Daily Press (Sunday)

CNU falls, but can still win NJAC

Captains can clinch Div. III playoff berth with a victory Friday

- By Marty O’Brien

NEWPORT NEWS — Christophe­r Newport entered Saturday’s game at TowneBank Stadium with a one-game margin for error to win the New Jersey Athletic Conference and qualify for the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time in nine years. The Captains used it up by losing 19-14 to Montclair State.

CNU (6-3, 4-1 NJAC) can still win its first NJAC crown since joining the league in 2015 by winning at The College of New Jersey in a game set for 6 p.m. Friday in Ewing Township. A loss, however, would complicate things greatly as Montclair State (5-4, 4-2) and three other teams began Saturday with two conference losses.

“It’s pretty simple: If we win next week, we control our own destiny,” said second-year head coach Paul Crowley, whose Captains missed the playoffs last year with a 36-33 loss to Salisbury on a touchdown in the final seconds. “That’s all you can ask for in the last game of the (regular) season.

“It’s what happened to us last year, so it’s history repeating itself. We’ll see how our kids respond.”

The Captains were in control of their fate after snatching a 14-13 lead on Matt Dzierski’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Colin Hart and Ryan Castle’s extra point with 5 minutes, 1 second remaining in the fourth quarter. But the Red Hawks responded with their third long touchdown drive of the afternoon, 10 plays for 75 yards, and sealed the victory on a 2-yard touchdown run by quarterbac­k Aiden McLaughlin with 44 seconds to play.

McLaughlin (23-of-37 passing, 227 yards) completed three passes on the winning drive to receiver Anthony Roige. Roige, a 6-foot, 205-pound sophomore, burned the Captains throughout the afternoon with yards after the catch as he netted 144 yards on 13 receptions.

The frenetic ending was a contrast to a first half that was a defensive battle almost to an extreme. All-conference linebacker Kindrick Braxton led the CNU defensive effort in the first half with seven solo tackles.

The teams traded punts in the first seven possession­s of the game before Montclair drove 60 yards on 10 plays to take a 7-0 lead on

McLaughlin’s 16-yard TD pass to Clarence Wilkins with 7:01 to play in the first half. Matt Dzierski (18-of-25 passing, 258 yards) emerged on the Captains’ next possession, completing a 34-yard

TD pass to Trey Hayes (seven receptions, 130 yards) to complete a nine-play, 84-yard drive to tie it at 7 late in the first half.

Undaunted, the Red Hawks began the second half with a 20-play touchdown drive that consumed 11:17 of the third-quarter clock. McLaughlin and Roige kept the sticks moving by connecting for first-down passes once on third down and twice on fourth down.

McLaughlin’s 8-yard pass to Vincent Pinto set up Abellany Mendez’s 9-yard touchdown run that put the Red Hawks ahead 13-7 with 3:36 left in the third quarter. Did the marathon drive leave the Captains’ defense tired on the Red Hawks’ game-winning touchdown drive?

“That certainly could’ve (played a factor),” Crowley said. “I’ll have to go back and look at the film and see exactly what happened schematica­lly,

“They went right down the field to win it, so certainly our guys looked worn.”

While Dzierski, the receiving corps and the defense were solid, the running game — which netted only 21 yards on 22 attempts — was not. That, and the defeat, will be quickly forgotten should the Captains win on Friday at TCNJ to earn the NJAC title and NCAA qualificat­ion.

“It’s a silver lining after a bad day that you still have an opportunit­y to go win it,” Crowley said.

 ?? COURTESY OF ERIN FARINA/CNU ?? Christophe­r Newport wide receiver Trey Hayes tries to break away from Montclair State linebacker Omarie Wilmore during Saturday’s game in Newport News.
COURTESY OF ERIN FARINA/CNU Christophe­r Newport wide receiver Trey Hayes tries to break away from Montclair State linebacker Omarie Wilmore during Saturday’s game in Newport News.

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