MONTCLAIR, N.J. - Lebanon Valley's defense generated four turnovers, including Josh Borreli's pick-six, to open the season with a 31-21 win over Montclair State in the MAC-NJAC Challenge series.
The Dutchmen (1-0) made the most of every opportunity against the Red Hawks (0-1), who had received votes in the d3football.com preseason top 25. Despite being outgained by a significant margin on offense, turnovers in key spots and efficient offensive performance made the difference.
Pete Panichi ran for 137 yards while Conrad Heisey and Evan Fink each had a rushing touchdown. Joey Miller caught a 35-yarder in the second quarter, and Sean Fakete tacked on a 24-yard field goal. Nate Kauffman and Ian Bond also added interceptions, while Jared Cicero forced a late fumble that Andrew Burkholder recovered.
"This is a big-time win for our football team. We made some noise in our region," said head coach Jim Monos. "We're going back home to open the MAC schedule, we have Misericordia in the first game on our turf - we'll be jacked."
It was LVC's bend-don't-break defense that won it in the second half, coming up with three interceptions and a late game-sealing fumble while the offense played mistake free. Borreli had the back-breaker, though, jumping Drew Cathey's pass early in the fourth quarter for a 30-yard touchdown to turn a 24-14 game into a comfortable 31-14 margin.
"They ran that play a couple times, I was waiting for it, I got the opportunity, and I went for it," said Borreli, a junior playing in his first game for LVC since transferring from Lycoming. "I just looked at the goal line and got there as fast as I could."
Heisey had the game's opening score, a 1-yard punch-in to cap a long drive, but Cathey hit Vin Fischer for 59 yards on the next drive to knot it at 7-7. Fakete's field goal put LVC ahead on their next drive, and after forcing a four-down turnover, LVC got the ball back for Leo Kyte to hit Miller 35 yards downfield for a 17-7 halftime lead.
LVC capitalized on a special teams mistake to score in the third quarter when punter Steve Hellings had the snap sail through his hands, giving the Dutchmen possession on the 3-yard line; Fink converted on first down to go up 24-7. Cathey found Kevin Grady later in the quarter to make it interesting at 24-14 before Borreli's interception halted Montclair's momentum, and Cicero's late fumble force after a Bryan Ogden completion ended any hopes the hosts had for a comeback.
"Defensively, I told these guys, they've been doing it all camp. Our secondary has been looking for picks... That was big," Monos said.
Montclair outgained LVC 423-288, doing the bulk of their work in the air with 348 yards passing. LVC controlled the ground, however, allowing just 75 yards rushing while Panichi, Fink, and Heisey combined for 170.
LVC will make its debut on the new Arnold Field turf next week, hosting Misericordia for a 1 p.m. start.
LVC was 3-for-4 on fourth-down conversions ... Borreli also led LVC with seven tackles ... Jerome Duncan, Kevin Smith, and John Harsch each had sacks, with Harsch's coming on the bad punt snap in the third quarter ... Although Borreli had the pick-six, it was Nate Kauffman who had the longest interception return, taking his back 45 yards ... In his first career start, Leo Kyte was 8-for-20 for 118 yards and a touchdown ... The Dutchmen had eight first-time starters overall ... It was the first time since last year's Stevenson game that LVC was turnover-free ... LVC and Montclair were meeting for the first time. It was also LVC's first game against an NJAC opponent ... Montclair will make the return trip to Annville in 2013 to finish the MAC-NJAC Challenge ... Montclair, at 18,402 students, is the largest school LVC has played since Drexel in 1967 ... LVC has won two straight and four of its last five season openers.