Sacred Heart Pioneers (0-0) vs. Marist Red Foxes (0-0)
Game #1 - Friday, Sept. 3, 2009 - 7:00 pm
Poughkeepsie, N.Y. - Tenney Stadium at Leonidoff Field (5,000)
Setting the Scene... The Sacred Heart Pioneers kickoff their 20th season of competition as the 2010 season gets under way with a match-up with the Marist Red Foxes Friday night. The Pioneers and Red Foxes face-off to open the season in a re-match of the 2009 season opener, a 31-12 Marist win in Fairfield. SHU is looking to rebound from a 2-8 campaign and seventh place finish in the Northeast Conference in 2009. Marist posted a 7-4 mark last fall and finished fifth in their inaugural season in the Pioneer League.
The Sacred Heart - Marist Series... Sacred Heart and Marist first met on the gridiron in 2002 and have faced-off each year since with the all-time series tied at four wins apiece. The Red Foxes posted a 31-12 win in last fall's opener on Campus Field to even the series. Neither team has ever won more than two-straight in the series, with SHU posting back-to-back wins in 2003 and 2004 and again during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Marist won the first-ever meeting in 2002, 38-27, at home in that season's opener. Tonight's game marks the third time in the all-time series the two teams will meet to open the year. The Pioneers are 2-2 on Campus Field against the Red Foxes and 2-2 in Poughkeepsie, New York.
SHU in the NEC... The Pioneers begin their 13th season of play in the Northeast Conference this fall. SHU holds a 37-48 record in NEC competition since joining the league in 1998. The Pioneers won their only league championship during the 2001 campaign, finishing a perfect 8-0. SHU finished second to Robert Morris in 2000, going 7-1 in the league. The Pioneers are coming off a seventh place finish in 2009 with a 2-6 conference mark.
Up Next... Sacred Heart will play host to the Robert Morris Colonials next Saturday, September 11th in both their 2010 home opener and the Northeast Conference opener. The all-time series between SHU and RMU is tied at six wins each. Kickoff is scheduled for 12 noon.
The Head Coaches... Sacred Heart head coach Paul Gorham (New Hampshire '84) is in his seventh season on the Pioneer sideline. Gorham was named the school's seventh head coach in June of 2004 and owns a 25-38 record in his seven year career. Prior to becoming the Pioneer's head coach, Gorham had stops at UMass, Brown, New Haven and his alma mater New Hampshire. Marist head coach Jim Parady (Maine '84) is in his 19th season at the head of the Red Fox football program and owns an 96-88-1 record at the school and overall. Parady has led Marist to 11 winnings seasons and Championships in the former MAAC Football League in 2007, 2006 and 1994. Prior to becoming the head coach at Marist, Parady had coaching stints at Colby College, Hamilton College, Syracuse, Brown and Northeastern.
Last Meeting with Marist... Sacred Heart opened the 2009 season falling at the hands of the Marist Red Foxes, 31-12 at home on Campus Field. The Pioneers turned the ball over twice for touchdowns and went just one-of-five on fourth down attempts in the loss. Marist cornerback Jaquan Bryant picked-off SHU quarterback Dale Fink twice for touchdowns, once to open the scoring and again to finish it as the Pioneers dropped their season opener for the first time since 2006. The SHU offense finished with 324 yards of total offense but where held to just 87 yards on the ground, averaging just 3.3 yards per rush and came up short on two of four scoring chances in the redzone. The Pioneers fell behind 17-6 at the half and continued to struggle offensively to open the third quarter, going three and out on their first possession and turning the ball over on downs on their next three possessions. The Red Foxes took advantage and extended their lead to 24-6 with Bryant putting the game away with his second pick for six late in the fourth quarter. Fink finished the game 30-of-44 for 237 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions while senior Steve Tedesco, who went the entire first half without a catch, finished with six grabs for 79 yards. Defensively, cornerback Titus McIntosh had a game-high 11 tackles and a forced fumble. Defensive end Justin Embler had eight stops and a sack.
Pioneer Openers... The Pioneers have struggled in season openers, compiling a 6-13 mark in 19 seasons. Sacred Heart is 5-7 in openers since joining the Northeast Conference in 1998. SHU is 3-6 when opening the season on the road and 3-7 when opening in Fairfield. Sacred Heart is 2-4 in openers under Paul Gorham.
Preseason NEC Polling... The Sacred Heart Pioneers were picked to finish eighth out of nine teams in the Northeast Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll released last month. The last time the Pioneers were picked so low was prior to the 2008 season when SHU defied the preseason predictions with an 8-3 season and third place finish. This season's favorite is Central Connecticut State with the defending champs garnering four first place votes. Robert Morris was second with three first place votes with UAlbany and Wagner next in line with a vote a piece.
2010 Team Captains... Sacred Heart head coach Paul Gorham announced at the conclusion of spring training camp that fifth-year seniors Dale Fink, Justin Smith, Bill O'Brien and Rashod Underwood have been named team captains for the 2010 season.
Embler a Preseason All-NEC Pick... Sacred Heart junior defensive end Justin Embler earned a spot on the 2010 Preseason All-Northeast Conference team. Embler was the only Pioneer representative on this year's squad. In 2008, Embler stepped into a starting role along the SHU defensive line and turned in a break-out season finishing third on the team in total tackles. The junior defensive end finished the year with 53 tackles and led the team with four sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss.
Four-Year Starter in Fink... R-Senior quarterback Dale Fink will lead the Pioneer offense in his fourth season starting under center this fall. The senior signal caller enters his final year in a Pioneer uniform holding 11 Sacred Heart passing records. A two-time All-Northeast Conference quarterback, Fink is coming off a 2009 season where he threw for 2,064 yards and 17 touchdowns. For the third-consecutive season, Fink completed over 60% of his passes hitting on 212-of-347 (.611) passes. He led the Northeast Conference in passing yards per game (206.4), total offense (206.4), completions (212), completion percentage (61.1) and touchdown passes (17) last fall.
R-Senior Bill O'Brien Returns to the Mix... After missing all of 2009 with injury, r-senior Bill O'Brien returns to lead an experienced defensive unit in 2010. O'Brien will move to the outside linebacker position opposite Preseason All-NEC defensive end Justin Embler this fall. The 2008 season saw the senior end earn All-NEC honors after posting 61 total tackles, third on the team, including 8.0 stops for a loss and three sacks. He also added a fumble recovery and a pass break-up from his defensive end position. Heading into his senior season, O'Brien has 104 career tackles (34 ua/70 a) and five career sacks.
10 Starters Back on Defense... The Pioneers will feature a wealth of experience on the defensive side of the ball in 2010 with 10 starters returning to the line-up for Defensive Coordinator Josh Reardon. Despite fielding an experienced unit, the Pioneers will need to find a way to improve on their seventh place NEC ranking in total defense last fall (364.3 ypg). SHU ranked eighth in scoring defense, allowing 29.5 points per game. Team takeaways also took a hit in 2009 with SHU coming up with 11 turnovers (7th / NEC) compared to 24 in 2008 (4th / NEC). Seven of the team's top-eight tacklers from a year ago return led by junior inside linebacker Chris Mandas who led the team with 88 tackles, 48 solo and five for losses.
Searching for a SHU Ground Game... The Pioneers enter the season looking to find consistency in their rushing attack and hope a healthy Marcel Archer is the one who can deliver it. SHU ranked last in the Northeast Conference in 2009 in rushing offense, averaging just 113.9 yards per game on the ground. No Pioneer ran for more than 600 yards last season and as a team the Pioneers finished the season with just eight rushing touchdowns. Archer will be counted on to carry the load in 2010 with Garry Coles making the move to wide receiver. The senior back saw action in just six games last season battling a rash of injuries all year. But in those six games, Archer piled up 292 yards on 58 carries, a 5.0 per rush average, a stat Head Coach Paul Gorham will translate into a 1,000 yard season for the senior. Archer posted one of only three Pioneer 100-yard rushing games on the season. Archer posted a 109 yard performance on 17 carries with a score in the 24-14 win over Bryant. A transfer from Central Michigan prior to his junior season, Archer is a solid north-south runner who likes to run in between the tackles. While at CMU, Archer helped the Chippewas to a pair of Mid-American Conference Championships and will have two-years of eligibility remaining. A two-year letterwinner at CMU, he played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2006 and tied for team lead with seven rushing touchdowns. As a sophomore, he carried the ball 30 times for 114 yards and caught six passes for 32 yards on the season.
Special Teams Notes... The Pioneers return sophomore place-kicker Jason Plescow who finished the 2009 season six-of-six on field goals and 13-of-16 on extra point duties. Handling kickoff duties will be graduate student Jesper Fredriksson who came on at the end of last season after finishing out his soccer playing career for the Pioneers. Fredriksson took 10 kickoffs in 2009 averaging 57.1 yards per kick with a pair of touchbacks. In his four years on the soccer pitch, Fredriksson totaled 14 goals, five assists and 33 points. R-Sophomore Robert Shepard will handle the punting duties. Shepard had 13 punts last fall averaging 34.7 yards per kick while placing two inside the 20-yard line.
Fink Re-Writes the SHU Record Book... Heading into his fourth season under center for the Pioneers, r-senior Dale Fink holds 11 Sacred Heart passing records. Fink holds the school records for career passing yards (5,896), career completions (587), career touchdown passes (64), career passing attempts (921), career completion percentage (63.7), completions in a season (215 - 2008), completion percentage in a season (67.8 - 2008), passing yards in a game (373 vs. Monmouth 10/17/09), completions in a game (36 vs. Monmouth 10/17/09), passing attempts in a game (54 vs. Monmouth 10/17/09) and touchdown passes in a game (6 vs. Duquesne 11/14/09).
The NEC Joins the Tournament Party... The Northeast Conference, opening its 15th season on the gridiron, for the first time in league history will see its champion earn the league's newly acquired automatic berth into the NCAA FCS Playoffs.
TV Time... The Sacred Heart Pioneers will help kickoff the 2010 Northeast Conference Football Television package when they travel out to Loretto, PA to face the Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash. The Pioneers and Red Flash are game one of a five game television package this fall. The game will be played live on Fox College Sports and the Connecticut Sports Network. The five game package is the largest in league history.
History of Sacred Heart Football... This is the 20th football season at Sacred Heart University. The program is 83-111 all-time and 63-64 since joining the Northeast Conference (NEC) and Division I FCS (formerly I-AA) in 1998. The program has had seven head coaches starting with Gary Reho (1991-96) who led the team to a 5-4 record in their inaugural season. Jim Fleming led the Pioneers to a 21-1 mark in his two seasons as head coach (2000-01) including the 11-0 2001 campaign that delivered the university and NEC title. 2001 also saw the Pioneers lone post season appearance, beating Duquesne in the ECAC Bowl, 31-15, laying claim to the Division I-AA Mid-Major National Championship.