Monmouth Upsets #22 Liberty 20-17 in OT
WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ – The Monmouth University football team’s defense forced three turnovers and sophomore kicker/punter Matt White (Gibsonia, PA/Mars Area) hit the game-tying and game-winning field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime, respectively, as the Hawks stunned No. 20 Liberty, 20-17, Saturday afternoon at Monmouth Stadium. With the win, the Hawks improve to 3-4 (1-1 Big South), while the Flames fall to 3-4 (0-2 Big South).
“I would just like to congratulate our team, I thought it was a tremendous team effort and that’s something that we talked about in our meeting last night and then again this morning,” said Monmouth Head Coach Kevin Callahan. “We had to complement each other in all phases of the game.”
It was the first win over a top-25 opponent in the 23 year history of the Monmouth football program.
“To be honest I was a little nervous, but I had confidence from my teammates, my holder, my snapper, my kicking coach and the coaching staff as a whole” said Matt White. “They knew I could do it. With these guys having my back I felt very confident. That was my first game-winning field goal.”
Mike Basile (Brick, NJ/Brick Memorial) led the Monmouth defense with 12 tackles, while Payton Minnich (Harrisburg, PA/Central Dauphin East) added 10 tackles and a fumble recovery. Andrew Jurczynski (Ewing, NJ/Ewing) contributed a sack, an interception and a key tackle on the goal line to stop one of Liberty’s two-point tries in the fourth quarter. Anthony McDonnaugh (Philadelphia, PA/West Catholic [Salisbury]) also added four tackles, including one for a loss, and blocked a Liberty field-goal attempt.
Cody Williams (Springfield, MA/Central) completed 17-of-34 passes for 194 yards, while also rushing for 17 yards and a touchdown. Lavon Chaney (Edgewater, MD/South River) rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown, while Darren Ambush (Dickerson, MD/Urbana) caught a team-high six passes for 45 yards. Reggie White, Jr. (Randallstown, MD/Milford Mill Academy) made four catches for a team-high 79 yards, including a key, full-extension diving grab for 30 yards down the left sideline on the Hawks’ fourth-quarter drive to tie the game. Matt White was true on field goals of 35 and 37 yards.
Defense was the story in the first half, as the Hawks forced two turnovers and blocked a field-goal attempt. Minnich’s fumble recovery and 25-yard return put Monmouth in Liberty territory, as did Jurczynski’s 26-yard interception return of a Woodrum screen pass.
The Hawks also held on 3rd-and-goal from their own 1-yard line, with Tre Nelson (Palmerton, PA/Palmerton) sacking Woodrum on play action to push the Flames off the goal line. McDonnaugh then blocked John Lunsford’s 27-yard field goal to give the Hawks the ball back with 2:31 left in the half.
Monmouth then marched 80 yards on eight plays, covering 1:44 for the game’s first points. The Hawks moved into Liberty territory with a 22-yard completion on 3rd-and-3 from Williams to White, Jr. Williams scrambled 15 yards to the Flames’ 23 yard line on the next play, before a screen to Chaney for 22 yards got the Hawks to the Liberty one-yard line. A Williams sneak over the goal line gave the Hawks the lead and White’s extra point made it 7-0 Monmouth at the half.
Liberty finally got on the board with 12:47 left in the fourth quarter, moving 70 yards on 15 plays over 5:27 to set up Lunsford’s 30-yard field goal from the left hash, cutting Monmouth’s lead to 7-3. Monmouth had the answer, however, driving 75 yards on 11 plays over 4:43, culminating in Chaney’s one-yard plunge over the goal line to give the Hawks a 14-3 lead with 7:57 to play. A 28-yard completion to White, Jr., got Monmouth into Liberty territory, before Williams connected with Ambush on an 18-yard pass play on 3rd-and-17 to the Flames’ two-yard line. After Williams snuck the ball halfway to the goal line on first down, Chaney ran off left guard for the score.
The scoring continued with Liberty getting its first touchdown of the game with 4:24 remaining on Desmond Rice’s eight-yard run off an option pitch to the right on 3rd-and-8. Jurczynski stuffed Woodrum on a QB keeper up the middle to prevent the two-point conversion and preserve a 14-9 Monmouth lead.
The Hawks went three-and-out on their next possession and White punted 54 yards to the Liberty 17. However, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty pushed the Flames to the 32. Woodrum completed four-straight passes to get Liberty down to the Monmouth one-yard line before Todd Macon punched it over the goal line to give the Flames their first lead of the game, 15-14. Woodrum then hit Canon Smith over the middle for a successful two-point conversion and a 17-14 lead with 1:11 left in regulation.
Starting from its own 20-yard line, Monmouth moved 62 yards on 10 plays to set up White’s game-tying 35-yard field goal. Williams hit Ambush for 13 yards, before going over the top down the left sideline to hit a diving White, Jr., for 30 yards into Liberty territory. On 3rd-and-10, Williams hit Hakeem Valles (Sicklerville, NJ/Peddie School) over the middle on a crossing pattern for 19 yards before the fifth-year senior tight end got out of bounds at the 18-yard line. Following a pair of incomplete passes, White came on and hit the 35-yard field goal as time expired on regulation, tying the game at 17-17 and sending it to overtime.
Liberty was first to possess the ball in the overtime session. Woodrum hit Rice for seven yards on 3rd-and-8, with McDonnaugh coming up with the stop short of the line to gain. The Flames ran an option left on fourth down, but Rice fumbled Woodrum’s pitch and Dimitrius Smith (Millstone, NJ/Jackson Memorial [Milford Academy]) fell on the ball to turn possession back over to the Hawks.
Chaney rushed twice for a combined eight yards and first and second downs, before Williams took a three-yard loss to center the ball for White. The sophomore’s 37-yard attempt split the uprights to clinch the 20-17 victory for the Hawks.
Monmouth returns to action next Saturday, when it play host to top-ranked Coastal Carolina on Homecoming. Kickoff from Monmouth Stadium is scheduled for 1 p.m.
“Our approach was to take it one series and one game at a time. We did a very good job of focusing on being successful early in the game. We wanted to come out and play well in the first quarter and carry that into the rest of the game. I thought our guys understood what it took to be successful every step of the way on both sides of the ball and the kicking game. I was especially happy with the way we reacted to adversity at the end of the game. Liberty came down and scored the go-ahead points to go up by 3, and we come right back go down the field and put ourselves in a position to kick the tying field goal. The defense came up with another great effort, especially in the red zone all day. In overtime we felt like we needed to get about five yards to get into guaranteed field goal range, we got the ball up to the 20 and centered it. It was a great team effort all the way around.
“Cody Williams has a level of confidence and puts the ball in a position where his players can make plays. [WR] Reggie [White Jr.] had a huge catch that really flipped the field for us that got us down in their territory. Those were the two guys who made big plays against Bryant as well to put us in scoring position. We feel good that we can move the ball if we need to.”
“This week in practice we did the two minute drill and won on a Hail Mary. It’s a critical time. Everyone needs to come together and play as one. We had faith in our line up front and just had to get the ball in our receivers hand to get downfield and put Matt White in a position to win this game.”
“There was obviously going to be some lows in our game and unfortunately our lows came towards the end. We stayed strong and when we had an opportunity to capitalize we did. It’s a huge win for the program.”
DL Andrew Jurczynski
“Other teams always have great players, but our scout team does a great job week in and week out, we work hard in practice and managed to get it done this week. This is definitely the biggest win since I’ve been here.”
Coach Callahan on whether this was the biggest win of his 23 year career:
“It’s the biggest win today, that’s for sure. The thing you have to realize, and it shouldn’t get lost here, is that Liberty is a hell of a football team. They’ve had great season the last two years. They’ve got great talent and they’re well coached. They wouldn’t be ranked so high in the nation if they didn’t. Their run at the end didn’t surprise me because they have great players. It’s a huge win and it’s the first time we have beat an opponent ranked this high. It’s big for the Big South race to even our record at 1-1. We have positioned ourselves to continue to play and continue to battle.”
“The greatest reality check is that we’ve playing the number one team in the nation next week. What that speaks to is the quality and the competition of the Big South. We played a ranked team last week, a ranked team this week, and we play a ranked team next week in Coastal Carolina. I want our guys to enjoy this because we’ve worked very hard to get to this point, but once we come back in tomorrow we’re going to watch film, make corrections, and be locked on the next opponent. There’s a lot of football to be played and that’s where our focus is going to be. Coastal is the next one up.”
Cody Williams on overcoming last week’s loss to Charleston Southern
“You can’t let your highs get you too high and your lows get you too low. The guy that taught me that was [former Monmouth QB Brandon Hill]. When you go through a rough game like we did last week, once it is done it is done. You have to move on to the next week, prepare, and execute.”