Monmouth Tops Leopards in Garrett's Debut
WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. -- Monmouth used two third-quarter scores to pull away to a 31-12 win over Lafayette football in John Garrett's head-coaching debut.
The Leopards started freshman Sean O'Malley under center and he completed 27-of-42 for 262 yards with two interceptions and two touchdowns. It was the first time in the Patriot League era (since 1986) that Lafayette has started a freshman in the season opener. One of O'Malley's touchdown passes went to senior wide receiver Matt Mrazek who finished with nine catches for 80 yards.
Mrazek's performance moved him into fifth place for career receptions (149), passing Mark Layton and Shaun Adair, and into eighth spot for career receiving yards (1691), propelling him past Jamal Jordan, Quincy Miller and Dave Baird.
It was a low-scoring affair in the first half as the Leopard defense held Monmouth to seven points while the offense managed 61 yards in the first 30 minutes.
On Lafayette's second drive of the game, O'Malley was picked off by Monmouth All-American Mike Basile who returned it to the Leopard 20.
Lafayette's defense was forced to make its first stand and responded. Cornerback Phillip Parham intercepted his sixth career pass near the goal line and returned it 13 yards to avert the Monmouth scoring chance.
As the first quarter ended, the Leopard offense looked like it was going to get on the scoreboard first. Jacob Bissell lined up for a 30-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by Kamau Dumas, ending a nine-play drive that featured completions to Mrazek (6 yards), Nick Pearson (29 yards) and Dylan Wadsworth (4 yards). Bissell recovered to make the tackle after the blocked kick.
Another interception for the Leopards' defense came with five minutes left in the first half at the hands of Eric Mitchell, his second career pick.
Lafayette's offense picked up one first down on the next possession, but the drive stalled and the Leopards were forced to punt. Freshman Michael Turk uncorked a 59-yard punt and the Hawks took over at their own 36-yard line with 4:13 to go in the half.
The hosts put together a 64-yard drive to take the halftime lead on a day when Monmouth dedicated its new facility, Kessler Stadium. With 41.6 seconds left, Monmouth converted a 4th-and-2 to the Lafayette 16-yard line. On the next play, tailback Pete Guerriero ran it in for the 7-0 lead at intermission.
In the second half, the Hawks took the opening kickoff and cobbled together a 75-yard drive to grab a 14-0 lead. Devell Jones capped the scoring march with a six-yard run. Reggie White Jr. had two catches on the drive for 35 yards, the second of which set up the score.
The Leopards' answered with their first scoring drive, covering 73 yards on nine plays over 4:09. O'Malley hit Mrazek for a 17-yard score in the corner of the end zone. The PAT was wide right and Lafayette trailed 14-6 with 6:10 left in the third quarter.
White was on the scoring end of the next Monmouth drive, finishing a seven-play, 67-yard effort with a nine-yard completion from Kenji Bahar for the 21-6 lead.
The combo proved efficient as the game continued, hitting for a 50-yard connection that put Monmouth deep in Leopard territory and led to a 19-yard field goal. Monmouth added another score with 3:39 left in the game when Guerriero broke away for a 47-yard TD.
The Leopards' offense added a final tally with less than a minute to play, as O'Malley led Lafayette on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a one-yard toss to Nick Franzese in the back of the endzone for the 31-12 final.
For the afternoon, Monmouth finished with 418 offensive yards (175 on the ground and 243 in the air) while Lafayette managed 261, all of which came through the air. Defensively for Lafayette, Michael Root (9), Yasir Thomas (8), Jerry Powe (7) and Brandon Bryant (7) led the team in tackling. Root and Demetrius Breedlove each registered a sack. Monmouth sacked O'Malley four times and was led by Basile with nine tackles.
Lafayette opens the 2017 home slate on Saturday at 6 p.m. against Sacred Heart.