A tough call that can't go wrong
|Shane McSweeny won his
starting quarterback job back at Wesley after he was injured in
Wesley athletics photo by Rebecca Pennington
The problem facing both Maryville and Wesley going into camp was an enviable one.
They each had a question mark as to who would start at quarterback, but unlike many teams facing such a decision, these two squads had two-deeps that were already experienced, tested and ready to lead.
The competition at Wesley began back in the spring, between 2009 All-Region passer Shane McSweeny and Justin Sottilare, himself on the All-Region team in 2010. McSweeny, a senior, was injured on the opening drive of the opening game last fall, leaving many to wonder what would become of a team that anticipated the return of its quarterback who threw for 2,917 yards and 36 touchdowns the year before. In stepped Sottilare, who went on to set a school record with 38 touchdown passes in 2010 while complementing that with nearly 3,400 yards.
But coming into 2011, only one of them could be the starter.
“We kind of used that to stir competition,” Wesley coach Mike Drass said in an interview prior to the team’s surprise loss against Kean.
He explained to them that he was going to have to make a decision and that whoever was chosen as the backup could either spend the season in that role or recuse himself from the team and compete again for the starting job in 2012. Drass said the decision had to be theirs.
“That’s not a choice of mine because we’re not a scholarship school. … And that was all that was said,” he explained.
Drass and his staff closely charted the two signal-callers, weighing their ability not just to be pocket passers but also to run with the ball. The edge? McSweeny.
“Going through camp, both of them performed extremely well,” Drass said. “And we sat down and looked at the situation and really felt that, right now, Shane had an edge.”
Maryville’s coach Tony Ierulli was in the same situation as Drass, but the final decision was made for him.
Tim Conner, now a senior, put up 1,800 yards in his all-conference 2009 season. But during camp last year, Conner suffered a shoulder injury that ultimately required surgery. Enter then-freshman Dustin Williams, who brought with him 1,600 yards through the air.
|Tim Conner won a tough battle
for the starting quarterback job at Maryville, which then became
Maryville athletics photo
“It was a tough battle going back and forth between both guys,” Ierulli said of Conner’s and Williams’ time in camp this fall.
Ierulli, whose team has started a disappointing 0-2, said having two capable quarterbacks was a good thing.
“Both guys pushed each other,” he said. “Both guys were a better quarterback going into the fall. Both guys did a lot more than normal in terms of their off-season preparation.”
And he said the Scots avoided some of the pitfalls that can damage a team. He said the need to pick one or the other didn’t divide the team, which can happen.
“What can happen is that it starts to split the team a little bit, some pulling for this guy, some pulling for that guy,” the coach explained. “That wasn’t really the case here. The team really supported both of them and really worked hard for both quarterbacks.”
Ultimately, Conner’s senior leadership and experience began to set him apart. He had been in the system for several seasons, and he had a connection with the team’s premier receiver, Wesley Idlette. However, Ierruli said he wasn’t expecting to make a final decision until the Tuesday or Wednesday before the first game. It turned out fate made it for him.
Williams tore his ACL playing pickup basketball a few weeks before camp began. Ierulli said Williams was strong throughout camp but then got hurt during a pass play in the scrimmage against Birmingham-Southern.
“He threw awkwardly. He went down, wasn’t touched by anyone,” Ierulli said. No matter who the coaches were leaning toward, Conner became the starter. Williams, as a redshirt, is relegated to watching from the sidelines.
Back at Wesley, Sottilare himself will be watching from the sidelines as McSweeny takes the reins of a team that has started 1-1. But Sottilare’s role is by design.
After camp, Sottilare came to Drass and said he’d prefer to step back from playing and take on a role as a student coach instead. The intent would be for Sottilare to return in 2012 for his senior season and a starting role on the team.
After McSweeny had to spend last year injured, Drass notes: “It’s kind of like roles reversed now that Justin’s on the sidelines.”
Ode to the ODAC
Catholic’s Friday night game led a barrage of Old Dominion matchups that saw all but one team come away with a 2-0 start to the season. A 1-yard run from Mike Pitsenberger lifted the Cardinals to a 45-41 win over Gallaudet (a team that came off another dramatic late-game loss, that time to OAC power Otterbein, in Week 1). The victory came despite the fact that Gallaudet led 41-24 late in the fourth quarter. CUA was helped by quarterback Greg Cordivari posting four passing touchdowns on the night.
That passing mark was bested in the conference by only one person, Hampden-Sydney’s Travis Lane, who threw for seven scores and no interceptions in a dominating 56-17 win over N.C. Wesleyan. He now leads all of Division III in touchdown passes. Kyle Vance was Lane’s favorite target, hauling in 170 of Lane’s 389 yards. More ODAC domination happened in Greensboro, where Emory & Henry got behind 370 passing yards from Kyle Boden and nine tackles for loss to beat the Pride 38-0.
Running back Thaddeus Scrugg was the highlight of Randolph-Macon’s narrow win over Averett when he ground out 173 yards on the field. At Bridgewater, the man on the ground was Darrin McKenzie, who found the end zone three times and plowed ahead for 186 yards in a nail-biting win over Shenandoah.
USAC’s shining spot
Methodist, under first-year head coach Dave Eavenson, notched the conference’s lone Week 2 win by toppling Guilford 40-22. The Monarchs struck early and struck fast, going up 17-0 by the end of the first quarter. Quarterback Travis Murphy passed for three scores and ran for another, while the Methodist defense benefited from interceptions by Jacob Hunt, Roderick Sawyer and Navahri Holden.
Elsewhere in the USA South, Christopher Newport suffered an unexpected 46-43 loss to first-year program Stevenson. How could such a thing happen you may ask? In part, because CNU had to face plays like this one.
Round-robin play begins
The 10-member Centennial began conference play after going a disappointing 2-8 in nonconference action. Susquehanna couldn’t continue the momentum of its surprise win over Wilkes in Week 1 as the Crusaders were on the bad end of a lopsided 56-7 drubbing against Johns Hopkins, one of the conference favorites. The Blue Jays were the only team to score through the first three quarters of play and were led by rushers Jonathan Rigaud and Nick Fazio, who each had three touchdowns. Senior Ryan Piatek had a banner day on defense, pulling in two interceptions, including one in the first quarter that was returned to the end zone, kicking off the day’s scoring.
McDaniel running back Joe Rollins, a sophomore, had an amazing day in which he matched a school record by plowing for 311 yards rushing, getting to the end zone three times along the way. Defensively, McDaniel lineman Sam Cox also had a stunning day, posting five sacks against Moravian.
A game that I had discussed in last Friday’s Triple Take was just as exciting as I had hoped -- though I projected the wrong team to come out on top. A 32-yard pass from Kody Smith to Aden Twer as time expired lifted Gettysburg out of a tie with Ursinus and on to victory. (It was nominated as one of D3football.com’s plays of the week.) Like last year, this year’s 40-34 final was a high-scoring affair. The Bullets’ Peter Hak notched 15 total tackles, 11 of them solo, while Mark Covington also hit double digits with 10 total. Smith and Twer were the offensive leaders, with Twer reaching 179 yards and Smith passing for 291 in all.
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