Fairfield, CT – The Pioneer football team could not win a fifth straight game, falling to Monmouth, 31-17 Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 3,468 at Campus Field. Chris Mandas (Mission Viejo, CA) registered a season high 16 tackles for the Sacred Heart defense. However, the Hawks defensive unit limited SHU to 287 total yards, including just 40 rushing yards, to snap the Pioneers longest winning streak since 2008.
"Chris has been a great leader and was named a captain almost unanimously," commented Head Coach Paul Gorham after the game. "He does everything to give you a chance. He's our safety net."
Sacred Heart (4-3, 2-2 NEC) ended the Hawks first drive after just two plays as Stephan Thomas (Egg Harbor Twp., NJ) hauled in his first career interception, which would be the Pioneers only take-away of the afternoon. The Pioneers entered Hawks territory for the first time midway through the first frame but would have their drive stall out after three straight incomplete passes.
Monmouth (4-3, 3-1 NEC) drove into the Pioneers end of the field on the next possession and faced a fourth and three on the 31 yard line. The Hawks ran a successful play-action pass and Justin Pandorf took a short pass up the left side line for the first touchdown of the game. Monmouth then forced SHU to punt after just three plays and marched back down into the red zone. However, the Sacred Heart defense would stand tall and hold the Hawks to a field goal to increase the MU edge to 10-0.
The Pioneer offense found its legs after the ensuing kick-off, moving the ball 30 yards on 12 plays for their first points of the day. No play on the drive was longer than nine yards as Greg Moore (Newark, NJ) scored on a seven-yard TD reception to make it 10-7. The Pioneers had a chance to at least tie the game heading into halftime on the final drive of the second quarter. But Tim Little (Egg Harbor Twp., NJ) let an errant pass go off of his back foot that was intercepted in the end zone by Patrick Gray.
Sacred Heart scored just seven plays into the second half as Little found Rich Rossi (Moosic, PA) from 25 yards out to give SHU its first lead of the game, 14-10. The two sides then traded three and outs but the following Monmouth possession went deep into SHU territory. However, Sacred Heart came up with a huge stop on fourth and one as Michael Zambarano (Natick, MA) and Vinny Branchini (Longmeadow, MA) stuffed the play in the back field to force the turnover on downs.
The Monmouth defense forced SHU into a third and ten near midfield before coming up with one of the biggest plays of the game. Eric Macik brought down Little for one of MU's six sacks of the game and also forced the ball loose for Ian Simon to recover and give the Hawks the ball with momentum. Just three plays later Julian Hays crossed the goal line from eight yards out to give the advantage back to the visitors, 17-14.
The Pioneers faced a third and long when they got the ball back but Rock Tate (Lantana, FL) made a leaping 37-yard catch to keep the drive alive. Chris Rogers (Cazanovia, NY) eventually came on and knocked through a 34 yard field goal to cut the deficit to 24-17. Rogers, a red-shirt freshman, is now a perfect nine-of-nine on field goal attempts this season.
The Hawks first play after the kick-off was pivotal as Mitchell Pollard's broke free after a shallow crossing rout, eventually gaining 61 yards after running out of bounds at the SHU 15 yard line. Hayes took it the rest of the way with a carry on the next play to round the game's scoring. The Pioneers would be unable to close the gap late and fell for the first time in a month, 31-17.
Jo Jo Jamiel (West Yarmouth, MA) paced all receivers with nine catches for 58 yards. Nine different Pioneers caught a pass as Little finished the game 28-of-46 through the air. Sacred Heart's 40 rushing yards was a large drop off from last week's historic performance against Saint Francis (PA).
"If you can't run, you can't set up all your play action," said Gorham. "They did a good job today. They were very well coached and caused problems for us. But that being said if we don't turn it over, we make them drive a long field and that changes the whole complexion of the game."
The Pioneers will look to get back on track on the road next weekend as they travel to Moon Township, PA to take on perennial power Robert Morris.