Sept. 25, 2008
Sacred Heart Pioneers (3-0, 0-0 NEC) vs. Marist Red Foxes (1-3, Independent)
Game #4 - Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008 - 1:00 pm - Poughkeepsie, N.Y. - Tenney Stadium (3,200)
Radio: WICC 600 AM, SacredHeartPioneers.com
Setting the Scene... The Sacred Heart Pioneers will head to Marist College on Saturday afternoon in their final non-conference tune-up before opening Northeast Conference play next week. The Pioneers are off to a 3-0 start and are looking to accomplish what just two other teams in school history have done in winning their first four games if they can post a win over the Red Foxes. The Pioneers are off to a strong start offensively, leading the NEC in scoring at 35.7 points per game and are coming off a 44-24 win at Iona last weekend. The SHU defense has been equally impressive leading the conference in scoring defense (18.3 ppg) and turnover margin (+5). The Red Foxes are 1-3 this season with their lone win coming over the NEC's Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash, 30-22. Marist, formally of the MAAC, will join the Pioneer Football League starting in 2009.
The SHU - Marist Series... The all-time series between the Pioneers and Red Foxes is tied at 3-3. The two teams squared off for the first time during the 2002 season and have met each year since. SHU evened the series last fall by posting a 41-34 win at home in late October. 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 Marist winning on Campus Field in 2005 and at home in 2006. The Pioneers are 2-1 on Campus Field against the Red Foxes and 1-2 in Poughkeepsie, New York.
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... Sacred Heart returns to Campus Field on "Homecoming Weekend" to play host to Robert Morris in their NEC opener.
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 18-27 record in his five 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 17th season at the head of the Red Fox football program and owns an 86-80-1 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 running back Jason Payne ran for a career-high 207 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Dale Fink three for three and caught another as the Pioneers held on for a 41-34 win over Marist College last October on Campus Field. The win snapped a five-game Pioneer losing streak. Fink led the Pioneers on four-straight scoring drives to start the game as well as scores on the team's first two-possessions of the second half as SHU built a 41-14 lead into the third quarter. The Pioneers had to withstand a furious fourth quarter rally by Marist as quarterback Steve McGrath led the charge connecting on three-straight touchdown throws to pull his team within seven, 41-34. Payne helped the Pioneer offense put the game away in the closing minutes, with his final two runs of five and eight yards gave SHU their final first down needed to run out the clock as well as securing his 200-yard day. SHU's offense produced 25 first downs and 447 total yards. The Pioneers were five-of-seven on third down and scored on all four of their red-zone chances. The Red Foxes finished with 526 yards of total offense, 396 coming through the air.
Last Time Out... Sacred Heart quarterback Dale Fink completed 23-of-30 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns as the Pioneer offense racked up 464 yards of total offense on their way to a 44-24 win at Iona College last week. Trailing 17-12 late in the second quarter, the Pioneer offense ripped off 22 unanswered points and out scored the Gaels 32-7 the rest of the way to improve to 3-0 for the first time since the 2003 campaign. Both teams piled up the offensive yards, combining for 919 yards of total offense. Despite the gaudy offensive numbers it was the Pioneers who took better care of the football, forcing Iona into three second half turnovers, two leading to scores, while Fink led the offense on seven scoring drives in the win. SHU opened the scoring on a five-yard blocked punt return by senior linebacker Anthony Mortali. In addition to Fink's big day through the air, the SHU rushing attack was just as impressive on their way to 208 yards. Leading the way was Evin Jones who picked up his second 100-yard rushing game of the season with 133 yards on 20 carries, an average of 6.7 yards per rush, and a score. Junior Brian Friedman ran for a career-high 52 yards on six carries. Freshman Garry Coles finished with four catches for 52 yards and again was a major factor on special teams with three kickoff returns for 82 yards. In all, Coles racked up 147 all-purpose yards and added two more touchdowns to his season ledger. For the third-straight week the Pioneers won the turnover battle and were led defensively by linebacker Rich Marrone with nine tackles and forced two fumbles on the afternoon.
SHU's Hot Start... The Pioneers are 3-0 for the first time since 2003 thanks to a 44-24 win at Iona on Saturday afternoon. Sacred Heart started 3-0 in 2003 under head coach Bill Lacey before falling to Albany in Week 4. SHU was 6-1 that season before dropping four-straight to end the year. The only time in program history a Pioneer team started 4-0 was in 2001 and 2000. SHU went 11-0 in 2001, winning the NEC title, the ECAC Bowl and the Division I-AA Mid-Major National Championship. The Pioneers finished 10-1 in 2000, losing only to Robert Morris.
Turnover Battle... The Pioneers have made turnovers a focal point on defense this season and through the first three games the SHU defenders are delivering. The Pioneers posted three take-aways against Iona, an interception and two fumble recoveries, and twice turned those Gael miscues into points. On the season, Sacred Heart has five interceptions and six fumble recoveries as a team and overall are +5 in turnover ratio. Last season, SHU finished the year -14. Helping to fuel the cause is junior cornerback Andre Isla, who came up with his second pick on the season last Saturday and also recovered a fumble in the win. Senior linebacker Rich Marrone has caused three fumbles, recovering one.
Pioneer Offense on an Early Roll... The SHU offense has hit on all cylinders in the early going, heading into this week's match-up with Marist averaging 35.7 points, 188.3 yards rushing and 402.0 yard of total offense per game. Sacred Heart hit the 40-point mark for the second time this season after pinning 44 points on Iona a week ago while piling up 464 yards, 27 first downs, converting four of five red zone opportunities and scoring on seven of their 11 drives. On the season, the Pioneers are converting 82% (9-11) of their red-zone opportunities, having to settle for a field goal just once on the year. SHU is converting 43% on third down and averaging 6.9 yards per offensive play through three games.
Special Teams Impact... The Sacred Heart special teams have come up big in key spots this season. The Pioneers came up with a blocked a punt for a touchdown on the game's first possession in last Saturday's win at Iona and used a fake punt later in the second half en route to a score. Leading 34-24 in the third quarter and facing a fourth and four at the 50-yard line, head coach Paul Gorham called for a fake punt as the snap went to up-back Brian Friedman who rumbled for 10 yards and a first down. On the next play, Dale Fink hit Steve Tedesco on a 40-yard bomb for a score. Maybe the most effective unit has been the Pioneers kickoff return team this season, who are averaging 24.0 yards per return. Freshman Garry Coles has been the Pioneer's main threat, averaging 29.7 yards per return on six returns this season. Coles had three returns for 82 yards (27.3) and Kemp has two touches for 51 yards (25.5) against Iona. On the year, Coles has established himself as the main threat with a 29.7 average per return. The results can be seen in SHU's average starting field position. In the win over Iona it was their own 41-yard line, in the win over Assumption it was their own 35-yard line.
Mortali Brothers Win NEC Awards... In back to back games, the Sacred Heart brother combination of senior Anthony and sophomore Mike Mortali picked up a pair of Northeast Conference Weekly Awards. Anthony was the recipient of this week's Special Teams Player of the Week after recovering a blocked punt and returning it for a five-yard score in last week's win at Iona. In a Week 2 win over Bentley, Mike was called upon to step in for injured strong safety Steve Young and came up with a game-high nine tackles (four solo), a sack, a fumble recovery and three pass break-ups to win the NEC Defensive Player of the Week award.
Garry Coles, Sacred Heart's Impact Rookie... Freshman Garry Coles has scored in every game this season and has provided the Pioneers with a spark on both offense and in the return game. Coles is averaging 135.3 all-purpose yards this season and is tied with backfield mate Evin Jones in scoring with five touchdowns. The rookie running back owns two NEC Rookie of the Week awards this season in helping lead SHU to a 3-0 start. He has 105 yards on 11 carries, a 9.5 per carry average, and eight catches for 112 yards, 14.0 per catch. He is averaging 29.7 yards per return on kickoffs.
No Sophomore Slump for Fink... Quarterback Dale Fink has started his sophomore season much like he ended his NEC Rookie of the Year first season and is coming off a stellar day under center in last week's win over Iona. Fink completed 23-of-30, completing passes to seven different receivers on the way to 256 yards and three scores in the win. He also had a two-point conversion to his credit. On the season, Fink is completing 65.6% of his passes (61-93-4) through three games with six touchdowns.
Ground Game led by Evin Jones... Senior running back Evin Jones has hit the century mark in two of the three games this season with a 200-yard game to his credit. Jones is coming off a 20 carry, 133 yard afternoon against Iona that saw the senior find the endzone for the fifth time this season. Jones opened the season with a 210 yard, five touchdown performance in the win over Assumption to earn NEC Offensive Player of the Week honors. He has 399 yards on the ground and is averaging 6.5 yards per carry and a 133.0 yards per game on the season. Jones is also a threat to catch it out of the backfield, hauling in nine passes for 91 yards (10.1).
Tedesco Rewriting SHU Record Book... 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. Through the season's first three games, Tedesco leads the team with 22 catches for 242 yards and a touchdown and is quickly climbing up the all-time receiving charts. With his 40-yard score last week, Tedesco inched closer to the career-touchdown mark, pulling into a second place tie with Corey Bundy (2004-07) at 17 career touchdown catches, two behind all-time leader DeVeren Johnson (2000-01). His 88 yards last week moved him up the career yardage list to third place (1,334) behind both Bundy (1,758) and Johnson (1,748).
NEC Stat Leaders... The Pioneers have the NEC's leading scoring offense (35.7 ppg) and scoring defense (18.3 ppg). SHU's defense is leading the league in rushing defense allowing 82.3 yards per game while also tying for the lead in sacks with seven. The Pioneers are tops in turnover margin at +5 and are the only team in the league not to have allowed a sack on the year. Senior Evin Jones is fourth in the NEC in rushing (133.0 ypg) and is tied for first in scoring with teammate Garry Coles at five touchdowns apiece. Quarterback Dale Fink is third in yards per game (213.7) and fourth in passing efficiency (136.2). Wide Receiver Steve Tedesco is leading the league in receptions per game (7.33) and fifth in yards per game (80.7). Coles is the NEC's top-return man, averaging 29.7 yards on kickoffs. Linebacker Chansler Davis is tied for the NEC lead with three sacks.
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 77-100 (.435) all-time and 57-45 (.559) 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.