Sept. 18, 2008
Sacred Heart Pioneers (2-0, 0-0 NEC) vs. Iona Gaels (1-1, Independent)
Game #3 - Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008 - 1:00 pm - New Rochelle, N.Y. - Mazzella Field (2,440)
Setting the Scene... After a week off Sacred Heart returns to action on Saturday afternoon when they take on the Iona Gaels on the road. For the second-straight season the Pioneers are off to a 2-0 start after wins over Northeast-10 schools Assumption, 41-21, and Bentley, 21-10, in weeks one and two. Last season, Sacred Heart traveled to Iona with a 2-0 record and left with a 34-10 loss that started a five-game slide for the Pioneers. The Gaels, who are independent this season after the dissolving of the MAAC Football League, is 1-1, beating Delaware Valley 27-19 in the opener but falling to Wagner last week, 45-28.
The SHU - Iona Series... Saturday's game marks the 14th meeting between the Pioneers and Gaels on the gridiron in a series that dates back to 1991. This year's meeting will put Iona alongside Stony Brook as the program the Pioneers have faced more then any other at 14 meetings. The two schools met for the first time in Sacred Heart's inaugural season with the Gaels winning 26-6, starting a string of five-straight wins. The Gaels snapped a three-game win streak by the Pioneers with last season's 34-10 win at home. From 2000 through 2006 SHU won six of the seven meetings. The Pioneers are 2-4 in games played at Iona College.
SHU in the NEC... The Pioneers are in their 11th season of competition in the Northeast Conference. SHU holds a 31-38 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 last winning season in conference action was 2002, finishing tied with Stony Brook for second place at 5-2.
Up Next... The Pioneers will remain on the road and travel to Marist College for a 1:00 pm kickoff next Saturday.
The Head Coaches... Sacred Heart head coach Paul Gorham (New Hampshire `84) is in his fifth season on the Pioneer sideline. Gorham was named the school's seventh head coach in June of 2004 and owns a 17-27 record in his four year career. Prior to becoming the Pioneer's head coach, Gorham had stops at UMass, Brown, New Haven and his alma mater New Hampshire. Iona head coach Fred Mariani (St. Joseph's (Ind.) `84) is in his 11th season at the head of the Gaels program and is the school's second-longest tenured coach. Mariani owns a 44-61 (.419) overall record over his 11 years of coaching. Prior to coming to Iona, Mariani was the offensive coordinator at Fordham University from 1994 through 1997. He also had coaching stops at Lehigh and Morehead State.
Last Meeting with Iona... The Pioneers turned the ball over five times, had a punt blocked and gave up six sacks falling to the Iona Gaels, 34-10 on the road last September. Iona scored three times off Pioneer turnovers, dealing SHU their first lost of 2007. Iona quarterback Nick Rossetti completed 15-of-24 for 214 yards, throwing four touchdowns and running for another to lead the Gaels. Rossetti threw touchdowns to four different receivers in the win while senior tailback Dane Samuels led his team in rushing with 58 yards on 11 carries. Neither team dominated offensively, with Iona holding a 318 to 283 advantage in total yards gained, but it was the Gaels who dominated the turnover battle, forcing five while not turning it over once. SHU quarterback Dale Fink finished the game 25-of-38 for 223 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. On the ground, Jason Payne led all rushers with 61 yards on 11 carries. Wideout Corey Bundy had a game-high eight receptions for 50 yards while Joey Henley pulled in six balls for 74 yards and the score. Defensively, linebacker Chansler Davis made a career-high 11 tackles (3 solo, 8 assist), 2.5 for a loss, and a sack in the loss. John Wilson turned in 10 stops from his safety position.
Last Time Out... The Sacred Heart defensive unit got five turnovers and had six sacks on their way to improving to 2-0 on the young season with a 21-10 win over Bentley College two weeks ago. SHU running back Garry Coles caught touchdown passes of 35 and 10 yards from quarterback Dale Fink to pace the Pioneer offensive attack. The Bentley offense marched their way into Pioneer territory on 11 of their 15 drives but was plagued by miscues all afternoon. The Falcons had all five of their turnovers come on the SHU half of the field and inside the Pioneer 40-yard line. Sacred Heart's defense once again was stout against the run, allowing just 29 yards on the ground. Linebackers Brian Flumere and Chansler Davis each had a pair of sacks in the win while safety Mike Mortali had nine tackles, a sack, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery while linebacker Rich Marrone finished with eight stops, a tackle for a loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Defensive end Bill O'Brien finished with five tackles, three for losses, a sack and a forced fumble. Offensively, Steve Tedesco caught six balls for 57 yards while Coles had three catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
Mike Mortali Wins Defensive Award... Called upon to step in for injured strong safety Steve Young, sophomore Mike Mortali stepped up during Sacred Heart's 21-10 win over Bentley. The sophomore safety made a game-high nine tackles (four solo), recorded a sack, recovered a fumble, and broke up three passes. A play after he sacked Bentley quarterback John White in the red zone, Mortali returned a fumble to the opponent's 35-yard line in setting up the Pioneers' first touchdown of the game on the very next snap. On the season, Mortali has 12 total tackles, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery and a league best four pass breakups.
Coles a Two-time NEC Rookie Award Winner... Retaining the NEC Rookie of the Week title he earned for his debut effort, freshman Garry Coles totaled 128 all-purpose yards and found pay dirt twice to power the Pioneers to their second consecutive victory two weeks ago. Following a key fumble return by Mike Mortali, Coles scored the game's first touchdown on a 35-yard swing pass. The rookie running back provided some cushion with a 10-yard touchdown catch that increased SHU's lead over Bentley to 14-3 in the third quarter. In addition to making three catches for 52 yards. In his collegiate debut, Coles ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run as well as setting up a SHU touchdown with a 43-yard kickoff return to open the second half against Assumption.
Pioneers Getting Defensive... Through the first two games in 2008, the Sacred Heart defensive unit has wiped clean the memories of last season that saw the Pioneers ranked near the bottom of the NEC in several statistical categories. Last season, the Pioneers were -14 in the turnover battle for the season while through the first two games this year the SHU defense is +3, tops in the NEC. Last year's defense had just three interceptions all season but have already picked off four passes this season. The Pioneers are giving up just 15.5 points per game while holding teams to an average of just 42.0 yards rushing per game.
Record Breakers... Junior wide receiver Steve Tedesco entered the 2008 season with a chance to set new school records in career receptions, career receiving yards and career touchdown receptions. Tedesco headed into 2008 with 85 career catches and is now 22 away from the mark that Corey Bundy set last season. He amassed 1,092 career yards in two seasons and is now 512 yards behind Bundy's mark, also set last season. His 16 career scoring grabs sits just three away from DeVeren Johnson's mark of 19, a record that has held since 2001.
NEC Stat Leaders... The Pioneers have the NEC's second ranked scoring offense (31.5 ppg) and scoring defense (15.5 ppg). SHU's defense is leading the league in rushing defense allowing just 42.0 yards per game while also leading the league sacks with seven. SHU is second overall in total defense giving up 312.5 yards per game while holding opponents to a league best 30.3% (10-33) on third down. Senior Evin Jones is third in the NEC in rushing (133.0 ypg) and first in scoring with four touchdowns. Quarterback Dale Fink is fourth yards per game (192.5) and fifth in passing efficiency (114.7). Wide Receiver Steve Tedesco is third in the rankings in receptions per game (7.50) and fifth in yards per game (77.0). Linebacker Chansler Davis leads the league with three sacks while fellow linebacker Brian Flumere is third with four tackles for a loss.
Corto Makes Bill 53-Man Roster... Former Sacred Heart standout Jon Corto became the first Pioneer in school history to make an NFL 53-man roster, suiting up for his hometown Buffalo Bills this season. Corto, a backup linebacker and special teams player, paid early dividends for the Bills, forcing a fumble on a kickoff during Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Corto spent last season on the Bill's practice squad. The Orchard Park, NY native, signed with the Bill's as an undrafted free agent last June after attending the team's rookie minicamp after the draft. Corto had a stellar four-year career as a Pioneer, earning All-American honors as well as first-team All-Northeast Conference accolades. He finished his career at SHU as the program's second all-time leading tackler with 300 tackles over four years.
Tedesco a Preseason All-NEC Pick... Sacred Heart junior wide receiver Steve Tedesco was named to the 2008 All-Northeast Conference Preseason team. Tedesco led the league in receptions per game (5.36), while ranking second in receiving yards per game (67.0). Tedesco finished 2007 with a league-high 59 catches for 737 yards and a conference-best 11 touchdown grabs. Tedesco, a first team choice at receiver last season, is also a feared punt returner as evidenced by the 18.2 yards per return he averaged. The junior wideout set a new school record last season for receptions in a season (59) and twice tied the school mark for touchdown catches in a game nabbing three against both Assumption and Saint Francis (PA).
History of Sacred Heart Football... This is the 18th football season at Sacred Heart University. The program is 76-100 (.431) all-time and 56-45 (.554) 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.