Zokouri, Guerriero lead Monmouth to Homecoming win over Liberty
Hawks duo combined to rush for 355 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries.
Coming off a bye week after a four week road trip that saw them go 3-1, the Monmouth football team opened Big South Conference play against Liberty with a high-scoring 56-39 victory over the FBS-bound Flames in front of 4,235 fans at Kessler Stadium.
“What you saw today was a great effort by our team,” Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan said. “For much of the game, you saw how explosive our offense can certainly be.”
Liberty struck first with a five-yard touchdown run by running back Frankie Hickson, but the Hawks responded on the ensuing kickoff with a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown by Pete Guerriero, setting a new Monmouth record for longest kickoff return and tying the game at seven with 11:00 in the first quarter.
“My blockers set it up perfectly and I just hit the hole,” Guerriero said. “It opened up exactly where it was supposed to be and it just happened from there.”
Monmouth took the lead on their next drive after forcing a Liberty punt on a 25-yard touchdown run by fellow freshman running back Eric Zokouri with 6:09 remaining. They added to that on their next drive on a 12-yard rushing touchdown by junior wide receiver Lonnie Moore on a reverse for his first career rushing touchdown, giving the Hawks a 21-7 lead after the first quarter.
Liberty answered back early in the second quarter with a 76-yard touchdown pass from Stephen Calvert to B.J. Farrow down the sideline. The extra point attempt was no good. Monmouth responded with back-to-back scores. Zokouri picked up his second touchdown of the day from 35 yards out, extending the MU lead to 28-13. Two possessions later, Guerriero showed off his 40-yard dash abilities with a 41-yard sprint untouched to make it 35-13 with 2:01 before the half. Liberty scored one more time with a quick 51 second drive as Calvert completed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Cephas Reddick, but the Flames failed the two-point conversion and Monmouth took a 35-19 lead into the locker room.
The Hawks struck first in the second half as sophomore quarterback Kenji Bahar found junior wide receiver Reggie White Jr. on an eight-yard connection in the back-left corner in the end zone, coming down with the catch in bounds in one-on-one coverage, extending the Monmouth advantage to 42-19. A 50-yard Zokouri run set up a 4-yard score by junior running back Devell Jones on their next possession, giving Monmouth a 49-19 lead with 8:10 in the third quarter.
Liberty responded with 20 unanswered points over the quarter’s final 5:59. Calvert threw all three touchdowns, two to Antonio Gandy-Golden for 24 and 33 yards and one to Damian King for 22 yards, cutting the Hawks’ lead to 49-39 after the third quarter.
“We just had to re-focus,” senior safety Mike Basile said. “I think we got too ahead of ourselves in the third quarter when we were up by 30 points at one point. I think that got to us a little bit, but once we regained focus in the fourth quarter, we were locked in.”
Monmouth came out in the fourth quarter and struck a big play to start their second drive, as Bahar found a wide open White Jr. over the middle of the field for a 61-yard touchdown, extending the Monmouth lead to 56-39.
Bahar finished the day 14-25 for 244 yards and two touchdowns. Zokouri and Guerriero combined for 355 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries. The Monmouth offense totaled 364 yards on the ground and five touchdowns, and totaled over 600 yards of offense.
“We’ve been running the ball fairly well most of the season, and we felt there would be some opportunities to do that today,” Callahan said on the running game. “Our objective is to stay balanced in terms of our run and pass and we hit some explosive plays today. These guys did an exceptional job today as did the offensive line.”
The Hawks improve to 6-1 on the season and 1-0 in Big South play, which continues on Saturday, Oct. 28 as Monmouth travels to Charleston, SC to take on Charleston Southern for a 6 p.m. kickoff.