|A healthy Sam Gillison and steady quarterback play have given the Cougars the most explosive offense in program history.
Misericordia athletics photo
By Adam Turer
Misericordia made program history on Saturday, for the second week in a row.
The Cougars, in the program’s seventh season, have their first ever winning streak.
“It’s been eight years since I’ve experienced back-to-back wins. I’m elated for the team,” said head coach Mark Ross. “The kids have gone through so much to get to this point. They’re learning how to win and how to overcome adversity. I’m really proud of them and happy for them.”
Wide receiver Sam Gillison, who caught the game-winning two-point conversion in last week’s win over Widener, had another monster game in the 47-45 win over Wilkes. He caught eight passes for a school record 223 yards and touchdowns of 37, 68, and 77 yards. Most importantly, he was on the field for consecutive victories for the first time since his junior year of high school.
“It was extremely difficult,” said Gillison, who missed his senior season of high school and also all of the 2017 season with injuries. “Every year, we felt that this is it, this is the year. Every year something happened, whether it was injuries or just not making the right plays. It was disappointment after disappointment.”
That feeling of optimism turned to confidence in 2018. Quarterback Brady Williams showed signs of potential during his five starts in 2017 as the Cougars weathered several injuries at the position. But this was the first year Williams and Gillison teamed up together.
“When people would ask about this season in the summer, I felt very good that if we could stay healthy, offensively we had some real weapons,” said Ross. “We couldn’t keep our quarterbacks healthy last year. Having Sam back was huge. From the time we saw Brady, we thought we had something special.”
“We just knew in the summer what pieces we had and knew we had to come to camp and make every play that we could,” said Gillison. “It started to click and the chemistry was there from the first week.”
Finding talent and staying healthy are obvious keys to success for any program. But Misericordia needed to do something different after going 5-55 over the program’s first six seasons. Ross had to do some soul-searching and change his approach. So far, the players have responded to being more empowered by the staff.
“I think that’s something I didn’t do a good enough job with early on, turning it over to the players,” said Ross. “I talked to our kids in the offseason and got feedback from them. I told them that I needed to turn stuff over to them more, so I’ve tried to do that. Guys have stepped up and been willing to assume leadership roles. I would hope they appreciate that.”
The players have been able to shape the 2018 season. They dictate the energy at practices. They are not afraid to make suggestions to their coaches in practice or in games. There is a new level of enthusiasm that has only been bolstered by the team’s 2-0 start in MAC play.
“When we see things on the field, we’re able to speak our minds and talk to our coaches. It’s more open rather than them telling us what to do. It’s more of a two-way street now,” said Gillison. “Coach Ross is more laid back and we communicate better. He allows us to create more energy at practice.”
Defeating Widener was a first for the Cougars. It motivated them to make more history, winning a second straight game for the first time in program history.
“Everybody thought it was a fluke when we played Widener, but we knew it wasn’t,” said Gillison. “We put in the work. We knew we had to come out here and prove ourselves. For guys who stuck with it, it’s finally paying off.”
Just three games into the season, this has already been the most successful year of Misericordia football. They aren’t finished yet. A non-conference game against Castleton is followed by a matchup with first-year program Alvernia. The Cougars aren’t looking ahead and have taken a 1-0 each week mindset. So far, that approach is working this season. The team has celebrated its victories on Saturday, then turned the page on Sunday.
“On the Sunday after Widener, we said ‘Hey, it’s over, let’s try to be 1-0 this week. Let’s enjoy this victory today because they’re hard to come by,’” said Ross. “We understand that as much as anybody. Let’s just do what we can to try and be 1-0 this week.”
The Cougars give hope to other struggling programs around the nation, like Finlandia and Earlham. Even though the 2017 season ended with a fifth straight 1-9 record, it gave the Cougars encouragement. Staying healthy this season has allowed the team to turn heads on campus and in the MAC. Through two conference games, Misericordia is tied atop the conference standings with Delaware Valley, Lycoming, and Stevenson. The positive results that those within the program have noticed are now finally reflected on the scoreboard and in the conference standings.
“As silly as this may sound, I think our kids gained quite a lot of confidence last year, especially over the second half of the season. I think that was the first time they saw themselves being able to overcome some adversity. While we didn’t win games, we were competing with people and we had chances. I think they put a lot of work into the offseason, into the weight room. I felt very good coming in to the year,” said Ross.
“It’s absolutely different than years past. It’s not that those teams didn’t want to have some success, but there’s a different closeness with this group, a different sense of purpose that maybe we’ve lacked. I definitely feel a different feeling with this group. It’s finally coming together.”
Impressive in defeat
John Carroll proved more to Top 25 voters in its loss to Mount Union on Saturday than the victorious Purple Raiders did. The Blue Streaks should hold at No. 15 and may possibly rise after the defense stifled the usually unstoppable Mount Union offense.
The Blue Streaks’ showing in defeat was reminiscent of Ithaca’s Week 2 loss to Brockport. The Bombers also slowed one of the nation’s most potent offenses and entered the Top 25 two weeks later.
The two overtime games featuring Top 25 teams yesterday came as little surprise. The SAA and Centennial appear to be two of the most exciting conference races shaping up in 2018.
By holding off Centre in overtime, Berry remained atop the SAA, tied with Millsaps. The Vikings host the Majors on October 20. I will not be picking against the Vikings in Quick Hits this week, snapping a streak of two consecutive incorrect upset picks.
Franklin and Marshall held off Susquehanna in overtime, and the Dips remain tied for first place in the Centennial with Muhlenberg and Ursinus. The conference race will clear up over the next two weeks, as the Dips travel to Muhlenberg then host Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays may be looking up at three other teams in the standings, but can still pull off an eighth straight conference title if they run the table.
Here's what to watch for on D3football.com this week.
Later today-- New Top 25 poll released
Monday--Around the Nation podcast with Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan and Team of the Week weekly honors.
Thursday--Around the Nation column.
Friday--Quick Hits, and another edition of the Around the Nation podcast.
Saturday--You know what Saturdays are for.
We've got great content coming at you all week, every week. Follow along and get to know D-III football beyond just your favorite team, and don’t forget to use the #d3fb hashtag on social media.
If you have ideas for an upcoming column or just want to talk some D-III football, get at me at @adamturer on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.