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Montclair State wins season opener at FDU-Florham 25-15

Photo Credit: Sunil Sunderraj

Photo Credit: Sunil Sunderraj

Montclair State Head Coach Rich Giancola didn’t think the Red Hawks played as well as he had hoped but was proud of the way the team overcame adversity on Friday night at FDU-Florham in Madison, New Jersey. The player that set the tone for the game and racked up big yardage all night long was senior running back John DiStefano carrying the ball 26 times for 184 yards with two touchdowns and added a receiving score.

Trailing 15-10 with 12 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, DiStefano took a handoff from freshman quarterback Ryan Adzima (7 for 18,135 yards) and scampered 74 yards for the tally. The Red Hawks defense turned up the pressure in the second half forcing the Devils into numerous three and outs. Forced to punt from their own 19-yard with 2:38 left in the 4th quarter, the ball sailed into the end zone resulting in a safety making it 18-15.

“We came out in the second half and got our run game going and moving better,” said Rich Giancola. “The defense moved it up and stopped them on several downs. A combination of everyone coming together in the second half. You get field position when forcing three and outs and difference only having to go 40 or 50 yards instead of 80 or 90 and first downs were critical. It didn’t start out that way but the guys showed a lot of pride in the second half and especially on the first drive that picked everybody up.”

On the ensuing return, sophomore Anthony Travisano gathered the ball and sprinted back to the FDU 49-yard line. Adzima displayed poise and mobility in the pocket by completing key passes to freshman wide receiver Jaedon Stephens for 13 yards and junior wide receiver Julanee Prince for 19 yards. A key pass interference call on the Devils set up a first and goal at the two-yard line. DiStefano capped off his stellar effort bursting through the line into the end zone extending the lead to 25-15.

“The one thing I like most about my runs is that I had my wide receivers blocking downfield for me. Schultz and Stephens had my back and motivated me to run harder,” John DiStefano said. “When the offense is coming up short, the defense has our back and vice versa. We said at halftime we weren’t worried and knew we were going to come out and know what were capable of and just have to click.”

“Ryan (Adzima) is a very good QB, transfer from Pitt and freshman. It takes a lot of guts to come out and perform they way he did and a good leader. The last two years I was here lost the first game and very important to win the first game. I’m glad we came together and pulled out this win.”

In the first quarter, FDU took the opening possession from its own 22-yard line and drove down to the Red Hawks four-yard line. However, Montclair State’s defense held forcing the Devils into a field goal attempt. Junior defensive Michael Stradford managed to break through and block the kick. Taking over at the 20-yard, the Red Hawks benefitted from a personal foul call on 3rd and 19 at their own 11. On 3rd & 6 from the 30, Adzima dumped a screen pass to DiStefano who did the rest of the work shaking off several tacklers before scampering down the field for the touchdown.

Junior Frank Scheenberger added a 33-yard field goal 55 seconds into the second quarter widening the margin to 10-0. FDU didn’t take long to respond as on their next possession driving quickly in part to a pass interference call on senior Frank Greco after junior defensive back Tyquese Jackson had picked off a pass thrown by Devils quarterback Joey McCain. On second and goal from the Red Hwks 9-yard line, McCain fired a pass to wide receiver Marquis Wright. On the extra point attempt, the Devils faked it as McCain rolled out for the bootleg run cutting the lead down to 10-8.

FDU was not finished with its bag of tricks, attempting a bold onside kick as Nick Maciejewski recovered the ball. Penalties continued to pile up for Montclair State as Jackson was flagged for a personal foul call that the Devils took advantage of. On 3rd down from the Red Hawks 24-yard line, McCain zipped a pass to DiStefano putting FDU ahead for the first time in the game.

“When you start the season, you want to get that one under your belt and no question about it our past history in game one of several seasons has not been good,” said Rich Giancola. “We’re probably .500 over multiple years and a lot of things to improve on. We have young, inexperienced and several players that have not played on the field. It doesn’t matter whether freshman or juniors but still are first time players on the field and have to mature quickly and can do that.”

Montclair State remains on the road playing at Salisbury University on Saturday September 17th at 12:00 p.m.

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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