Friday, September 29, 2017

Lebanon Valley football faces a big test at Widener

A Game of the Week Photo
If You Only Know Five Things
  1. Lebanon Valley is coming off a 24-14 victory over MAC foe FDU-Florham last weekend.
  2. LVC's kick return duo of Jeremy De La Cruz and Tyeair Diggs have the Dutchmen ranked first in the MAC with an average of 24.4 yards per return.
  3. The Dutchmen lead the conference in time of possession as they are currently holding the ball for more than 32 minutes per outing.
  4. LVC is hoping to end its recent six-game skid against Widener.
  5. The Pride are just six wins away from becoming the fourth NCAA Division III program to record 700 victories.

The Series
Saturday's game is the 73rd meeting all-time ... Widener leads the series 46-24-2 ... After LVC won three straight from 2008 to 2010, Widener has won six in a row ... Two of the last nine meetings have gone to overtime ... The two teams first met on Nov. 30, 1933 - the game ended as a scoreless tie ... The Pride earned the series' first victory in 1934 ... LVC's first win in the series was a 7-0 shutout in Annville in 1935 ... Widener was still known as Pennsylvania Military College until 1972.

Last Year
Last fall, Lebanon Valley's offense struggled to produce against one of the Middle Atlantic Conference's (MAC) top defensive units. The Flying Dutchmen dropped a 34-6 decision to Widener in front of a Homecoming crowd at Arnold Field on Saturday, Oct. 8. The Pride made an early statement when linebacker Steve Gozur jumped in front of a Tyler Cottle pass on the LVC side of midfield and raced 41 yards down the right sideline for the game's first touchdown at the 8:46 mark of the first quarter. Widener's offense flexed some muscle early in the second quarter when the unit drove 58 yards to paydirt in just 1:57, culminating with a Montrell Taylor-Hicks two-yard touchdown run that doubled the Pride advantage with 14:33 remaining in the first half. Insult was added to injury when Cottle was strip sacked and knocked from the game by Casey Kerschner midway through the second quarter. Widener made the Dutchmen pay on the team's ensuing possession, converting the turnover into points when Chris Randle finished off a seven-play, 62-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run. LVC's best drive of the day came early in the third quarter when the offense marched to the Widener 34-yard line. Unfortunately, the momentum was halted when Justin Hardy picked off Tim Pirrone's third-down pass at the 14-yard line. The Pride put the finishing touches on the scoring by adding a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns before LVC avoided being shut out for the second week in a row when Pirrone hit a leaping Travis Saylorin the back corner of the end zone with 34 seconds remaining. LVC's defense held its own during the first quarter and allowed no points to a dangerous Widener offensive unit but the turning point came when the Pride finally broke through in the opening moments of the second quarter. A 37-yard pass from Alex Krivda to Connor Schlegel set up Widener at the LVC two yard line. Hicks-Taylor rushed across the goal line on the next play to put the visitors up 14-0. From there, the Dutchmen defense slowly wore down throughout the game, while the offense struggled to offer the unit any respite.

Last Week
It wasn't always pretty but it was the type of grind-it-out victory Lebanon Valley needed to get back to the .500 mark in a 24-14 win over foe FDU-Florham at Arnold Field on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 23. Florham got the ball first but safety Blake Lutz ended the opening possession when he picked off a Jagger Green pass deep down the middle of the field at LVC's 29-yard line. Lebanon Valley's second drive of the afternoon ended in points when running back Paxson Hayes burst through the middle of the line and into the end zone from seven yards out to cap a nine-play, 61-yard drive that gave the Dutchmen a 7-0 lead following a Marcus Brown extra point with 2:55 left in the first quarter. LVC rushed seven times for 50 yards during the series. The momentum shifted when safety Zachary Adams was penalized for targeting, a call that was later overturned, midway through the second quarter. FDU set up 1st-and-goal at the Dutchmen four-yard line and was again aided by a penalty when LVC was whistled for an iffy facemask call on an apparent third-down stop. A false start moved the Devils back to the nine-yard line but another Lebanon Valley penalty, this time an illegal-hands-to-the-face call, set up Florham for Green's four-yard touchdown run on the next play. A bad snap, however, forced kicker Nick Maciejewski to abandon the extra-point kick and try to run it in for two but linebacker Tom Gallagherdumped him for a loss on the play. A fumble two plays into LVC's ensuing drive looked to be disastrous as it set up the visitors at Lebanon Valley's 19-yard line. The Devils moved the ball to the two-yard line and looked poised to take the lead but cornerback Nick Tucker made an outstanding play to tip a Green pass away from FDU standout wide receiver Malik Pressley on 4th-and-goal, preserving the slim 7-6 advantage heading into the break. The Dutchmen opened the second half with a 10-play, 51-yard march to paydirt that ended when Hayes plowed across the goal line from two yards out with 9:34 remaining in the third quarter. Running back Kelvin Nieves saw his first extended action on the drive, rushing four times for 14 yards to set up LVC in plus territory. Florham responded on their next possession, however, using a quick-tempo approach to put the Dutchmen back on their heels. The Devils needed just four plays to reach the end zone, as running Steve Iannone broke free for a 30-yard score. Green avoided pressure and scrambled before finding wideout Mike Panzarino in the back of the end zone to complete the two-point conversion and tie the game with 8:22 left in the third quarter. LVC responded with another long scoring drive, this time capped by Brown's 32-yard field goal late in the third quarter. The Dutchmen were aided by a 37-yard kickoff return by Jeremy De La Cruz that set them up near midfield. Lebanon Valley shut down the Devils on their first possession of the fourth quarter, with safety Cale Bruso breaking up a Green pass on second down and defensive end Guy Zimmerman's pressure forcing Green to get rid of the ball out of bounds on third down. The Dutchmen started with great field position on their next drive after a head's up fair catch by Adams gave them the ball back at the FDU 37-yard line. LVC was aided by a Devil's pass interference call and quarterback Tyler Sterner's shovel pass to Ryan Fink was a perfect call that led to a 26-yard touchdown with 11:28 left to play. The Devils put together a solid drive on the ensuing possession and moved the ball to the edge of the red zone before a holding penalty put them behind the chains. After defensive linemen Adam Wagaman and Ryan Johnson forced Green into incomplete passes, linebacker Tim Schumacher put an exclamation point on the game when he picked off Green's fourth-down pass at the five-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. The Dutchmen held the ball for the final 7:59, running 14 plays and driving 94 yards before using a pair of Sterner QB sneaks to run out the clock and seal the victory.

Bruso's Surprsie
Following LVC's victory over FDU-Florham last Saturday, the Dutchmen, as they usually do, gathered on the turf at Arnold Field for the team's postgame breakdown. When head coach Joe Buehler '89 finished his postgame speech, a group of youngsters dressed in LVC football shirts with the number one and the name Bruso emblazoned on the back rushed the huddle to greet their favorite player. For the past three summers, Cale Bruso has served as a camp counselor at the Friedens Trinity Day Camp in Valley View, Pa. For nine weeks out of the year, Bruso and the rest of the camp's staff work to create a fun, activity-filled environment that gives young people the opportunity to interact on a personal level, take field trips, practice conflict resolution, work as a team, promote good sportsmanship, and take in bible studies. It began as a summer job for Bruso. As evidenced by his response to his biggest fans, it's obvious it's blossomed into something more. Cale Bruso's parents, Bruce and Amy, arranged for a number of the 21 campers of various ages to attend LVC's most recent contest. Each child received their own shirt and a foam football, and the group congregated under a pair of tents near the bleachers to watch the game and also to keep their presence a secret until the final gun. Following the victory, LVC director of athletics Rick Beard '90, M'92 led them to the field where many of them embraced the senior safety for the first time since camp ended. The reunion was a touching one, as an emotional Bruso made time to hug, high five, catch up with, and pose for pictures with the fans who know him best, while his teammates and coaches looked on.

Return Policy
One of the brightest spots for LVC through the early portion of the season has been the kick return game. As a whole, LVC ranks tops in the MAC with an average of 24.4 yards per kick return. Jeremy De La Cruz's 25.6 yards-per-return clip is good enough to rank him third in the conference, while fellow return man Tyeair Diggs ranks close behind him in fifth with a 24.4 yards-per-return average. De La Cruz's longest return on the year is 43 yards, while Diggs' top effort is a 35-yard return.

Controlling the Clock
It's no secret that the Dutchmen like to run the ball. In doing so, the team has had a penchant for keeping the clock moving. Through four weeks, LVC leads the MAC in time of possession thanks to holding the ball for an average of 32:08 per contest. In the team's win over FDU-Florham last week, Lebanon Valley ended the game with a 7:59 drive that sealed the victory. It was the team's longest possession of the season thus far.

Noting LVC's Offense
Lebanon Valley is averaging 26.5 points and 289 yards of offense per game - 146.8 on the ground and 142.3 through the air. Quarterback Tyler Sterner has thrown for 534 yards and six touchdowns, while tailback Jon Jones is the team's leading rusher with 167 yards and a touchdown. Do-it-all weapon Tim Pirrone is averaging five yards per carry, while running back Ryan Fink has a pair of rushing touchdowns and a receiving score to his credit. Wide receivers Jeremy De La Cruz and Pirrone have each surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark, with De La Cruz leading the team with three receiving touchdowns. LVC has lost four fumbles and been the victim of a pair of interceptions on the fall. 

Noting LVC's Defense
LVC is surrendering 26.5 points per game and 336.8 yards of total offense per contest; numbers the team will look to bring down in the coming weeks. While the unit has been solid against the run, the defense has struggled a bit against the pass and has allowed 224.5 yards through the air per outing. Linebacker Tom Gallagheris the team's top tackler with 22 stops, while fellow linebacker Tyler Hodges leads the group with 3.5 tackles for loss. Defensive ends Guy ZimmermanAustin Maguire, and Nick Newton have each posted a sack, with Zimmerman filling up the stat sheet thanks to three TFL, two pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a pair of quarterback hurries. Fellow defensive lineman Trent Donlan has had a nose for the ball in recovering three fumbles, while cornerback Nick Tucker and linebacker Tyler Lutz have each recorded an interception. Against FDU-Florham last week, safety Blake Lutz and linebacker Tim Schumacher came away with interceptions. So far this season, LVC has forced nine fumbles and recovered eight of them.

Noting LVC's Special Teams
The Dutchmen currently have the top kick return unit in the MAC, as Jeremy De La Cruz and Tyeair Diggs are both averaging more than 20 yards per return. Tim Schumacher has also been solid on punt returns, averaging more than 11 yards per attempt so far this season. Dylan Lobach recorded the team's lone punt block on the year, while Jacob Whitfield blocked an extra-point attempt in the season opener against Franklin & Marshall. Adam Domovich has settled nicely into the role of punter, averaging more than 35 yards per attempt on 17 total kicks, including two that have been downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Marcus Brown is 4-5 on field goal attempts so far this season, with his longest make coming from 37 yards out. Nick Bentz has looked very good on kickoff attempts, as he's averaging more than 60 yards per kick, with eight of his attempts resulting in touchbacks.

Scouting Widener
Widener shares an identical record with LVC at 2-2 and 2-1 in conference play. The Pride are just six wins shy of becoming just the fourth NCAA Division III program and the 35th NCAA program at any level to record 700 total victories. Widener is averaging 22.5 points and 313 yards of total offense per game but most of the team's damage is getting done through the air. Quarterback Sean McGaughey has thrown for 634 yards and four touchdowns on the year, while completing more than 64 percent of his passes. Running back Chris Randle is the team's leading rusher with 211 yards and a score on 49 attempts. As a whole, however, the Pride are averaging little more than 88 yards per game on the ground. Wideout Montrell Hicks-Taylor has pulled in 18 receptions for 373 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, Widener is allowing just 10.8 points per game despite surrendering an average of 300 yards of offense to opposing teams. Defensive lineman Casey Kerschner leads the team in tackles by a wide margin with 55, including a team-best five sacks. On the year, the Pride are even in the turnover department.

Watch Out for Powell
Widener defensive back Jordan Powell has proven quite the disruption for opposing offenses to this point in the season. Two weeks ago, the junior was named the MAC Defensive Player of the Week before earning a spot on the Team of the Week on Sept. 12. So far this fall, Powell has scored two defensive touchdowns to go along with two fumble recoveries, an interception, a forced fumble, six pass breakups, a sack, and 9.5 tackles for loss. One of his defensive scores include a 100-yard interception return.

Who's Next?
LVC's bye week is next weekend. The Dutchmen return to action on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 14 when they host Stevenson at Arnold Field. That contest will serve as the program's 2017 Homecoming Game.

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