UNION, N.J. (9/10/11) – The Kean University football team blocked a pair of punts and forced a key turnover deep in their own territory with 50 seconds remaining in the 31-28 upset victory over third-ranked Wesley College to open the 2011 season on Saturday afternoon.
Junior T.J. Denehy caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from senior Thomas D'Ambrisi with 1:18 remaining and freshman linebacker Matt Clerk forced the late fumble, as the Cougars post their biggest win in program history and snapped a 27-game regular season winning streak for the Wolverines.
Wesley, who handed the Cougars a 48-10 loss a year ago in the regular season finale, advanced to the NCAA Semifinals in each of the last two seasons and suffers their first regular season loss since the season opener in 2008.
Special teams ignited the Cougars, as Kean blocked a pair of punts on back-to-back Wesley possessions in the second quarter to take a 17-6 lead. Trailing 6-3, Clerk blocked the first punt and the Cougars would take over at the Wesley 24-yard line midway through the second quarter. On the first play of the ensuing drive, D'Ambrisi went straight to the back corner of the endzone, hitting sophomore Lester Smith with the diving catch for the 10-6 lead after the Billy Daniels extra point.
Kean forced Wesley into a three-and-out on their next possession and the Cougars charged three at the punter, as junior Nick Graff blocked the punt, picked up the loose ball and returned it six yards for the touchdown, giving the Cougars a 17-6 lead after Daniels converted the extra point with 5:17 remaining in the opening half.
The Wolverines pulled to within a field goal at 17-14 before halftime, as tight end Sean McAndrew capped a 13-play, 77-yard drive with the eight-yard touchdown reception and then was on the receiving end of the two-point conversion from quarterback Shane McSweeny with just 16 seconds left in the half. McSweeny completed 6-of-8 passes for 59 yards on the drive.
In the third quarter, the Wolverines regained the lead at 21-17 with 6:48 remaining when McSweeny connected with junior Matt Barile on the 73-yard touchdown pass down the Wesley sideline.
Both teams punted on each of their next two possessions, before Kean regained the lead on a 50-yard touchdown pass from D'Ambrisi to Smith with 9:36 remaining, as the Cougars took the 24-21 lead after the extra point.
Two possessions later, Wesley caught a break on special teams, recovering their own fumble near midfield following the Cougar punt. Eight plays later, McSweeny hit junior wide receiver Jared Morris across the middle of the field and Morris dove just inside the left side of the endzone for the 21-yard go-ahead touchdown pass, as the Dan Tryon extra point gave the Wolverines the 28-24 lead with just 2:43 remaining in the game.
After Kean senior Jamahl Williams returned the kickoff 25 yards to the Kean 40-yard line, the Cougars executed the two-minute drill, as D'Ambrisi had an 11-yard rush and completed three passes for 29 yards, before a pass interference call on fourth-and-one gave the Cougars a fresh set of downs at the Wesley 11-yard line with 1:20 left in the game. On the very next play, D'Ambrisi found Denehy one-step into the front right corner of the endzone with the 11-yard touchdown reception. Daniels converted the extra point for the critical three-point advantage with just 1:18 remaining.
On Wesley's final drive of the game, McSweeny completed the 19-yard pass to Morris to move into Kean territory, before the face-mask penalty gave the Wolverines first-and-ten at the Kean 30-yard line with less than a minute remaining. On the next play, McSweeny hit Barile with the 10-yard reception across the middle of the field, before Clerk knocked the ball loose and junior linebacker Jerelle Peay immediately recovered the fumble to seal the victory.
Wesley took a 6-0 lead on its first possession of the game, as Morris' 16-yard touchdown reception from McSweeny capped a 12-play, 83-yard drive. McSweeny completed 6-of-7 passes for 74 yards on the drive. The Cougars cut the lead in half in the second quarter on the 28-yard field goal by Daniels.
D'Ambrisi completed 21-of-36 passes, including 11-of-13 in the first half, for 259 yards and three touchdowns. Denehy had a career-high six catches for 69 yards and one touchdown, while Smith made three catches for 88 yards and two TD receptions. Senior wide receiver Chris Suozzo added six catches for 54 yards.
Defensively, senior Bekim Bujari made a team-high 10 tackles, while Peay had eight tackles and the fumble recovery.
For the Wolverines, McSweeny accounted for 388 of the team's 463 yards of total offense, completing 23-of-34 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns, while adding 18 rushes for 77 yards. Sophomore wide receiver Jeremiah Howe had a game-high eight receptions for 96 yards and Morris added four catches for 62 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior linebacker Mike Asiedu led the Wesley defense with nine tackles, while senior linebacker Jeff Morgan added six solo stops, including two for a loss of six yards.
Kean faces its second straight ranked opponent next week, as the Cougars open their New Jersey Athletic Conference schedule against #13 SUNY Cortland in Cortland, N.Y. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.