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LIU takes a few baby steps in loss to Sacred Heart

LIU quarterback Clay Beathard gets into full stride

LIU quarterback Clay Beathard gets into full stride during the Sharks' 34-10 loss to Sacred Heart on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. Beathard ran for 46 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown run.   Credit: Lee S. Weissman/Lee S. Weissman

Jahmel Johnson didn’t hold back.

“I’m not happy at all with the performance,” he said.

There weren’t many positives for the Long Island University football team’s defense, as the Sharks allowed 537 yards of total offense and three plays of 44 yards or more to Sacred Heart, which cruised to a 34-10 Northeast Conference win Saturday in front of 2,482 at Bethpage Stadium in Brookville.

“I just feel like we need to become more sound as a defense, as a whole,” Johnson said. “Everybody has to come together and learn their responsibilities and play harder, more physical, and just become more focused as a team.”

Johnson intercepted a pass and deflected two others, but his secondary was partially to blame for the blowout. The Sharks (0-2, 0-1 NEC) were burned twice on big plays to wide open receivers — a 62-yard grab by Troy Holland and a 60-yard catch-and-run for a score by Tyrese Chambers — and Sacred Heart quarterback Logan Marchi went to work.

He completed 25 of 33 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns and had a clean pocket most of the game.

“It’s a breakdown in communication,” LIU coach Bryan Collins said. “Two of the big touchdowns came on a man-type of coverage, and we had a miscommunication on both of them.

“You can understand those physical matchups that happen throughout a game, but the communication has to be there in order for us to be a good defense.”

The run defense allowed 4.3 yards per carry and 162 yards, a chunk of which came on Julius Chestnut’s 44-yard touchdown run that put Sacred Heart ahead 34-10 early in the fourth quarter.

It appeared as if LIU’s offense would be able to keep up early, even without top wide receiver Derick Eugene, who was injured in the 38-3 loss to South Dakota State two weeks ago and will miss the rest of the season.

Unlike how the offense repeatedly stalled in South Dakota, the Sharks were able to keep drives alive.

They moved well on the first drive, as Clay Beathard (9-for-25, 135 yards, one interception) orchestrated an offense that went 10 plays and 52 yards in 4:59, setting up a 43-yard field goal attempt by Briant DeFelice that was blocked at the line of scrimmage.

“It was a big improvement [from the Sept. 7 game],” Beathard said. “We were moving the ball, moving the chains, which was big. Last time, it seemed like it was climbing a mountain to get past third down, but now we’re moving the chains. I thought we did a lot better.”

Beathard scored the first touchdown in the program’s FCS history later in the opening quarter. He scrambled up the middle, spun off a defender and ran 20 yards before diving with his arm extended past the goal line for a touchdown. The ball came loose, but a long review confirmed the call on the field. DeFelice’s ensuing PAT put LIU ahead 7-6, the first lead of the season.

“I was pumped up for the touchdown and then to see it actually become a touchdown later on, but I was not thinking about any stats or anything like that,” said Beathard, who ran 15 times for 46 yards and praised the protection scheme. “I was pumped up to score and compete.”

With two byes in the first four weeks of the season because of LIU’s late decision to merge its athletics programs and play FCS football this season, the Sharks can now look forward to playing football weekly. That could help the team’s consistency, Johnson said.

“Other teams are on their fourth games, and it’s our second,” he said. “I feel like once we get back to practice and get into the flow of the season, I think as the weeks go by, we’ll start to pick it up.”

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