Montclair, NJ – Sophomore defensive back Eric Gargiulo (Cranford, NJ, Cranford) knocked away a two-point conversion attempt with two seconds remaining as Montclair State held off Salve Regina for a 17-16 win at Sprague Field on Saturday afternoon.
Gargiulo's pass breakup allowed the Red Hawks to even their record at 1-1 as Montclair bounced back from last week's one-point loss at Lebanon Valley. MSU, playing in its home opener, improved to 2-1 against the Seahawks, who are also 1-1.
Junior quarterback Steve Wilken (Ringwood, NJ / Lakeland) threw for a pair of touchdowns passes for the Seahawks, who trailed 17-3 at the half before falling short in its comeback bid.
A game which featured a combined five blocked punts, three by Salve's Alex Hennessy (West Babylon, NY / West Babylon), four interceptions, seven sacks and 22 penalties (for 184 yards), the game would come down to a gutsy call by Seahawks' head coach Kevin Gilmartin, who decided to go for the win after Wilken connected with Dan Buonocore (Mahwah, NJ / Mahwah) from nine yards out with two ticks showing.
Wilken dropped back and tried to hit Buonocore on an almost identical play, however Gargiulo was there to knock the ball away preserving the win for Montclair State.
The Seahawks outgained Montclair State 255-111 in the game and held the ball for nearly 35 minutes however the Red Hawks came up with big play after big play on defense and also got help from its special teams early in the game to take a 14-3 lead.
On the third possession of the contest, Salve was forced to punt from the shadow of its own end zone. Sophomore Anthony Mannato (Beachwood, NJ, Toms River South) burst through and blocked Benjamin Barrett's (West Greenwich, RI / Bishop Hedricken) attempt just inside the end zone and then fell on it for the touchdown as MSU grabbed a 7-0 lead with 10:36 left in the first. It was the second career blocked punt and touchdown for Mannato, who also had one in the Red Hawks' last home game in November 2012 versus Brockport.
The Seahawks were forced to punt again on its ensuing touch of the ball and again Montclair capitalized as junior William Merz (Carteret, NJ, Carteret) took the punt from Barrett at the MSU 32 and found a crease along the left side before cutting back toward the middle and then down the left sideline for a 68-yard run back giving MSU a 14-0 advantage with 8:48 remaining.
Salve Regina answered back with a 17-play, 51-yard drive that included some trickery as Mitch Graziano (Kingston, MA / Bridgton Academy) hit Garfield Douglas (Attleboro, MA / Bishop Feeham) on a fake punt for 12 yards to the MSU 25. The drive stalled at the 8 and Christian Clark's (Williamsport, PA / Montoursville) 25 yard field goal made the score 14-3 with 29 seconds to go in the first.
Both teams failed to materialize much in the second quarter with Montclair State failing to capitalize on a golden opportunity. Sophomore Dan Valles (Carteret, NJ, Carteret) blocked a Barrett punt that was recovered by Gargiulo at the Salve 6. But on the very next play, Hayden Stanton (Wallingford, CT / Trumbull) stripped the ball loose from A.J. Scoppa (New Milford, NJ, New Milford) giving the ball back to the Seahawks just past the halfway point of the quarter.
Montclair State would get the ball back with 2:36 remaining and moved the ball from its own 37 to the Salve 30 as Ryan Davies (Lanoka Harbor, NJ, Howell) connected with Scoppa on a pair of passes. The Red Hawks drive stalled however junior John Schubert (Maybrook, NY, Valley Central) hit for a career-best 47-yard field with 54 seconds left as Montclair took a 14-3 lead into halftime.
In the second half, the Salve defense held Montclair State to just 53 yards but the Seahawks couldn't convert those opportunities as the Red Hawks intercepted three passes and sacked Wilken five times, including several key points over the final 30 minutes.
Despite the miscues, Salve did manage to cut the lead to 17-10 in the third quarter as Wilken hit Matthew Traynor (Secaucus, NJ / Secaucus) on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 3:47 left in the third. Wilken kept that drive going with a 17-yard scramble for a first down on a 3rd-and-10.
The Seahawks turned the ball over on the next possession as Gargiulo intercepted Wilken at midfield. But Salve held and Hennseey came up with the first of his three blocked punts giving Salve the ball at their own 46. Wilken moved the ball to the MSU 35 however his pass on 3rd-and-18 toward the end zone was picked off by safety Matt Mancino (Wall, NJ, Wall) end the threat. It was Mancino's second INT of the day giving him 12 for his career.
On the next possession Wilken directed Salve Regina to the MSU 18 before a third-down sack by Joe Falato (Lodi, NJ, Lodi) pushed the ball back to the 24. The Seahawks went for it but Wilken's pass to Buonocore in the end zone was knocked down by Mancino.
Hennessy's third blocked punt set up Salve Regina's final drive at the Montclair State 49 with 59 seconds left. Facing a 4th-and-4 at the MSU 43, Wilken ran 14 yards for the first down keeping the drive going. Three straight incompletions left Salve with another fourth down however Wilken went for 20 yards to Buonocore to the MSU 9. After a timeout but MSU, Wilken found Buonocore again as the latter kept his feet inbounds along the left sideline of the end zone for the touchdown bringing the Seahawks within 17-16.
After another Montclair State timeout, Wilken tried to go right back to Buonocore however Gargiulo was there to break up the attempt as Montclair held on for the victory.
Buonocore, who had four touchdowns in Salve's win last week against Bridgewater State, accounted for 140 of the Seahawks' 255 yards as he ran 23 times for 74 yards while catching seven passes for 66. Wilken was was 19-of-52 for 145 yards with Traynor pulling in six passes for 29 yards. Sophomore linebacker Danny Ives (Madison, CT / Daniel hand) made seven tackles while Stanton finished with six.
Junior C.J. Conway (Folsom, NJ, Hammonton), Mannato and Dan Avento (Montvale, NJ, Pascack Hills) each had eight tackles for the Red Hawks, who got five tackles 1½ sacks and forced fumble from Falato.
The Red Hawks return to action next Saturday, September 21 as they make the long trek to Alfred, NY to face Alfred University at 1:00 pm in the first meeting between the teams since the 1981 NCAA Division III Playoff Quarterfinals won by Montclair State 13-12. Salve Regina is home for its first NEFC game hosting MIT at 1:00 pm.