November 6, 2013

Greyhounds grateful for turnaround

More news about: Moravian
The Greyhounds are finding they're able to dig themselves out of a 12-game skid.
Moravian athletics photo

Jeff Pukszyn has seen enough ups at downs at Moravian to remain optimistic. As part of the program for 20 seasons and more than 200 games, the Greyhounds head coach and former player has weathered lean times before. He has seen the sun shine after dark days in Bethlehem, Pa., before. Right now, after emerging from the shadow of a 12-game losing streak, the sun is shining on the 2-6 Greyhounds.

Moravian started 2-2 last year in Pukszyn’s second season as head coach. Then, the wheels fell off, as the Greyhounds dropped their final six games of the 2012 season. Only one loss was by single digits. This season brought a new offensive coordinator, Tim McGorry, but the losing streak continued. The Greyhounds went into their bye week at 0-6 with contests against strong Centennial contenders Franklin and Marshall and Gettysburg on deck. Then, something clicked.

“I think it was really a gradual improvement. It takes time, and you really can’t rush the process,” said Pukszyn. “We saw the progression from week to week. Coming out of the bye week, we took two steps forward.”

The Greyhounds jumped out to a shocking 38-14 halftime lead over the Diplomats and held on for a 52-42 win. The following week, Moravian earned a win over the Bullets, and just the second win over Gettysburg in program history. The Greyhounds lit up the scoreboard again, winning 41-21. This is the first time Moravian has won consecutive games since closing the 2010 season on a five-game winning streak.

“Our players have had a great mentality and came to work hard every week,” said Pukszyn. “We felt like a monkey got off our back by beating a very good F&M team.”

A key to the current streak has been the play of a senior who patiently waited his turn and a freshman who can walk to campus and has taken off running. Quarterback Robbie Moyer endured as a backup and learned three new offenses since arriving on campus. Local product Chris Negron has rewritten the record books in his first year.

“Robbie has done a phenomenal job of managing the game and of persevering,” said Pukszyn. “Chris is going to be something special. He’s explosive and packs a punch. He had everything we were looking for in a recruit.”

Moyer set a Centennial record for quarterbacks with his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season. After averaging just 10.5 points per game through their first four games, the Greyhounds have scored 38.5 per game over their last four.

“It feels real good to put points on the board,” said Moyer. “It means you’re doing a couple things right.”

Negron is shattering the Greyhounds’ freshman rushing record. The previous mark was 665; Negron has 869 yards with two games remaining. He is one of several underclassmen making an immediate impact.

“The freshmen came in here ready to work. They’re doing a great job,” said Moyer. “We don’t really see them as freshmen or sophomores. We see them as teammates working towards a common goal. I’m really excited to see how they do the rest of this season and in the future.”

The coaching changes have had an impact on everyone, but especially on Moyer. He bided his time as a backup while digesting a new playbook each offseason. When his time came this year, he was determined to lead his offensive teammates.

“It is real tough. You have to learn a new language, a new system, and new coaches,” said Moyer. “The best way to adapt is to be positive and work with everyone. As a quarterback, I feel like I have to know the offense better than everyone so I can help my teammates.”

While Moyer is learning his third offense in four years, the freshmen didn’t know what they didn’t know. That has helped them hit the ground running on both sides of the ball.

“Our freshmen had the cleanest slate, so to speak,” said Pukszyn. “But, the freshmen still had to adjust to college life and college academics.”

The seniors have stuck out several changes. First, longtime head coach Scot Dapp was promoted to athletic director following the seniors’ freshman season. Pukszyn, a former Greyhound and longtime assistant coach, was a familiar leader to ascend to the spot. But, there has been much turnover among the assistants over the past three years. Nine seniors have persevered through back-to-back two win seasons and now hope to go out on a better note.

“We have nine great guys,” said Pukszyn. “These seniors have showed tremendous leadership through a lot of tough times. They’ve done a great job on and off the field.”

“We stuck it out, and I’m happy we did,” said Moyer of the senior class. “Between our teammates, we were always confident and knew what we could do.”

Winning both games in front of the home crowd at Rocco Calvo Field has made the streak even more enjoyable. The program that first played football in 1898 is still playing with pride. It was the first football win since Bryon Grigsby was named the college’s 16th president.

“There is a lot of football tradition here,” said Pukszyn. “It was great to get those wins in front of our fans, our new president, and our administration. It was great for the whole community.”

The players felt the buzz around campus after they defeated the Diplomats to get back in the win column. That energy was present when Gettysburg came to town. The Greyhounds expect another festive home crowd when they close out the home slate this Saturday against Juniata.

“I think there was a new energy level for everyone,” said Moyer. “The home crowd definitely helped. We really feed off of being at home.”

At this point in the season, a team with a 2-6 record might be content to play out the string. Moravian is practicing and playing with the energy most teams have in early September.

“Everyone’s really excited,” said Moyer. “We feel like the season is just getting started. We wish we had more games left.

A midseason change at LaGrange

Just a few weeks ago, Around the Mid-Atlantic featured the resurgence of LaGrange’s offense under new offensive coordinator Matt Mumme and quarterback Graham Craig. Todd Mooney, the only head coach in the program’s eight-year history, was happy with the progress his team was making. A few days after the column posted, the Panthers knocked off Huntingdon to improve to 3-3 (3-1) on the season. That win was tempered by a 43-41 loss at Methodist on Oct. 26.

Then, things changed.

Mooney and second-year defensive coordinator Terry Ursin, Jr. resigned on Oct. 31, with just three games remaining this season. Mumme was named head coach. Not interim head coach; head coach.

“It’s crazy how this business works sometimes,” said Mumme. “It always catches you off guard a little bit when it’s in-season like this.”

“It’s tough in-season, because two days later we have a game. We just wanted all the guys to go out and have fun. At the end of the day, it was going to be another Saturday and another game day against a quality opponent.”

Mooney and Ursin did not respond to requests for comment.

While the offense was averaging over 38.1 points per game, the defense was allowing 37.7 through seven games. Surprisingly, after the departures of the head coach and defensive coordinator just two days before the game, the Panthers defense played its best game of the season against Christopher Newport, holding the Captains to 13 points. It was the fewest points LaGrange allowed since giving up 13 to Maryville on Oct. 20, 2012. The offense, however, had its worst performance of the year, managing just 10 points in the loss.

“I was really proud of our defense,” said Mumme. “We dropped the ball a bit on offense, and I really shoulder the blame for that.”

Mooney did not address the team upon his departure, which the administration has deemed a resignation “to pursue other opportunities.” Mumme did not address the team directly upon being named head coach. He says that athletic director Jennifer Claybrook and President Dan McAlexander handled the transition.

Assistant coaches Warren Wilson, Chris Prewett and Kyle Sanders are charged with leading the defense. Prewett, who played linebacker for the Panthers just two seasons ago, is making the defensive play calls. Like Prewett, Sanders graduated in 2012 after playing four years for the Panthers and is in his second year coaching. Wilson is in his first season coaching at LaGrange.

Mumme spent the previous two years as offensive coordinator at Davidson College, but was left searching for a new position after Davidson head coach Tripp Merritt was dismissed following the 2012 season. He says that he came to LaGrange to coach the offense and did not expect to ascend to the head coaching position. Mumme said that he and his wife hope to stay at LaGrange for a while. For now, the focus is on sending the seniors out with wins in their final two games.

“We have seven seniors, and I told the team that we want to send these guys out on the right foot,” said Mumme. “We just want the guys to be excited to go out there and play.”

Blue Jays finally tested, pass late

No. 12 Johns Hopkins was bulldozing opponents en route to a 7-0 start. Ursinus came to Baltimore on Saturday with a chance to wrest control of the Centennial Conference from the Blue Jays. Kevin Monahan and Jerry Rahill connected on touchdown passes of 69 and 76 yards as the Bears took a 18-10 lead into the fourth quarter. With their backs against the wall for the first time this season, the Blue Jays responded. Robbie Matey and Daniel Wodicka hooked up for two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and the defense clamped down to preserve a come-from-behind, 24-18 victory. Chris Ibrahim and Ryan Rice picked off Monahan in the fourth quarter, and the Bears’ final drive stalled just past midfield. Ursinus faced third and 1 and fourth and 1 at the Blue Jays’ 45-yard line, but back-to-back Monahan passes fell incomplete. The Blue Jays have clinched at least a share of the Centennial title and can clinch the outright championship with a win over Franklin and Marshall on Saturday.

Record-breaking and heart-breaking

Greensboro had a game for the history books, but it may be one they would like to forget. Ryan Throndset passed for 575 yards and a school and conference record six touchdowns. He completed 47 of 70 pass attempts and did not throw an interception. Dexter Russell set a USA South record with 23 receptions. He scored three touchdowns and racked up 309 receiving yards. Those two individual performances were not enough to give the Pride the win. Methodist, led by quarterback Max Reber, held on for a 51-50 win. Reber completed 30 of 45 pass attempts for 378 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He added 75 yards and one touchdown on 13 rushes.

Who wants to win the ODAC?

Next year, this will just be a weekly feature in this column. Guilford was alone in first place entering its home game against Hampden-Sydney on Saturday. The Tigers treated the Quakers like they were in last place, routing Guilford 52-0. Nash Nance accounted for five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) and the Tigers defense held Guilford to just 118 total yards of offense. The Tigers now control their ODAC destiny, with remaining contests against Washington and Lee and at Randolph-Macon. All four teams mentioned in this section still have a chance to earn the ODAC’s automatic playoff berth.

What Did I Miss? Do you know about any upcoming milestones, big games or new names in the Mid-Atlantic? Please share them with me. If you have suggestions for next week's column, please reach out to me on Twitter at @adamturer or via email at adam.turer@d3sports.com.

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Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his second year as Around the Mid-Atlantic columnist.

2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman 

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