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Lions’ Post-game Recap: Reigning NJAC Player of the Year steals James’ limelight, gashes Lions’ D during its first loss of ’09

October 3, 2009

UNION, NJ — Lions’ quarterback Chris James had hoped his Friday night would have ended differently.

If the nation’s top scoring offense couldn’t decimate his opponents the way it had for the team’s first three outings of the season, James would have settled for a photo finish to this year’s installment of the Lions’ perennial NJAC rivalry with Kean University—only if it presented a shot at retribution for last year’s tearjerking 35-24 loss, sealed by a Chris Lauda interception on the game’s final play.

But tonight wasn’t about James, even after he broke the school’s career mark for completions (originally 383, set by Bob Schurtz in ’03). It wasn’t about TCNJ altogether, in fact—the team or any of its individuals.

Friday night belonged to Jared Chunn.

Entering the team’s 28-7 home win over its conference rivals, the reigning NJAC Player of the Year had barely eclipsed the century mark on the season, averaging an anemic 2.97 yards per carry (43 rush, 128 yds, 0 TDs in 3 games).

But, in a valiant recreation of 2008’s brilliance, the senior nearly doubled his 2009 totals in the first half alone, rushing for 109 yards on only nine carries.

Following the game, Chunn explained his best performance of the season (22 rush, 210 yds, 2 TDs) was merely the punctuation to a week’s worth of tireless preparation.

“The offensive line and the timing, we finally put it together this week,” he said, shortly after fueling his team’s furnace that burned his opponents for 307 rushing yards.

“We just executed tonight. Hard work and preparation in practice—that’s all.”

Chunn recorded the evening’s first points, rightfully christening the university’s digital scoreboard on its first night of operation in Kean University Alumni Stadium.

Officials appeared to have whistled the senior down  following a minimally damaging eight-yard gain. But in an acrobatic display of athleticism, Chunn maintained his balance, erupting out of a crowd of blue and white jerseys, and darting 62 yards to paydirt.

“For some reason everybody’s been trying cut me this year,” he said after the game, surrounded by a crowd of his family and friends outside the stadium. “I was expecting it so I kept my feet up and just kept going.”

The Lions’ answered defiantly on the following drive, storming down the field in only 1:47 toward the evening’s only points. After targeting senior wide receiver Erik Hendrickson on his first three attempts, James whipped his head around following a play action fake to find wide receiver Colin Weber breaking toward the sideline.

Following his appointment as honorary co-captain for the contest, Weber led all Lion wideouts with 69 yards on seven receptions.

Uncharacteristically on the short end of a lopsided final score, the Lions undoubtedly had its chances early. But after walked away empty handed from two potentially damaging red-zone opportunities in the first half, the Lions’ had all but sealed its dismal fate.

Within striking distance from the Cougars’ 12-yard line, a Cougars’ defensive end Ray Wegrzynek stuffed Lions’ running back Justin Donoloski for a loss on a fourth-and-two stretch play on the Lions’ opening possession.

With 12:45 remaining in the second quarter, three plays after he cemented his name in school history on a 21-yard completion to wide receiver Bill Picatagi, a bad snap sent James darting down the field to recover an untimely fumble incurred on a fourth-and-goal from the Cougars’ one-yard line.

Afterward, James spoke disgustedly regarding TCNJ’s inability to finish.

“We had our chances early and we didn’t finish,” he said. “That’s it. That was the game.”

But even following his worst statistical performance of the season (24/41, 234 yds, TD, 2 INT), James’ radiated with an unshakable confidence.

Both in his team—and in himself.

“I’ll say this: we are a better football team that we’ve shown tonight. You have to tip your cap to them. But, we’re a better football team that Kean. We just didn’t show it tonight.”

Despite trailing only seven points at the half, the Lions’ offense failed to reestablish the early offensive rhythm that yielded gains of 255 total yards. Plagued by takeaways (3 total; 2 INT, fumble) and an antagonizingly-expanding points deficit, the Cougars limited Divsion III’s second-best offensive attack to only 69 total yards in the final two quarters of play.

Lions’ offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta admitted that circumstances—ones both within and beyond his team’s control—forced him to stray from his game-plan earlier than he would have liked.

“We thought we were going to win this game running the ball today,” he said, acknowledging the talent consistent throughout the Cougars’ front-seven. “They were tough up front. When a team beats you with three down and everyone in coverage behind, you can’t do anything.”

In spite an indifferent attitude entering the game, Lions’ running back Chase Misura didn’t run like his homecoming of sorts meant nothing. Perceiving Friday night as “just another game” earlier in the week, Misura gashed his former team early, averaging 5.8 yards on his first six attempts (finished with 8 rush, 43 yds). But led by NFL prospect, nose tackle Darryl Jackson, the Cougars limited Lion ball-carriers to 111 total yards on the evening.

As expected, Kean pass rushers blitzed relentlessly throughout the entirety of the contest. Though it was unable to reach James in the opening period, Wegrzynek’s third-down sack on the Lions’ first possession of the second half yielded an untimely fumble that was recovered on the Lions’ 44-yard line. Chunn broke the plane 39 seconds later, on a 36-yard scamper for six.

The pressure manifested elsewhere in the first half, as Cougars’ cornerback Andre Dozier lunged toward a deflected jailbreak screen, successfully hauling in the interception at the Lions’ 30-yard line. All but four plays later, quarterback Tom D’Ambrisi successfully located Cougars’ wide receiver Matt Puorro in the corner of the end-zone, establishing a nominal 14-7 lead with 1:24 remaining in the opening period.

D’Ambrisi supported his impact back’s seizure of the ball game, delivering on each the few times his number was called, continuing his early-season role as “game-manager” (9/13, 117, TD).

Defensively, the Lions with a captivating effort on Kean’s first possession, forcing a punt after allowing only one, quick first-down—the Cougars’ only third-down conversion of the opening quarter (0/3 in 1st qtr; finished 7/12).

Early on, according to defensive coordinator Matt Hamilton, everything was going exactly according to plan.

“The game plan was to challenge their guys up front with our guys,” he said on the field afterward. “And in the first half, we met that challenge. We controlled the first half of play. We saw it—they knew it.”

But as Kean’s momentum began to snowball, the Lions’ D folded, eventually forfeiting 424 yards of total offense (307 rush, 117 pass).

“It just seemed like we were on the field for the entire second half,” he said. “Give them credit, [Kean] was smart. They saw that and they ran the ball.”

While the numbers eerily resembled just another inadequate showing, D. C. Hamilton spoke proudly—citing tonight as his unit’s best performance to date.

“To a man,” he said, paraphrasing his post-game address to his players. “Even though its 28 points, this was on the opposite end of the spectrum. We’ve been around that 30-point mark, but we’ve played down to our opponents. They played well, and you’re going to start to see some results after this.”

Hamilton’s defense will have an opportunity to fulfill his post-game prophecy next weekend, when the Lions return to Trenton to host The College at Brockport next Saturday.

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