By Heather Keller
The Sacred Heart University Pioneers football team hosted the Saint Francis University Red Flash for a key Northeastern Conference (NEC) matchup on Saturday, Oct. 29.
The Pioneers are now 6-2, 1-2 in the NEC after falling 38-17 on Saturday. The Red Flash came into the weekend matchup as the only NEC team with an undefeated record in conference play, and would be able to extend that record to 6-3, 4-0 in the NEC following the contest.
“We didn’t execute, they executed, and good football teams do that when they need it to count,” said Head Football Coach Mark Nofri. “We kind of let it spin out of control late in the third and fourth quarter, we got beat by a good football team.”
The Pioneers were held to 278 yards of total offense, including 111 yards passing and two touchdowns for senior quarterback RJ Noel.
Defensively, junior CJ Parvelus, senior Khaamal Whitaker and senior Robert Steffe all set career-highs for tackles. Parvelus led all players with 15 as Whitaker tallied eight and Steffe seven, according to a press release from Sacred Heart Athletic Communications.
With back and forth scoring opportunities in the first half, the Pioneers were “focused and had a business like attitude on the sideline,” said Nofri.
With 4:29 left in the first half, the Pioneers were able to cut the deficit to seven with a 25-yard field goal by senior kicker Alec Finney, which made the score 17-10 going into halftime in favor of Saint Francis.
The Pioneers would start the second half with possession. While that opportunity did not immediately lead to a scoring drive, the Pioneers regained possession after an interception by senior Tim Johnson, and they capitalized. Noel was able to even the game at 17 with a four-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Andrew O’Neill and an extra point secured by Finney.
The Red Flash, however, drove down the field on its next possession and provided senior quarterback Zack Drayer with the positioning to complete his second touchdown pass of the game, giving Saint Francis a 24-17 lead with 4:59 left in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Sacred Heart was again unable to answer the scoring drives by Saint Francis as the Red Flash added two more touchdown throws to end the game 38-17.
“They are a great defensive team and I believe they [Saint Francis] lead the NEC in a lot of different categories,” said senior Ose Imeokparia. “It was tough up front and through the second half, they’re an overall good team.”
The Pioneers have three conference matches left to play. Coach Nofri is adamant that the team’s momentum going forward will not be stunted by this loss, unless the team lets it.
Sacred Heart held back-to-back NEC Conference Championship titles in 2013 and 2014, however they were unable to continue the streak last season.
“If you want to play championship football, and you want to win a conference title, you have to continue to be consistent and play for 60 minutes, and we didn’t do that,” said Nofri.
Sacred Heart will return home at noon on Saturday, Nov. 19 for their senior night and their final game of the season against the Bryant Bulldogs. Pioneer action is available via webcast for home and road games on necfrontrow.com.