The Sacred Heart University Pioneers football season came to an end on Saturday, April 24, in Newark, Del. The University of Delaware Blue Hens came away with a 19-10 victory over the Pioneers and will advance to the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs.
“They battled for the whole 4 quarters,” said head coach Mark Nofri. “The fact they went toe to toe with the #5 ranked team in the country and didn’t flinch makes me proud.”
The Blue Hens got an interception on the first series of the game and were able to turn it into a touchdown for a 7-0 Blue Hens lead.
The Pioneers were able to answer, tying the game with a Julius Chestnut score, and were only trailing 9-7 at the half.
“I’m proud of everyone. We had a few mistakes in the beginning, they scored first but we didn’t let it stop us. We kept fighting until the end,” said Pioneers junior quarterback Marquez McCray.
Both teams traded field goals in the second half, making the game a stand still at 12-10 Blue Hens for the majority of the half.
“We were being counted out, the media saying we were going to get beat by 20 points, but we know that’s not us,” said Pioneers junior defensive back Lamar Evans.
According to the University of Delaware Sports, the Blue Hens came into the game at 5-0 on the season and were averaging over 355 offensive yards a game. They were held to 199 yards on Saturday.
“The defense did a tremendous job, holding them to under 200 yards of offense, which hasn’t happened to them all season,” said Pioneers junior running back Julius Chestnut.
The Blue Hens came away with a fourth quarter score to make it 19-10 and essentially close the game.
Looking back, the Pioneer players view their season as a successful one.
“It’s the first time we made it to the playoffs since 2014, and it’s also the first time there was an NEC (Northeastern Conference) championship game, so for us to be the first winners of that ever is a huge accomplishment,” said McCray.
The NEC title and playoff bid is traditionally handed to the team with the best record at the conclusion of the regular season.
“Us being quote on quote ‘an NEC football team’ just shows how hard we work and how much dedication this team has,” said Chestnut.
Moving forward, the Pioneers have bigger goals than an NEC Championship.
“Usually we want to just win the NEC, but now after having that experience in Delaware, I think we raised the bar a little bit higher,” said McCray.
The 2021-22 football season is set to be played in the fall, as it typically is, and will feature an 11-game schedule, compared to this season’s modified four-game schedule, according to the NEC.
“There were a lot of hurdles we had to go over, and just going back to something maybe close to normal, it’s relaxing and exciting,” said McCray.
According to Coach Nofri, preseason camp begins Aug. 7. This will mark the shortest turnaround the players have ever experienced.
“There’s always concerns about the player’s health and safety,” said Nofri. “We have to be smart about how we train, practice and make sure the students take care of their bodies.”
Despite the challenges, the Pioneers are ready to embark on another season.
“Going into next year, we are now conference champions, so I want to play like a conference champion,” said Evans. “I want to be a national champion.”