October 10, 2013

No hangover at St. Lawrence

More news about: St. Lawrence
Last year's St. Lawrence team was tough to watch, but Mark Raymond's Saints have gotten off to a much better start.
St. Lawrence athletics photo

Success and failure go hand-in-hand. Always have and always will. Without one, you can't have the other.

Mark Raymond, like virtually every college football coach, defines success and failure as winning and losing, respectively. And until last season, Raymond's teams had always experienced their fare share of success.

The 2012 season for the St. Lawrence Saints was, by Raymond's definition, a complete failure. Ten games, zero wins.

"It was a tough year," Raymond said.

Of that there is no doubt. But the Saints haven't let last season's disaster -- the program's first winless campaign since 2002 -- carry over into 2013. St. Lawrence has four wins in five games this season, a seemingly remarkable turnaround for a team that won just three of 19 over the last two seasons.

Two of St. Lawrence's four victories have come in conference play -- an impressive road win at Union and a home win against Rochester, the Saints' first over the Yellowjackets since 1998.

How has such a turnaround happened so quickly? There's no magic formula, Raymond said. But it all starts with examining what went wrong to begin with.

"If you don't learn from history, you're bound to repeat it," Raymond said. "Our kids certainly were motivated by it."

The Saints didn't do much well in 2012. They couldn't run the ball or, conversely, stop the run. They struggled to generate a consistent pass rush, which confounded existing problems in pass coverage. And when they seemed to make progress in the passing game, turnovers always emerged as their Achilles' heel.

Junior Michael Lefflbine, a first-year starter after transferring from Division I FCS program Sacred Heart, has emerged as a steady presence at quarterback. While he's shown the ability to make plays when needed, it's been his ability to take care of the ball that's most impressed Raymond.

Lefflbine has only three interceptions, against six touchdowns, in 168 attempts. The Saints averaged more than two interceptions per game last season.

While Lefflbine has been key, the Saints have also received consistently solid play from many of their returning upperclassmen. Players such as senior Mike Tateosian and junior Colby Johnson, both wide receivers, and sophomore running Maurice Irby have been as productive on the field as they've been encouraging off it.

Senior linebackers Shane Hart, a captain, and Obi Nwaigwe, who has a team-high six sacks, are experienced leaders, as is senior middle linebacker Andrew Cox. The defensive line, led by senior Sean Gretz and junior Dillon Knight, has played well as a collective unit. The Saints have already matched their sack total from last season (16) through five games. 

"It's been a pretty damn good team effort," Raymond said. "... Every year teams take on different personalities and different leadership and you have young guys come in, but this group has been very consistent. They've bonded together as a team and have common goals and are very selfless. 

The St. Lawrence defense celebrates Jayson Leigh's interception return for a TD.
St. Lawrence athletics photo 

"It's a great group to be around."

Raymond said he evaluates his own performance after every season, but this past offseason brought some extra scrutiny. Raymond and his staff agreed to keep the main principles -- the "pillars of the program," Raymond calls them -- the same. But they evaluated everything else from basic offensive and defensive schemes to practice tempos.

"As a coach, if you're not self assessing and continuing to learn every day, then you're never going to grow as a coach," Raymond said. "Whether you're undefeated or whether you're 0-10, you need to do the things in the offseason to make yourself a better coach."

St. Lawrence experienced immediate success when Raymond took over in the 2010 season, winning the Liberty League conference title and reaching its first NCAA tournament since 1982.

After a three-win season in 2011, the wheels fell off in 2012. But St. Lawrence is trending upward, and Raymond said it's because the coaches and players continue to believe in the process. It's been a long process, granted, but the Saints are finally seeing the rewards.

"Our expectations don't change," Raymond said. "We believe in our mode of operation here and our goal every year is to win a conference championship."

Lycoming upends Delaware Valley

Note that the headline reads "upends" and not "upsets." Many would argue Lycoming beating Delaware Valley isn't an upset, particularly at home.

But this game was just as close as expected, with the Warriors pulling out a 19-16 win.

Saturday's game played out in a mostly predictable fashion -- Delaware Valley excelled through the air, while Lycoming held the advantage on the ground. Craig Needhammer rushed for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including one in the fourth quarter to put Lycoming ahead.

The Warriors' defense also turned in a stellar effort, picking off standout Aaron Wilmer three times (two by Tanner Troutman). These two teams are evenly matched, and in a case like this, the home-field advantage may have been the determining factor.

Delaware Valley is still in a good spot with three of its final five games at home, including games against Lebanon Valley and Widener. Lycoming, however, sits in the driver's seat in the MAC.

The Warriors already have wins in hand over Widener and DelVal, so a win this weekend against Lebanon Valley would certainly bode well.

Hartwick stays hot

Hartwick rolled through its first three games this season, but there was reason to temper expectations.

The Hawks set a precedent last season, when they won their first three non-conference games, only to follow that by losing all seven of their Empire 8 games. This season is already different. 

Hartwick beat Ithaca 21-9 Saturday in its first conference game, and the score doesn't really reflect how lopsided the matchup was. After going winless in conference play the last two seasons, Hartwick earned its first Empire 8 win since Nov. 6, 2011. But perhaps most impressively, Hartwick, traditionally a high-powered offensive team, dominated the Bombers defensively.

Hartwick beat Ithaca at its own game, controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides. The Hawks piled up 142 rushing yards, held the Bombers to just 46 on the ground, and controlled the ball for nearly 33 minutes.

The Hawks' defense played one of its finest games in recent memory, piling up four sacks (two each by Bryan Schweitzer and Joe Seney) and forcing five turnovers, including a 16-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Jason Brown.

Quarterback John Garcia's year has been up and down, but through four games he has a sterling 14-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Frankie Molina and Tanner Williams are dynamic weapons at wide receiver, and Travis Samuels is averaging 27 yards per catch. As usual, Hartwick's offense is potent.

But for the first time since 2009 the team is 4-0, and for the first time since 2007 it has a win over Ithaca under its belt. A tough follow-up test awaits in St. John Fisher this weekend.

Morrisville State wins second straight

Hartwick isn't the only feel-good story in the East region. Morrisville State, a perennial bottom feeder in the NJAC, has its first two-game winning streak in recent memory.

The Mustangs held off William Paterson 51-48 -- a week after beating St. Lawrence 28-23 -- to improve to 2-2 on the young season. The Mustangs set a school record with 795 yards of total offense, but it was kicker Zach Drake's 27-yard field goal as time expired that clinched the win, Morrisville State's first conference win over a New Jersey opponent.

Quarterback Lemar Johnson started all 10 games last season, but struggled to consistently perform at a high level. Johnson has been dynamic this season under first-year head coach Curt Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has an accomplished history of working with quarterbacks, most recently with Utica standout Andrew Benkwitt.

Under Fitzpatrick's guidance, Johnson has piled up 1,152 passing yards, 299 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns. Johnson has eight TD passes in the Mustangs' two wins.

Josh Powell (489 receiving yards, 5 TDs) and Anthony Gray (264 receiving yards, 5 TDs) have been Johnson's top targets, while Cristian Pena (585 rushing yards) currently ranks 15th in the country in rushing yards per game.

The numbers speak for themselves -- Morrisville State is averaging 526.8 total yards of offense per game, good for 13th in the country. Fitzpatrick's impact has been impossible to ignore.

Quick hits

Steven Webb rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns and Pat Conlan tossed a pair of TDs as No. 7 Hobart cruised past WPI 41-7. The Statesmen won their 10th straight Liberty League game, dating back to 2011. ... Jerome Johnson rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown and Joey Jones accounted for three TDs in Salisbury's 34-0 win over Utica. Defensively, the Sea Gulls forced three interceptions and finished with their first shutout since Oct. 15, 2011. ... Seth Klein passes for 303 yards and three TDs, including two to Anthony Davis, in Widener's convincing 31-10 win over Stevenson. Davis finished with nine receptions for 162 yards. ... Cody Miller rushed for 92 yards and three scores, the last of put No. 20 St. John Fisher ahead for good in its 38-35 win against Frostburg State. Sean Preish finished with 11 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble for the Cardinals. ... Connor Eck threw for 320 yards, rushed for 42 yards and accounted for two TDs as Union upended Springfield 27-7 for its first win of the season. Union dominated defensively, holding Springfield to just three first downs and 85 total yards (all rushing). ... Tyler Augliano threw a 12-yard TD pass to John Babin in the first quarter and Joel Nunez scored on a nine-yard run in the fourth quarter in Cortland State's 17-7 win against Kean. ... Austin Hartman ran for 139 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown, to lead Lebanon Valley to a 17-6 win over Wilkes. Frank Gaffney finished with 12 tackles and four of the Dutchmen's eight sacks in the game. ... Austin Dwyer scored on a four-yard run in the second overtime to cap Alfred's wild 39-33 win over Buffalo State. The overtime period included a pair of failed extra-point attempts and an apparent game-ending interception that really wasn't after Alfred's Seiji Hinton dropped the ball before downing it, allowing Buffalo State's Rich Pete to recover in the end zone and tie the game. ... Withler Marcelin and Matt Dortch both ran for 58 yards and a touchdown as Rowan built up a 20-point lead and held on for a 20-16 win over Brockport State. ... TJ Luddy passed for 212 yards and two TDs and Drew Peterson returned an interception 60 yards for a score in Albright's 52-7 rout of FDU-Florham. ... Victor Scalici rushed for a game-high 113 yards and a go-ahead, 44-yard score in the fourth quarter to help TCNJ defeat Montclair State 21-16. ... Kyle McGrath ran for 151 yards and three TDs, including an 11-yard score in overtime, as King's defeated Misericordia 41-40 in double overtime. Jeff Puckett rushed for 175 yards and two TDs in the loss for Misericordia.

Top 25: Lycoming enters the field

Lycoming, following its win against Delaware Valley, cracked the D3football.com Top 25 for the first time this season.

Hobart held steady at No. 7 for a third straight week, while St. John Fisher slipped one spot to No. 20.

Salisbury, Delaware Valley and Hartwick each received votes in this week's poll.

Looking ahead

No. 7 Hobart (4-0, 2-0) at Springfield (3-2, 0-2), noon, Saturday: Springfield's consecutive losses to open conference play have taken some of the hype out of this matchup, but the Pride can still give Hobart a legitimate test. The Statesmen, however, have looked dominant through four games this season.

No. 24 Lycoming (4-1, 4-0) at Lebanon Valley (4-1, 3-1), 1 p.m., Saturday: Lycoming could help put some distance between the rest of the pack in the MAC with a road win in this matchup. If Lebanon Valley wins, however, things will get very interesting in the conference race.

No. 20 St. John Fisher (4-0, 1-0) at Hartwick (4-0, 1-0), 2 p.m., Saturday: Few could have expected Hartwick to enter this matchup with a chance to take over sole possession of first place in the Empire 8, but the winner of this matchup will atop the conference. The winner will also remain the only undefeated team in the E8.

Other games of note: Rowan (3-1, 2-0) at Morrisville State (2-2, 1-0), noon, Saturday; Buffalo State (2-3, 0-2) at Salisbury (2-2, 1-0), 1 p.m., Saturday; Alfred (3-1, 1-0) at Ithaca (3-1, 1-1), 1 p.m., Saturday

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me by email at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com and follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell).

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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is an associate news editor for ESPN.com and a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has contributed freelance work to ESPN Rise and has been a regular contributor to D3football.com since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing. A native of Hyde Park, N.Y., Andrew currently resides in New Britain. 

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov 

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