|Tre Frederick turns the corner against the John Carroll defense.
John Carroll athletics photo
By Joe Sager
Thanksgiving will be spent with a different kind of family this year for Randolph-Macon’s football team.
Instead of dispersing from campus to spend time at home, the Yellow Jackets will gather for a team meal – and a practice.
“Practicing on Thanksgiving is always the goal. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to do it,” senior running back Tre Frederick said. “We are really fired up about it. We get to eat together and prepare for the game this weekend.”
The Yellow Jackets earned their team holiday gathering with a stunning 23-20 upset at No. 8 John Carroll in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. It was the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory.
“That win was amazing. It was such a great feeling. The group of guys we took up there and the ones who stayed home, we were all locked into the fact we could win that game. It was a great experience and great for our program,” Frederick said. “I think there’s a pretty good vibe right now. Not a lot of people expected us to go up there and win a ball game. I guess people expected us to go up there and participate, but not a lot of people expected us to win. The guys in the program and everyone who has played under our coaches, everyone believed we could. That made a huge difference. We’ve received a lot of congratulations.
“We enjoyed the win Saturday on the bus ride home. It was a fun eight hours. We were all pretty beat up and sore, but at least it was a good vibe coming back with a win. It would have been a really bad ride having lost.”
“While we enjoyed the win Saturday on the ride home, we put it behind us after that and we’re focusing on our next game now.”
The Yellow Jackets (9-2) face their next test Saturday at No. 23 Muhlenberg (10-1).
“Everybody I’ve talked to is really excited for us. Everybody on campus keeps congratulating us. As a team, we’re ready to move on, though. It was a great feeling to win on Saturday. After we were done watching film on Sunday, everybody’s switch flipped to focusing on the next game,” sophomore linebacker Matt Vergara said. “We’re treating it like just another game. We’ll go into it with the same mindset. We’re going in trusting each other and trusting our coaches and playing for each other.”
That formula worked for Randolph-Macon at John Carroll. The offense held the ball for a little more than 44 minutes and the defense picked off four passes to fuel the upset. De’Angelo Barr and Vergara had two interceptions apiece. Vergara returned one 14 yards for team’s first touchdown.
“I have to give all the credit to the coaching staff. Our defensive coaches always give us a great plan,” Vergara said. “It was no different than any other week. We knew we had to stop the run. We knew it was going to be a defensive game. We knew that, if we had to help our offense out, we had to get off the field quickly and let them do what they do best and run the ball.”
And run the ball the Yellow Jackets did. They didn’t break through for huge gainers, but chipped away at the Blue Streaks defense. Frederick became the second player to rush for 100 yards on John Carroll this season when he finished with 101 yards on 29 carries.
“We knew we weren’t going to score 50 points. Their defense is too good. It’s the best defense we’ve seen all year,” Randolph-Macon head coach Pedro Arruza said. “I thought we needed to be creative and I thought we would have to control the clock and play really well on defense. We didn’t play a perfect game, but we were as close to the script as we could have played it.
“I have the utmost respect of that team and that defense. They are really, really good. Their defensive line is legit. In my time here, I’ve never seen a defensive line that good. Their kids play hard. Our longest run of the day was 10 yards, so it wasn’t like we were running all over them. I thought it was a good effort on our part.”
Randolph-Macon’s offensive production wasn’t off the charts. The Yellow Jackets racked up 285 yards – 144 on the ground. However, the team held the ball for 44:05 compared to 15:55 for John Carroll.
“We like to hold onto the ball and win the possession time battle. That’s one of our staples. If we can try to run the ball effectively and do the things we want to do on the offensive side and keep the defense off the field, that’s the goal,” Frederick said. “We’re not saying the offense made all the plays, though. Our defense had four interceptions and they kept giving the ball back to us. They made it a little easier for us to stay on the field and sustain some drives.”
The Mules are riding momentum with an upset victory, too. They overcame a 13-0 deficit to down No. 13 Delaware Valley, 20-13, in the first round.
“I think they are really, really good. I think they have a really good defense. I think they just have a really solid football team all around,” Arruza said. “It’ll be a challenge. They are very well-coached. I don’t think they have any weaknesses. That’s a program I have a lot of respect for. There are 16 teams left in the playoffs and every single one of them is very good.”
So, can the Yellow Jackets pull off another upset?
“When you to this point in the season – and all season, really – any weekend could be anybody’s game,” Frederick said. “You want to be confident, but you have to stay hungry. I think we’re still overlooked, a bit. Muhlenberg has a great program. All we know is that we can go up there and give them a fight. You can expect a battle and a competitive game out of Randolph-Macon.”