WEST LONG BRANCH – Ex-local high school players contributed to the Monmouth University football team’s 56-28 victory over Hampton University on Saturday at Kessler Stadium.
Wide receiver Vinny Grasso, a graduate student out of Monsignor Donovan (now Donovan Catholic), scored one touchdown in the Sept. 8 game in front of an announced crowd of 3,092 fans.
Tymere Berry, a redshirt junior defensive back from Toms River South, intercepted one pass and added three solo tackles and one assist as the Hawks evened their record at 1-1 with the non-conference win.
Senior defensive back Matt Castronuova, a former Jackson Memorial player competing on special teams, turned in a touchdown saving tackle. Freshman wide receiver Eddie Morales, of Howell, seeing action as a utility player, made two solo tackles and broke up one pass.
The blocking of fifth-year senior offensive lineman Ryan Wetzel, a Freehold resident who played for Colts Neck, helped pave the way for sophomore running back Pete Guerriero, who rushed for career-high 209 yards and scoring three touchdowns on 21 carries.
The Hawks, who won their sixth straight home game dating back to last season at their one-year-old $35 million venue, rallied from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit, burying the Pirates under a 28-0 avalanche for a 28-14 halftime lead.
“It wasn’t exactly the way we wanted to start it,” Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan said. “I felt we handled that adversity very well and had the game in control. There was tremendous explosiveness on the part of our offense. When we were down 14-0, we said, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta keep playing. Settle down and do your job. Then we clicked on offense and regained confidence that transcended to the defense. The next thing we knew, we were up 42-14.”
“Once we get rolling, we get clicking,” said Guerriero, a 5-foot-10, 190-pounder.
Devell Jones, a 6-foot, 235-pound senior running back, opened the assault with a 4-yard touchdown run over the right side with 2:42 left in the first quarter. Matt Mosquera followed with his first of four extra point kicks to cut the deficit to 14-7.
Jones’ touchdown capped an 8-play, 73-yard drive that consumed 4:29. Guerriero pulled the Hawks to within 14-14 with 14:06 to go in the first half, racing 28 yards.
Jones, breaking several tackles, bulled over the left side for a touchdown from 2 yards to send the winners in front to stay 21-14 with 4:01 remaining in the first half.
Guerriero, a 5-foot-10, 190-pounder, pushed the lead to 28-14 when he ripped through a huge hole over the right side of the Hawks’ line and sped 67 yards.
“I saw green,” Guerriero said. “I have no other answer for that question. My line and my tight end did a good job of blocking inside the box.”
The onslaught continued in the second half in which the Hawks scored on their first two possessions en route to 42 straight points.
Bahar, who threw for a career-high 326 yards, connected with senior tight end Jake Powell on a 37-yard touchdown pass for a 35-14 lead with 13:41 to play in the third quarter. Grasso set up the score with an 8-yard run on a reverse around right end to the Pirates’ 37.
Monmouth extended its lead to 42-14 when Powell hauled in a 10-yard scoring pass from Bahar with 8:59 to go in the third quarter.
Displaying shifty moves as he faked out five defenders, Grasso caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Bahar to widen the Hawks’ lead to 55-28 with 8:53 to play in the game.
“It was a quick hitting play on third and five,” said Grasso, a 5-foot-7, 175-pounder. “I beat their mike linebacker and made people miss. Bahar did a good job of getting me the ball. It was a good call by (coach Callahan).”
Grasso set up a touchdown with a 19-yard dash on a reverse to the left side for a first down, putting the ball on the Hawks’ 47. Guerriero followed with a 1-yard run for a 49-21 lead on the final play from scrimmage of the third quarter.
Grasso finished the game with two catches for 33 yards.
“Vinny has been with us for five years,” Callahan said. “He has made a lot of contributions to our program. He has been a dynamic player for us. He has made contributions as a receiver and as a ball carrier. He has the ability to make big plays with the ball in his hands.
“Vinny is a great leader. He is well respected. The other players respect him and emulate him. They want to be like Vinny Grasso.”
Berry picked off a pass in the end zone with Monmouth ahead 56-28 with 5:26 to play in the game.
Berry and Wetzel are the Hawks’ captains. They are joined by two game captains selected during the week. Berry, a 6-foot-1 175-pounder, was a first-team All-Big South Conference first team selection prior to this season.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard,” Berry said. “I am just blessed with the opportunity. I just want to live up to the standard as captain. I’ve been working hard and trying to lead by example for the younger guys. I am just glad that they see that in me and they want to follow my lead.”
Guerriero shredded the Pirates (1-1) for 145 yards on 12 carries in the first half. Monmouth junior quarterback Kenji Bahar completed seven of 13 passes for 185 first-half yards. His favorite receiver was senior wideout Reggie White Jr., who caught four passes for 103 yards. Bahar completed passes to four receivers in the first half on Military and First Responders Appreciation Day.
Castronuova temporarily saved a first-half touchdown when he tackled Hampton redshirt junior Ronald Bell at the Pirates’ 40-yard line on the opening kickoff.
Hampton, which scored on two of its first three possessions, answered with a 32-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Delmon Williams to Bell with 13:05 left in the opening quarter. Freshman Evan Lomax kicked his first of two extra points in the opening half for a 7-0 lead.
The Pirates stretched their lead to 14-0 with 7:19 to play in the first quarter when Williams tossed a screen pass to the left side to sophomore wide receiver Antonio Graham, resulting in a 70-yard touchdown.
Bahar connected on 15 of 26 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns on the day. White Jr. caught five passes for 145 yards.
“We were very balanced on our offensive attack,” Callahan said. “It was far from a perfect game. We have to pay attention to the details and to the finer points of the game. An awful lot occurred today that we can build upon. Winning today was important. We’re taking it one win at a time. We have to keep moving forward.”
Wetzel, a 6-foot-4 285-pounder, was a preseason all-conference selection.
“It is incredible,” he said. “This is my fifth year and now I get to be a captain. It’s a credit to our program. I’m here to take on this leadership role the best way I can.”
Scoring summary: Bell (H) 32 pass from Williams (Lomax kick), Graham (H) 70 pass from Williams (Lomax kick), Jones (M) 3 run (Mosquera kick), Guerriero (M) 28 run (Mosquera kick), Jones (M) 2 run (Mosquera kick), Guerriero (M) 67 run (Mosquera kick), Powell (M) 37 pass from Bahar (Mosquera kick), Powell (M) 10 pass from Bahar (Mosquera kick), Robinson (H) 25 run (Lomax kick), Guerriero (M) 1 run (Mosquera kick), Bonds (H) 28 pass from Williams (Lomax kick), Grasso (M) 25 pass from Bahar (Mosquera kick)
First downs: Hampton 28, Monmouth 56
Yards rushing: Hampton 29-90, Monmouth 38-230
Yards passing: Hampton 339, Monmouth 326
Punt returns-yards: Hampton 0-0, Monmouth 3-17
Fumble returns-yards: Hampton 0-0, Monmouth 0-0
Kickoff returns-yards: Hampton 7-151, Monmouth 3-51
Interception returns-yards: Hampton 0-0, Monmouth 1-0
Punts-yards: Hampton 9-32.7, Monmouth 5-35.8
Fumbles lost: Hampton 0-0, Monmouth 0-0
Penalties-yards: Hampton 7-70, Monmouth 4-31
Possession time: Hampton 30:15, Monmouth 29:34
Third-down conversions: Hampton 6 of 17, Monmouth 5 of 11
Fourth-down conversions: Hampton 0 of 0, Monmouth 0 of 1
Red zone scores-chances: Hampton 0-1, Monmouth 4-4
Hampton rushing: Robinson 2-26, Anderson 6-22, Williams 14-21, Herriott 3-12
Monmouth rushing: Guerriero 21-209, Grasso 2-27, Farri 7-15, Jones 6-9
Hampton passing: Williams 23-37-1 339
Monmouth passing: Bahar 15-26-0 326
Hampton receiving: Bell 6-81, Graham 5-82, Barney 5-32, Bonds 2-36
Monmouth receiving: White Jr. 5-145, Powell 5-66, Grasso 2-33, Moore 1-37
Hampton punting: Glaster 8-294 36.8
Monmouth punting: McCreary 5-179 35.8
Hampton punt returns: 0-0
Monmouth punt returns: Grasso 2-6, Terry 1-11
Hampton kick returns: Bell 4-113, Graham 2-18
Monmouth kick returns: Moore 2-34, Guerriero 1-17