MONTCLAIR, NJ - As Montclair State heads into its crucial Homecoming football game against conference foe Salisbury University at Sprague Field Saturday at 2 p.m., a Jonathan Dayton alumnus will be at the helm leading the way.
Quarterback John Apicella, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior and 2015 graduate of Dayton, will make his third start of the season for Montclair State after engineering two straight come-from-behind New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) victories over Kean University (9/30) and The College of New Jersey (10/7).
The Red Hawks (3-2, 3-1 NJAC), which have won three of its last four games, trail Salisbury (4-1, 4-0 NJAC) by one game for the conference lead entering Saturday’s matinee.
Sign Up for E-News
“The first game that I played in this year was against Christopher Newport University at home. I was put in the game in the fourth quarter, trailing 16-0, and threw a touchdown pass and converted a two-point conversion in an eventual 16-8 loss,” said Apicella. “After that game, I started the next two games.”
Thus far this season, Apicella has completed 33-of-68 passes for 439 yards, three TDs, and four interceptions. Trailing 14-0 after the first quarter at The College of New Jersey last week, Apicella completed a season-best 13 passes for 182 yards, highlighted by two second-half TD passes, en route to a 21-17 victory for the Red Hawks, which captured the 85th meeting of the oldest active collegiate football rivalry in the Garden State.
It was the first multiple-TD game for Apicella, who is ranked seventh in the NJAC in passing average (109.8 yards per game).
“As a sophomore, I played in five games (started in four). In high school, you can get away with mistakes or throwing a bad ball, but in college, the skill level of everyone on the field is so good that you have to be almost perfect. This transition from high school to the collegiate level was a very surprising feeling that practice can’t prepare you for. It was a challenging year as we fought through injuries at various positions,” said Apicella, who is majoring in history with a minor in finance. “Overall, I gained a tremendous amount of experience, which has helped me mature as a player and an individual. This year has been different because of the experience gained last year. I feel that controlling the ball and managing the game has been my strengths so far this year. We are extremely talented and just have to put the ball in our playmakers hands to be successful.”
Apicella, who started playing quarterback in the eighth grade, completed 180-of-309 passes for 2,548 yards and 23 TDs in his senior season at Dayton, leading the Bulldogs to three straight victories in end the year en route to a 4-6 record.
“Moving up through high school, I started gaining more experience due to great coaching. My senior year we had a new head coach that brought in a new offense. For me this was a blessing in disguise,” said Apicella. “After our running back went down in our second game, we turned to the pass and I took advantage with what that offense offered me. The support system in Springfield, then and now, is awesome. It all starts with my parents and family supporting me 100% with whatever I choose to do. I know that they will always have my back and can count on them when I need something. That goes the same for all of my friends and other relatives who come to watch Montclair State play.”
Saturday’s matchup vs. Salisbury
This will be the 12th meeting between both schools, with the Montclair State holding an 8-3 advantage.
After Salisbury won the first meeting, 13-7, in 1986, the Red Hawks reeled off eight straight wins, including six in a row, before the series was put on hold in 1992. Both programs would meet again in 2005 and 2006, and renewed their rivalry as conference foes in 2015. Salisbury has won the last two matchups, including a 40-20 triumph at home last season.
“We play a very challenging schedule with three Top 25 teams in the country in our conference. The way we look at this is that every game from now on is a make or break-it point in our season. As a team we are focusing on one contest at a time,” said Apicella. “Salisbury sits atop of our conference and runs a triple option offense, which is difficult to stop. However, I know that our defense (which has a top 30 ranking in the nation) is up to the challenge. From an offensive standpoint, our wide receivers matchup really well against their secondary and as a quarterback, having three veteran offensive linemen in front of me is definitely a benefit.”