Lions’ Post-game Recap: Colonials’ big plays gash TCNJ, which couldn’t return the favor
Equivocation, puffery, and jaded optimism aside—that one was tough to watch.
For those with invested sentiments prior to TCNJ’s loss to Western Connecticut State—friends and family gathered for TCNJ Senior Day 2009—hearts ached at the sight, translated as a tear-jerking defeat that interrupted seniors’ final bow from Lions Stadium’s field-turf stage.
“It’s definitely tough,” Lions’ quad-captain Cam Richardson said, moments after he dazzled fans for one last time with 78 yards on his team-leading eight catches.
“Obviously last game ever in the place you’ve played in for four years you wanna go out on top, with a win.”
For everyone else, the 37-34 margin struck the same chord, a slight advantage in a disheartening upset.
The Colonials (2-7, 2-6 New Jersey Athletic Conference) second win of 2009 marked the fifth tally in the wrong column for TCNJ (4-5, 3-5 NJAC). After walking away victors from four of their first five—sizing up hopes for an unlikely run at the conference crown—the Lions have been beaten into humility of late, their now eyes fixated on a four-game skid (last won Oct. 10).
“Every week’s different,” head coach Eric Hamilton said of whether he thought the past month has gotten to players. “Maybe the last two weeks, because it was hard these last two weeks.”
Consensus could be reached on that comment, players ailing both body and spirit. But more than any other—one with which even the agnostic fellowship could agree—instead of an anticipated day of celebration, what fans got was one straight from hell.
An unsightly beginning paralleled its sour finish. The image of quarterback Chris James’ blue number four jersey without shoulder pads beneath it indicated he’d been scratched from his final home start as a collegiate athlete.
Though, coaches and players insisted it wasn’t the absence of their four-year starter that determined Saturday’s outcome.
“Jay did well,” Hamilton said of the sophomore’s first career start. “But Jay will be the first one to tell you we lost the game.”
It wasn’t his fault, but Chris James’ two-year understudy said he wasn’t as troubled by the game’s end as much as a part of its means that might have changed it, had things gone differently.
“I did OK,” said Jay Donoghue of his 22-of-28 overachievement, inclusive of 194 yards and three touchdowns.
“I mean, that play is going to haunt me a little bit,” he said later, referring to a late, fourth-quarter interception that slipped through senior wide receiver Mark Gardner’s hands. “I didn’t see exactly what happened, but … that’s definitely in part my fault. I’ve gotta take that one a little bit.”
Trailing those three deciding points with just over six minutes remaining, Donoghue was perfect on the first 13 plays of that 76-yard drive—one started just inside the Lions’ 10-yard line.
His backfield offered ample support, namely through of 40 yards on Mike Yetka’s five carries during the possession–a sizable portion of his afternoon’s totals (Yetka-20 rush, 118 yds; led TCNJ).
But Donoghue’s precision on five passes that safely found four different targets—fittingly all senior wideouts—marched James’ offense to 15 yards outside the storybook finish for which onlookers hoped.
But after that first-down play, invoking generally understood angst, the only debate argued which hurt more:
The big plays the Colonials made, or the ones the Lions couldn’t.
“Everything we were able to do is what we wanted to with the game plan,” said TCNJ offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta, after the group amassed 444 yards of total offense. “But right now we’re lacking the big-play potential.”
The explosion that ignited the nation’s former No. 1 scoring offense showed glimpses Saturday, magnified by Colin Weber’s 22-yard grab to break TCNJ’s season scoring mark (originally 295, set in 1989).
Gardner, who led the corps of five seniors with 83 yards on eight grabs, scaled defenders for circus scores on two fade routes earlier, from 15 and 14 yards out. Even after the latter created an eight point deficit four minutes into the third period (TCNJ led 34-26), Acosta said he needed one more a quarter later.
“You get your hands on the football, you gotta catch it. … It’s a shame that it had to come down to this because this is a talented football team we have.”
While Bill Picatagi’s 25-yard first-quarter dash to pay dirt represented the Lions longest play-from-scrimmage, three early receptions accounted for 145 of the Colonials’ 265 first-half yards, not to mention 19 of its points (finished w/ 359 yds).
“When you blow coverages in Week Eight, that’s tough,” Hamilton said of the lengthy gains. “We just weren’t on the same page.”
His defense allowed only a single third-down conversion on Western Connecticut’s 10 attempts, while his offense scored five touchdowns. But, himself stripped of emotion, Hamilton offered equal opportunity criticism.
“It wasn’t the defense’s fault. It was as much the offense’s fault as the defense’s. … But offensively when we get the opportunity we’ve gotta step on the neck. We didn’t do that in a couple of situations. It’s a team loss. What are you gonna do?”
Maybe it’s a stretch, a desperate clenching to what was supposed to be positive. But according to Hamilton’s assistants, there’s only one way to respond.
“Do you dwell on this and get down?” Acosta said. “Nah. You build on it.
“This is what coaching is about, what playing is about. Building up, moving on and getting better. It’s just bringing these guys back tomorrow and getting them together so they can believe.”