The atmosphere was festive and the crowd was alive on homecoming at Connor Field on Saturday as Menlo College snapped a two-game losing streak and delivered in a 35-6 football victory over NCAA Division III Pomona-Pitzer.
In his first career start under center, quarterback Wade Hawkins led the Menlo offensive charge with a 15-of-28 performance for 208 yards, including a trio of touchdown passes. Menlo scored 35 unanswered points before the Sagehens finally found the end zone in the waning minutes of the third quarter.
The victory also marked the first career win for Menlo head coach Mark Grieb, who was thrilled with the way his team came out and competed in front of the home fans on Saturday -- especially coming off a couple of challenging defeats to kick off the season.
"It feels great," noted Grieb. "I'm really happy for our players. They've worked hard and have endured two tough losses in a row against good opponents. To see them come and respond today was really promising and it just kind of shows the character of our team."
Menlo's resiliency was on full display early on when, with just over eight minutes on the clock in the first quarter, Hawkins dropped back and found a wide-open Matt Belardes for a 46 yard touchdown. From there, Menlo used a combination of a stifling defense attack, an efficient passing game, and spectacular special teams play to grab a 35-0 lead.
Hawkins connected with Michael Alexander for a 15-yard touchdown pass, Daniel Jones returned a punt for 65 yards and Robert Gehre made a sensational catch over the top of a defender to pull in his first touchdown of the year and round out Menlo's first-half scoring.
Menlo's lone second-half touchdown came just three minutes into the third frame when Thomas Reynolds found the end zone after an 18-yard run to cap off an efficient two-play, 37-yard scoring drive.
The Menlo defense took over from there -- fueled by Jaden Rosselli's team-leading six tackles, a sack, and two tackles for loss. Dylan Bunfill and Camyar Meshkaty each added five tackles and a half sack and Meshkaty forced a fumble that was eventually recovered by Cameron Grad. Menlo forced and recovered three fumbles, racked up three sacks and tallied nine tackles for loss on the afternoon. Ray Roach came up with the lone interception on the afternoon, the first of his career at Menlo.
The Oaks' offense totaled 357 yards (208 passing, 149 rushing) compared to just 126 total yards of offense for the Sagehens. Hawkins was diplomatic with his approach as four different receivers had two or more receptions. Reynolds set the pace for Menlo's running backs by rushing for a game-high 57 yards and a touchdown. Kenneth Martey was close behind with 41 yards for the Oaks.
While Grieb was pleased with his team's all-around effort, he did note a few areas he hopes to improve on with a home game against visiting Pacific University set for this Saturday at noon. One of those areas was penalties. Menlo was whistled for 12 infractions and 149 total yards.
"We played great across the board," Grieb said. "I'm disappointed about some of the penalties and that sort of thing, we've got to clean some of that up but the effort was great and the confidence our guys played with was really something for us to build on."