Photo Credit: Monmouth Athletics

Monmouth takes care of business with road win at Lehigh

BETHLEHEM, PA – Let down, not a chance. Looking ahead to next week's Colonial Athletic Association opponent, University of Albany, absolutely not.

Monmouth University came out fired up and focused on the task at hand Saturday and easily handled Lehigh University for a convincing 35-7 road victory over the Mountain Hawks for their third win in a row.

“You can’t afford to do that in college football,” Callahan said in reference to experiencing a letdown or looking ahead. “If you look ahead or back or you’re not focused on what’s exactly in front of you, you’re not going to win the game. And to credit our team they came out focused and they knew they (Lehigh) were going to make it difficult for us.”

Monmouth’s standout junior wide receiver Dymere Miller, who has really come into his own and had a team-high nine catches for 125 yards and a touchdown, was on the same page as his coach.

“The most important thing today was being 1-0,” Miller said.  “We weren’t even a winning team at 2-2 going into the game. So, this game was really important to us so we could be a winning team at 3-2.”

The Hawks scored on their second possession of the game and never looked back while the defense pitched a shutout in the first half and held Lehigh to seven points in the game for their second shutdown performance in the last three games.

Monmouth racked up 285-yards of total offense in the first half as junior quarterback Tony Musket threw for 168 yards in the half completing 10-of-13 passes with two touchdowns as the Hawks rolled to 21-0 lead at intermission.

Muskett finished completing 20-of-27 passes for 261 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception. And for the second game in a row the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Muskett flashed his athleticism by running for 76 yards on 10 attempts, including a nifty 10-yard touchdown run.

“Tony made really good decisions,” Callahan said. “He pulled the ball down and ran for first downs on third down plays and the one run he scored the touchdown on was just a really nice play on his part.”

The defense recorded three first-half sacks and had Lehigh starting quarterback Dante Perri running for the hills of Northampton County. They held the Mountain Hawk offense to 116 first-half yards, including 19 yards on 16 plays in the second quarter and had five third-down stops holding Lehigh to 2-of-7 on third down conversions in the half.

“They did a really good job today,” Callahan said of his defense. “We were without some guys but the guys who were there did a good job of challenging them and made it difficult for Lehigh to get anything going.”

Junior defensive tackles Sheku Tonkara and Pat Hayden each had a sack, while senior linebacker Tyler Delgado and junior defensive end Justin O’Bannon shared a sack and freshman end Miles Mitchell added a tackle for a 5-yard tackle for a loss, a stop for no gain and a QB pressure.

“The sacks were huge,” added Callahan. “Anytime you can get to the quarterback it helps you an awful lot.”

On Lehigh’s second possession of the game, Mountain Hawks running back Gaige Garcia ripped off a 53-yard run but Monmouth cornerback Mike Reid chased him down and punched the ball out with sophomore linebacker Remi Johnson recovering at the 23-yard line.

It was a great hustle play by Reid that not only prevented an early Lehigh score but gave Monmouth good field position and they went down and scored.

“The whole goal (on defense) was to not let them score this week,” said Reid. “I saw him break and once I got there, I’m going for the ball. We always want to get turnovers, so I punched the ball out and my guys were there to make the recovery.”

Reid struck again on Lehigh’s first possession of the second half with the Mountain Hawks driving. On second-and-9 from the Monmouth 43-yard line the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Reid stopped Lehigh running back Brayton Silbor for no gain with a jarring hit and forced a fumble that senior linebacker Ryan Moran recovered at the 43-yard line. The hard-hitting Reid also had a team-high five tackles along with a pass breakup.

“He did a really good job,” Callahan said of Reid’s stellar performance. “That first one early on in the first quarter I think was a big turning point in the game.”

“It gives the offense a chance to score and that’s all you want to do on defense,” said Reid of his game-changing plays. “You want to get them the ball back as quickly as possible because we know our offense is going to go out there and score – we have some of the best players in the nation on our team and we know they’re going to score when we get them the ball.”

Monmouth then took over at their own 43-yard line and drove 57 yards in five plays with Muskett finishing off the drive with his 10-yard rushing touchdown. On the play, he looked right before tucking the ball in and scampering untouched into the end zone increasing the Hawks lead to 28-0 with 10:56 left in the third quarter.

Muskett’s 28-yard completion to Miller on third-and-4 from their own 49-yard line kept the drive alive and Justin Marcus’ 13-yard reception to the 10 set up his TD.

On Lehigh’s ensuing possession with the Mountain Hawks facing a third-and-20 from their own 29-yard line Monmouth’s senior defensive end Isaiah Bishop had second-string quarterback Brayton Silbor in his grasp and was in the process of pulling down for a sack, but Silbor flung the ball away at the last minute and was called for intentional grounding forcing a punt.

Bishop had four tackles in the game, including two crushing blows on Lehigh kickoff returns.

Monmouth then marched 71 yards in eight plays to take a 35-0 lead with 6:48 remaining in the third quarter. Owen Wright’s 38-yard dash to the 24-yard line set up Muskett’s three-yard scoring strike to Yale graduate transfer Darrion Carrington, his first of his Monmouth career.

The former Toms River North standout had four catches for 28 yards and a touchdown.

With the big lead the Hawks offense bogged down a bit in the fourth quarter as rain began to intensify and Callahan began to substitute freely midway through the fourth quarter.

“I thought we hit a little bit of a lull in the fourth quarter,” Callahan said. “I think we could’ve been a lot more efficient and had some poor decision on penalty’s that negated a touchdown and put us behind the sticks or gave them an auto first down. So, there are things we can work on. It wasn’t a perfect game but it was a good win.”

On Lehigh’s first possession of the game, they drove to the Hawks 24 where they were looking at a third-and-2 but the Hawks sophomore cornerback Jaylen Dotson with the help of O’Bannon stopped running back Zaythan Hill short of the first down. Dylan Van Dusen’s 40-yard field goal attempt was then short and to the right.

Muskett then engineered a 77 yard, 10 play scoring drive to take a 7-0 lead. The big play of the drive was a third-and-9, 41-yard completion to Miller that gave the Hawks a first down at the 35-yard line. Muskett then ran for 10 before hitting Carrington for another 11 yards and Miller for eight before Wright finished off the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.

Wright’s touchdown gives him 11 on the season which leads the nation.

Monmouth made it 13-0 two possessions later. On third-and-12 from their own 30, Muskett took off under pressure and sprinted 27 yards for a first down at the Lehigh 43-yard line. Two plays later Muskett found Miller wide open down the right sidelines and he lofted a perfect spiral for a 39-yard score on third down. The point after attempt was wide right.

 “Going into the game the coaches put us in the right position to make plays and that’s what we’re here to do,” Miller said. “They put me in a position to be a spark so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to go out there and make plays when we need it.”

In the first half, Monmouth converted 5-of-9 third down plays and finished 9-for-15 for the game.

The nation’s leading rusher, sophomore running back Jaden Shirden, exploded for a 47-yard run on the Hawks ensuing passion setting up a 37-yard field goal attempt that was wide right. Shirden rushed for 108 yards on 20 carries to bring his season total on the ground to 780 yards on 78 attempts for a 9.9 yards per carry average.  It was his fourth straight game rushing for over 100 yards.

“We got to keep him rolling,” Callahan said of Shirden. “He had another very productive day for us.”

The Hawks rushed for an impressive 229 yards on the day.

Late in the second quarter, the Hawks pushed their lead to 21-0 with a quick three play, 60-yard scoring drive with Muskett finding Kearney, who beat two defenders, on a post pattern for a 52-yard touchdown. The Hawks converted a two-point play with Muskett firing a strike to Miller for the two.

Kearney had three receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown.

Monmouth outgained the Mountain Hawks 490 to 303 with a chunk of Lehigh’s second-half yardage coming in garbage time.

“It makes me happy because that’s what we work for every week,” Reid said about the play of the defense. “We just want to get better as a group every week going forward and continue to work hard and if everybody does their job we’re going to successful.”

What's Next For Monmouth

With the win the Hawks push their record to 3-2 and now move on to the meat-and-potatoes portion of their schedule with their next six game against CAA opponents starting with next week’s home game against University of Albany.

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