|Owen Costello is one of many Tigers who have had to step up into larger than expected roles in 2016.
Photo courtesy Hampden-Sydney Athletics
There isn't much that head coach Marty Favret hasn't experienced in his 17 years at Hampden-Sydney. Most of it is positive -- 13 winning seasons, five Old Dominion Athletic Conference titles and six NCAA postseason berths.
A four-game losing streak is decidedly less positive, and until this fall, the Favret-led Tigers had never experienced such a prolonged stretch of defeat.
"It's quote unquote a 'rebuilding year' at that point," Favret said, "and everybody outside your locker room is telling you, 'Hang in there, Marty. Seventeen years, you're bound to have a season like this.'"
Favret's response to those shoveling dirt on the 2016 season in early October?
"Don't bury us yet."
Sure enough, Hampden-Sydney has won its last two games, including a 21-15 win against previously unbeaten Guilford on Oct. 8. If you're wondering whether one win can outweigh four losses, it can.
"Somewhere along the lines, you've got to get a win," Favret said. "The Guilford game galvanized our spirits."
So how does a team that's won at least six games in nine consecutive years open a season with four straight losses? There isn't one lone reason, but rather a perfect storm of injuries, growing pains and unexpected challenges.
Senior quarterback and captain Edgar Moore, who passed for 2,513 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior, was lost for the season in the first half of the team's season-opening 38-28 loss to Averett. Senior defensive lineman and captain Ben Carson, who had a team-high six sacks, suffered a season-ending injury before the season even started.
"We don't like to play the injury card, but when two of your captains are on crutches and in a sling, it makes things difficult," Favret said.
Running back Kyree Koonce, who led the team with 1,313 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman last season, did not return to the team this season.
On the field, Hampden-Sydney's defense struggled mightily over the season's first four games, and the numbers back that up. The Tigers allowed 38 points and 520 total yards to Averett, 45 points and 557 yards to Christopher Newport, 42 points and 485 yards to Ferrum, and 45 points and 451 yards to Bridgewater.
"We were really struggling on defense," Favret said. "When teams are able to run the ball on you, it demoralizes you."
In the two wins since then, Hampden-Sydney has held its opponents to 15 points and 290 yards, and 28 points and 423 yards, respectively. It hasn't been a revolutionary turnaround, but it represents significant progress for a young and developing defense. Players like sophomore linebacker Bender Vaught, who was named ODAC Defensive Player of the Week following the win against Guilford, continue to gain valuable experience with each game.
The same goes for sophomore quarterback Alec Cobb and junior running back Mike DeMasi, who have both stepped into crucial -- and unexpected -- starting roles this season. Cobb, who passed for 379 yards and four touchdowns in Saturday's win over Catholic, is averaging nearly 245 yards and two touchdowns per game this season. The workmanlike DeMasi, while perhaps not as explosive or dynamic as Koonce, has provided a steady presence in the backfield, and his 413 yards and four touchdowns lead the team by wide margins.
Senior Owen Costello spent his first three seasons as a utility player, taking snaps both as a running back and out of the slot, before transitioning to wide receiver full-time in 2016. Costello, who called the team's 0-4 start "uncharted territory," has put together a breakout season opposite accomplished junior wide receiver Cam Johnson. Costello leads the Tigers in receptions (35), receiving yards (551) and receiving touchdowns (seven).
"We're as confident as we've ever been now," Costello said. "We expect to really go after this ODAC. We can compete with anybody."
Things might have looked grim for the Tigers recently, particularly after the Oct. 1 loss to Bridgewater, which dropped them to 0-4 overall and 0-1 in the ODAC (and marked a sixth straight loss, dating back to the end of the 2015 season). But fortunes can change quickly in college football.
In a span of roughly two weeks, Guilford suffered consecutive losses and Randolph-Macon, which opened the season with five straight wins, fell short at Emory and Henry. That means the winner of Saturday's tilt between Hampden-Sydney and Washington and Lee in Lexington, Va., will be in the driver's seat for the ODAC title.
"We are in a situation where we control our destiny in late October, which is all we could ask for," Favret said.
Two straight wins doesn't guarantee anything, of course, and this year's team doesn't boast the top-to-bottom talent that previous Hampden-Sydney teams have. The third quarter, in particular, has vexed the Tigers, as the team has been outscored 79-19 over six games. Both sides of the ball will continue to work through growing pains, but Favret has been encouraged by his players' response to adversity as Hampden-Sydney pieces it together on the fly.
It will take more than four straight losses to reverse an established winning culture.
"We're kind of a work in progress," Favret said, "but we still wear 'Hampden-Sydney' across our jerseys and the kids take a lot of pride in that."
Susquehanna rallies past Moravian
Nick Crusco passed for 207 yards and one touchdown, and rushed for four goal-line touchdowns in the second half, including the go-ahead score with 49 seconds remaining, as Susquehanna stormed back for a 35-34 win over Moravian on Saturday.
Moravian built up a 27-7 halftime behind Chris Negron's three rushing touchdowns, but was outscored 28-7 in the second half by Susquehanna. The River Hawks' go-ahead drive covered 61 yards over 12 plays, including a key fourth-down conversion, over more than five minutes late in the fourth quarter.
The thrilling conclusion was marred by an on-field brawl. Seven players—four Greyhounds and three River Hawks--were ejected and are suspended for the first half of this week's games.
Centennial Conference leader and perennial powerhouse Johns Hopkins has already defeated Muhlenberg and Moravian, leaving Franklin and Marshall (5-1, 4-1) as the biggest remaining threat in the conference race.
Methodist-N.C. Wesleyan game postponed
The effects of Hurricane Matthew continue to be felt in the southeast.
For the second straight week, Methodist was unable to play its scheduled football game, this time a road game at N.C. Wesleyan. The school announced last week that, due to flooding and poor road conditions in the Rocky Mount, N.C. area, the game would be postponed.
Methodist's campus has been closed for more than a week, but will reopen on October 19. The Monarchs will play the rest of their season schedule as planned, and they have petitioned the NCAA to play a makeup game against either N.C. Wesleyan or Averett.
Ryan Cary rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns, Jonathan Germano passed for 249 yards and three touchdowns and Jack Toner intercepted a pair of passes in No. 9 Johns Hopkins' 45-10 win against Dickinson. ... Luke Bailey passed for 266 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns as Huntingdon routed LaGrange 55-13. ... Marshall Hollerith ran for 123 yards and two of Washington and Lee's seven rushing touchdowns in its 48-34 victory over Guilford. Hunter Causey rushed for a game-high 167 yards in the loss for the Quakers. ... Nick Savant rushed for 114 yards, caught seven passes for 145 yards and scored three total touchdowns as Muhlenberg defeated Gettysburg 43-7. ... Nick Myers passed for 375 yards and three touchdowns, and Elijah Chenier rushed for 94 yards and a pair of TDs in Maryville's 42-19 victory over Ferrum. ... Kevin Saxton passed for 277 yards and two touchdowns, and Justin Banks tallied two of Emory and Henry's four interceptions in its 27-20 win over Randolph-Macon. ... Zachary Bradley threw three touchdown passes, including two to Taalib Gerald, who also rushed for 119 yards as Franklin and Marshall defeated McDaniel 25-7. ... Sean Bowman rushed for 194 yards and three touchdowns, Travis Jones returned the game's opening kickoff 89 yards for a score, and Tyriek Able scored on a 35-yard pick-six in Averett's lopsided 52-6 win against Greensboro. ... Matt Lehr rushed for 177 yards and two touchdowns, and Hank Coyne passed for 348 yards and three touchdowns (213 yards and two TDs, respectively, to Kirby Breault) in Juniata's 38-27 win over Ursinus. ... Cedrick Delaney rushed for 174 yards and a touchdown, and Hayden Bauserman added a pair of passing touchdowns in Shenandoah's 34-10 win against Bridgewater.
Top 25: Johns Hopkins holds steady
Johns Hopkins checked in at No. 9 for another week in the latest D3football.com Top 25 poll.
For the second straight week, the Blue Jays were the only team from the CC, ODAC or USA South to be ranked in the top 25.
Huntingdon continued to receive votes.
Hampden-Sydney (2-4, 2-1) at Washington and Lee (4-2, 3-0), 1 p.m., Saturday: Surprise, surprise. Despite some early-season struggles, Hampden-Sydney has a chance to move into first place in the ODAC. The Tigers and Generals have combined to win the last seven ODAC titles. This is a crucial matchup for both teams.
Averett (3-2, 2-0) at Maryville (5-1, 3-0), 2 p.m., Saturday: Averett has already surpassed its win total from last season, but a win over Maryville would represent an impressive accomplishment. It would also put the Cougars in sole possession of first place in the USA South.
Other games of note: Moravian (4-2, 3-2) at Franklin and Marshall (5-1, 4-1), 1 p.m., Saturday; Juniata (4-2, 3-2) at Muhlenberg (5-1, 4-1), 1 p.m., Saturday
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