By Jared Prenda
“The curse is broken.”
This is what starting sophomore offensive lineman Gabe O’Donnell said following CUA’s 10-7 Homecoming victory over the Norwich Cadets for the team’s fourth win of the year.
This marks the first time in four seasons that the program has been able to surpass three wins on the year, with multiple conference victories in that stretch. The team now sits at 4-4 overall, and 2-3 in conference, bringing them to 4th place in the NEWMAC.
Despite this milestone for the program, head coach Mike Gutelius is not allowing his team to settle.
“I’m excited we got to four wins, but I told the team that’s not what we aim for,” Gutelius said. “We always aim to go 1-0 each week. That’s the way to get better. I understand their emotions that are tied to the 4th win but each year is a season with its own personality and challenges.”
The game was a defensive battle throughout, with neither team managing to find the end zone in the first half. Catholic’s defense was a force for the team, with five players recording double-digit tackles. Despite Norwich’s domination in terms of time of possession, with 15 more minutes on offense, the staunch CUA defense only gave up one score and forced two turnovers.
Senior Nick Della Jacono led the team with 15 tackles and forced one fumble, which came in a key goal line stand late in the second quarter. Defensive end Pat Vidal, who earned his second D3football.com National Team of the Week award for his efforts, had 12 tackles on the day, three of which were for losses, and a sack. Classmates Luke Kern and Greg Mayer were also in the double digits for tackles.
The team got off to a slower start in the second half when they allowed an 11-play, 80-yard drive which ended in a 30-yard touchdown run for Norwich’s only score of the game. Catholic was quick to respond, however, when they strung together a 10-play of its own which resulted in a 33-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Pearce Bartlett on the following drive.
The two sides continued the stalemate until halfway through the fourth quarter. Following a 3-and-out forced by the defense and a botched punt from the Cadets (coupled with a 5-yard illegal formation penalty), the Cards got the ball on Norwich’s 42-yard line. It only took four plays for the Birds to find the end zone. Quarterback Alejandro Ros hit two quick 7-yard completions, which set up a 27-yard rush from rookie Trey Carson to bring the team deep in the red zone. The following play, freshman tailback Pedro Garcia ran in the game’s winning score, making the score 10-7.
The freshman corps of running backs carried most of the offensive load for the team. Garcia, Carson, and Chance LeGrand combined for 20 carries and 160 yards, as well as the team’s sole touchdown. Ros went 15-of-25 passing for 154 yards, connecting with freshman Onani Moore five times for 32 yards and junior Andrew Lunarola three times for 55 yards.
The three rookies have exceeded expectations since they took on their roles following injuries suffered by the upperclassmen who entered the year. LeGrand and Garcia have combined for over 500 yards on the year since joining junior back Nick Esposito, and showed no signs of slowing down thanks to the experienced lineman blocking for them. O’Donnell commented on it after the game.
“It’s just all about trusting each other, and knowing the guy next to you will do his jobs,” O’Donnell said. “It’s just communicating well, which is something we’re working on every day.”
The Homecoming game brought out the largest number of spectators this season for the Birds, with over 2,700 students, families, alumni, and fans in the crowd. The Birds are flying high after the victory, but the always-wary Gutelius had this to say.
“I have always liked Bill Belichick’s philosophy of ‘on to’. Well we are ‘on to’ Merchant Marine.”
The team is taking to the road this week, as they travel to Kings Point, New York to face the Merchant Marine Academy. The Mariners are also 2-3 in conference, and 3-4 overall, but are second in the NEWMAC in total offense, forcing the Cardinals’ defense to prove itself once again in the tilt.