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Mistakes give Albright 21 points, 31-13 advantage in half of simulated preseason action

August 29, 2009

In spite of an otherwise impressive preseason outing Friday night against Albright College, three plays dictated an unsightly final score at the end of one rainy half of simulated play, as the Lions of Reading, PA outscored the Lions of Trenton, NJ, 31-13.

After the first 30 minutes of regulation, the teams were each given a two-minute drill opportunity, an overtime possession, another 30 minutes of running-clock regulation designated for second and third-team players, and a brief special teams period.

Mistakes — both mental and weather induced — gave Albright two possessions inside the red zone during the earlier of the two halves, while an untimely penalty against TCNJ extended another one of its possessions. All three resulted in six points against for Albright.

Following a 27-yard field goal by Albright kicker John Whelan to put his team ahead 10-6 with 12:21 remaining in the second quarter, defensive back Scott Mathurin mishandled the ensuing kickoff on his own 15-yard line, essentially giving Albright back-to-back possessions. After two consecutive carries by its running back Clif LeGrand for ten yards and a touchdown, Albright College led TCNJ 17-6 just :21 later.

Still battling, The College of New Jersey answered two possessions later, as quarterback Chris James fired a strike on an seven-yard slant in the middle of the end zone to wide receiver Mark Gardner, capping the team’s speedy six-play, 49-yard touchdown drive that lasted only 2:48. After backup outside linebacker Nick Shackelford blocked kicker Marc Zucconi‘sPAT, TCNJ trailed a mere four points with 4:02 remaining in the half.

Two, quick plays for a grand total of zero yards opened Albright’s ensuing possession, bringing up a 3rd down conversion attempt from its own 43-yard line. Albright moved the chains on a 12-yard completion to wide receiver Josh Bakala, though TCNJ senior defensive end Craig Meyer wrangled quarterback Tanner Kelly ten yards behind the line of scrimmage on a 1st down pass attempt, bringing up a dismal 2nd and 20. After holding Kelly’s quarterback draw on 2nd down to a minimal five-yard gain, in spite his line’s excellent blocking, TCNJ brought up a managable 3rd and 15 situation for its defense, hoping to soon regain possession with an opportunity to take the lead. On the conversion attempt, Albright wide receiver Scott Pillar gained seperation on a go-route deep down the visitors’ sideline, drawing a pass interference penalty against safety Phil Gatti (sophomore). On the very next play, wide receiver Nate Romig found himself all alone after an apparent blown coverage by TCNJ’s secondary, and the recipient of a 35 yard touchdown pass from Kelly to extend his team’s lead 24-13 with 1:17 remaining.

Gardner’s shifty 27-yard kickoff return to the 43-yard line set the stage for an excellent opportunity to see his quarterback orchestrate a successful two-minute drill and end the scrimmage period with a four-point defecit, 24-20. His team’s inital enthusiasm as it took the field was short-lived, after Albright cornerback Brett Gaul stepped in front of Gardner’s six-yard hitch, intercepting James’ 1st down attempt.

Kelly connected with Romig down the seam for a 14-yard touchdown on the team’s following play, scoring the half’s final points, putting his team still further ahead, 31-13.

Mistakes aside, there’s plenty good to take from the evening’s performance.

One of the team’s biggest concerns entering the game was how last year’s rush defense — which allowed an awful 204 yards per game in 2008 — would fare against one of Division III’s top backs in reigning Middle Atlantic Conference Rookie-of-the-Year, Josan Holmes. Though his night lasted only three possessions, TCNJ’s defensive front-seven held the speedster to fewer than 25 yards on six carries.

Though its overall effort against the run was dominant, considering a 26-yard backwards pass to Bakala (a wide receiver) earned him honors Albright’s leading-rusher, the defense posted a complete performance, also nullifying a majority of Albright’s passing attack. Following its game debut, the team’s pass defense was stellar, limiting Kelly to completing only 33% of his passes (2-6, 47 yds, TD) after the game’s opening possession. Aside from missed assignments and costly penalties — common mistakes for preseason competition — its safe to say that the unit looked much better tonight than it did a year ago.

On the other side of the ball, TCNJ’s offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta can’t complain about his quarterback’s performance, less one errant throw late in the half. Performing in the clutch is a must-have in any winner’s repertoire, but one mistake falls far short of the criteria needed to condemn James’ abilities, especially the way he racked up stats both rushing and passing.

In the absence of outside linebacker Joe Baciotti — Albright’s late-bloomer a year ago (five INTs in six games played) who couldnt’t crack the starting lineup, according to coaches– James easily completed six of his 11 passes (54%) for 55 yards, throwing both a touchdown and an interception. His mobility and discretion on read-option scenarios helped the product of Central Jersey Group IV powerhouse Brick Memorial add another 26 yards of offense on five carries (5.5 YPA).

Perhaps most impressive in the unit’s outing was Acosta’s ability to distribute touches to his offense’s weapons. Gardner (two rec., 28 yds, TD) and team captain Cam Richardson (two rec., 26 yds; rush, six yds) led the five different receivers to record receptions during on the night, while running backs Chase Misura (26 yds, 5.2 YPA) and Justin Donoloski (13 yds, 2.6 YPA) each had five carries.

After its recent episode of the always-dreaded injury bug that’s claimed a number of notable contributors, TCNJ concluded the evening without any injuries to its starting 22.

With tired legs and soggy socks from standing in the evening’s three-and-a-half hours of pouring rain, coaches immediately entered the locker room following TCNJ head coach  Eric Hamilton‘s post-game address. Neither group was available for comment.

With its annual preseason warmup against MAC foe Albright College in the books, TCNJ will be looking ahead in the coming week to its season opener on Sept. 5 against Buffalo State at 12:00pm in Lions’ Stadium.

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