ALLENTOWN (PA) – The Delaware Valley University football team captured a Centennial-MAC Bowl Series championship for the second year in a row as the Aggies notched a 30-27 victory at Muhlenberg College.
DelVal finished the 2016 campaign with a 9-2 record, the third straight year - all under head coach Duke Greco - that the team has amassed that mark. Greco's three-year tenure has seen the Aggies qualify for the NCAA playoffs in 2014 and capture postseason crowns in the first two Centennial-MAC Bowl Series.
Junior linebacker Nicholas DiGati was named the Centennial-MAC Bowl Series Most Valuable Player as he capped a big week with 11 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery. On Wednesday, DiGati was selected to the all-MAC first team in his first year with the Aggies
DelVal never trailed in the contest, but it had to hold on at the end to secure the victory in the Bowl Series that was started in 2015 when the Centennial Conference and Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) partnered together to hold two postseason football games involving the top two teams from each conference that were not selected to the NCAA Division III Championship.
The Aggies had field position early and their third drive of the game began at the Muhlenberg 47-yard line. They later faced a fourth-and-two when Robert Cleveland took a pitch to the outside and gained 13 yards to move the sticks. The drive stalled shortly after, but Nick Restaino nailed a 30-yard field for the 3-0 lead with 4:55 left in the opening quarter.
On the Mules' ensuing possession, DelVal defensive end Marc Issac sniffed out a screen pass and intercepted it to give the Aggies the ball at the Muhlenberg 44-yard line. A 21-yard run by Cleveland put the Aggies in the red zone and they eventually had a third-and-goal from the one. Cleveland got the call and got into the end zone to give DelVal a 10-0 lead 30 seconds into the second quarter.
Muhlenberg responded with a nine-play, 65-yard scoring drive that was capped by Nick Savant's 13-yard touchdown run. The Mules went for two but were stopped, leaving the score at 10-6 four minutes into the quarter.
The teams traded turnovers following the score with DelVal's coming from linebacker TJ Waters as he intercepted a deflected ball and returned it 28 yards into Muhlenberg territory. The offensive drive stalled but the defense got a stop and Mike Anusky returned a punt 18 yards to midfield. On the ensuing drive, Cleveland sprinted out to a 28-yard run to the 14 and Tyler Bing took care of the rest on a jet sweep. A bad snap on the extra-point forced a two-point attempt that failed and the Aggies had a 16-6 lead with 4:54 to go before halftime.
DelVal forced a three-and-out and Anusky had a 22-yard punt return to give the Aggie offense the ball at the Mule 20. They went backwards on the first two plays but, on third-and-12, quarterback Dashawn Darden hit Eric Shorter in the left corner of the end zone for a 23-6 advantage with 2:11 on the clock.
Muhlenberg (9-2) got itself right back in the game with another nine-play, 65-yard drive. Quarterback Nick Palladino got the final yard with a sneak into the end zone with just 13 seconds remaining to make it a 23-13. The Mules made it a one-score game with 4:03 to go in the third quarter as Savant closed an 11-play, 71-yard drive with a one-yard scamper into the end zone.
DelVal went three-and-out, but the defense forced another turnover as Michael Ockimey came in on a blitz and popped the ball away from Palladino and DiGati was there for the recovery at the Muhlenberg 39-yard line. The Aggie then moved the ball to the five where they faced a fourth-and-goal. Darden threw a quick pass to senior Mike Jensen for the touchdown and a 30-20 advantage with 12:56 remaining.
Back came the Mules as they went on a six-play, 74-yard drive that took just two and a half minutes off the clock. Palladino found Nick Lamb for a 10-yard touchdown pass that made it a three-point ballgame.
Muhlenberg got the ball back and used big third and fourth-down conversions to move into field goal range. A holding penalty backed them up and on fourth-and-long, the Mules sent out freshman kicker Todd Spirt to attempt a career-long 45-yard field goal attempt. The kick fell just short and the Aggies took over needing to get one first down to seal the game.
Cleveland and Ellis combined for three yards on the first two plays to bring up a third-and-seven. Bing got his number called on a jet sweep and the senior ended his career with a 16-yard run and a first down to clinch the Bowl Series title.
DelVal had 220 of its 277 yards from its ground attack. Cleveland, a senior, ended his career with 12 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown. Bing added 35 yards and a score on four rushes. Darden rushed for 66 yards and threw for 57 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, in addition to DiGati, Waters and Shawn Miller had seven tackles apiece with Waters adding a sack and an interception. Ockimey and Devante Ford combined for seven tackles and two sacks,
Palladino completed 24 of 34 passes for 289 yards and one touchdown while adding another score on the ground. Savant netted 78 yards and two scores on 22 carries. Ryan Delaney caught 10 passes for 152 yards. John Feaster had eight tackles in the loss.