|Tyler Bing remembers last year well, and has stepped up to lead the Aggies this season.
Delaware Valley athletics photo
Delaware Valley coach Duke Greco knew that the 2014 season would be a tough act to follow.
Last season, his first as the Aggies’ head coach after nearly a decade as the offensive coordinator, the team started 9-0 and advanced to the NCAA playoffs while setting numerous offensive records, including scoring 50 or more points in four consecutive games.
Players like receiver Rasheed Bailey, quarterback Aaron Wilmer and running back Chris Smallwood were among the best at their positions in Division III. Bailey got a free agent contract from the Philadelphia Eagles and is currently on the practice squad of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The problem was, those guys were seniors; in fact most of the entire offense moved on by the time the start of the 2015 season rolled around. Only one starter, left tackle Josh Wallace, a two-time All-MAC and ECAC South selection, returned.
“Besides that, we have a lot of new faces,” Greco said.
Most predictions had Delaware Valley slipping into the middle of the Middle Atlantic Conference. It figured to be an up and down year. And the Aggies’ start at the beginning of this season did little to give anyone reason to think that it would be any different than expected.
After opening the season with a 27-24 nonconference victory over defending New Jersey Athletic Conference champion Montclair State, the Aggies fell to Wilkes in the MAC opener 12-7. Del Val went 0-of-5 in the red zone.
They bounced back the next week to beat Misericordia 28-7 but lost 6-4, 285 pound Wallace for the season to a knee injury. An already inexperienced offensive line now needed to fill another hole.
“He was really our offensive leader, our vocal guy,” said slot receiver Tyler Bing, the closest thing to a veteran on the offensive side of the ball for the Aggies. “It’s tough when he goes down but other guys have to step up.”
Finding an identity for the offense was a struggle but like any good coach, Greco has found a way to cater to the available strengths of the unit. In his eyes, the unit would need to run the ball and limit mistakes, while counting on a veteran defense.
And the results have been impressive, the Aggies have won six in a row since losing to Wilkes and the rushing attack has become one of the best in the country. They are currently eighth in the country averaging 286 yards a game on the ground.
“It was a lot easier last year,” Greco said. “But it’s been rewarding because I think a lot of people thought we weren’t going to be successful and our guys haven’t let that happen,”
The coach has cobbled together a unit that uses multiple formations that include power runs, zone techniques and finesse and misdirection.
“We are morphing every week into something else. It’s kind of how the offense has went,” Greco said. “At the start of the year we were something else.”
They feature three running backs in junior Rob Cleveland along with sophomores Devauntay Ellis and Armani Fuller-Williams. The trio has combined for 1,431 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Bing is dangerous from the slot as both a runner and receiver. The junior has averaged nearly 10 yards a rush while posting 321 yards on the ground with five touchdowns. He is also the team’s leading receiver with 17 catches for 205 yards and a touchdown. The junior has stepped into the role of play-maker.
“I am much more comfortable doing that than I was last year,” said Bing, a native of Galloway, New Jersey. “The offense is coming together, clicking. Hopefully we’re doing at the right time.”
Another threat to emerge in the Aggie running game is a freshman quarterback.
“Once we realized we were going to be more of a run-heavy offense we went to Dashawn Darden,” Greco said. “He’s very athletic, fast and gives us another dimension in the run game. Now he’s got the keys for the rest of the year.”
The Norristown, Pa., native has 417 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while passing for 393 yards and five touchdowns. He has been intercepted just once. The freshman has led the Aggies on game-winning touchdown drives each of the past three games in the fourth quarter.
“He making some good plays. It’s been fun to watch,” Greco said of Darden, who fired a 92-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman Eric Shorter last Saturday in the fourth quarter to put the team ahead of Lebanon Valley for good. “He plays with a smile on his face. He’s been a great addition.”
Their last three victories over Stevenson (18-15), Albright (28-23) and Lebanon Valley (28-21) have Delaware Valley on top of the MAC and in control of their own destiny. If they can defeat Lycoming on the road this week and Widener in the season finale, they will win the MAC and head back to the D-III playoffs.
“We have the keys to the conference right now,” Greco said. “With that comes more pressure. Very game’s so close, I’m just going to keep getting grayer. This team plays with a lot of effort. It’s not luck and we’ll try to keep it up for the next two weeks.”
“It’s great to have your destiny in your own hands,” Bing said. “At the same time, it’s a little scary because you don’t want to drop the ball. It’s awesome but you have to be cautious because anything can happen in this conference.”
While the Aggies' offense continues to develop, perhaps their biggest difference from last season is the on the defensive side of the ball.
“It’s the total opposite of last year,” Greco said. “Last year, we were scoring a lot of points but we were giving up some points.
“This year we’ve played great defense. That’s why we’re winning games. Offensively, we try to run the football, not make mistakes and beat you in the fourth quarter. We don’t mind winning ugly. It’s been more fun. I like playing good defense. We have a lot of guys back there and they’re leading us.”
Leading that defense is senior safety Danny Wynne, a player in the mold of a Pat Tillman or Ronnie Lott. The senior, who has already earned All-MAC and All-ECAC honors each of the last two seasons, currently has a team-high 62 tackles. Another coach in the MAC told me he hasn’t seen him miss a tackle on film all season.
“Three or four times a game, he’s going to give you a big-time hit,” Greco said.
Defensive end Rashaad Lighty leads the team in sacks (five) and the nation in forced fumbles (five). He is part of a defensive front that is as deep as the Aggies have ever had where they feel comfortable rotating in as many as eight players.
So while expectations for weren’t particularly high at the start of the season, Bing admits that has helped fuel the team’s success this season.
“Absolutely, it’s always tough when you lose guys like Aaron and Rasheed. They are once in a lifetime type guys. But our grogram is always bringing in new guys with talent. I think we are better as a whole this year, instead of just at specific positions. It lights a fire underneath you and makes you play harder.”
Wesley remained at No. 4 after beating Montclair State 56-22. They were jumped in the poll by Wisconsin-Oshkosh after Mary Hardin-Baylor was upset by Hardin-Simmons. Delaware Valley jumped five spots to No. 19 after beating Lebanon Valley 28-21. Saint Lawrence moved into the poll at No. 25 after defeating WPI 42-21. Salisbury (5 votes) and Cortland State (10) both dropped out of the poll after suffering upset loses. Both are still receiving votes. Rowan (50), Albright (10) and Stevenson (4) are also get votes.
Games of the Week
Albright (7-1, 6-1 MAC) at Stevenson (7-1, 6-1 MAC): NCAA playoff chances die for the loser of this game. The winner must hope that Lycoming or Widener can knock off Delaware Valley to have a chance at earning the MAC’s automatic bid (Pool A.) Otherwise, it’s wait and see if an at large bid (Pool C) is available. The Mustangs defense is a turnover creating machine and lead the nation in turnover margin at almost plus-three a game. That includes a D-III high 24 interceptions. Albright also takes care of the football, while the defense takes it away. They rank eighth in turnover margin (plus-1.63) and have 17 interceptions, four which have been returned for touchdowns.
Salisbury (5-2, 5-1 NJAC) at Wesley (8-0, 7-0 NJAC): The “Route 13 Rivalry” should determine a conference champion for the first time since 2010 when both teams were in the now-defunct Atlantic Central Football Conference. This season the two New Jersey Athletic Conference frontrunners both feature powerful offenses. The Wolverines leads D-III in total offense (605 ypg) and passing (388 ypg,) while the Sea Gulls are second in rushing (376 ypc.) Both are averaging just a tick below 50 points per game are ranked in the seventh (Wesley 49.4) and eighth (Salisbury 49.0) in the country. Both defenses have experienced growing pains so far this season. Could be a shootout!
St. Lawrence (7-1, 5-0 LL) at Hobart (5-3, 3-2 LL): The Saints can clinch the Liberty League title with a win this week. The task will not be easy in facing the Statesmen, who have been LL champs each of the past four seasons. Hobart put up a season-high 52 points and 581 yards last week against winless Union to break a two-game losing streak. Is their previously sputtering offense on a roll with a now healthy quarterback Shane Sweeney?
All the Empire 8 games: I know I’ve used this in a couple columns before but interestingly a scenario still exists in which you could end up with a six-way tie for first place in this conference. (Thanks to Ralph Turner, Post board Hall-of-Famer.) I have neither the time nor smarts to go into the logistics and tiebreakers, but there is a very interesting discussion going on in the Empire 8 Post Board about it.
Cortland State (5-2, E8), loses to Ithaca.
Alfred (4-2 E8), loses to Utica, then beats St. John Fisher.
St. John Fisher (4-2 E8), beats Hartwick, then loses to Alfred.
Morrisville State (4-3 E8), beats Brockport State.
Buffalo State (3-3 E8), beats Ithaca and Brockport State.
Utica (3-3 E8), beats Alfred and Hartwick.