Lions’ Post-game Recap: Loss at Willie P puts spotlight on missing Lions
WAYNE, NJ–Entering its 43-28 road loss to William Paterson (3-3), the lone tarnish on an impeccable NJAC Championship resume epitomized TCNJ’s few early-season failures—all it apparently couldn’t do.
Stumbling on its first steps outside its own turf, the 28-7 loss at Kean University suggested the team couldn’t duplicate success on the road, defeating its three previous opponents by healthy margins from within the comfort of Lions’ Stadium (entered 3-0; all at home).
Unable to dominate in the fashion that bolstered the then-Division III leader in scoring, the skimpy 292 yards allowed by the Cougar D suggested that TCNJ couldn’t hang with the big boys, nor could the nation’s second-most efficient quarterback distribute the football with UPS reliability against worthy opposition (24/41, 234 yds, TD, INT vs. Kean; ranked 1st in NJAC in pass efficiency defense).
That’s, of course, neglecting to mention the 307 rushing yards its own defense allowed, a reiteration of 2009’s most glaring theme—that TCNJ’s defense just couldn’t stop anybody.
Even in defeat, the team’s second conference loss on Saturday wasn’t a not-so-subtle reminder of the team’s earlier shortcomings. But what began as a coming out party for a number of Lions—a discourteous double-booking on the Pioneers’ homecoming—didn’t end on account of the team’s inadequacy.
It merely accentuated who it needs the most.
Already thin at linebacker after last week’s sudden pregame injury to linebacker Joe Spahn, the Lions’ defense crumbled after the mid-game departure of second-line stud Dan DeCongelio, who left in the second-quarter with undisclosed injuries.
No injury report or timetable for his return is available at this time.
The defense was unequivocally stout when he was in the lineup, forcing turnovers on William Paterson’s opening two possessions and limiting the Pioneer offense to 165 yards in the first half.
Vacated of DeCongelio’s authoritative run-support, the middle of the field was susceptible during each of Marcus McKinney’s school-record 42 carries, most of which seemed like a deliberate exploitation of the apparent weak spot (broke his previous record, 35; set vs. King’s College). The sophomore running back methodically accumulated 231 yards and four touchdowns on the afternoon—147 of those against a defense less the team’s second-leading tackler (41 total, 19 solo; 2nd to Kreider).
Rookie linebacker Greg Burns adequately filled the void incurred by Spahn’s absence since last week, leading the team with 10 total tackles (5 solo). But even his heroics—the freshman’s best effort to replicate a last week’s spackling, capped by his game-sealing interception against Brockport—couldn’t compensate for DeCongelio’s presence in the middle of the field.
“We start to handle our business but it seems like once things start piling up its tough to come back from that,” defensive end Kevin Allgood said after his defense allowed 282 second-half yards and 29 unanswered points. “We just gotta put it together.”
Free safety Matt Kreider, who matched Burns’ tally with 10 tackles of his own and contributed to the group’s three takeaways with an interception on William Paterson’s second possession, expressed his frustration with the second-half woes that have plagued the team all year long.
“It’s the little things,” he said, alluding to a missed tackle that made way for Joel Rivera’s 70-yard touchdown reception to extend the Pioneer lead 36-38 with 11:49 remaining, among others. “We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot and that’s been the story all season.”
Though he finished the game physically unscathed, running back Chase Misura’s inability to produce for the Lions’ traditionally unstoppable running threat left Justin Donoloski without a viable smash to compliment his dash. Misura finished with a season-low seven yards on eight carries–entering the game consistently shelling out upwards of 60 yards a pop (entered 9th in NJAC; now 10th w/50.3 avg. yds/gm).
The rushing attack disappointed as a whole, as the team’s collaborative efforts only manufactured TCNJ only 107 on 35 attempts, also its least to date (remain 2nd in NJAC, entered 220.0 avg. yds/gm; now 200.8 avg. yds/gm)
“I think our inability to run the ball in the second half definitely hurt us,” Donoloski said, even referring to his own afternoon during which he was held to 19 yards in the second half on seven carries (18 rush, 99 yds, TD in game). “We gotta establish the run to get our passing game going.”
Now, likely knocked from contention for the conference throne, the Lions (4-2; 3-2 NJAC) are left in a scramble to piece together its personnel—and its shot at the post-season.
“We gotta finish plays, but we need to get some players to fill in these spots,” Kreider said. “We can’t have this let-down that we’re having and it’s obvious what we’re missing. We need certain people to step up. We’re there and we’re better than what the scoreboard said we were.”
Despite the looming uncertainty in the health of its own roster, and the definitive talent boasted by Montclair State University‘s list, Kreider spoke optimistically, his voice still strained from the angst of the loss.
“I think we can bounce back. You saw the first half—we were good. That’s a good offense and we played our hearts out. One thing leads to another and we got our heads down. But I think we’ll bounce back.”