ANNVILLE, Pa. - #25 Lebanon Valley captured a share of its first Middle Atlantic Conference title since 1969, riding a dominant defensive effort and 317 yards rushing to beat Stevenson 30-6.
On Senior Day at Arnold Field, the Dutchmen (8-1, 7-1 MAC) came out firing on all cylinders and never let up to earn at least a share of the crown. A win next week in the 93rd meeting with Albright would clinch the title outright and earn LVC its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. LVC could only make the NCAA Tournament with a loss if Delaware Valley beats Widener next week, as well.
The championship is the third in program history, joining the 1961 and 1969 teams. Unlike those two seasons, however, the Dutchmen are in no mood to share the crown.
"'No-Co' is the theme, meaning no co-champs," said head coach Jim Monos, winning the first MAC title in his 21 years in Annville. "We want it outright, that's what this football team wants. That'll be our theme this week getting ready to play Albright next Saturday."
Both Austin Hartman and Brendan Irving went over 100 yards rushing for the third time this year, and Irving had a pair of touchdowns while Brian Murphy threw two more. The defense starred, however, picking off five interceptions - including two each by seniors Zach Wierman and Andrew Burkholder and another by Kevin Antol - and holding the Mustangs (4-5, 3-5 MAC) to just 235 yards of offense and a late touchdown.
The Dutchmen scored the game's first 30 points, and controlled the game on the ground with 317 of 373 total yards coming via the running game with a 5.6 yards per rush average behind a fantastic effort by the offensive line. Irving went for 136 yards and two scores, and Hartman added 130 yards. On the other side of the ball, LVC's secondary had a game to remember with the five interceptions and eight other break-ups.
"My biggest concern was that we played at a high level, and we did that," Monos said. "Defensively with turnovers, offensively moving the football and controlling the football to get points on the board and put them in a position to play catch-up."
Monos hailed his 22-member senior class, who have strung together 28 wins in four seasons and have a chance to head to their third postseason appearance.
"We talk about them being good players, but they're great leaders. They kept this team focused and headed in the right direction," he said.
Sean Fakete became LVC's all-time field goal leader with his 43-yarder to open scoring in the first quarter, and Irving broke the edge on a 34-yard run later in the period to put LVC up 10-0. Jake Zeigler made a phenomenal 31-yard catch at the pylon with 33 seconds left to make it 17-0, and it certainly felt like it was going to be LVC's day. The Dutchmen tacked on another touchdown with Joey Miller's 13-yard take on fourth down with 16 seconds left in the first half, and that left Stevenson staring at a 24-0 hole at halftime.
Penalties hurt LVC during the third quarter, but Irving gave the Dutchmen some insurance midway through the fourth on a left sweep to score from 23 yards out and make it 3-0. Late in the game, a fumble was scooped up by SU's Scott Lange deep in LVC territory, and the lineman rumbled in from seven yards out before Frank Gaffney blocked the extra point to make it 30-6. Burkholder ended the game with his second pick of the day at midfield, running out the clock for the win.
The win was Lebanon Valley's seventh in a row, a new program record to surpass a six-game streak from 1960. LVC has also been 8-1 just once, in 2009. The Dutchmen have surrendered 14 or fewer points five times this year, including single digits three times.