Coming off a devastating loss at Fordham last week, the football team will have a chance to get back on track at Saturday’s home opener against Monmouth.
The Lions (0-1) were blown out in their first game, falling 52-7, but the lopsided score was not their only setback. The next day, the team announced that junior quarterback Brett Nottingham and senior defensive end and co-captain Seyi Adebayo had both suffered season-ending injuries.
“Sunday was hard,” head coach Pete Mangurian said in a phone interview on Thursday. But the team is embracing the challenge of playing without two of its best players.
“I think your adrenaline always kicks in right after you hear something about that, you become so determined that we’re going to find a way to do this. And I think that’s the collective mentality of the team,” Mangurian said.
Against Monmouth (1-3), Columbia will have an opportunity to show its home fans what the team, sans Adebayo and Nottingham, is still capable of.
After opening the season with three straight losses, the Hawks picked up their first win of the season last weekend at Holy Cross, 21-14. Running back Julian Hayes rushed for 131 yards in the victory, giving him a total of 422 yards on the year just four games in.
Stopping Hayes and fellow running back K.B. Asante, who added 118 rushing yards of his own against the Crusaders, will be a priority for the Lions.
“Their style offensively is clearly to knock you around and run the ball. They’ve got big running backs,” Mangurian said. “Both can come after you and knock you backwards.”
After giving up 259 yards on the ground and 606 yards overall, the Lions defensive will have their work cut out for them.
Offensively, Columbia will need to find a way to keep sophomore quarterback Trevor McDonagh on his feet. The Light Blue allowed five sacks and had a lot of trouble with the blitz in its first game, and though the Hawks only have four sacks on the year, three of them came last Saturday.
“Handling the blitz is the key,” Mangurian said. “People are going to pressure us and come after us. I’m sure they’ll do that with what they perceive as a new quarterback or a guy that’s got limited experience.”
Though he has never started, McDonagh actually has more experience with the Lions’ offense than Nottingham.
McDonagh appeared in two games in 2012, and threw for 83 yards and a touchdown on 8-of-17 passing in last weekend’s defeat.
“Trevor has had a lot of experience in the program. He was here all last spring, he was here as a freshman,” Mangurian said, adding that McDonagh “has gotten more and more confident as the week has gone on.”
McDonagh will also have a stud lining up behind him in the backfield. Senior running back and co-captain Marcorus Garrett, who averaged 5.9 yards per carry in the opener, was one of the few bright spots last weekend against the Fordham Rams. Though Garrett ran the ball only 15 times in the opener, the run figures to be a significant part of the Lions’ attack this weekend.
“Anybody who thinks we’re not going to run the ball hasn’t been paying attention,” Mangurian said.
With Columbia going up against a Monmouth team that gives up on average of 166.2 rushing yards per game, a big performance from Garrett could be in store.
Despite everything that went wrong in their first outing, it’s only one game. And going into the match-up with Monmouth, they are focused on putting the painful Fordham game behind them.
“Change is inevitable, it’s a part of this game. Injuries are a part of this game,” Mangurian said. “I think as the week has gone on, we’ve become stronger and stronger emotionally. We’ve played better, we’ve practiced better.”
On Saturday, the Lions have a chance to go out and prove it. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. at Robert K. Kraft Field.