HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – As fitting as the Hofstra football team’s nickname the “Pride” was last week after Hofstra upset then-seventh ranked, Colonial Athletic Association defending champion James Madison, is how much that same moniker is a mismatch this week, as pride turned to utter disappointment in the wake of Hofstra’s mistake-filled 16-14 homecoming loss to Maine, before 5,453 at James M. Shuart Stadium on Saturday.
If a nickname were given to the game played by the Pride, the title of the 1966 film starring Clint Eastwood, “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly,” would be appropriate.
The good for Hofstra (3-3, 1-2 CAA)? Getting 32 first downs to Maine’s 11, outgaining the Black Bears 533 yards to 311, including 293-122 on the ground, and forcing three Maine turnovers.
The bad? Scoring just 14 points and losing a game at home that Hofstra was favored to win, despite all of the aforementioned numbers in the Pride’s favor.
And, the ugly? The biggest reasons that the bad outweighed the good for Hofstra: a short missed field goal attempt after a bad snap, and seven turnovers, including three apiece for two different quarterbacks who combined for five interceptions.
“The two biggest things we talk about in winning football games,” said Hofstra head coach Dave Cohen, “Are winning the turnover battle and outplaying the other team on special teams. Cleary today, the first one I talked about is the reason we’re sitting here as not victorious. To outgain an opponent by 220 yards and not win, as I said, it comes down to two things, winning on special teams and winning the turnover battle.”
On the interceptions, four of which were into a fairly strong breeze, Cohen said the wind was not that much of a factor, saying “We had a number of poor decisions… three of [the interceptions] were deflected passes.”
The game started looking like it might be a proverbial letdown game for Hofstra after last week’s big win. Maine returned the opening kickoff 33 yards to its own 40, and then went 60 yards on six plays, in just 2:43, to lead 6-0 (the PAT was missed off the left upright) on a 5-yard touchdown run by freshman Julian McCall. The score was set up by consecutive 10-yard runs by sophomore quarterback Warren Smith (team-high 82 yards on 16 carries) and a 36-yard pass by Smith to the Hofstra 5 yard-line to Tyrell Jones, who made a nice leaping catch, taking advantage of Hofstra cornerback, senior Leslie Jackman slipping on the play.
When asked if his players might have been flat after the JMU victory, Cohen said “I wouldn’t think so.” Cohen’s defense seemed to back him up on that assessment, allowing just ten points the rest of the way, despite the seven Pride turnovers yet to come and Maine starting in or entering Hofstra territory on another seven possessions.
The Black Bears were on the verge of extending their lead in the first quarter when they committed their first turnover, a fumble sophomore tailback Derek Session, recovered by Hofstra senior safety Ray McDonough at the Hofstra 1 yard-line.
But, after the Pride senior quarterback Cory Christopher (22-32, 223 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT) led the Hofstra to its own 48 yard-line, sophomore quarterback Steve Probst (2-8, 17 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT) came in and threw an incomplete pass on 2nd-and 7, before throwing his first interception at the Maine 39, returned by Maine sophomore linebacker Donte Dennis to the Hofstra 43. Dennis said the Maine’s ability to force so many Hofstra mistakes started earlier in the week, as he said “We had so many interceptions and fumbles in practice and it carried over to the game.”
Hofstra then forced a punt, but the next possession ended in a fumble by junior wide receiver Aaron Weaver, recovered by the Black Bears at the Pride 49.
Again, Hofstra held, but a 13-play, 77-yard, 6-minute drive led by Christopher, ended with his first interception at the Maine 6, returned 36 yards by sophomore safety Jerron McMillan, to the Maine 42.
The Hofstra defense forced a three-and-out, but Probst, inserted back into the lineup, ended the next Pride possession by throwing his second pick at the Black Bears’ 38.
That turnover, Maine did capitalize on, going 9 plays and 62 yards in 3:41, as Smith found senior wide receiver Landis Williams on an 18-yard touchdown pass, giving Maine a 13-0 lead with 1:17 left in the half.
With Christopher back in through the quarterback revolving door, Hofstra drove into field goal range, but after a personal foul penalty on junior running back Everette Benjamin pushed the Pride back, Christopher tossed his second interception at the Maine 24 with 9 seconds left in the half, before the Black Bears ran out the clock to take a 13-0 lead into the locker room.
More of the same continued as the third quarter started. Christopher drove Hofstra to the Maine 32, but was intercepted for a third time.
Although he was surprised with the yardage his team allowed, asking “[533 yards?] We gave up that much? Wow!” Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove said his team was ready to be as opportunistic it was, saying “That’s the key to the whole thing, is the turnovers. We felt like there were some late throws by their quarterbacks, occasionally some risky throws, we saw it in tape. [They had a] low elbow at times and getting the ball batted a bit. We were talking about it all week long, watching it on the tape… they did what we expected them to do.” That despite, his team being short-handed, as Cosgrove added, “We had four guys that we left at home and we had redshirt freshman out there, and sophomores. It was just special to see them persevere. We made plays when we had to.”
Finally, things started to break right for the Pride though. A Session fumble recovered by Hofstra at its own 35 with 11:17 left to the Pride’s first score. First, freshman Miguel Maysonet, who had an earlier rush for 28 yards, and a career and game-high of 95 yards on just 7 carries, sprung for a 19-yard run.
Later on the sane drive, Probst ran for 9, 21, 9, and 3 yards on successive four carries, to get Hofstra to the Maine 1. That set up a one-yard touchdown run for Benjamin, trimming Maine’s lead to 13-7 with 8:18 left in the third quarter.
Cohen defended the two-quarterback system Hofstra employs, saying “I think it’s obvious, the strength of the two quarterbacks… how Cory throws the ball down the field a little bit stronger, and… how Steven runs the ball better and put the defense in a dilemma as far as the option game is concerned.”
Still, the turnovers caused Cohen to consider a change to using one quarterback, as Cohen admitted “That’s something we’ll decide… when we watch the film and [I] discuss it with the staff.”
Hofstra stopped Maine again, and had a good chance to take the lead, with Probst (12 carries for 91 yards) again running well, leading the Pride to a 1st-and-goal at the Black Bears’ 6. But, two rushes that netted only a yard, followed by an incomplete pass led to another missed opportunity for Hofstra. Senior kicker Henry Greco, rushed by a bad snap and Maine freshman Darlos James extending for a block attempt from the left side, pushed a chip shot 22-yard field goal which would have cut the Black Bear lead to 13-10, wide right with 14:51 left in the game, thus wasting a 13-play, 70-yard drive that ate up 6:46 on the clock.
Smith (15-25, 189 yards, 2 TS, 1 INT) was then intercepted on the next Maine possession at the Hofstra 11, by sophomore linebacker Gregory Melendez.
Hofstra opted to stick with Probst, who had a pair of 10-yard rushes on the next drive, but Probst fumbled, and Dennis recovered at the Hofstra 46.
The Black Bears then drove 35 yards on 11 plays in 3:51, and extended their lead to 16-7 on a 28-yard field goal by Jordan Waxman with 5:37 left.
Down two scores, with time running out, the Pride went away from their running quarterback in Probst, and back to their throwing signal caller, Christopher, completed 7 of 9 passes on 10-play, 72-yard drive in 3:15, scoring on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Christopher to Weaver, who made a very nice leaping catch, getting his feet down in the back of the end zone, to pull Hofstra to within 16-14, with 2:22 remaining.
Down to only one timeout, the Prided tried an onside kick, which was recovered by Maine. The Pride forced another three-and-out though, and still had life –- even after the seven turnovers.
Christopher completed three straight passes, taking Hofstra from its own 15 with 38 seconds left, to the Maine 48 with 25 seconds left. Christopher then looked for sophomore Brock Jacklowski, who plays several different positions in all three phases. Jacklowski, normally very reliable, and one of Cohen’s favorite players on the team, dropped what would have been a drive-sustaining first down inside the Maine 40, with 15 seconds left. It was just that kind of day for Hofstra. Christopher was then sacked to seal the win for Maine.
While recognizing that Maine didn’t see the same Hofstra team that showed up against JMU, Cosgrove wasn’t shocked by his team’s ability to upset the team that upset one of the stronger CAA teams a week prior, saying “It doesn’t surprise me ever to see somebody step up [in the CAA.] It’s just human nature. [Hofstra] certainly [was] an outstanding team last week, I’m sure they weren’t near as good today, and that helped us.”
Meanwhile, a very disappointed Cohen, will try to get Hofstra on track while keeping his team together after the tough loss. “There’s not going to be any finger pointing,” he said. “There’s many things I can point to from the first drive of their offense, to the turnovers of our offense, to having a poor snap on a bad field goal. And, any three of those situations could have helped to win the football game, and we are a team that’s a hundred of us together, and we’re gonna win football games like we did last week together, but we’re gonna lose football games like we did today, together. And, there will be no finger pointing because there [are] many examples as we’ll see… in the film that all three aspects could have helped us win that football game. It’s not just the turnovers. Obviously, that’s the main story of today’s game, but at the same point, that first drive, our defense could have stopped them, and we could have made that field goal. We’re gonna stay together through this, and we’re not gonna point fingers.”
Cohen added that although his defense stopped Maine most of the day, he thought that unit could have played harder. “I thought they were resilient,” he said, “But, I do not think we played as physical or as hard as we’re capable on defense. We didn’t tackle as nearly as well as we did the last two weeks… and, just in general, I don’t think we were swarming to the ball as much as we’re capable.”
In the tough CAA, Maine gets no reward for beating Hofstra. Next up is undefeated, top-ranked, defending FCS national champion Richmond (5-0, 3-0 CAA) on Saturday. However, the Black Bears are not backing down. Smith said, the win over Hofstra “Gives us a lot of confidence… we expect to win the [Richmond] game.” Dennis added, “They’re just another football team.’
To which Cosgrove reflected for a few seconds before saying, “A pretty good one though,” which brought laughter from nearly everyone in the room, including Smith and Dennis.
Cohen meanwhile, will prepare his team to travel to Rhode Island (1-4, 0-2 CAA), also on Saturday. He said, “That’s my job… it’s not gonna be easy, it’s not gonna be fun, but we’ve been in this situation before, and we’ll get them going for the Rhode Island game.”