|Delaware Valley athletics file photo
By Jason Bowen
Delaware Valley linebacker Nick Wright has one of those names that makes it easy for headline writers. Yet, somehow the senior has mostly avoided headlines -- often on purpose -- during his time with the Aggies.
However, last Thursday night in the Aggies 24-19 over Wesley, the senior was in the (W)right place at the right time all night. He recorded a team-high 10 tackles, returned a fumble 70 yards for a touchdown and added a sack-strip which was recovered deep in Aggie territory with Wesley threatening to score just before the half.
“Their quarterback actually gave me a stiff arm and I fell to the ground,” Wright said of the fumble return which put the Aggies up 16-3. “I was following the play and my guys it hit out. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I credit that to my guys.”
Aggie coach Duke Greco thought perhaps his biggest play was the strip-sack which came later in the second quarter with a 22-3 lead and 29 seconds left.
“Getting a stop there, I felt they had momentum and were going to go in to score but our defense stepped up and stopped them. It was a big stop.”
Greco feels that perhaps the 6-0, 211-pound Wright has been underappreciated on a defense with All-American safety Shawn Miller and linebacker Nicolas DiGata. Last season, he totaled 34 tackles, seven pass breakups, three interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble
“Nick’s a good athlete, a good player and he’s made a lot of big plays for us in the past. He’s intelligent, smart and figures things out. We need him to do that every week.
“If he does that every week, he’ll be an all-conference or more player. He got overlooked last year. Last year, he wasn’t all-conference and he deserved it. “
In the second half, Wright leap over pass blockers and rallied the Aggie sidelines before he topped off the by providing his team’s only points of the second half. His blitz sacked Wolverine quarterback Nick Falkenberg for a safety, which slowed a Wesley second half rally.
“I told coach on the sideline, let me go ... let me go ... let me go and just happened that they slide the protection the wrong way and I came free.
“Coming in we knew they we going to be hungry because we beat them last year. We prepared just like any other game, but we knew they were going to bring it. When we were up 22-3 at the half, we knew they were going to come back and they did. So we held our ground and I’m proud of our guys.”
For Delaware Valley those “guys” returning include first team All-MAC selections in Miller and DiGata, along with linebacker T.J. Waters and defensive backs Jarren McBryde and Sammy Mohr, who were second team selections. The Aggies have plenty of depth especially in the back seven.
“Our defense played a complete game tonight especially in the second half,” Greco added. “Offensively, we slowed down because Wesley is a great team, well-coached. Luckily we were able to win the turnover battle again this year and I think that helped us capitalize on a victory.
“We’re lucky on defense, Coach (Nick) Brady and Coach (Mark) DeLucia do I great job. We have a lot of guys back this year. We were able to put in a lot more different things. We’re able to give people a lot of multiple looks. I do think it helps but we also have good players here. That makes us all look a lot better.”
But after a second straight season of knocking off the higher-ranked Wolverines, Delaware Valley, now ranked 12th in the nation, knows the target is on their back. Last season, they fell to Albright 20-17 with the Lions scoring with six seconds left in the game before Stevenson shut them out 19-0. A season that started off on a high, ended with a bowl victory but not a Middle Atlantic Conference championship.
“It’s tough, similar to Wesley,” Greco said. “Everyone’s out to get Del Val and everyone’s out to beat Wesley.
“We’ve had good ball clubs here and we’re going to get everyone’s best every week. We can’t flinch. Last year, we flinched. Stevenson is a good team. They outplayed us and they deserved it. Hopefully, we can just go week-to-week this year and make it happen.”
Wright, already a leader in the classroom after earning All-MAC academic honors, is also upping that leadership role on the field.
“I’m trying to be different this year,” Wright added. “I’m trying to step it up.
“We’re experienced, it (the losses) happened last year. We had a bad taste in our mouth and we’re coming out strong again this. We’re going to hit them hard and we’re going to keep going throughout the season.”
Games of the Week
St. John Fisher (0-1) at Hobart (0-1): You have to credit both these programs for scheduling two tough nonconference games to start the season. They are, arguably, the top two D-III programs in the New York over the past ten years. But by Saturday, one will be 0-2.Both dropped out of the top 25 and St. John Fisher has lost three straight dating back to last season. Statesman quarterback Shane Sweeny threw almost as many interceptions (3) in last week’s 34-20 loss to Brockport as he did all of last season (4). But Hobart did do a great job getting back in the game by the end of the third quarter, spearheaded by a 98-yard Jayson Prince scoop-n-score at 20-20. Still they gave up over 600 yards of total offense to the Eagles, which included 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals ran 92 plays offensively, but ran out of gas during the fourth quarter in a 37-27 loss on the road at Washington & Jefferson. Quarterback Joshua Michels showed promise by passing for over 350 yards with three touchdowns.
Cortland (1-0) at Framingham State (1-0): Another challenging nonconference matchup for the Red Dragons on the road in New England this week. “Cardiac Cortland” beat Augustana 34-32 on William Holscher field goal with 16 seconds remaining last week. The Rams have won at least eight games six out of the past seven seasons. After missing last season with an injury, Cortland quarterback Steven Ferreira picked up right where he left off in 2015 when he was the best quarterback in the east this side of Joe Callahan. The senior passed for 297 yards and four touchdowns without an interception.
Ithaca (0-1) at Brockport (1-0): Former conference foes matchup for an interesting Empire Eight-Liberty League clash. The Golden Eagles moved the ball at will last week against traditionally stout Hobart defense. Quarterback Joe Germinerio directed an offense that was explosive and balanced. Running back Justin Morrison stepped into the shoes of graduated superstar Dan Andrews to rush for 168 yards. Receiver DeQuan Hubbard totaled 158 yards on just five catches. The Bombers hung with defending E8 champ Alfred only to fall late 20-17. Senior Adam Fron supplied most of the Ithaca offense by passing for 156 and rushing for 95 yards. Last season, Brockport pulled away late with two fourth quarter scores to win 42-28.
Utica (1-0) at Catholic (0-1): The Pioneers have seesawed back and forth over the .500 mark over the past four seasons. In even-numbered years, they are 25-17 since 2010, in odd years 12-18. After an impressive 20-7 win over Liberty League contender St. Lawrence, a trip to the nation’s capital to take on a Catholic team that was soundly defeated 30-10 last week by McDaniel, the “Moose” have a great chance to take a step at breaking that roller coaster cycle. Nicodemus Gambrill broke a pair of long touchdown runs but Utica will have to improve the passing game (54 yards) and third down efficiency (2-of-16).
Hartwick (0-1) at Alfred State (0-1): Billy Pine put up 539 passing yards for the Hawks in 48-47 loss to Western Connecticut, 290 of them to receiver Koree Reed. The defense gave up 522 but you would expect that they’d score enough to beat a team that lost 34-7 last week to Coast Guard.
FDU-Florham (1-0, 0-0 MAC) at Widener (0-1, 0-0): The Devils have not fared well historically against the Pride, but they did put 606 yards of offense last week in a win over TCNJ. That included three receivers with more than 100 yards. That included the return of Malik Pressley, who spent last season somewhere in Ohio. Pressley, an all-region performer in 2015 hauled in 16 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns. Widener held Rowan to a pair of field goals but lost managing little offense (131 yards). Neither team ran the ball particularly well (FDU 13 yards, Widener -15).
Kings (1-0, 0-0 MAC) at Stevenson (0-1, 0-0): The Mustangs will try to bounce back after a disappointing performance last week against Frostburg. It won’t be easy as King’s quietly climbed to the .500 mark last season and opened with nice win over Centennial contender Moravian last week. Monarch quarterback Zach Whitehead totaled almost 400 yards of total offense.
Delaware Valley (1-0, 0-1 MAC) at Lycoming (0-1, 0-0): The Warriors couldn’t muster much offense in a 7-6 loss in the Stagg Hat game last week at Susquehanna. I’m pretty sure that Aggies defense is better than the River Hawks’.
Lebanon Valley (0-1, 0-0 MAC) at Wilkes (0-1, 0-0): Conference opener for two teams that were beaten soundly in their nonconference slates.
Albright (1-0, 0-0 MAC) at Misericordia (0-1, 0-0): The Lions have a veteran group that appears ready to challenge for the top spot in the Mac after nipping Salisbury in OT last Friday. With four wins in their first five seasons the Cougars did score 35 last week against a Merchant Marine but anything but a big Albright win here would be surprising.
Montclair State (0-0) at Salve Regina (1-0): The Red Hawks open on the road coming off a pair of 4-6 seasons against a team that has won a lot for football games over the past five years. Their defense is usually fast and physical but until they become more consistent on offense a return to the top of the NJAC will be difficult.
Kean (0-0) at Springfield (1-0): The Cougars have established themselves as a solid NJAC dark horse with 15 wins over the past two seasons. This will be a tough test in their opener on the road against a team that beat Western England by 14 last week. The Golden Bears had lost two games in the previous two seasons.
William Paterson (0-1, 0-0 NJAC) at Salisbury (0-1, 0-0): The Gulls put up 77 points in this game last year. The Pioneers have a tough bounce back after falling 45-0 RPI last week. They managed just 95 yards and six first downs.
TCNJ (0-1, 0-0 NJAC) at Frostburg (1-0): The most impressive thing about the Bobcats is their defense and special teams. Niles Scott, dominating in the interior, posted a pair of sacks. So while the Lions put up their most productive offensive output in recent memory last week against FDU-Florham (404 yards), this week will be a different animal.
Hampden-Sydney (1-0) at Christopher Newport (1-0): The Captains gave first-year coach Art Link his first victory last week 45-17 over in Southern Virginia. Senior quarterback K. J. Kearney completed 35-of-40 for 308 yards and four scores. Austin Hall has stepped into the role of favored target after the loss of NJAC offensive player of the year Taylor Loudon. The Tigers are coming off their first losing season since 2006, but remain dangerous after topping improving Averett 20-17 last week.
Southern Virginia (0-1, 0-1 NJAC) at Rowan (1-0, 0-0): The Profs are always fast and physical on defense and shut out Widener last week. But if they don’t get more out of their passing game (just 15 yards), they’ll find themselves in another fight. In year two of the option, SVU has made some improvement.
Coast Guard (1-0) at Union (0-1): The Dutchmen hung with a Husson team that won nine games last season giving up a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to lose 20-7. Not sure what to make of Coast Guard’s 34-7 victory over Alfred State.
Rochester (0-0) at Carnegie Mellon (1-0): Coming off a 1-8 season in 2016, it won’t be an easy opener on the road against the Tartans, who feature one of the top backs in the nation in Sam Benger.
RPI (1-0) at WPI (1-0): The battle of the Engineers features two teams coming off blow out wins in their openers. There’s the Transit Trophy at stake too for these former Liberty League mates. WPI won last year 19-7.
St Lawrence (0-1) at Norwich (0-1): The Saints were just 1-of-16 on third down last week in their loss to Utica. After beating the Cadets 52-0 last year, expect that number to improve.
Welcome to the Around the East column, which covers the Empire 8, Liberty League, New Jersey Athletic Conference and Middle Atlantic Conference. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me at @d3jason on twitter and Instagram.