Sept. 3, 2009
Sacred Heart Pioneers (0-0, 0-0 NEC) vs. Marist Red Foxes (0-0, 0-0 Pioneer League)
Game #1 - Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 - 6:00 pm - Fairfield, Conn. - Campus Field (4,000)
Radio / Video / Gametracker: SacredHeartPioneers.com
Setting the Scene... The 2009 season kicks-off Saturday night as the Sacred Heart Pioneers open at home hosting the Marist Red Foxes. The Pioneers are coming off an 8-3 campaign in 2008 that saw them post the biggest turnaround in the Northeast Conference finishing tied for third in the league standings. SHU shot out of the gates last season winning six-straight and eight of their first nine games. The Red Foxes begin their first season of play in the Pioneer Football League this season. Tonight's game marks the eighth meeting between Sacred Heart and Marist.
The SHU - Marist Series... The Pioneers lead the all-time series, 4-3. Sacred Heart edged in front in the all-time series after posting a 28-19 win at Marist last fall. The two teams squared off for the first time during the 2002 season and have met each year since. The Red Foxes won the first-ever meeting in 2002, 38-27, at home in the season opener. From there, each team won two-straight with SHU posting wins at home in 2003 and on the road in 2004 and again at home in 2007 and on the road in 2008. Marist posted wins on Campus Field in 2005 and at home in 2006. The Pioneers are 2-1 on Campus Field against the Red Foxes and 2-2 in Poughkeepsie, New York.
SHU in the NEC... The Pioneers are in their 12th season of competition in the Northeast Conference. SHU holds a 35-41 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 their first winning season in conference action since 2002 after posting a 4-3 mark to finish tied for third.
Up Next... The Pioneers will hit the road for three-straight starting next week when they head to Worcester, Massachusetts to face the College of Holy Cross Crusaders of the Patriot League.
The Head Coaches... Sacred Heart head coach Paul Gorham (New Hampshire `84) is in his sixth season on the Pioneer sideline. Gorham was named the school's seventh head coach in June of 2004 and owns a 23-30 record in his six 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 18th season at the head of the Red Fox football program and owns an 89-84-1 record at the school and overall. Parady has led Marist to 10 winnings seasons and MAAC Championships 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 quarterback Dale Fink threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns as the Pioneers stayed perfect at 4-0 to open the season with a 28-16 win at Marist College last September 27, 2008. Fink completed 24-of-31 passes for a season-high 281 yards in the win. The SHU offense piled up 414 yards, 21 first downs and touchdowns on all four of their red-zone visits. The sophomore signal caller hit his favorite target junior Steve Tedesco seven times for 113 yards and a score. Fink opened the scoring for SHU hitting freshman Rich Rossi in the front left corner of the end-zone from four yards out to cap a six play drive for a 7-6 lead. Fink threaded the needle on a five-yard strike to Tedesco on a third and goal in the second quarter to take a 14-6 lead. He help put the wraps on the Sacred Heart win by leading a 10-play, 70 yard drive in the fourth quarter where he completed five-of-six on the drive, finishing it with a 10-yard strike to sophomore Tony Patterson for six and a 28-16 lead. Senior running back Evin Jones rumbled his way to 99 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The Pioneer defense posted three sacks with junior defensive end Bill O'Brien leading the charge with a career-high 11 tackles and a half sack in the win.
Pioneer Openers... The Pioneers have struggled in season openers, compiling a 6-12 mark in 18 seasons. Sacred Heart is 5-6 in openers since joining the Northeast Conference in 1998. SHU is 3-6 when opening the season on the road and 3-6 when opening in Fairfield. SHU is 10-8 all-time in home field openers and 10-6 in home openers since the opening of Campus Field in 1993. SHU is 4-1 in home openers under Paul Gorham.
Preseason NEC Polling... UAlbany stands as the unanimous favorite to capture the 2009 Northeast Conference football crown, which would be its third straight. The Great Danes received eight first-place votes to finish atop the annual survey of the league's head coaches for the fourth consecutive season. Monmouth, the 2008 NEC runner-up, garnered the lone remaining first-place nod to finish second in the preseason poll. Central Connecticut State, which has posted a winning conference record in each of the past five seasons, claimed third in the poll ahead of Sacred Heart in fourth and Robert Morris in fifth.
Tedesco Leads a Talented Receiving Corps... For the second-straight season, senior wide receiver Steve Tedesco was named to the All-Northeast Conference Preseason team. A two-time All-NEC wide receiver, Tedesco is coming off a junior campaign where led the conference by setting a new school record with 77 catches in 2008. His 891 yards (81.0 y/g) and 10 touchdown grabs last season also led the conference. Returning at the other wide receiver spots are r-junior Tony Patterson and sophomore Rich Rossi. Patterson had a breakout season last fall, hauling in 40 catches for 431 yards. He ranked eighth in the NEC in receiving yards per game (39.2) and his 10.8 yards per catch ranked him sixth. Patterson was third on the team with three scoring grabs last fall. Rossi had a strong rookie campaign in three receiver sets working underneath out of the slot. Rossi had 22 catches for 168 yards (7.6 ypc) while hauling in a pair of scores.
Think Fink... Quarterback Dale Fink returns to take the reins of the Pioneer offensive attack for the third-straight season in 2009. A preseason All-NEC pick this fall, Fink is charged with directing a Pioneer offense that put up 320 (29.1 ppg) points last season, the second highest total in school history. The 2007 NEC Rookie of the Year, he led the league in passing efficiency (140.3) last fall en route to an All-NEC campaign. He threw for 24 touchdowns and completed 67.8% (215-317) of his passes, both NEC high marks. Fink saw his streak of 19-straight games with a TD pass snapped in the season finale against Central Connecticut when he was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury.
SHU Ground Game... For the second-straight season, head coach Paul Gorham is tasked with finding a replacement for a graduating 1,000 yard rusher. Last fall, senior Evin Jones rumbled his way to 1,174 yards, the third highest single season total in school history. This season, SHU will feature Jones' back-up from last year in sophomore Garry Coles and junior transfer Marcel Archer. Coles had just 26 carries last season running for 152 yards, a team-best 5.8 yards per carry. He was a major threat catching the football, pulling in 20 balls for 225 yards, an 11.2 per catch average. Archer, who transferred in from Central Michigan, 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.
Man of Many Talents... Senior fullback Brian Friedman has shown a variety of skills over his Pioneer career, whether it be running the ball, passing it, catching it and even kicking it. This year will be no different as Friedman opens the year as SHU's starting fullback and punter. He had 21 rushes for 102 yards (4.0 ypc) in 2008 while also catching a touchdown on a fake field goal and tossing a score on a halfback pass, his second-career scoring strike. Over the past two seasons, Friedman served as the team's back-up punter and was called on three times last fall to kick, averaging 34.3 yards per punt while dropping one inside the 20-yard line.
Depth on the O-Line... The SHU front five will welcome back four starters from last year's squad led by All-Northeast Conference center r-junior Justin Smith. Smith, a preseason All-NEC pick this fall, is entering his third-year as a starter and will anchor a unit that allowed just seven sacks in 2008. The Pioneers had a 1,000 yard rusher for the second-straight season last fall and had a streak of 31-straight quarters to start the season without allowing a sack of starting quarterback Dale Fink. Returning to join Smith in the trenches this season are starting guards r-junior Dan Plunkett and sophomore Dylan Larson and starting left tackle senior Abel Malae. Plunkett took over a starting role in the final four games of his freshman year and is now a mainstay at the guard position. Larson came in last season as a freshman and saw time at both the guard and center positions. Malae transferred to SHU last season and started nine games at left tackle. R-Junior Robert Russell moves into the right tackle spot to start the season.
Isla Returns after an All-New England Season... Senior cornerback Andre Isla is the lone returning starter in the defensive backfield. Isla is coming off a sensational junior season where he garnered All-New England and All-NEC honors after making 50 tackles, 30 solo, while leading the team with four interceptions and six pass break-ups. As a team, SHU had 24 takeaways in 2008, finishing fourth in the league in turnover margin (+1).
Experience Up Front... All three starters as well as a pair of back-ups return to the defensive front in 2009 led by All-NEC defensive end senior Bill O'Brien. O'Brien, who will open the season out of action battling back from an elbow injury, is a two-year returning starter who earned all-conference accolades last fall after a 61 tackles, three sack season. He was second on the team with eight tackles for a loss. Sophomore Justin Embler will hold down the spot, coming off 24 stops last year, two for a loss, while also grabbing an interception. R-Junior Andrew Costantino is back at the nose guard spot while r-sophomore Vinny Branchini returns to his defensive tackle position this season. The pair is backed up by r-junior Elijah Dixon. Branchini had a break-out season with 30 tackles, seven for a loss, and a pair of sacks in 2008.
Flumere and Davis Bring the Pressure... Outside Linebackers Brian Flumere and Chansler Davis finished last season tied for the team lead with five sacks apiece. Both are playmakers who like to play in the opponent's backfield. Flumere finished second in the NEC with 13.5 tackles for a loss while also picking off a pass, forcing three fumbles and breaking up a pair of passes last season.
Special Team Notes... The Pioneers will debut a new place kicker this season as sophomore Matt Fisher will handle the field goal and extra point duties to start the year. Fisher replaces All-NEC kicker Joe Schroeder and will see his first game action on Saturday night. Handling kickoff duties will be r-freshman Joe Kistler. Senior fullback Brian Friedman takes over the punting duties for Derek Marks. Friedman has served as the back-up punter the last two seasons.
Record Breakers... Last season, the Pioneers set or tied nine offensive school records led by quarterback Dale Fink and wide receiver Steve Tedesco. The duo heads into this season looking to add a few more career marks to their already impressive resumes. Fink is 18 completions away from tying the school mark for career completions (393-Tyler Arciaga `05-'06) and need 638 yards passing to become the school's all-time passing yardage leader (4,470-Arciaga `05-'06). He is 115 passing attempts away from eclipsing the career mark in that category as well (689-Arciaga `05-'06). Fink already holds the school marks for career touchdown throws (47). Tedesco is closing in on the school career scoring mark needing just five touchdowns to tie the all-time mark (33-Ed Pricolo `02-'05). He already owns the career receiving records for receptions (162), receiving yards (1,983) and receiving touchdowns (26) along with the records for receptions in a season (77-2008). He shares the records for receptions in a game (12-2008 vs. Duquesne) and touchdown catches in a game (3-2x).
History of Sacred Heart Football... This is the 19th football season at Sacred Heart University. The program is 81-103 (.440) all-time and 61-56 (.521) 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.