Football has returned to Campus Field as over 4,200 fans came out to watch the Sacred Heart University football team shutout the Bucknell Bison in their home opener 21-0 on Sept. 4.
According to Sacred Heart Athletics, the Pioneers continued a ten-year long streak of winning their first home game of the season, all while putting together the first shutout for the program since their 2013 matchup with Duquesne.
“We got great support from the students, from families and from administration,” Head Coach Mark Nofri said. “When you can have the kind of home environment, it makes it a lot easier to play at home than on the road.”
The Sacred Heart defense held the Bison to 143 total yards of offense and forced sophomore punter Ruben Anderson to punt on Bucknell’s first six drives, according to Sacred Heart Athletics. The defensive front was led by junior defensive tackle Rayshad Wallace as he tallied five tackles and a sack, according to Sacred Heart Athletics.
“They’re playing physical and hard,” said Nofri. “That’s half the battle.”
On the offensive side, the Pioneers continued to work the run game with nearly 300 rushing yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns. Walter Payton finalist Julius Chestnut racked up 170 yards off 26 carries and a touchdown. Junior Malik Grant took over the run game in the second half with nine rushes and his third collegiate rushing touchdown, according to Sacred Heart Athletics.
“It felt great to finally get a touchdown here at SHU,” said Grant. I’ve been preparing very hard and for a long time to step up and do what I have to do.”
Their only passing touchdown came on a 39-yard reception in the hands of sophomore wideout LJ Haskett, which was Haskett’s first collegiate touchdown, according to Sacred Heart Athletics.
“We couldn’t be more excited for LJ, he has so much potential and ability and I’m glad that he got to showcase a little bit of what he can do,” said junior quarterback Marquez McCray.
In his ninth start for Sacred Heart, McCray was able to deliver 150 yards of air mail with one of his top targets being senior wideout and former roommate Rob Dinota. McCray also was second in rushing for the Pioneers with 49 yards off nine scrambles. He credits the ability to scramble and find space on the field to a very experienced offensive line.
“We have a veteran offensive line,” said McCray. “They all know what they’re doing and take the pressure off me, Julius and all the other running backs. They just make it a lot easier.”
Coming into the season, the Northeast Conference (NEC) preseason poll that was published on Aug. 3 placed Sacred Heart in the number one spot to repeat as NEC champions, but Nofri believes there is always work to be done.
“I think there’s always room for improvement,” said Nofri. “I would like to see us execute better in the Red Zone.”
Nofri enters his tenth season at the helm after leading the Pioneers to a win in the first ever NEC championship game last spring versus Duquesne, according to Sacred Heart.