At Springfield College, there is a history of nationally acclaimed rushing offenses. Using the unique triple option, the Pride led Division III football in rushing offense seven times.
Entering their home match-up with the Union Dutchman, the Pride held the fifth-best rushing offense in all of college football. However, when the offense doesn’t execute, the last line of defense for the Pride is their attacking defense.
On Saturday, the Pride lost a frustrating Family Weekend game against Union 27-7, tallying only two first downs, an unheard of statistic for Springfield.
While the offense struggled to get a footing, possessing the ball for only 17 minutes, the Pride defense rose to the challenge. Forced to be on the field for 43 minutes, the defense kept the game close for much of the afternoon despite the Union offense running 85 plays, compared to the Pride’s 38.
“Defensively, I thought they played well at times,” said head coach Mike DeLong. “Union was successful moving the ball; they made a couple big plays. They are a total team. It’s not an offense or defense, they’re a total team.”
While the Pride offense managed just 85 yards rushing on 32 attempts – an average of 2.6 yards per carry – the defense had 51 rushes against them, holding the Dutchman to just 3-yards per carry.
The defense allowed Union to convert just 9 of their 19 third-down attempts, a statistic that may be otherwise overlooked, besides the fact that the defense was on the field for 71 percent of the game Saturday afternoon, all while missing star defensive end Max Nacewicz, who is lost for the year with a fractured foot.
“Anytime you lose a player like Max, you’re losing a very good football player,” DeLong said. “Some other guys that stepped in are doing a good job. Joe Knaub is playing pretty well and Dan King is playing well. Brandon Alves is starting to show. It’s one of those things where you lose a great player but other guys are starting to step up.”
While the Pride have relied on young players on the defensive front, veterans Mike Dublin and Dan Macalena have helped propel the team as well. Dublin and Macalena are tied for the team lead with 41 tackles, along with captain Sam Weiss. Macalena leads the team with 12 tackles for loss while Dublin is second with 4.5.
Although the Pride defense answered the call against a potent Union offense, the concerns over offensive turnovers and a lack of ball movement still remain for DeLong and his staff.
“I think there are some things we want to do better all-around as a team,” said DeLong. “That was a tough loss; I don’t think anyone can remember us being held to that low of offensive production, but our guys will bounce back and show they’ve got a lot more to offer than that on the field.”
The Pride are forced to turn around and welcome No. 7 ranked Hobart to Stagg Field, but that’s exactly the way Springfield wants it.
“[We] will take a look at Hobart, who is undefeated right now, coming in here as a great opponent,” DeLong said. “For us, it’s great right now to have a good opponent come to play against; it gives you something to look forward to rather than a weaker opponent. It’s an opportunity for us to get ready. These guys are leading the league right now. You want to play against the good teams. That’s what you want to do.”
The Pride offense isn’t used to being shut down as much as they were on Saturday, so expect the Pride to come out firing against a top 10 nationally-ranked team in Hobart. Last season, the Pride traveled to Hobart and hung with the Statesman for three quarters, trailing 14-7 entering the last frame, before Hobart pulled away in the fourth.
The defense fared well against the eventual Liberty League champions, forcing the Statesman to punt six times and gain only 130 yards through the air. At the same time, the Pride offense experienced their lowest offense output of the year, scoring only seven points while gaining just 150 yards on the ground.
Following a performance like the one against Union, the Pride offense will be chomping at the bits for a chance to prove that that game was just a minor setback and not a foretelling sign of where the team is going.
Entering their week six match-up with Hobart in 2012, the Pride were 3-2, as they are this season. The Pride finished the year on a 5-1 streak, finishing with an ECAC Northeast Championship Bowl victory over Alfred. As DeLong noted, there is still plenty of time to turn it all around.
“There are still five games left, and the possibility of hopefully playing in an ECAC game. Our program and our kids know each game week is important, and we’ll add them all up when it finishes at the end,” stated DeLong. “They’ve got goals, they all want to play well, they all want to get better and they’re a real hard working group. There are goals that can allow this team to finish and have a successful season.”
Marshall Hastings can be reached at email@example.com