No. 7 Football Vies For FFC Title
Norwich University Cadets (5-3, 3-1 FFC)
at Springfield College Pride (No. 7, AFCA, 8-0, 5-0 FFC)
Sat., Nov. 8, 2003 • 12 p.m. • Benedum Field
What's At Stake:
If the Pride wins Saturday's game, it will capture its fifth Freedom Football Conference Championship and earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Even if SC loses Saturday, it could still get the bid to the NCAAs if Western Connecticut beats Norwich on Nov. 15.
SC leads, 19-2, but Norwich won the last meeting at Benedum Field, 14-13, on Nov. 3, 2001. It is the Pride's only FFC home loss dating back to the '98 season.
The Last Meeting:
The Pride defeated the Cadets, 41-24, on Nov. 9, 2002 to cap its third unbeaten season in conference play (6-0).
About the Pride:
The Pride is looking to become the fourth team in 111 years of SC football to open the season 9-0. The 1965, '98 and 2000 teams also went 9-0. The '65 team, which finished 9-0, is recognized as the only unbeaten, untied team in school history ... SC remained No. 7 in the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) National poll, which is its highest ranking ever. The Pride is ranked No. 1 in the NCAA Division III Football Committee East Regional and the ECAC Lambert Division III polls ... talk about balance: 15 different SC players have scored this season, and 12 different players have a rush or a reception of 22 yards-or-more ... SC set a school record for consecutive regular-season victories with 12 in the win over WPI (Oct. 25). The Pride has also won 11 consecutive FFC contests ... the Pride has outscored the opposition 183-32 in the first half this season ... SC, which gained a season-high 493 yards on the ground vs. WPI (Oct. 25) and leads D-III in rushing (390.4 ypg), is 26-2 in games when it rushes for more than 300 yards over the past four seasons.
Defense Never Rests:
While SC’s high-octane offense grabs a majority of the attention, SC is ranked 11th in Division III in total defense (232.5 ypg), 14th in rushing defense (87.0 ypg) and 15th in scoring defense (12.3 ppg) ... an SC defender won the FFC Defensive Player-of-the-Week Award for the fourth time this season. Junior LB Justin Fletcher is the latest honoree (Oct. 26). Fletcher made a game-high 11 tackles in the 56-10 win over WPI. He joins seniors Jesse Baker, a linebacker who is also from Vermont, CB Mike Kimmel and SS Ryan Santo as FFC award winners.
Can't Touch This:
The Pride, which leads Division III in rushing (390.4 ypg), has two of the top-6 rushing performances in Division III in '03:
• 5th, 493 yards vs. WPI (Oct. 25)
• 6th, 481 yards vs. Kings Point (Sept. 20)
... the Pride also rushed for 417 yard against Coast Guard (Sept. 27) ... SC has gone over the 400-yard mark eight times over the last two seasons, and its 586-yard effort in a 55-27 win over Union (Nov. 16, 2002) is the best performance by a D-III squad since the '01 campaign ... the Pride is on pace to win its fourth national rushing title since 1999.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps:
Two hand injuries have not slowed down all-conference senior LB Jesse Baker on the football field or on stage. Baker, a team captain who is the Pride's second-leading tackler (41), is fourth all-time at SC with 272 career tackles, fifth in tackles-for-loss (21.5) and ninth in interceptions (10). He tied a school-record with three INTs at Montclair State (Sept. 13) ... despite a heavily bandaged right hand, Baker continues to perform as the guitarist and vocalist in a local band called "Fading Still."
Get Used To Them:
While SC will have a new conference, the Empire 8, to play in next season, most of next season's team wil be very familiar to SC fans. The Pride expects 16 starters back for the '04 campaign ... junior FB Tim Lutgens and junior QB Ryan Sylvia are part of an outstanding backfield comprised predominantly of juniors. Six of SC's top seven most productive rushers will be back next season. Lutgens (108.1 ypg) and Sylvia (101.6 ypg) are third and fourth, respectively, in rushing in the FFC. Junior all-conference HB Kevin Domurat is ninth (54.1 ypg) ... Sylvia (five times), Lutgens (four times) and Domurat (twice) have all broken the 100-yard mark in '03 ... SC's backfield also includes junior QB Michael Judge (4 rushing TDs, 3 passing TDs), junior HB Will Davis (11.4 avg.) and sophomore FB Mike Fiscella (5.0 avg.).
The Pride's '03 slate has certainly prepared the team for the post-season. SC's strength of schedule ranked seventh in Division III, according to the strength of schedule index posted on D3Football.com (Oct. 28). In 2002, the NCAA developed this index to allow the selection committee to more easily calculate and compare teams' schedules ... SC has won at Montclair St. (No. 23 nationally, 7-1 overall) and at Western Conn. (5-3 overall), and posted victories over Ithaca (No. 16, 7-1 overall) and Kings Point (6-2 overall).
SC, which is nationally ranked in total defense (11th/232.5 ypg), rushing defense (14th/87.0 ypg) and scoring defense (15th/12.3 ppg), has allowed just 32 points in the first half this season. At Western Conn. (Oct. 11), the Pride allowed the FFC's highest-scoring offense just seven points and the conference's top-rated passing attack only 162 yards in the air ... at Montclair St. (Sept. 13), SC forced five turnovers and blocked two field goal attempts ... against No. 25 Kings Point (Sept. 20), SC held All-America back David McNeal to 56 yards on 20 carries, which was 87 yards below his average ... coordinator Jack Holik's 3-4 set is anchored by senior captains DE Jason MacDonald, LB Jesse Baker and SS Ryan Santo.
SC's efficiency in the red-zone is big reason it is one of Division III's top-scoring teams, averaging 43.5 ppg. SC is 33-of-38 (86.8%) in the red zone (31 TDs, two FG) ... this trend began last season, when the Pride scored 24 of 28 times in the red zone (85.7%), and averaged 36.5 ppg.
In The Classroom:
SC led the FFC with 19 academic all-conference selections last season. To be named to the team, a student athlete must have a 3.0 grade-point average and play a significant role ... included on the academic all-conference team were junior HB Kevin Domurat, junior LB Justin Fletcher, junior FS Jeremiah Goodnow and senior PK Greg Switaj, who were also all-FFC choices in '02. Other notables include junior QB Michael Judge.
It came as no surprise that senior PK Greg Switaj was selected to the D3Football.com and Don Hansen's Football Gazette Pre-season All-American teams. A first-team D3Football.com All-American in '02, Switaj was one of the nation's most efficient place-kickers, drilling 9-of-10 field goal attempts and converting 40-of-44 point-after touchdown attempts. He led all conference kickers in scoring (6.7 points-per-game, 26th nationally) and field goal percentage on the way to winning FFC Special Teams Player-of-the-Year honors ... Switaj has converted 48-of-49 PAT dating back to last season.
Although the Pride possesses the best running game in college football, it also uses the pass effectively. SC QBs are 18-of-37 for 561 yards with 10 TDs and just two interceptions this season, and receivers are averaging 30.1 ypc ... junior QB Ryan Sylvia typifies the Pride's big-play capability with seven TD passes of 20 yards-or-more ... in the last two seasons, senior SE Farrand Violette has nine catches, including five TDs, and is averaging 31.2 ypc.