By: Ryan Sanudo
On Saturday, Nov. 11, Sacred Heart University’s club football team defeated Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) 13-0, as they won the North Atlantic Conference Championship. This victory captured the team’s second championship in three years of being established at Sacred Heart.
The team posted five shutouts in-a-row to end the season, the last two against ECSU, a top ten team. The road to the championship game wasn’t easy according to head coach, Greg Jones.
“This team fights for 60 minutes,” said Jones. “They have battled through injuries, and 25-degree weather. I could not be prouder of these 45 young men and what they have accomplished.”
This year was the second year in-a-row for Sacred Heart’s club football team to have an undefeated regular season. After losing the championship game 19-14 last year against ECSU, junior outside guard, Ryan Welch, realized what was at stake for the upcoming season.
“We came into this season with a great mindset, but at the same time, a ‘chip on our shoulder,’” said Welch. “We made sure the freshmen knew what they were getting themselves into. We worked hard, and knew where we should be when all was said-and-done.”
Welch credits not only the players, but Jones, as well.
“Coach stesses the importance that everybody has to do their job,” said Welch. “He played for the D1 team here-he knows the game of football, and knows how to get us ready. You need to watch film, be at practice, come to meetings, and talk to each other, because that’s what makes the team work.”
The team used a defensive game-plan tactic against ECSU, which was effective, according to senior captain and defensive lineman, Brian Moore.
“Our players do a lot of screen passes. They like to send their runningback or fullback to be a lead blocker,” said Moore. “In practice, we have a thing called ‘Smell a Rat.’ This phrase holds the idea that if you happen to notice that the linemen are letting you go too easy-you know something’s not right-so you sink back. We have to constantly be ‘on edge,’ and that’s what we were ready for.”
The Pioneers’ defense allowed only 13 points for the entire season.
“We hate to lose,” said Moore. “We’re a bunch of guys with raw talent. We’re constantly picking each other up, and challenging each other. That’s something I feel other teams don’t have. While other teams fight with each other, our team has a common mindset [of community,]that propels us foward in each game.”
Some of the team’s successes can be attributed to their dedication to attaining being in the best physcial shape as possible.
“We do a lot of conditioning, which makes us out-perform any team we face,” said junior running back, and linebacker, Yanni Papadopoulos. “On top of that, my teammates and I lift on our own time, whether that be before, or after, practices. We sacrifice a lot in order to accomplish our common goal-to win.”
Jones is proud of this group, and knew from the start of this program that these athletes were something special.
“These kids are always together whether it’s on, or off, campus,” said Jones. “They’re one cohesive unit that gets along well, because from the minute they step out of practice, it’s like their mood changes. We’ve got sophomores, juniors and seniors-and although they may not hold the ‘captain title,’ they’re leaders, in that the freshmen look up to the upperclassmen.”
Sacred Heart will play Saturday, Nov. 18, against defending champion Oakland University, in the National Semifinal in Erie, Pennsylvania.