Pioneers Host Robert Morris in NEC Opener
Oct. 2, 2008
Sacred Heart Pioneers (4-0, 0-0 NEC) vs. Robert Morris Colonials (1-3, 0-1 NEC)
Game #5 - Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008 - 1:00 pm - Fairfield, Conn. - Campus Field (4,000)
Radio: WICC 600 AM, SacredHeartPioneers.com
Setting the Scene... The Sacred Heart Pioneers return to Campus Field this week as they put their 4-0 record on the line hosting Robert Morris to open the Northeast Conference portion of the schedule. SHU rounded out their non-conference slate with a 28-16 win at Marist last week. Quarterback Dale Fink led the offensive attack throwing for 281 yards and three touchdowns to earn himself NEC Offensive Player of the Week honors. The Pioneers are leading the NEC in scoring offense (33.8 ppg) and scoring defense (17.8) heading into league play. The Robert Morris Colonials come in at 1-3 and are fresh off a 34-26 loss to Monmouth at home. Since a season-opening 27-13 win over Morehead State, the Colonials have dropped three-straight.
The SHU - RMU Series... The all-time series between the two schools is tied at 5-5. Robert Morris took the first-ever meeting, 44-7, in 1998 and followed that with wins in 1999, 48-0, and 2000, 31-20. SHU ripped off five-straight in the series from 2001 through 2005. The Colonials ended the streak in 2006 with a 41-21 win on Campus Field and made it two-straight last fall with a 41-31 win at home in the season finale. The Pioneers are 2-2 at home against Robert Morris and 3-3 in Moon Township.
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 are 5-5 in NEC openers, 3-1 at home and 2-4 on the road. 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 Sacred Heart Pioneers will make the first of two trips to Pennsylvania starting next weekend when they head to Loretto to face the Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash.
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 19-27 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. Robert Morris head coach Joe Walton (Pittsburgh `57) became the program's first head coach in July of 1993 and has led the Colonial program to an 86-58-1 record. Under Walton's directions, Robert Morris has claimed five Northeast Conference titles and a pair of Mid-Major National Championships as well as a pair of ECAC Classic wins in 1996 and 1997. Walton spent seven seasons playing in the NFL for the Washington Redskins and New York Giants. He was the head coach of the New York Jets from 1983 through 1989.
Last Meeting with Robert Morris... Sacred Heart senior running back Jason Payne ran for 185 yards and a touchdown while catching two more in his final collegiate game but the Pioneers came up short, falling 41-31 at Robert Morris in the season finale for both clubs last fall. The Colonials built a 21-16 lead at the half and took control of the game in the third quarter thanks in most part to their defense. The Colonial defensive unit intercepted SHU quarterback Dale Fink three times and finished +4 in the turnover battle for the game. On Sacred Heart's first offensive possession of the third quarter, junior defensive lineman Shannon Smoot intercepted Fink at the Pioneer 45-yard line and got a couple of nice blocks to rumble to the end zone untouched for the score, increasing the lead to 28-16. Fink was intercepted again on SHU's next possession, this time by senior linebacker Chad Wengert. RMU extended its lead when quarterback Erik Cwalinski threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Mario Hines and then added an eight-yard touchdown run to give the Colonials a 41-16 advantage in the fourth quarter. Fink tried to rally the Pioneers late with a pair of TD throws but the deficit proved too large to overcome. Senior wideout Corey Bundy led SHU with six catches for 78 yards, becoming the Pioneers all-time leader in receptions and yardage. Bundy passed DeVeren Johnson for first place with 1,758 yards over his four years. Fink finished the game throwing for 231 yards, completing 20 of 36 passes.
Last Time Out... Sacred Heart quarterback Dale Fink threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns as the Pioneers stayed perfect at 4-0 with a 28-16 win at Marist College. 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 r-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.
SHU's Hot Start... The Sacred Heart Pioneers are off to a 4-0 to start to the season for the third time in program history, and first under head coach Paul Gorham, after a 28-16 win at Marist last week. The last two seasons that SHU started 4-0 was 2000, when they finished 10-1, and 2001 when they finished 11-0 and won the NEC, ECAC Bowl and finished #1 in the I-AA Mid-Major Poll.
Turnover Battle... The Pioneer defense picked up their 12th caused turnover through four gams as sophomore safety Rashod Underwood came up with his second interception of the season against Marist. The Pioneers have made turnovers a focal point on defense this season and are +5 in turnover margin through four games. SHU has won the turnover battle in three of the four games with last Saturday's win coming up even in the turnover column. On the season, Sacred Heart has six interceptions and six fumble recoveries as a team. Last season, SHU finished the year -14.
Pioneer Offense Continues to Shine... Sacred Heart has the league's top-offense averaging a NEC best 33.8 ppg and 405.0 ypg heading into their conference opener. With quarterback Dale Fink at the helm and running back Evin Jones in the backfield, SHU is averaging 230.5 yards through the air and 174.5 yards on the ground per game. SHU has done a great job of limiting mistakes and penalties, averaging a league-low 36.5 penalty yards per game. The Pioneers have scored on 86.7% of their red-zone visits, putting up 12 touchdowns with a field goal in 15 trips. SHU is second in the NEC on third down, converting 43.8%.
Dale Fink - NEC Offensive Player of the Week... R-Sophomore Quarterback Dale Fink picked up his first career NEC Offensive Player of the Week award after throwing for a season-high 281 yards and three scores in last weeks win over Marist. Fink, the reigning NEC Rookie of the Year, has shown no signs of a sophomore slump, completing 68.5% (85-125) of his passes while posting a passing efficiency rating of 146.89 on the year. He is averaging 230.5 yards passing per game and has completed a league-high 85 passes for 922 yards and nine touchdowns.
Protecting the Quarterback... Through the season's first four games, the Pioneer offensive line has kept all pass rushers off quarterback Dale Fink, not allowing a sack. SHU is the only team in the Northeast Conference who has not allowed a sack on the season. The unit made up of senior left tackle Ryan Arroyo, sophomore left guard Justin Smith, freshman center Dylan Larson, sophomore right guard Dan Plunkett, junior right tackle Abel Malae have also helped the Pioneers grind out an average of 174.5 yards rushing per game thus far this season.
Ground Game led by Evin Jones... Senior running back Evin Jones has hit the century mark in two of the four games this season with a 200-yard game to his credit. Jones just missed his third 100-yard game last week, rushing for 99 yards on 17 carries with a score against the Red Foxes. 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 498 yards on the ground and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and 124.5.0 yards per game on the season, third in the NEC. His six touchdowns is tied with Monmouth's David Sinisi for the most in the league. Jones is also a threat to catch it out of the backfield, hauling in 11 passes for 92 yards (8.4).
Tedesco Closing in on Receiving Records... Junior wide receiver Steve Tedesco had his first 100-yard receiving game of 2008, and all of it came in the first half against Marist. Tedesco pulled in seven catches for 113 yards and touchdown, a five-yard score, all over the first two quarters of play. Tedesco moved into sole possession of second place on the career touchdown receptions list with 18, just one behind all-time leader DeVeren Johnson (2000-01). Tedesco also moved into second place on the career reception list raising his total to 114 as he closes in on Corey Bundy's (2004-07) record of 122, set last season His 1,447 yards ranks him third behind both Bundy (1,758) and Johnson (1,748).
Fink in the SHU Record Book... Quarterback Dale Fink, just 13 games into his collegiate career, is climbing his way up the Pioneer all-time passing lists. Fink has completed 235 passes and thrown for 2,652 yards and 32 touchdowns in his short career, placing him third all-time on all three lists. His career completions percentage of 64.3% currently has his atop that all-time list. The two quarterbacks he is chasing, Tyler Arciaga (2005-06) and Justin Holtfreter (2000-01) rewrote the SHU record book in just two years with Fink on pace to equal their feats in just his first two years under center as well.
Garry Coles, Sacred Heart's Impact Rookie... Freshman Garry Coles has scored five touchdowns this season and has provided the Pioneers with a spark on both offense and in the return game. Coles is averaging 126.8 all-purpose yards this season, racking up 134 yards rushing, 156 yards receiving and 203 kickoff return yards through four games. The rookie running back owns two NEC Rookie of the Week awards this season. He is averaging 6.7 yards per carry average and is the Pioneer's second leading receiver with 11 catches, 14.2 per catch. He is averaging 25.4 yards per return on kickoffs.
Rookie Receivers... A pair of freshman receivers have quietly made their presence felt in the SHU offense in Rich Rossi and Jared Kemp. Rossi caught a touchdown in his second-straight game last week at Marist, coming up with a nice toe-tapping touchdown grab in the corner of the end-zone for the game's first score. Kemp came up with six grabs for sixty yards in the win over the Red Foxes, the biggest coming on a 28-yard catch on a third and nine to set up the Pioneer's final touchdown. On the season, Rossi has 10 catches for 83 yards and two scores while Kemp has 10 catches for 78 yards.
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 last week's Special Teams Player of the Week after recovering a blocked punt and returning it for a five-yard score in the 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 breakups to win the NEC Defensive Player of the Week award.
NEC Stat Leaders... The Pioneers have the NEC's leading scoring offense (33.8 ppg) and scoring defense (17.8 ppg). The Pioneers are tops in total offense (405.0), turnover margin at +5, red-zone offense (86.7%), red-zone defense (53.3%), penalty yards (36.5). SHU is second in kickoff returns (22.7) and first downs (81) and are the only team in the league not to have allowed a sack on the year. SHU's defense is leading the league in rushing defense allowing 92.0 yards per game while also tying for the lead in sacks with 10. Senior Evin Jones is third in the NEC in rushing (124.5 ypg) and is first in scoring with six touchdowns. Quarterback Dale Fink is second in yards per game (230.5) and third in passing efficiency (146.9). Wide Receiver Steve Tedesco is leading the league in receptions per game (7.25) and second in yards per game (88.8). Coles is the NEC's top-return man, averaging 25.4 yards on kickoffs. Senior linebacker Rich Marrone leads the league with three forced fumbles and is 12th in tackles (30).
Former Pioneer Makes NFL 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 78-100 (.438) all-time and 58-45 (.563) 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.