Montclair, NJ (11/12/11) – Junior running back Darius Kinney (Newark, NJ / Hudson Catholic) ran for two scores while the Kean University defense turned six Montclair State turnovers in 20 points as the 14th-ranked Cougars claimed their third New Jersey Athletic Conference championship and first NCAA Division III Playoff berth with 27-14 victory over the Red Hawks at Sprague Field on Saturday afternoon.
Freshman linebacker Matt Clerk (Jersey City, NJ / Lincoln) picked off two passes and added a sack as Kean (9-1 overall, 8-1 NJAC) earned its first league title since 1994 when sit hared the championship with Trenton State (now TCNJ). The Cougars also won the NJAC title in 1987.
Kean will now wait for the NCAA Division III Playoff selection announcement which will come on Sunday, November 13 at 6:00 pm on NCAA.com. The first round of the NCAA Playoffs is slated for Saturday, November 19. The Cougars entered the week ranked fifth in the latest NCAA Regional rankings.
Chris D'Andrea (Union, NJ / Union) rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown for Montclair State, which finished the season at 8-2 overall (7-2 NJAC). The Red Hawks, who had their 26-game regular-season home winning streak snapped, will be among the teams eligible for an at-large berth, however that would be a remote possibility.
After a Kean opening drive stalled at the MSU 32, Montclair took over following a touchback in the end zone. On the second play, D'Andrea, the nation's second-leading rusher burst around the right side and outraced everyone to the end zone as Montclair State grabbed a 7-0 lead with 9:49 left in the first quarter.
Kean would answer right back as Chris DiMicco (Lanoka Harbor, NJ / Lacey) kick-started a 72-yard drive with a 39-yard run to the MSU 33. Kinney added a 13-yard run before Tom D'Ambrisi (Eatontown, NJ / Monmouth Regional) hit Scott Davis (Brick, NJ / Brick) from 28-yards out as the Cougars tied the score at 7-7 midway through the period.
Montclair State missed an opportunity to take the lead late in the first quarter as a 32-yard field goal went wide right. The game then became a defensive battle over the next 12 minutes until the Cougars took control with two outstanding plays from Clerk.
With MSU at its own 33 yardline, defensive back Will Nahan (Lawrence, NJ / Lawrence) deflected a pass the Clerk was able to haul in for an interception – one of five by the Cougars in the game – giving Kean the ball at the MSU 26. Montclair State would hold however Billy Daniels (Ridgefield, NJ / Ridgefield) converted a 26-yard field goal as Kean led 1:35.
On the very next Montclair offensive play, Clerk leaped and picked off a pass returning it to the MSU 6 with 1:20 to go before halftime. Three plays later, D'Ambrisi hit T.J. Denehy (Monroe, NJ / Monroe) for a three-yard gain to the MSU 1. Facing fourth-and-1 with two seconds left, Kean decided to go for the touchdown and got it as Kinney vaulted over the pile into the end zone as the Cougars led 17-7 at halftime.
In the second half, the lead widened for Kean as Jamahl Williams (Passaic, NJ / Passaic) intercepted a pass and returned it 63 yards to the MSU 1. After a loss on the first play, Kinney barreled in from two yards out as the lead grew to 24-7 with 4:17 left in the third quarter.
Jerrelle Peay (Montclair, NJ / Montclair) returned an interception 14 yards to set up Kean's final score as Daniels hit from 25 yards out in the fourth quarter making the score 27-7 with 11:42 left.
Montclair would cut the score to 27-14 with 7:22 on the clock as Tom Fischer (Livingston, NJ / Livingston) connected with freshman Gerald Silvera (West Orange, NJ / West Orange) on an eight-yard touchdown pass.
The Red Hawks would go for the onside kick and nearly came up with the ball, however the high bounced eluded the Silvera on the sideline and Kean took over at midfield.
DiMicco rushed for 86 yards and Kinney 80 on a combined 36 carries for Kean, which got 75 yards passing from D'Ambrisi on 8-of-23 attempts. Daniels, in addition to his two field goals, had several well-placed punts that got unlucky bounces into the end zone for touchbacks. Denehy and Chris Suozzo (Old Bridge, NJ / Old Bridge) had three catches apiece.
Linebacker Bekim Bujari (Secaucus, NJ / Secaucus) collected nine tackles and also had a fumble recovery for Kean while Darren Dixon (Brooklyn, NY / Canarsie) had eight taklces. Williams added six stops with Clerk totaling five tackles.
D'Andrea carried 17 times for Montclair State as he extended his own MSU single-season record to 1,583 yards. His touchdown was also the 16th of the season, the second-highest total behind only Ron Lewis' 17 in 1999. Fischer, who returned to the lineup after missing four games with a foot injury, completed 22-of-44 passes for 219 yards. Silvera had his finest day for the Red Hawks with 10 receptions for 146 yards. Byron Lewin (Carteret, NJ / Carteret) had six receptions for 35 yards.
Sophomore linebacker Dan Avento (Montvale, NJ / Pascack Hills) had 11 tackles and an interception for MSU while Chad Faulcon (Cranford, NJ / Cranford) had eight tackles.
Montclair State out gained Kean 334-248 however the Cougars started seven of their 19 possessions inside MSU territory, including four inside the Red Hawks' 30 yard line.