September 17, 2013

Senior defender helps get Hope's season flying

More news about: Hope
Hope co-captain Santino DiCesare has 20 tackles this year to go along with an interception.
Hope athletics photo

Santino DiCesare admits he wasn't sure how things would play out for him in his new defensive role with Hope College.

DiCesare had been in the drop safety role in the defensive backfield as a sophomore, racking up 49 tackles as he began to show his promise for the Flying Dutchmen.

A year ago, he was asked to move to free safety.

"I was a little nervous," DiCesare said. "I hadn't played free safety since my sophomore year of high school. I wasn't sure how things were going to work out for me making the switch."

It turned out to be the best move possible for DiCesare, who thrived in the wake of the change, finishing second on the team in tackles (85). He picked off five passes as well and was named the team's defensive MVP. 

His effort helped the Flying Dutchmen finish third in the MIAA standings with a 4-2 record. Hope was 5-5 overall.

"I was kind of surprised by how well it worked out," DiCesare said. "I played well, and I think it helped me become a better player. I think it worked out for our entire defense. We played well."

DiCesare, a senior co-captain this season for Hope, which expects to contend for the league championship this season, said he credits his success during the transition to the coaching staff.

"They did a great job of getting me ready to make that move," DiCesare said. "I love being a ball hawk, and they gave me the freedom to just go out and play football. I was able to just run to the ball, hit hard and make plays."

DiCesare is off and running this season as well, making his share of big plays to help Hope get off to a 2-0 start to its season. He has racked up 20 tackles, tying him for the team lead with Kirby Cook. He has picked off one pass as well for a defense that has given up just 28 points in its first two games.

"This is my fourth year playing, so I have experience and understand what I need to do to play well," DiCesare said. "I worked hard on improving my technique over the summer and I've also done my best to take on more of a leadership role and play with more confidence."

In high school, DiCesare played on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he saw time as a wide receiver and at running back. But his first love was defense, and he expected to play on that side of the ball in college.

"I definitely came in wanting to play defense," DiCesare said. "I love playing offense, but nothing compares to playing defense. The big adjustment for me was learning the different types of coverages. It took a lot of time. Physically, I felt pretty good coming in because we put a lot of emphasis on lifting and working out in high school."

Adjusting to juggling football and school also took some time.

"Hope is a pretty tough school academically," DiCesare said. "It's all about learning how to manage time. We are fortunate that every year before the start of the season we have a time management seminar. It gives us a chance to plan out our year. It's a big help."

DiCesare was a big help to Hope on Saturday in its dominating 41-7 win over Millikin at home. He racked up seven tackles in the victory. Hope has allowed only 14 points in the last seven quarters of football and has scored 41 in back-to-back weeks.

"We were expecting that game with Milliken to be a battle until the end," DiCesare said. "I was not expecting us to win the way we did, but our offense and defense fed off each other. We were clicking in all aspects of the game."

The early-season success has provided a big shot of confidence to the Flying Dutchmen, who still have two more nonconference games to play before MIAA action begins in October.

DiCesare said hard work in the offseason has played a crucial role in the success Hope has enjoyed through the first two weeks of the season.

"Our commitment in the offseason was tremendous," DiCesare said. "We had so many more players stick around over the summer to work out. They bought into what we were trying to accomplish. It helps that we have a veteran team, too. We know what is expected of us."

The experience factor should serve the Flying Dutchmen well in their quest to be conference champions. With only six league games, every Saturday counts and there is little room for error.

"We definitely want to compete for that championship," DiCesare said. "Every game in our league is a test. There isn't one team you can look past. We have to play our best every week to have a chance to contend for a title."

While it remains to be seen how things will play out for Hope during the 2013 season, DiCesare knows he wants to make this last go-round with the Flying Dutchmen count.

"This is my last shot, and I want to make the most of it," DiCesare said. "Our coach always asks what kind of legacy we want to leave here. We're motivated to play our best and hopefully we can accomplish all of our goals." 

In the poll

Points weren't in short supply for No. 19 Wabash on Saturday as it opened its season with a 69-0 win over Hanover. It was the most points scored by the Little Giants (1-0) in a game in eight years. 

Delon Pettiford was on top of his game defensively, recovering a blocked punt for a touchdown and returning an interception for a score as well. The pick by Pettiford was one of six by Wabash, which held Hanover to just 45 yards of offense. 

Pettiford is only a freshman and is coming off a senior season at Indianapolis Lawrence where he won a state title.

Not only did the Little Giants have a field day picking off passes, they also racked up five sacks and 15 tackles for a loss.

Michael Putko thrived in his first start at quarterback, throwing for 129 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a touchdown. 

Tyler Holmes rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns, picking up 96 of those yards in the second quarter. Nate Scola anchored the defense with six tackles and two sacks. 

Baldwin Wallace, which started the year No. 23, remained in that spot after rolling to a 52-21 win over Bluffton on the road.

Michael Slack led the Yellow Jackets (1-0) as he completed 12 of his 15 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 102 yards and a score. 

The Yellow Jackets led 24-14 at the half and cranked out 527 yards on the day, including 314 on the ground.

Javon Burks had a big day as he caught three passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. David Flegal anchored the defensive attack with a game-high 12 tackles. The Yellow Jackets gave up 385 yards to the Beavers.

Baldwin Wallace converted on 50 percent of its third down attempts and forced one turnover.

No. 1 Mount Union, one of two other nationally ranked OAC teams, was idle on Saturday. The Purple Raiders (1-0) open league play Saturday against Muskingum.

Heidelberg (1-0), ranked 12th in the nation, returns to action Saturday at home against Ohio Northern in an OAC tilt, and No. 17 Wittenberg (0-1) opens NCAC play at DePauw on Saturday.

Inside the MIAA

Trine won its seventh consecutive home opener, and the streak was extended in memorable fashion as the Thunder (2-0) stunned No. 21 Elmhurst 16-7 on Saturday.

The Thunder stepped up big on defense, racking up four interceptions, including three on the final three possessions of the day for the Bluejays. Richard Gunn delivered the dagger as he scored on a 15-yard run with 1:38 left to put the Thunder in front 16-7.

Gunn finished with 129 yards on 18 carries to pace the rushing attack.

Anthony Yoder started the game and was 9-of-17 for 89 yards. He rushed for 48 yards. Backup signal-caller Andrew Dee played the final two quarters and was 5-of-8 for 45 yards. Gage Corner caught six passes for 64 yards.

Derek Posey fueled the defense with 13 tackles. Blaek Combs made life tough for the Bluejays as well, racking up 11 tackles to go along with a forced fumble and an interception.

Trine limited Elmhurst to 127 rushing yards. Elmhurst had rolled up 302 rushing yards in Week 1. The four interceptions by Trine were the most in a game since picking off four against Alma in November of 2011. 

Olivet shut down Wisconsin Lutheran in the second half and nailed down a 14-10 win Saturday in its home opener.

The Comets (2-0) trailed 7-0 early and were down 10-7 at the half before Braden Black connected with Dan Hugan on a 48-yard scoring strike with 1:10 left in the third quarter.

Black was 18-of-29 for 232 yards and Hugan caught seven catches for 115 yards. The Comets rolled up 337 yards of offense and gave up 409 yards. 

Yet, the Comets were able to play tough defensively when it mattered most and came through with 13 tackles for a loss to fuel its effort. Nate Roberts led Olivet with a game-high 14 tackles. Ryan Sersaw finished with nine tackles and forced a fumble.

Inside the PAC

Ben Manwaring racked up eight tackles and helped Grove City topple Anderson 42-0, marking the first time since 2007 that the Wolverines have blanked an opponent. It's the first road shutout Grove City since 2009.

The Wolverines (2-0) tallied seven sacks in all to fuel their effort, including one by Manwaring, and limited Anderson to only 12 first downs.

Brian Pell was 16-of-21 for 187 yards and two scores, while Steve Maskrey rushed for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns to aid an offensive effort that scored on six of its seven trips in the red zone.

Jason Skyrm tallied six tackles while Bobby Tuttle, Brandon Miller and Dale Klobuchir finished with five tackles apiece.  Grove City forced two turnovers as well.

Geneva opened its PAC schedule in style by rolling to a 51-33 win over Bethany on Saturday. The Golden Tornadoes (2-0, 1-0 PAC) got a huge lift from quarterback Zack Hayward, who threw for 417 yards.  His total ranks third all-time in passing yards for a game.

Lemuel Fuller caught 14 passes, which ranks second in receptions for a single game, and finished with 140 receiving yards and one touchdown. Dylan Jones led the rushing attack with 146 yards and a pair of scores. Geneva came through with 665 yards of total offense. 

Dillon Goodell and Rashad Briscoe tallied 13 and 10 tackles, respectively, despite the fact that Bethany churned out 605 yards. 

Matt Grimard led Bethany as he completed 30 of his 53 passes for 462 yards and four touchdowns. Grimard became the all-time leader in touchdown passes at Bethany, pushing his total to 54, and he set single-game records for passing yards (462) and total yards (482).

Inside the NCAC

Denison opened NCAC play on a high note as it took down Hiram 17-12 on Saturday. The Big Red trailed 7-0 early but led 10-7 at halftime and never looked back.

The Big Red (2-0, 1-0 NCAC) finished with 337 yards of offense, the majority of it coming through the air as Brandon Sklenar was 14-of-20 for 238 yards and a touchdown.  Zach Pewitt led the defense as he tallied eight tackles and helped Denison limit the Terriers to 210 yards of offense.

Robert Partridge, who was injured in the second quarter, threw for 106 yards to pace Hiram. Brendon James caught four passes for 97 yards and a score. Garrett Primer tallied a game-high 10 tackles for Hiram.

Oberlin ended a 28-game losing streak to Case Western Reserve on Saturday behind a stellar defensive effort that produced a 19-2 victory. 

The Yeomen (1-0) were playing their season opener and gave up just 195 yards. 

Lucas Poggiali was 11-of-17 for 100 yards and threw a touchdown pass to Adam Niec. He also rushed for a touchdown in the win. Niec caught three passes for 24 yards, and Oberlin finished with 319 yards of total offense.

Kyle Kessler led the defense with six tackles. Kirby Livingston tallied five tackles and forced a fumble. Gabe Edwards came up with his first career interception in the victory.

Quick look at Tartans and Spartans

Carnegie Mellon won its first game of the season as it broke open a close game with 13 points in the final quarter to earn a 26-7 win over Allegheny on Saturday. 

The Tartans (1-1) used an effective running attack, rolling up 222 yards on the ground, and finished with 410 yards of total offense.

Troy Witt helped pave the way as he rushed for a career-high 103 yards and scored two touchdowns. Zachary Erra-Hernandez finished with 89 yards and a score and Max Reinersten scored his first collegiate touchdown on a 13-yard run to help the Tartans close out the win.

Rob Kalkstein was 14-of-21 for 188 yards and two scores while Akwasi Brefo anchored the defense with nine tackles and a sack. Eric Rolfes finished with seven tackles in the win.

For 28 consecutive seasons, Case Western Reserve had Oberlin's number. But that dominance of the Yeomen ended Saturday as the Spartans struggled offensively in a 19-2 loss.

Case will have to wait for its shot at revenge, though, as no future games between the two schools are currently scheduled. The Spartans lead the all-time series 31-6.

The Spartans (1-1) managed only 195 yards of offense and the lone points came on Ethan Albers' 98-yard return for a touchdown off a blocked extra-point attempt in the third quarter. It was one of three blocked kicks on the day by Albers.

The Spartans failed to run the ball effectively as they managed just 22 yards on the ground. Billy Beacher led the offense as he was 9-of-20 for 110 yards. 

Jordan Esteban and Everett Dishong tallied 10 tackles apiece to pace the defense. Dishong also rang up two sacks, which is a career-best for him.

Notes: Deontae Bridgeman made school history on Saturday for Adrian, returning a fumble 91 yards for a touchdown in the Bulldogs' 14-0 win over Defiance. It was the longest fumble return for a score in program history and helped propel Adrian to its first shutout win over Defiance since 2008....Carter Hill set a new Waynesburg record for passing yards in a game as he threw for 483 and three touchdowns in the Yellow Jackets' 58-48 win over Frostburg State. Hill hasn't been picked off yet and has thrown for 705 yards and six scores on the year...Raysean Glenn tallied seven tackles to go along with an interception and forced fumble in Allegheny's 26-7 loss to Carnegie Mellon on Saturday. The Gators gave up 19 unanswered points and are 0-2 on the season.

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Findlay, Ohio. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending the last 10 at The Courier in Findlay. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois and lives in Ottawa with his wife and daughter.

2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic

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