BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
ANNVILLE – The Lebanon Valley College football squad beat a good team last night. For them to have the type of season they’re looking for, the Flying Dutchmen are going to have to do that six or seven more times.
On Saturday night, under the bright lights of a packed Arnold Field, LVC opened a campaign of great expectations with a 15-14 edging of Montclair State. The Flying Dutchmen got off on the right foot thanks to a sturdy defense and a key fourth-quarter march.
The non-league season opener represented the first on-campus night football game ever played by Lebanon Valley, during its 117-year history in the sport.
The Flying Dutchmen, who went 6-4 a season ago, started 18 seniors. Montclair State, a New Jersey state school with an enrollment roughly 18 times larger than LVC’s, went 5-5 in 2012.
“That’s correct,” said Lebanon Valley head coach Jim Monos of the difficulty of his team’s schedule. “We’re going to face teams as good or better than Montclair State.
“I’m really proud of our football team,” continued Monos. “They’re (the Red Hawks) a good football team, and so are we. I told our guys, ‘It’s going to come down to who made the plays,’ and we did. And we got a win. They’re (the Red Hawks) a very physical football team.”
Lebanon Valley made a strong defensive effort relevant by driving 64 yards in eight plays early in the final stanza. Down 14-9, Flying Dutchman quarterback Brian Murphy connected with tight-end Nate Luckenbill for a six-yard touchdown play with 10:25 remaining.
The score was set up by 24-yard pass completions from Murphy to, first Jake Zeigler, and then Joey Miller.
“Their defensive scheme was telling us to throw the ball,” said Monos. “They were putting eight in the box, or more. Once we got ahead, we stepped up when we needed to. Defensively, we did not give up the big play. We finished the game with the ball, which is what we wanted to do. There’s no better feeling.
“We had a hurry-up (offense) that wore them down,” Monos added. “The no-huddle was effective for us. Murphy gained a lot of valuable experience for us.”
By limiting the Red Hawks to a mere 115 yards on the ground, the LVC defense surrendered a paltry 263 yards. But on the other side of the ball, the Flying Dutchmen were also hindered by poor field position and churned out only 278 of their own.
“We did what we had to do to win the football game,” said Monos. “They (the Red Hawks) played field position with us. In the third and fourth quarter we gained field position, and we didn’t give it up.
“Here’s what I know: our defense stayed strong,” added Monos. “The difference between a great football team and a good football team is making plays in the fourth quarter. We’re not a great football team, but we made plays in the fourth quarter.”
That field position and a short Montclair State punt resulted in a 3-0 LVC lead, with 4:24 remaining in the opening quarter. Sean Fakete’s 42-yard field goal was a career long.
Then after the Red Hawks turned a lengthy punt return into a touchdown and a 7-3 lead, the Flying Dutchmen drove 75 yards in 12 plays on their next possession. Elco grad Tyler George caught two passes on the march, before Evan Fink burst into the end zone, 2:33 before the break to give LVC a 9-7 edge.
“I just want to make sure we’re healthy,” said Monos. “It was a dog fight for four quarters. And it was a great game to watch.
“We felt like we had to put pressure on their offense,” added Monos. “We didn’t gamble by playing man-to-man (pass defense).”
A short LVC punt in the middle of the third quarter put Montclair State in position to assume a 14-9 lead.
“It was a long day,” said Monos of Lebanon Valley’s only night game of the season. “I was like, ‘Let’s play the game.’ But the kids loved the atmosphere and it was a great crowd. For early in the season, this was awesome.”
Up next for Lebanon Valley is a trip to reigning champion Widener, for its Middle Atlantic Conference opener. Last season in Annville, the Flying Dutchmen blew a late lead and dropped a heart-breaker to Widener.
“It’s a different year, a different football team,” said Monos when asked about Widener. “But we’re playing down there. They’re the defending champs. But I said to our guys, ‘You only get so many opportunities.’
“We’re going to enjoy this one tonight,” Monos continued. “But we know we have to play better.”