|Taylor Jackson/Asbury Park Press|
Even with athletes like WR Miles Austin, WR Chris Hogan and a lot of other very good players, beating the Mountain Hawks was something that every Monmouth player was unable to achieve in their careers.
They had come agonizingly close before - losing games on last-second fumbles, and blocked punts advanced for 1st downs - and talked internally about playing all four quarters, about not getting worn down at the end of the game.
This Saturday, they were not worn down as QB Brandon Hill would get 40 of his 390 passing yards on the Hawks' final drive, none bigger than his 19 yard rifle to WR Eric Sumlin for the game-winner.
"I hit him with a double move, and then I knew I had him beat," an elated Sumlin said after the game. "I was just looking forward to Brandon throwing me the ball. Great feeling."
Hill would get 33-of-44 passing for 390 yards, finding Sumlin for 35 yards and WR Neal Sterling for 183 yards and 1 touchdown, Neal making some great grabs to keep Monmouth's last drive alive. It was a career high for Hill.
Fighting through the loss of RB K.B. Asante to injury, the Hawks didn't miss a beat through the second half, with underclassman RB Levon Chaney stepping right in and notching 200 all-purpose yards, including a 5 yard TD run to tie the game at 21 late in the 3rd quarter.
“I encourage the pressure, I like the pressure," he told the Asbury Park Press. “I knew I had to step up and fill the role of two people after KB went down instead of one. Physically, it’s more wear on my body, but the adrenaline kicks in and I don’t worry about it. I try to focus on getting where I need to be and helping the team every step of the way.”
Monmouth's successful execution at the end of the game stood in stark contrast to Lehigh's, something that Andy Coen noted as well in the post-game.
"Obviously, we didn't execute on a lot of things. That's something we're going to need to continue to work on," he said.
Driving down the field, sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky was getting the Mountain Hawks into scoring position when he appeared to have gone on one too many rushing plays. On his 22nd rush of the afternoon, he fell awkwardly after his run and appeared to have a head injury, meaning the coaching staff needed to take his helmet and senior QB Matt McHale would enter the game.
At first, McHale and the offense would do well, especially after a very nice bull rush by senior RB Rich Sodeke to get to the Monmouth 20 yard line. McHale's third down throw to freshman WR Troy Pelletier, though, was well short of the sticks, and Lehigh had to try for a field goal to take the lead.
Sodeke had a record day - 119 yards rushing on 22 carries - but that wasn't much solace for the Florham Park, New Jersey native.
"I'm happy that we could move the ball, but what's moving the ball if you're not getting touchdowns?" he said. "Those are ghost yards to me. They don't even matter. What's the point in having a 100-yard game if you don't win?"
Lehigh's chance to go ahead went by the books after Monmouth DE D.J. Martin exploded past the right tackle and got to sophomore PK Ryan Pandy's kick, keeping Lehigh empty in the red zone and setting up Monmouth's game-winning drive.
Aided immensely by two penalties, one a personal foul call on a late hit out of bounds by team captain senior DT Tim Newton, Monmouth gained ground on a brutally efficient drive, punctuated by Sumlin's athletic grab.
A visibly agitated Sodeke knows what this team needs to do.
"We can only talk so much," he said. "We need to start doing things. We need to start winning games, and that's a fact. These next two weeks are going to be huge for us. We need to fly around, condition ourselves and be ready for that game. Bucknell will be our hardest game. We really need to beat them to get this rolling. If we don't beat them, we're really going to be in for it."
"We have to work through it," Coen said. "We're trying to win a football game."