ALLENTOWN, Pa. --- The Moravian College football team saw its six-game winning streak snapped in the final game of the regular season as the Greyhounds fell to rival Muhlenberg College, 28-14, in Centennial Conference action at Frank Marino Field at Scotty Wood Stadium.
The Hounds finish the regular season at 8-2, just the fifth team in the 91-year history of the program to reach eight victories. Moravian will have a postseason game next Saturday, November 21 in the Inaugural Centennial Conference-Middle Atlantic Conference Bowl Series. The Greyhounds are considered the third place team in the Centennial Conference with an identical conference mark of 7-2 with Muhlenberg but the Mules win the tiebreaker of head-to-head competition and will host the third place team from the MAC while Moravian will travel to the second place MAC squad. Kickoff will be at noon next Saturday, and the games and sites will be officially announced after the NCAA Division III selection show Sunday evening.
"We had a so-so start offensively and couldn't get off the field on third down defensively, and I think that made the big difference," commented Head Coach Jeff Pukszn. "We've been starting out fast and we weren't able to do that today, and defensively, we weren't able to get off the field and get the ball back to the offense. We've been winning as a whole team, and today is a whole team loss. I have to do a better job preparing the guys. We have to look at the film and do a self-scout to see what we can improve on.
"Fortunately, we can get back to work tomorrow with a postseason game still to play," continuedPukszyn. "Today isn't the result we wanted but I'm still proud of the team for what we've done in the regular season. Being 8-2 right now is quite an accomplishment for these seniors and this program. We'll be looking for win nine next week and be just the second team in school history to do that."
Moravian senior linebacker Brendan Downey was selected as the Greyhounds Most Valuable Player of the game by the media in attendance. Downey had 14 tackles in the contest including 11 solo stops and one tackle for loss.
"Brendan really stood out today with his performance today, and I am so proud of Brendan Downey not just for this year but over his career," Pukszyn said. "He is not only a great football player. He has grown into an outstanding young man. He is going to have a lot of success when his playing days are over out in the real world because of what he has learned and gone through in our program. To be a senior and play the way he has and shown the leadership that he has all year, you couldn't ask more from someone and I am very proud of him."
Downey finishes the regular season as the team leader in tackles with 85 to give him 255 tackles in his career.
"We had a great group of guys heading into the season and we really worked hard in the offseason and meshed together well," explained Downey. "Ending the season 8-2, you can't ask for much more except for getting a win today but we've got one more next week. I was seeing everything really well today, and the defensive line played great and allowed me to flow to the ball. I was able to see what they were doing offensively and I watched a lot of film this week to prepare."
Moravian's offense entered the game averaging 423.4 yards per game including 229.3 on the ground and the Hounds were limited to 239 yards on 69 plays including just 23 rushing yards. Junior running back Chris Negron picked up 59 yards on 15 carries to raise his season total to 1,369 while junior quarterback Mike Hayes completed 21-of-38 passes for 216 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, and he was sacked seven times in the contest.
Junior wide receiver Liam Nolan caught five passes for 50 yards and a touchdown for the Greyhounds while sophomore wide receiver Justice Anderson grabbed five passes for 26 yards. Sophomore running back Eli Redmond added three catches for 54 yards while junior wide receiverJalen Snyder-Scipio had three receptions for 31 yards as he moved into third in school history with 130 receptions and ninth in the Moravian record books with 1,441 yards.
After forcing the Mules to punt after three plays, Moravian picked up a first down on its possession of the contest. However, Hayes was intercepted at the Mules 30-yard line.
The Hounds defense would hold and force another punt. However, the Blue and Grey punted after three plays. Muhlenberg had a good return on the punt and a penalty on Moravian's special teams set the Mules up at the 16-yard line. One play later, Muhlenberg led 8-0 with 4:34 to play in the opening quarter.
Moravian's next offensive drive picked up one first down before ending in a punt. The Mules had another three-and-out before punting. Junior defensive back Noah Miller had a 14-yard return to set the Hounds up at the Muhlenberg 33-yard line. The Mules defense forced the hounds into minus seven yards on the drive as senior Jimmy McCarthy punted again with just four seconds left in the first quarter.
Muhlenberg would punt the ball back to the Greyhounds but Moravian would have its second turnover of the half as Hayes was hit on a pass attempt and fumbled inside the 10-yard line. The Mules turned the miscue into another touchdown for a 15-0 lead with 9:41 left in the second quarter.
"In this conference, it doesn't matter who you are playing, if you give them a short field, you're putting yourself in a hole and swimming upstream," stated Pukszyn. "It's 2015 and teams are going to gain yards and score points so you can't be doing that and expected to win. Back when I played in the 1990s, there were a lot of low scoring games but you don't see that today. You have to win the field possession battle and we didn't do that today, especially in the first half and it really set us back in the first 30 minutes this afternoon."
The Greyhounds next drive would begin after a 30-yard kickoff return by sophomore wide receiver Aaron Hudson but it would end in a punt after three plays. The Mules would take the ball down the field and extend the lead to 22-0 with 3:01 before the intermission.
Moravian would drive down into the red zone on the final drive of the first half but Hayes' fourth down pass was knocked down in the end zone as the half ended with the Mules heading to the locker room with a 22-0 lead.
Each team would punt on its first two possessions of the second half.
On Moravian's third drive of the half, Hayes would find Redmond with a 37-yard completion on a third down play to move the Hounds deep into Muhlenberg territory. The Hounds would get onto the scoreboard when Hayes found Nolan with a 13-yard scoring pass in the left corner of the end zone. Senior Jerome Wachter made his 40th extra-point of the season to cut the Muhlenberg lead to 22-7 with 3:27 left in the third quarter.
The Mules answered back with a long kickoff return and finished off the drive with a short touchdown pass to extend the lead to 28-7 with 11:45 to play in the contest.
Each team would punt again before the Greyhounds took over deep in their own territory, Hayesfinished off the drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to Anderson to cut the Mules lead to 28-14 with 5:01 remaining.
The Mules would eventually run out the clock on offense as they picked up 300 yards on 68 plays while controlling the ball for 37:07 of the contest.
Miller and McCarthy each had seven tackles for the Greyhounds with McCarthy adding a tackle for loss and a forced fumble, and he also punted seven times in the contest. Senior defensive lineman Ryan Pysher added six tackles and one pass break-up for the Moravian defense while senior defensive lineman Dan Bracken and freshman linebacker Steve Ewald each had five stops with Bracken adding the team's only sack. Senior defensive lineman Tim McCabe contributed two more tackles for loss and a forced fumble to go with four tackles for the Hounds.