Playoff hopes dashed as Wesley falls 10-9 to Montclair State

Wesley’s E.J. Lee breaks through into the Montclair secondary and scores a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Critical mistakes at crucial times thrust the powerhouse Wesley College football program into unfamiliar territory Saturday afternoon.

The Wolverines dropped a 10-9 decision to Montclair State, which left a perennial national contender with “No playoff hopes, zero,” according to head coach Chip Knapp.

On an overcast, misty homecoming day at Scott D. Miller Stadium, the hosts suffered their third one-point loss in the past four games.

“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” Knapp said during a postgame interview on Drass Field, continuing with “Right now I’m a little stunned, I’m still trying to process what’s going on.”

Wesley head coach Chip Knapp on the field with his team during a time out in Saturday’s homecoming game with Montclair State.

At 5-3 with two regular season road games remaining at rival Salisbury and College of New Jersey, the Wolverines hope a strong finish can at least earn an Eastern College Athletic College bowl game appearance.

“We need to practice hard the next two weeks and play hard to earn our seniors one more game,” Knapp said.

The latest setback involved a series of crushing flubs that erased a promising start early on. Junior E.J. Lee burst up the middle for a 50-yard touchdown run just over two minutes into the game for a 6-0 lead, but the offense then went 11 straight possessions without reaching the end zone.

The Wolverines outgained the visitors 394 yards to 223, but were undone by multiple miscues.

Willie Barr of Montclair is stopped for a loss by Wesley’s Jerome Gibson in the 2nd quarter.

“It’s weird to see just nine points in a Wesley football game,” said senior quarterback Khaaliq Burroughs, who threw for 233 yards and converted several third downs with pinpoint accuracy, but also lost a fumble on a first and goal play from the one with less than nine minutes left and his team trailing by a point.

“I haven’t seen that since I’ve been here and it just doesn’t seem right.”

Even Lee’s first score came with a bit of error since a high snap ended in a botch extra point kick try ended up costing the hosts a crucial point early on.

Wesley’s defense was mostly staunch throughout, but a costly sideline interference call broke its shutout with four seconds left in the first half and the hosts up 9-0. An official threw a flag after bumping into a Wolverines’ coach, which set up Montclair’s 33-yard field goal to pull within 9-3.

“That’s something I’ve never seen called before,” Knapp said.

Abe Mansaray of Wesley gets a big hole thanks to the offensive line.

Montclair’s only touchdown came with 11:56 left in the game, and came after its initial field goal miss that was negated by a Wesley offsides call. Instead of the Wolverines taking the ball with a six-point lead, the visitors ran three more plays to score on Ja’Quill Bu’s six-yard touchdown pass to Kason Campbell. Hunter Daly then kicked what eventually became the game-winning extra point.

Down a point with time winding down, Wesley drove to the six-yard-line before Nick Bruhn’s 23-yard field goal attempt caromed off the right upright and missed with 3:10 remaining.

Afterward, Knapp said coaches will first evaluate their own performance before deciding how to move forward with preparing their players.

“We’ll look at the routine we’re in, though I think it’s pretty much the same approach we’ve taken while making the playoffs for 13 straight years,” he said. “The talent is there but we’re not playing well enough to overcome a play or two that will decide close games.”

Lee finished with 121 yards on 18 rushes and 59 yards on six receptions. Alex Kemp caught seven passes for 92 yards and had 13 rushing yards, but also suffered a late-game injury that left his upcoming availability in question according to Knapp.

Wesley’s Isiah Mitchell and Cappadonna Miller each made interceptions, while Dante Daniel had 10 solo tackles and seven assists. Cameron Miles and Vincent Ebron combined for a sack.

Hall of famers

At halftime, the 2018 Wesley Hall of Fame Class announced in July was honored. Members included Larry Bryant Jr. (men’s basketball, 2003 graduate), Ryan Buckland (baseball, 2008), Cole Pavlik (cross country, 2006), Kyle Savidge (women’s soccer, 2008) and Brooke Tadlock (field hockey, 2011).

Late head football coach and athletic director inductee Mike Drass was represented by his wife Laurie and daughter Mollie.

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