September 26, 2015

FDU-Florham Football - Devils Prevail 29-26 in 2015 Home Opener

Photo courtesy of FDU-Florham Athletics
MADISON, N.J. – The FDU-Florham football team overcame a 13-point second-half deficit to top the Wilkes University Colonels 29-26 in front of a capacity crowd at Robert T. Shields Field on Friday night.

With the victory, the Devils (2-1, 1-1 MAC) snapped a 24-game winless streak against the Colonels (1-3, 1-2 MAC), and a 19-game losing streak in Middle Atlantic Conference games. Entering tonight, FDU-Florham's last victory over Wilkes came in a 23-6 win back in 1985, while the team's last MAC triumph came in a 41-10 rout of Misericordia University in 2012.

On Friday night, the Devils used a balanced attack to keep the Colonels off balance, totaling 229 yards through the air and 200 yards on the ground. Senior running back and team captain Anthony Ognibene rushed 20 times for 116 yards in the contest with 51 of those tallies coming in the game-changing fourth quarter. Ognibene, along with fellow backfield mate,Oscar Torres combined for 98 yards on 15 carries in the final frame, which propelled the team to victory.

Making his first-career start under center for the Devils, sophomore quarterback Nicholas LaVecchia completed 26 of 33 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns. LaVecchia spread the ball around all night but his favorite targers were Malik Pressley and Esaun Mobley who each hauled in eight receptions for 72 and 71 yards respectively. Two of Pressley's catches went for scores, while Mobley nabbed one touchdown reception on the night.

After the Devils went three-and-out on the game's opening possession, the Colonels responded with a 10-play, 66 yard scoring drive, capped off by a three-yard touchdown plunge by PJ Incremona. After a missed extra-point try, the Colonels held a 6-0 lead. Incremona led the Colonels' backfield with 80 yards on 14 carries.
LaVecchia raced the Devils down the field on the ensuing possession, with six-yard passes to Pressley and Mobley and a 22-yard connection with Tyler Adams. On second-and-3 from the 20-yardline, LaVecchia threw a strike to Pressley for the Devils' first score of the game and the successful point-after made it 7-6.

Early in the second quarter, the Colonels looked poised to regain the lead when they drove into the red zone but a huge fourth-and-1 sack by Nick Galletta thwarted their chances. Wilkes came up with a fourth-down stop of its own on the next possession when two defenders combined to tackle Mobley one-yard shy of a first down.

On their next possession, the Colonels went 59 yards on seven plays, highlighted by a 30-yard run by Incremona and a 20-yard pass from Ryan Dailey to Garrett Armstrong, which set up a one-yard touchdown rush by Brandon Latierno.

Leading 13-7, the Colonels drove into scoring territory just before halftime but FDU-Florham junior defensive back Jaleel Tyson put an end to the threat by intercepting a Dailey pass at the 1-yardline and the lead stood at six heading into the break.

The scoring picked up for both teams in the second half, as Wilkes stormed out of the locker room with 14-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, which stretched its lead to 20-7.

After the Devils' next two possessions ended with interceptions, the momentum appeared to be firmly in the away team's corner. However FDU-Florham's defense stood tall and gave the offense a chance to respond.

A huge fourth-and-7 conversion from LaVecchia to senior wide out Ted Cebulski kept the Devils' next drive alive in Colonels territory and on the next play the second-year signal caller found Pressley with a corner fade to the back of end zone, which made it a 20-14 game.

Wilkes countered with a 10-play scoring drive on its next possession, which concluded with seven-yard touchdown pass from Dailey to Aaron Coyne making it a two-score game once again, 26-14.

The Devils remained undeterred and back-to-back big gains by Torres setup a 19-yard touchdown reception for Mobley with 12:05 to play.

On their next possession, the Colonels drove deep into Devils territory but another fourth-down stop, this time a run-stuffing tackle by Ryan Sullivan, ended Wilkes' drive.

With 7:53 to play in regulation, Torres and Ognibene took turns rushing down the field as the Devils matriculated inside the Colonels' 5-yardline. After a botched snap that nearly derailed their comeback chances, the Devils' came through with the highlight of the night.

LaVecchia rolled to his left and lofted a high fade to the back left corner of the end zone and Adams did the rest. The sophomore wide receiver out jumped the Wilkes defender, snatching the pass out of the air and keeping his feet in bounds for what proved to be the game-winning score. Adams finished with four catches for 58 yards on the night.

Now trailing 29-26, Wilkes took over with 3:59 to play but their next drive came to an abrupt end when FDU-Florham junior corner back Mike Brown stripped Armstrong and promptly pounced on the loose ball.

With Wilkes out of timeouts, the Devils were able to melt most of the clock down. Wilkes eventually took over deep in its own territory with just 19 seconds left but a last-ditch effort from Dailey was intercepted by Troy Scales, sealing the victory as time expired.

Dailey finished the game 24-for-40 with 267 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

A valiant effort by the Devils defense was led by Chris Fitzerald's 10 tackles and nine stops apiece by Scales and Cristian Paez.

The Devils 2-1 start is the best start to a season the team has had since they began the 2010 campaign at 3-0.

FDU-Florham is back home again next Friday, October 2 when they battled Delaware Valley University at 7 p.m.

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