game, rushed for 95 yards on 14 attempts with most of his yardage coming after being flushed out of the pocket and taking off downfield while shaking off would-be tacklers.
“He made us miss (tackles) a fair amount of times,” Callahan said of Chambers ability to escape. “A lot of what he was doing weren’t designed plays and was a matter of him adlibbing after the ball was snapped when his receivers were covered. He challenged us and made it difficult.”
Monmouth did sack Chambers four times though with Erik Massey, Dominic Spano, Dale Sieczkowski and Matt Clark each picking up one.
“We have a lot of things we can build on and it shows how good we can be moving forward in conference play,” said Massey critiquing his teams play.
Monmouth came out on fire to start the game and looked as though they might turn it into a laugher.
They led 14-0 after the first quarter and held a commanding 154 yards to minus-three yards advantage in total offense.
“That was huge,” said Callahan referring to the Hawks quick start. “Anytime the opponent is going to give you the ball on that first possession (Charleston Southern deferred after winning the coin flip) you want to make them pay for it. We converted some key third and fourth-down plays and got the ball into the end zone.”
The Hawks took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards for the score in 14 plays converting two fourth-down plays and one crucial third-down to extend the drive.
On the first fourth-down conversion, the Hawks were facing a fourth-and-1 at their own 47 when Farri gained 15 yards for a first down. Four plays later on fourth-and-8, Muskett found Lonnie Moore IV for a 12-yard pickup and another first down.
Muskett then hooked up with Moore IV again on third-and-8 for an 11-yard completion and a first down at the Bucs 11-yard line. Farri then took it on from 2-yards out for a 6-0 lead after the missed PAT.
The defense then did its part forcing a three-and-out and a Bucs punt handed the Hawks excellent field position at their own 47.
Monmouth then went 53 yards in 13 plays to take a 14-0 lead.
Muskett had 20 and 14-yard completions to Zach Treadway on the drive and before Farri ran it on from 5-yards out. Muskett connected with Lonnie Moore IV for the two-point conversion for a 14-0 lead.
On Charleston Southern’s ensuing possession Massey’s 9-yard sack of Chambers led to a punt but Monmouth went three-and-out on its ensuing possession handing the ball back to the Bucs.
The Bucs took over at their own 20 and quickly drove down to the Monmouth 29-yard line. However, on first down Monmouth cornerback Eddie Morales III read the play all the way and stepped in front of a Chambers pass intended for Jordan for an interception and raced down the sidelines for what looked like a pick-six but the referee ruled in out of bounds at the 1-yard line for a 77-yard interception return.
“That was a great play on his part,” said Callahan of the Morales interception. “I thought he got in put the replay said he stepped out.”
Farri ran it in on first down, his third touchdown of the game, to extend the Hawks lead to 21-0 two minutes into the second quarter.
Monmouth Returns For Three at Home
The Hawks will now play their next three game at the friendly confines of Kessler Stadium starting with Holy Cross next Saturday then Gardner Webb followed by Princeton.
“It’s going to be good (to play at home),” said Greene Jr., who finished with six receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown. “We’re probably one of the only college football teams that hasn’t played a home game going into week four. So, playing in front of our home crowd is always a good thing.”