BUENA VISTA, Va. — Southern Virginia University football kicked off its 2019 campaign with a historic home-opening win over Montclair State (34-21) marking the Knights' first victory over the Red Hawks in the sixth meeting between the two teams.
"The team as a whole played a complete game," said Head Coach Ed Mulitalo. "The first game of the year there is always going to be some unknowns, but after today's game, we have answers to some of those unknowns.
"We are not totally surprised by the results," continued Mulitalo. "We brought in a talented class of recruits in addition to returning great players at key positions. Both new and returning Knights paid major dividends in today's victory."
After forcing Montclair State to punt on the Knights (1-0) first defensive series of the contest, Cade Nelson blocked the Red Hawks punt attempt giving Southern Virginia excellent field position for its first offensive series of the season. Southern Virginia capitalized on the blocked punt by scoring several plays later when Caeden Knight recovered a fumble in the back of the endzone to give the Knights a 7-0 advantage (following a successful PAT by Jackson Hatch).
The Red Hawks responded in the second quarter with a 25-yard touchdown strike from Ja'Quill Burch to Carsen Johnson, but after a missed PAT by Montclair State, the Knights retained a 7-6 lead heading into halftime. After the half, the Red Hawks took their first and only lead of the game when Anthony Marinel connected on a 22-yard field goal putting MSU up 9-7.
After relinquishing their lead in the third quarter, Southern Virginia's defense came up big making critical plays throughout the second half to help the Knights reclaim control of the game. First, Jacob Taloa picked off a pass in Red Hawk territory setting up a Pinkston-to-Josh Newman touchdown pass to put the Knights back ahead (14-9).
On the Red Hawks next possession, Caleb Sturges picked off Burch again in Montclair State territory. With the offense now finding its rhythm, Pinkston placed a perfectly thrown 26-yard pass to wideout Kevin Adams for the score. Following a successful two-point conversion, as Pinkston again connecting with Newman, Southern Virginia extended its lead to 22-9.
Early in the fourth quarter, Southern Virginia's defense collected its third interception of the day when Justin Mitchell came up with a clutch takeaway—this time with the Red Hawks threatening to score in the red zone.
"Our defense has a goal to be one of the best in the country," said Mulitalo. "They made big plays for us especially in the second half with three interceptions that created opportunities for our offense to score. I am proud of their performance and their ability to lockdown the opposition."
After being forced to punt on the ensuing position, Southern Virginia's Logan Beatty boomed a punt to the Montclair State 33-yard line which Newman recovered for the Knights after the ball made contact with an unsuspecting Red Hawk. Starting again with excellent field possession, the Knights turned to last year's leading rusher, Akiva Wedge, who punched in a six-yard run to give his team a commanding three-possession lead (28-9) with less than five minutes remaining.
Montclair State responded with a quick score when Burch connected with Brian Kowalczyk for an eight-yard touchdown pass trimming the Knights lead under two possessions (28-15).
Southern Virginia's special teams sealed their fantastic performance on the subsequent kickoff when Montclair State lined up for an onside kick. The on-side attempt bounced directly to Newman who added to his already stellar performance by returning the kick 43-yards for a touchdown putting the Knights up for good (34-15).
"Coach Hugie and his special teams played great," said Mulitalo. "I haven't seen special teams like that in a while; they were every aspect of the game they were prepared.
"Before the game, we had discussed the importance of special teams performing well," continued Mulitalo. "If our special teams performed well, we felt like we'd be in a position to win—and that's exactly what happened."
The Red Hawks found the end zone one last time with 1:51 remaining in the fourth quarter on a 33-yard completion from Burch to Mitch Chugunov making the final score 34-21.
In his debut for Southern Virginia, Knights quarterback Pinkston threw for 184 yards, including three touchdowns, while completing 17-of-25 pass attempts. Wedge led the Knights ground game with 65 rushing yards and a score on 21 carries. The receiving trio of Newman, Adams and Trey McArthur accounted for 14 receptions, 162 yards, and three touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, freshman Isaac McArthur led the Knights with eight tackles while Joel Bergman added seven. Four other Knights collected six tackles in the win. Taloa led the team with a pair of pass breakups to go along with his interception.
"Montclair State is a great team with multiple weapons on both sides of the ball," said Mulitalo. "We were excited to matchup with a team in our former conference in hopes of showing our team's progression. As a team, we made adjustments from last year's game against them and were able to have a complete game earning ourselves the win."
The Knights have a bye next week before beginning their first season of competition in Old Dominion Athletic Conference when they host Hampden-Sydney College on Sept. 21 at 1 p.m.