October 23, 2008

Pioneers Travel to Duquesne for NEC Match-Up

Oct. 23, 2008

Sacred Heart vs. Duquesne Game Notes in PDF Format Get Acrobat Reader

Sacred Heart Pioneers (6-1, 2-1 NEC) vs. Duquesne Dukes (2-4, 1-3 NEC)

Game #8 - Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008 - 1:00 pm - Pittsburgh, Pa. - Arthur J. Rooney Athletic Field (2,200)

Radio: WICC 600 AM, SacredHeartPioneers.com

Setting the Scene... The Sacred Heart Pioneers hit the road this week looking to bounce back from their first loss of 2008 as they take on the NEC's newest member Duquesne University. The Pioneers are coming off a 26-21 loss at home last weekend to defending league champion Albany while the Dukes are in the midst of a three-game slide with a 35-23 loss at Central Connecticut State the latest on their ledger. The Pioneer defense needs a bounce back performance after allowing 504 yards of total offense in the loss to the Great Danes. Saturday's game has the makings of a marquee match-up of two of the NEC's top-rated quarterbacks. SHU's Dale Fink is completing 68.7% of his passes and has thrown for 1,526 yards and 17 touchdowns. Not to be overshadowed is the Dukes' first-year sophomore quarterback Connor Dixon, a transfer from Michigan State, who has thrown for 1,536 yards and 16 scores this season.

The SHU - Duquesne Series... The Dukes leads the all-time series, 2-1, with wins the last two seasons. The Pioneers took the first-ever meeting, a 31-15 win at Duquesne in the 2001 ECAC Bowl, capping a perfect season (11-0). The win clinched the first perfect season in school history and secured the Pioneers the final #1 ranking in both the Sports Network and Don Hansen Gazzette I-AA Mid-Major polls. It took five seasons for the two teams to meet again as the Dukes posted a 24-21 win at home in 2006. The Dukes made the trip to Fairfield last season and came away with a 30-23 overtime win. This season will mark the first meeting between the two schools as members of the Northeast Conference.

SHU in the NEC... The Pioneers are in their 11th season of competition in the Northeast Conference. SHU holds a 33-39 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 welcome the Wagner Seahawks and the Madison Square Garden Network cameras to Campus Field for a special Halloween telecast next Friday night.

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 21-28 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. Duquesne head coach Jerry Schmitt (Westminster `83) is in his fourth season at the head of the Dukes program and owns a 22-14 record at the school. Prior to becoming the Dukes head coach, Schmitt spent five season as the head coach at his alma mater Westminster, where he complied a 42-27 (.609) record. After his playing days ended, Schmitt coached in the high school ranks before taking an assistant coaching position with Duquesne on two separate stints, from 1985-87 and 1992-99.

Last Meeting with Duquesne... Sacred Heart safety John Wilson blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to pull the Pioneers even in the fourth quarter but Duquesne's Greg Hough ran in an 8-yard touchdown in overtime to hand the Pioneers a 30-23 last September on Campus Field. SHU running back Jason Payne had a 40-yard touchdown catch and 72 yards rushing in the loss. Duquesne's Hough led the offensive attack rushing for 107 yards on 20 carries and a pair of scores. Quarterback Kevin Rombach completed 29-of-41 passes for 316 yards and a score, leading his team to 457 yards of total offense on the day. The Dukes did an excellent job on third down, converting eight of 16 (50.0%). SHU quarterback Dale Fink was forced out of the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury and the Pioneers looked to freshman backup quarterback Tyler McKeon to lead the offense in the second half as the Dukes forced punts on SHU's first-two possessions and tacked on a field goal with 2:18 left in the third to lead 23-14. McKeon led a 10-play drive ending in a Joe Schroeder 25-yard field goal to pull within 23-17. The Dukes stalled on their next drive to set up Wilson's blocked punt but needing just the extra point to pull in front by one, Schroeder's kick missed its mark, sailing wide right leaving the game tied at 23-23. Neither team could put together any solid scoring threats in the closing minutes, sending the game into the overtime session. The Dukes won the overtime coin toss and elected to go on offense first. Duquesne needed just three plays before Hough ran it in from the eight yard line for the go-ahead score. McKeon and the SHU offense took their turn needing a touchdown to keep the game alive but the Dukes ended it on a interception by corner Aaron Strader on the two-yard line.

Last Time Out... Sacred Heart saw their six-game winning streak snapped last Saturday falling to UAlbany 26-21 on Campus Field. The Pioneers gave up 504 yards of total offense in the loss, 320 on the ground, while giving up scoring drives that covered 85, 80, 80, 75, and 80 yards on the day. The Pioneers held a 14-10 lead late in the second quarter thanks to touchdowns by Evin Jones, his ninth on the year, and freshman Jared Kemp, his first career score, and looked like they would extend the lead. The Pioneers appeared to come up with the play of the day on the Albany's first play from scrimmage after the ensuing kickoff following Kemp's score. Vinny Esposito's pass over the middle slipped through the receiver's hands and into the arms of SHU linebacker Rich Marrone at the 25-yard line. Marrone headed for the left pylon and the score but just before he could dive for the end zone Great Dane wide receiver Tim Bush chopped the ball out of his hands from behind, forcing a fumble that went across the goal line and out of bounds resulting in a touchback to give UAlbany back the ball on their 20-yard line with no harm done. The third quarter was all Albany as the Great Danes ran 29 plays to SHU's five and held the ball for over 11 and a half minutes to take control of the game. Quarterback Dale Fink threw for 247 yards, completing 25 of 34 passes for two touchdowns and an interception in the loss. Wide Receiver Steve Tedesco had his first 100-yard receiving day of the season, hauling in eight balls for 101 yards and a touchdown, his seventh of the season.

Pioneer Offense Continues to Impress... The Pioneers come into Saturday's game with Duquesne with the NEC's top-scoring offense at 32.6 points per game. SHU has scored at least 21 points in each of its game this season and has three time hit the 40-points. Sacred Heart's offense is averaging a league high 379.5 total yards per game, 222.4 through the air. SHU continues to shine in the red-zone, scoring on 24 of their 27 trips (88.9%) with 22 touchdowns. SHU is second in the NEC on third down, converting 45.2%.

Dale Fink, SHU's Field General... R-Sophomore Quarterback Dale Fink is completing a NEC best 68.7% (147-214) of his passes and has thrown for a league-leading 17 scores this season. Fink has thrown for 1,526 yards, an average of 218.0 yards per game, second in the league. Fink has thrown a touchdown in 16-straight games and has thrown for two or more scores in 13 games in his young career. He has tossed at least two scores in all but one game this season, the season opener. Against Saint Francis two weeks ago, he threw for four touchdowns, a feat he has accomplished three times over his career, and tying the school record, held by five different SHU quarterbacks. The sophomore signal caller picked up his first career NEC Offensive Player of the Week award after throwing for a season-high 281 yards and three scores the win over Marist. Fink, the reigning NEC Rookie of the Year, has shown no signs of a sophomore slump, posting a passing efficiency rating of 147.3 on the year. He has completed a league-high 147 passes.

Offensive Success Starts Up Front... Seven games into the 2008 season and the Pioneer offensive line has yet to surrender a sack of quarterback Dale Fink. SHU is the only team in the NEC and the nation not to allow a sack this season. Under the guidance of assistant coach Kevin Bolis, the Pioneer front-five of senior tackle Ryan Arroyo, junior tackle Abel Malae, r-sophomore guard Dan Plunkett, r-sophomore guard/center Justin Smith, freshman guard Will Martin and freshman center Dylan Larson continue to impress not only protecting the quarterback but paving the way for the SHU ground game. The Pioneers are averaging 157.4 yards per game on the ground, fourth among NEC leaders.

Ground Game led by Evin Jones... Running back Evin Jones is in the midst of a break out senior season, finding the century mark in four of the seven games this season with a 200-yard game to his credit. Jones is closing in on the 1,000 yard mark for the season with 858 yards on 155 carries, an average of 5.5 yards per carry. Jones is fifth in the NEC and tied for eighth in the nation in rushing at 122.6 yards per game. Jones' nine touchdown rushes leads the team and is second to Monmouth's back David Sinisi's 13 scores. Jones carried the ball a career-high 33 times in the win over Robert Morris finishing with 187 yards, an effort second only to his 210 yard night against Assumption in the opener as a career bench mark. His season-opening performance against Assumption earned him NEC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Tedesco Rewriting the SHU Record Book... Junior wide receiver Steve Tedesco has set two career receiving records this year and is closing in on a third with the season in the home stretch. Tedesco owns the career receptions mark at 133 and counting and the career TD mark with 23 and counting. He is honing in on the career yardage mark with his 1,675 yards behind just Corey Bundy (1,758) and DeVern Johnson (1,748). Tedesco is also threatening his own season mark for catches in a season set last season at 59. Through seven game he has hauled in 48 balls.

Pioneer Receiving Corps... On the season, junior Steven Tedesco has a league leading 48 caches for 583 yards, a 12.1 per catch average. His seven TD grabs leads all SHU receivers. Tedesco is leading the NEC in touchdown receptions (7), receptions per game (6.86), reception yards (583) and receiving yards per game (83.3). The rest of the Pioneer receiving corps have held their own as well with r-sophomore Tony Patterson hauling in 21 catches while averaging 11.8 yards per catch. Seven different receivers have caught Dale Fink touchdown passes this season including freshmen Garry Coles, Jared Kemp and Rich Rossi and r-sophomore tight end Tom Stripe hauling in their first receiving touchdowns this season. Fink in the SHU Record Book... Quarterback Dale Fink, just 16 games into his collegiate career, is climbing his way up the Pioneer all-time passing lists. Fink has thrown for 40 touchdowns in his career tied for the all-time record set by Justin Holtfreter in his two seasons under center in 2000 and 2001. He has completed 307 passes and thrown for 3,256 yards. His career completions percentage of 65.2% currently has him a top 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.

+7 In the Turnover Battle... The Pioneers have not had a game this season where they lost the turnover battle. The Pioneers have wont he turnover war in five of the seven games this season and drawn even in the other two. Last week, both SHU and Albany had two turnovers apiece. On the season, SHU is tied with CCSU at +7 for the league lead. On the season, Sacred Heart has 11 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries as a team. Last season, SHU finished the year -14.

Special Teams Advantage... The Pioneers have gotten a boost from their special teams this season. The SHU kickoff return team features the top-return man in the NEC in freshman Garry Coles. Coles is averaging 24.9 yards per return this season, recording 374 yards on 15 returns. Fellow freshman Jared Kemp has joined Coles and had six returns for 144 yards, an average of 24.4 yards per return. Junior place kicker Joe Schroeder notched his first career NEC Special Teams Player of the Week award after a pair of booming field goals at Saint Francis (PA). Schroeder has come in to his own this year and is in the midst of a break-out season. Schroeder hit field goals of 45-yards, a career-long by 10-yards, and a 42-yards. Schroeder has developed into another weapon for the league's most potent offense as he is 4-of-4 on field goal attempts this season with a total of 40 points on the year. In addition to his two 40-plus yard field goals, Schroeder averaged 66.1 yards on his kickoffs with a pair of touchbacks to his credit. On the year, he is averaging 61.0 yards on his kickoffs with four touchbacks.

Fullback Friedman - SHU's Jack of all Trades... Junior fullback Brian Friedman has proven to be a pretty valuable offensive weapon for head coach Paul Gorham. Friedman not only serves as a lead blocker and occasional ball carrier but he has also shown he can throw the football and punt it as well. Friedman got into the act of tossing touchdowns when he hooked-up with Steve Tedesco on a 25-yard strike on a halfback pass in the win over Robert Morris. It was the second career touchdown throw for Friedman who hooked-up with Fink on a halfback toss in a win over Marist last season. Friedman also serves as the team's backup punter and has been called upon this season. He has three punts on the year for an average of 34.3 yards, with one being downed inside the 20-yard line.

Garry Coles, Sacred Heart's Impact Rookie... Freshman Garry Coles has scored six touchdowns this season and has provided the Pioneers with a spark on both offense and in the return game. Coles is averaging 109.8 all-purpose yards this season, racking up 151 yards rushing, 212 yards receiving and 374 kickoff return yards. The rookie running back owns two NEC Rookie of the Week awards this season. He is averaging 6.0 yards per carry average and is the Pioneer's third leading receiver with 20 catches, 11.2 yards per catch. He is averaging 24.9 yards per return on kickoffs, tops in the NEC.

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 the 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.

Gorham Heads the All-Time SHU Coaching List... Sacred Heart head coach Paul Gorham got the Pioneers off on a six-game winning streak to open 2008, the longest in his tenure, that has rocketed him up Sacred Heart's all-time coaching wins list. Coach Gorham's 21 career wins on the SHU sideline has him tied with former coach Jim Fleming (2000-01) for the all-time lead in coaching wins at Sacred Heart. Gorham is in his fifth season at the helm of the Pioneer program.

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).

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 mini-camp 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.

History of Sacred Heart Football... This is the 18th football season at Sacred Heart University. The program is 80-101 (.442) all-time and 60-46 (.566) 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.