WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ – Just days after the home portion of the 2016 football season concluded for the Monmouth Hawks, all eyes were on Sept. 2, 2017 as the old Kessler Field grandstand came down and the construction began.
That day finally came and it was all Monmouth in the first game in the state-of-the-art $16 million Kessler Stadium, as the Hawks downed the Lafayette Leopards, 31-12.
“I was happy with the way we played defense throughout the game,” said Monmouth Head Coach Kevin Callahan, who has been the only head coach in the program’s 25 year history. “We saw a new running back come on the scene and have a big day. The offense really got on track in the second half and we were able to put the game away. There are some areas we need to improve, but overall I am very happy with the win and it was a great way to open Kessler Stadium.”
Both teams were slow to get the offense going as neither team got on the board until Monmouth sophomore running back Pete Guerriero rushed up the middle for a 16-yard score with only 34 seconds before the half. The Hawks went into the locker room with a 7-0 lead.
Guerriero enrolled at Monmouth last year as a sprinter on the track & field team. But the former Lyndhurst High School standout (he averaged 10.9 yards per carry in high school) wanted to give football another chance. He showed no rust in his first collegiate game after not playing football in 2016, totaling 139 yards on 21 carries while finding the end zone twice.
“Coming out of high school and not playing football, it really showed my love for the game when I came and watched these guys last year,” Guerriero said. “I just really wanted to play again.”
Callahan noted Guerriero came to him about playing football back in May, and Callahan was more than willing to give him an opportunity. This, however, was not the first time the two had met.
“I remember watching Pete in high school. His assistant football coach and track coach in high school is a longtime friend of mine and he brought Pete to campus and introduced him to me back before he choose to come here,” Callahan said. “It wasn’t long after he started practicing with us in the preseason that you saw he had the ability, the talent and the desire to really succeed on the football field, and I think that’s why he was in the position he was in today.”
Monmouth took the second half kickoff and drove 75 yards in 4:34 as junior running back Devell Jones also scored his first career touchdown, this one from six yards out, doubling the Monmouth advantage to 14-0.
Lafayette responded as freshman quarterback Sean O’Malley connected with senior wide receiver Matt Mrazek on a 17-yard score. The extra point attempt was no good. Monmouth answered right back as redshirt sophomore quarterback Kenji Bahar connected on a 30-yard flea flicker to sophomore tight end Jake Powell, which set up a 9-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Reggie White Jr., extending the Monmouth lead to 21-6 with 2:43 to go in the third quarter.
A 19-yard field goal by junior kicker Matt White added three more for the Hawks with 5:43 in the fourth quarter, and Guerriero broke a long run two drives later while running out the clock and sprinted 47 yards to the house, giving Monmouth a 31-6 lead with 2:45 remaining. Lafayette added another touchdown in the game’s final seconds, but it would be far from enough and Monmouth sent 3,898 fans home with a 31-12 victory.
Bahar got off to a slow start, but finished 22-30 for 243 yards, one touchdown and two early interceptions. He was exceptional in the second half, completing all but two of his passes (13-15, 182 yards, TD).
“We got the run game going, that helps a lot,” Bahar said. “The first half everybody started slow, started a little rusty. The second half I knew I needed to come out and bring my team up. I felt like I got in a rhythm with short, easy throws and then we took it deep and had Pete on the ground, which helped everything.”
White Jr. hauled in eight passes for 120 yards and one score. Senior safety Mike Basile, who has been named All-Big South First Team three straight years, led the Monmouth defense with nine stops and had an interception.
Monmouth (1-0) will host another Patriot League opponent in the Lehigh Mountain Hawks (0-1) on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. Monmouth defeated Lehigh on the road in week one of last season, 23-21, and have won two straight contests against the Mountain Hawks.