After a record breaking year in 1997, it would have been understandable if the Georgetown Hoyas rested on their laurels in 1998. Having lost its all-time QB passer, two of its top three rushers in modern Hoya history, its leading receiver, and its place kicker, some pre-season forecasts placed the Hoyas as far back as 5th entering the 1998 season.
Coach Bob Benson would hear none of this. Instead, Benson and the Hoyas took an 8-3 record and surpassed it, in a season widely recognized as the finest in Georgetown's football history in sixty years.
The Hoyas opened the season at Marist, one of the toughest places for opponents to play within the MAAC. Junior transfer Rob Belli rushed for 187 yards as Georgetown defeated Marist in the 1998 season opener, 24-7. The Hoyas rushed for 320 yards in the game, a notable achievement
after losing its entire backfield to graduation.
The Hoyas started out strong, forcing a fumble and scoring a field goal 0:32 in the game. And despite committing three first half turnovers inside the opponent's 10 yard line, the Hoyas kept the NCAA #1-ranked Marist defense on the field (and on their heels) throughout the game, played in 91 degree weather.
The Hoyas led 10-0 at the half and forced three Red Fox turnovers, while completing two strong fourth quarter drives to put the game out of reach. Marist added a late touchdown behind all-MAAC rusher J.J. Allen, who finished with 91 yards.
Thoughts soon turned to the biggest game on the schedule, a Homecoming meeting against Holy Cross at Kehoe Field. The Crusaders have been a measuring stick for the Hoyas' I-AA program, and narrow losses in 1996 and 1997 only furthered the drive to knock off the once dominant I-AA power.
Both teams had their share of missed opportunities. Holy Cross took an early lead but missed the extra point. A fumbled snap deep in Hoya territory
gave the Crusaders the ball at the two yard line at the end of the first half, but a holding penalty, a sack, and a missed field goal ended the drive.
In the third quarter, down 12-7, Mont and the Hoyas drove to the two inch line, only to lose six yards on third down and fumble the snap on the field goal.
Both teams exchanged field position throughout the next ten minutes. Midway through the fourth quarter, Georgetown's best drive of the game drive stalled when
Mont tripped on consecutive 3rd and 4th down plays. The Crusaders moved quickly down the field but missed a 28 yard field goal with under 3:00 to play, and on the first play thereafter Mont found Hester for a 77 yard touchdown and Kehoe Field erupted.
But there was more to come. Down one, Holy Cross drove 65 yards in under a minute, but with 1:20 left senior SS Anthony Bartolomeo intercepted a pass at the 16 yard line. Georgetown fans were delirious, but the Hoyas could not move. Hoping to watch the Hoyas run out the clock, fans were stunned to see Mont inexplicably run out of bounds with 1:06 left, stopping the clock, and Georgetown had to punt. The Crusaders then connected on two fourth down plays
in the final minute to advance to Georgetown's 28 yard line, where a 45 yard FG attempt sailed wide left for the final act in a momentous game.
Crusader fans will no doubt point to the missed extra point and four missed field goals as the difference, but another key play occurred with the Hoyas trying a two point conversion leading 13-12. Mont's pass sailed right at a HC defender with 98 yards of open field ahead of him. If he ran the INT back, HC would have earned two points and a 14-13 lead. Instead, he batted the ball down, and Georgetown maintained the lead. With the loss, Holy Cross (1-1) has not won back to back games since 1994.
The crowd, listed at 2,756 but closer to 3,500 (many left when they could not find seating) at 2,400 seat Kehoe Field, enjoyed perhaps the most exciting finish in any of the 58 Homecoming games which have preceded it. It marked Georgetown's first victory over Holy Cross since 1950,
its first win ever over a Patriot League team, and a clear sign that the football program has cleared another milestone in its progress to be competitive with Patriot and Ivy-level programs.
The Hoyas had to regroup the following week at Fairfield. A 66 yard run by running back Marvin Royal led Fairfield University to its first win ever over Georgetown, 24-17, before 4,217 at Fairfield's Homecoming game.
While Georgetown stayed close thanks to Fairfield turnovers--14 of Georgetown's 17 points came off of turnovers--it was helpless against the Fairfield ground game, which racked up 50 carries for 266 yards, the last 66 coming on Royal's romp with under 4:00 left in the game. Royal finished with 224 yards.
The 2-1 Hoyas were showing some growing pains. After dominating Marist with 320 yards in the opener, the Hoya ground game had rushed 64 times for a net of 76 yards in the last two games. On the other side of the ball, the rushing defense has given up 506 yards on the ground in the last two weeks. Perhaps the most telling statistic was that Fairfield owned the ball for 38:42 to Georgetown's 21:18. It's hard to stay in a game with so little ball control.
The Hoyas returned to the win column in a 42-14 win at Siena and a 28-0 shutout of Canisius at Kehoe Field to improve to 4-1 In the Canisius game, the two teams traded field position in the first quarter, as the Griffs (3-2) had the wind and were unable to score. In the second quarter, the Hoyas took the advantage and made the most of it. Mont hit Gharun Hester with a TD pass to open the scoring.
After Anthony Bartolomeo's fifth interception of the season, the Hoyas' drive stalled, but on fourth down, Canisius' coaching staff were caught asleep. Instead of regular punter Charlie Turner, GU sent in third string QB Sean Peterson, and Canisius was forced to commit pass intereference when Peterson faked the punt and threw a 55 yard spiral into the end zone. With the penalty, Turner returned to the game as a wide receiver and caught a TD pass from Mont, and Rob Belli then added a third score before the half.
Georgetown added a TD in the third period with an acrobatic one-handed catch by Gharun Hester, who now leads the team with six TD catches in five games. Gaining the wind in the final quarter, Canisius could not come back from a 28 point deficit and did not score. The improving GU defense shut down RB Nick Adinolfi (11 carries, 28 yards) and forced what may be a record 19 Golden Griffin punts in the game. The wind and weather forced 12 Georgetown punts, which ties the modern-era record but which is short of the 18 punts launched durintg a rain soaked 0-0 tie vs. NYU in 1934.
The toughest stretch of the season awaited the Hoyas, with road games at St. John's and Duquesne. In both cases, junior QB J.J. Mont rose to the occasion. Mont's four TD's led Georgetown past St. John's, 28-17. Georgetown opened the scoring with a 12 yard pass from Mont to Bill Rutkoske in the first quarter. In the second, a St. John's drive was stopped at the eight and the Red Storm (1-4, 0-3 MAAC) settled for a field goal. The Hoyas (5-1, 4-1 MAAC) responded with a drive capped off by a 17 yard pass from Mont to WR Gharun Hester for a 14-3 halftime score.
St. John's was able to stay in the game with four interceptions off Mont. A 29 yard INT return narrowed the lead to 14-10, and the Red Storm took the lead early in the fourth
on a 27 yard pass play. But Georgetown was able to respond with two solid drives that provided a pair of TD passes for the victory, the last with under a minute to play.
Traveling to Duquesne, an inspired effort led the Hoyas to a big road win at Duquesne, 28-23. The two teams traded field position early in the game, but Georgetown took advantage of an interception by senior linebacker Mike Melchionda at Duquesne's 35. The Hoyas drove to the 2 where Rob Belli scored with 1:55 in the quarter to lead 7-0. After Duquesne drove to the Georgetown 36, the Dukes lost the ball on a fumble on the first play of the second quarter. Georgetown drove the ball again, aided by the Dukes falling offside on a 4th down and 2 at Duquesne's 20. On the next series, quarterback J.J. Mont found receiver
Gharun Hester for a 10 yard TD pass. The Dukes returned down the field at quarter's end, but settled for a field goal with 0:59 left in the half.
On the first series of the third quarter, the Hoyas moved 77 yards in just under six minutes and finished with a 1 yard TD run by Rob Belli, extending the lead to 21-3. On Duquesne's first drive of the second half, the Dukes drove 74 yards in 12 plays over five minites, capped off by a 5 yard run by running back Andre Hatcher to narrow the score to 21-10.
The two teams traded possessions, but on the last drive of the quarter Mont's pass was lost in the wind and was picked off at the Duquesne 35 and returned to Georgetown's 39. Within a minute on the next series, Duquesne QB Tony Zimmermann found Hatcher with a 22 yard pass to narrow the count to 21-17 early in the fourth.
With 13:29 to play in front of a hostile crowd, the Hoyas took over and began a major drive that lasted over seven mnutes. Mont connected on third and long three times to receiver Matt Mattimore in the drive, and on a second down from the 16, Belli bust through the Dukes' defensive line for a touchdown, 28-17.
Duquesne answered and drove to the Georgetown 30, where Melchionda picked off another pass with under five minutes to go. The Hoyas held the ball until 1:31 to play, but on the next series, the Dukes needed only :34 seconds to drive 80 yards, with a 24 yard
pass from Zimmermann to Reggie Harris, but the two point conversion failed. The Dukes' onside kick sailed out of bounds, and the Hoyas ran out the clock for the win.
The 6-1 Hoyas returned home to meet St. Peter's, which had nearly upset the Hoyas last fall at Jersey City. St. Peter's knew what had to be done. In giving up ten turnovers in their past two games, the Peacocks had to keep the ball. Instead, six more turnovers led the Peacocks into a 54-7
rout at the hands of the Hoyas.
As usual, the Hoyas started slow and led only 7-0 after one quarter. In the second, Georgetown scored a on 6 yard TD by Rob Belli (with only 22 yards all day), a George Gummere field goal, and touchdown passes by J.J. Mont to Gharun Hester and Matt Mattimore to lead 30-0 at the half.
In the third quarter, the Hoya defense scored 14 points in just over a minute. As described in an Associated Press account, St. Peter's turned the ball over by snapping the ball on a fourth down punt...without a punter in place! The ball sailed forty yards backwards, where junior Steve Duggan recovered the fumble for a TD. On St. Peters' next series, senior Anthony Bartolomeo returned an interception 50 yards for a score. It was Bartolomeo's sixth INT of the season.
St. Peter's (0-7) scored in the third quarter on a one yard run, and Georgetown added a third quarter touchdown from freshman QB Sean Peterson to wide received Mike Mattia and fourth quarter FG to conclude the scoring.
Mont continued his impressive stats Junior QB J.J. Mont broke five GU passing records in a 34-0 shutout of Iona, raising the Hoyas' record to 8-1 with two games to play.
The win earned Georgetown its first back-to-back eight win seasons since 1927-28, when the Hoyas were coached by Hall of Famer Lou Little. Not to be outdone was the Hoya defense, which allowed only 172 yards and picked up five turnovers. Seniors
Mike Melchionda (11 tackles) and Mike Halen (8 tackles, 2.5 sacks) led the attack.
The Hoyas held off Austin Peay, 17-10, to register their ninth win of the season. It was the first nine win season in 73 years, only the third ever, and the first undefeated season at home in a generation.
The game started ominously for the Hoyas, thanks to four turnovers in the first four possessions of the game. Austin Peay (4-6) was able to convert only one turnover into points, a 37 yard TD pass from QB Adam Pineo to flanker Vince Tweddell.
The Hoyas punted in their next two posessions before connecting on an 8 play, 39 yard drive and a 30 yard field goal from 6-6 placekicker George Gummere. With 9:28 to play the Hoyas interceptied a pass but could go nowhere, but on the next series junior Paul Miller took an interception 25 yards for the score and a 10-3 lead at the half. For all the offense's misfortunes, the GU defense allowed only one possession beyond midfield all half.
Late in the third, the Governors drove to the Georgetown 10, then fumbled the ball. On the next series, Georgetown fumbled it back, but Austin Peay settled for a 25 yard FG early in the fourth.
On the next series, Mont connected with WR Gharun Hester with a 38 yard TD, Hester's 14th of the season.
With 13:03 to play, Austin Peay drove 68 yards in 13 plays, where the Hoya defense stopped the drive on fourth down at the 2. Following a late punt, Austin Peay's last drive was stopped at midfield, and the Hoyas ran out the final 2:04 of the hard-fought win.
Much as the team pulled out all the stops to battle back against Holy Cross in the 1996 season finale, the 1998 Hoyas gave the Rams everything they could handle in a 49-40 decision before 2,782 at Fordham's jack Coffey Field in the season finale.
The first quarter could not have begun any worse. Fordham scored on four first quarter possessions and led 28-0. But the Hoyas didn't give up, instead, the passing attack went to work in the second quarter, with a 10 play 65 yard drive for its first TD, and a 5 play 53 yard drive to cut the lead in half. Following a Fordham TD midway through the quarter, the Georgetown defense stopped the Rams on downs twice down the stretch, allowing J.J. Mont to find Gharun Hester for a 13 yard TD catch and a 35-21 halftime score.
A Fordham touchdown increased the lead to 42-21 before Georgetown mounted its big comeback. With 7:25 to play in the third, Mont led a 10 play, 67 yard drive to narrow the lead to 42-27, after the PAT was fumbled before the snap. Then, Mont struck again, finding Matt Mattimore with a 4 yard TD pass. Following a failed two-point conversion, the Hoyas recovered the onside kick and scored again, 42-40! Had it not been for a pair of missed conversions, the game would have been tied.
The turning point came with 5:35 to play. Held to three and out, Fordham recovered the ball on the succeeding punt at the Georgetown 10, adding the insurance TD two plays later. Mont's final two drives ended in interceptions, and the game ended soon thereafter.
At season's end, the Hoyas still didn't get the league's total respect--GU placed five first team selections to the all-conference team, while Duquesne and Fairfield each registered six selections. While co-champions were recognized in the 1994 season, MAAC officials awarded the title to Fairfield outright based on their win over Georgetown in September.
If there was any discontent over the snub, it wasn't heard. The big win over Holy Cross confirmed to many that Georgetown can legimitately set its sights beyond simply winning the MAAC as the next step in its Division I-AA development.
Here are the box scores from each game:
GU 24, Marist 7
GU 13, Holy Cross 12
Fairfield 24, GU 17
GU 42, Siena 14
GU 28, Canisius 0
GU 28, St. John's 17
GU 28, Duquesne 23
GU 54, St. Peter's 7
GU 34, Iona 0
GU 17, A. Peay 10
Fordham 49, GU 40