September 19, 2013

In third season, Stevenson is cooking

More news about: Stevenson
Ed Hottle has a handful of players who were in the program as early as 2010, and a large junior class, including defensive tackle Anthony Arcell.
Stevenson athletics photo by Sabina Moran 

Starting a college football program from scratch shares the same basic premise as cooking a meal.

The right ingredients are key, but following the steps in the recipe is just as important. 

For three long years, Stevenson has put the pieces in place and followed the steps, waiting patiently along the way. Now, the Mustangs' meal is starting to finally come together. And it tastes damn good.

"It's nice for the guys to start to see some rewards for the amount of work that they've put into it," coach Ed Hottle said. "It's been nice to see."

Stevenson, which began play as a Division III football team in 2011, sits at 2-0 overall following last weekend's 24-18 win against conference rival Albright. The Mustangs, after posting 2-8 records in each of their first two seasons, have already matched that win total.

Previously, the Mustangs have defeated FDU-Florham twice, first-year program Misericordia last year, and, in what still remains an upset by any measure, Christopher Newport for the program's first win in 2011.

But the victories this season -- against a once strong N.C. Wesleyan team and a MAC contender in Albright -- have a different feel to them. Aside from being wins against strong programs, both games came down to execution in the fourth quarter. Compared to last season, when Stevenson lost three games by seven points or less, the team has already shown improvement in finishing games.

"We're trying to instill that, in our program, a good year is a MAC championship," Hottle said. "That's the measuring stick, because this league is so good from top to bottom."

Preseason predictions

What did we think Stevenson would do in the preseason? Check out their preview and ranking in Kickoff 2013.

Hottle has been the Mustangs' coach from Day One, coming over after five years as the head coach at Gallaudet, where he led the team in its return to Division III competition. Hottle, a Frostburg State graduate, has primarily coached defense over the years during previous stops at Denison and Wesley as an assistant.

But as Stevenson's head coach, his biggest challenge has been establishing a program culture at the school of 4,000 at Baltimore County, Md. He said the coaching staff has never set tangible goals, like reaching a certain win level, but instead has focused on achieving smaller, personal goals.

So while wins have been hard to come by, Hottle said he wants his players to take pride in improving their footwork, hands, blocking, or whatever it might be, on Saturdays. And the team still takes the field with the intention of winning. That will never change.

"The expectation for us is to go out and win every Saturday, regardless of who it's against," Hottle said. "... Whether it's Albright, Del Val, Lyco or anybody else, the expectation in our program is the same week in and week out."

While Hottle said the team is still "far away" from winning a MAC title, he said there is growing sense of optimism, even if it is guarded. What excites him more is seeing the development of his players, and not just in their on-field play.

It's little things that many players and coaches in established programs take for granted, and might not notice at all. For example, the importance of individual film study. And not just watching film, but knowing what to watch, when to watch it, and what to look for. That is something an upperclassman can teach an underclassman under normal circumstances. But when all the players are new to college football, as was the case in Stevenson's inaugural season in 2011, who could impart that knowledge?

Roughly 20 players still remain from Stevenson's 2010 developmental season. Of that group, many players are on defense, including linebacker Donnell Brown, linebacker Tim Campbell and defensive lineman Scott Lange, all juniors. The defense has played particularly well through the first two games, piling up eight sacks, four interceptions and a 99-yard fumble return for touchdown that you may have seen on ESPN or as a finalist for D3football.com Play of the Week.

"The guys are all in, from top to bottom," Hottle said. "We've talked about, on the defensive side of the ball, what it takes to be a great defense."

On offense, players like senior wide receiver Jeromie Miller and junior offensive linemen David Wright, Michael Patrick and Billy Gunther have all been with the program from the start. And it's through this journey that Hottle has grown so attached to his first crop of players, who have been to house for meals and, particularly in Miller's case, keep his children entertained in the locker room during visits.

"Not only have these guys obviously been a huge part of building our program, but they've become a huge part of not only my professional life but my personal life," Hottle said.

Hottle is quick to caution against overzealous goals because, after all, Stevenson is only going to play its 23rd game in program history this Friday. More growing pains are still likely in the team's future.

But more so than ever, Hottle is encouraged. Encouraged by players knowing what he'll say before he even needs to say it. Encouraged by the improvements he sees on video. Encouraged by the entire process.

Stevenson isn't done cooking, but the early returns have been appetizing.

What to make of Buffalo State

Buffalo State was one of the more confounding teams last season, with road wins against UW-Whitewater and St. John Fisher, but home losses to Alfred and Utica.

So far this season, the Bengals have defeated Cortland State and Brockport State, a pair of solid NJAC teams. What does it mean? Has Buffalo State turned the corner and become a legitimate contender, or is it just teasing us again?

We won't know for sure for another few weeks, but the early indications are positive, particularly on offense. Buffalo State has eclipsed 40 points in both wins, due in no small part to quarterback Casey Kacz. The senior is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and has accounted for 805 total yards and six touchdowns.

If the versatile Kacz continues to play at his current level, the Bengals will be tough to slow down. Certainly, a defense that has surrendered 68 points total in the two games could stand to limit the opponent's output, but with a number of new faces in the starting lineup, it's a work in progress.

The next four weeks will tell us if Buffalo State is a legitimate playoff threat, or facing another up-and-down season. The Bengals host No. 15 UW-Whitewater and Ithaca, before road games at Alfred and Salisbury. Four bona fide programs with playoff pedigrees. Four chances for Buffalo State to prove it's for real.

Rowan wins home opener

It's hard to call a game in Week 2 a must-win, but Rowan's home opener against Framingham State certainly felt like it.

The Profs dropped a 35-27 decision on the road against Delaware Valley, a top MAC contender, in the season opener. No shame in that. Still, no team wants to enter conference play with an 0-2 mark. Rowan avoided that with its 29-19 win over the Rams.

What also bodes well for Rowan is the manner in which it defeated Framingham State -- by rallying from a 13-0 deficit in the first half. Sophomore quarterback Paul Hamersma, in his first full season as the Profs' starter, tossed three touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter as Rowan took over the lead. Junior wide receiver Ed Eisenhart caught nine passes for 114 yards and the last of Hamersma's touchdowns late in the fourth quarter. Eisenhart, the team's top receiver a year ago, has gotten off to a strong start this season.

Defensively, Rowan was anchored by senior linebacker Dominic Caruso, who stuffed the stat sheet with 11 tackles (two for loss), two sacks and two fumble recoveries. 

Rowan is off this weekend before hosting Montclair State, a in-state rival that has struggled offensively in the early going this season, in its NJAC opener.

Springfield's defense bounces back

Springfield defeated Western New England in its season opener, but if there was reason for concern, it came on the defensive end.

The Pride allowed 40 points and 492 total yards, but hung on for a 49-40 win. A win is always good, but those numbers were concerning for a defense breaking in a handful of new starters.

Just one week later, Springfield helped ease some of those concerns in a convincing 36-0 win against Husson. No one will ever mistake Husson for an offensive powerhouse, but shutting out an opponent at any level of college football is no small feat.

Junior linebacker Danny Macalena, who finished with 10 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack and a forced fumble, spearheaded a Springfield defensive effort that held Husson to just 135 rushing yards on 48 carries (2.8 per carry). The Pride also allowed the Eagles to complete just two of their 13 pass attempts, along with a pair of interceptions. It was, by any measure, a dominating performance.

Springfield travels to face Mount Ida in its final non-conference game this weekend before opening Liberty League play at Rochester the following weekend. 

Quick hits

Tyler Fenti passed for 453 yards and four touchdowns in No. 18 St. John Fisher's 42-21 win over Washington and Jefferson. Cody Miller rushed for 202 yards and a pair of TDs as Fisher piled up 733 yards of total offense. ... Brandon Norwood and Lonnie Liggins each rushed for scores in Salisbury's 30-27 loss to No. 5 Wesley. Salisbury lost in the final minute for the second straight week. ... Seth Klein passed for 392 yards, including a 27-yard TD strike to Anthony Davis, to lead Widener to a 35-28 win against Lebanon Valley. Davis finished with 13 receptions for 120 yards. ... Connor Butkiewicz tossed a pair of touchdowns to Anthony Acevedo in Utica's 25-16 victory over Union. Joe Giametta and James Lenahan each finished with a pair of sacks for Utica, which totaled nine sacks against the Dutchmen. ... Aaron Wilmer passed for 209 yards and three touchdowns and Darren Parrott rushed for 108 yards and two scores in Delaware Valley's 42-17 win against Misericordia. ... Damian Corredor returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in Kean's 34-7 loss to No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor. ... Tyler Jenny completed all but one of his 21 pass attempts for 305 yards and three touchdowns as Lycoming downed Wilkes 34-18. C.J. Arhontakis returned an interception 91 yards for a TD for the Warriors in their first win of the season. ... Andrew Franks connected on all five of his field-goal attempts, including a 50-yarder in the second quarter, as RPI held off Alfred 24-21. ... Obi Nwaigwe finished with two of St. Lawrence's four sacks in a 14-3 win over Norwich. The Saints also picked off four passes and held Norwich to just 114 yards of total offense. ... Dean Kennedy connected with Thomas Hayes on a 3-yard touchdown with 15 seconds remaining to help Rochester rally past Thiel, 28-27, in its season opener. Kennedy finished with 228 passing yards and 97 rushing yards. ... John Garcia tossed four TD passes, including three to Travis Samuels, and Kurtis Ahart rushed for 191 yards and two touchdowns in Hartwick's 51-34 win over Morrisville State. ... Montclair State scored touchdowns on a blocked punt and a 68-yard punt return by William Merz in its 17-16 win over Salve Regina. ... Matt McDaniels rushed for 245 yards and three scores to lead Merchant Marine past Coast Guard 27-20. ... Michael Santos passed for 252 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a one-yard TD in FDU-Florham's 18-12 win over TCNJ.

Top 25: St. John Fisher, Delaware Valley move up

Delaware Valley was the biggest East region riser in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll. The Aggies climbed four spots to No. 21.

Idle Hobart slipped one spot to No. 8, while St. John Fisher moved up one rank to No. 18. Widener held steady at No. 24.

Buffalo State, Salisbury and Cortland State each received votes.

Looking ahead

No. 15 UW-Whitewater (1-0) at Buffalo State (2-0), noon, Saturday: Buffalo State's 7-6 win against Whitewater last season stands as one of Division III's all-time great upsets. The Bengals already have a pair of impressive non-conference wins. A third this Saturday would vault them into the top 25, and set the stage for a special season.

Delaware Valley (2-0, 1-0 MAC) at Albright (1-1, 0-1), 1 p.m., Saturday: The Aggies again look like the favorite in the MAC. Albright still could contend, but it will need to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Stevenson. The Lions can be a force at home, as shown in their season-opening win against Kean.

Utica (2-0) at No. 8 Hobart (1-0), 7 p.m., Saturday: Utica has looked solid in its two home wins this season, but facing Hobart on the road will be a tough test. The Statesmen, idle last week, defeated the Pioneers 45-26 last season.

Others to watch: Widener (1-1, 1-0) at Wilkes (1-1, 0-1), 1 p.m., Saturday; Ithaca (1-0) at Union (0-1), 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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