Fairfield, CT – The SHU football team had a 7-0 halftime lead slip away as Marist scored 20 unanswered points in the second half to knock off the Pioneers, 20-7, in front of 2,167 fans at Campus Field for opening night. Pioneer quarterback Tim Little (Egg Harbor Township, NJ) scored his first collegiate touchdown on a five yard run at the 8:02 mark of the first quarter. Marist QB Chuckie Lonney threw for 278 yards, 3 touchdowns, and one INT as the Red Foxes earned head coach Jim Parady his 100th career victory.
Sacred Heart (0-1) took advantage of a Red Fox fumble on the return of the Pioneers punt following the game's opening series. Niko Sierra (Longmeadow, MA) jarred the ball loose and Sean Bell (Medford Lakes, NJ) recovered the fumble to set up the Pioneers with possession in the red zone. Little dove into the end zone four plays later to give SHU a 7-0 edge.
Marist (1-0) got its first turnover the game four minutes into the second quarter as Jaquan Bryant picked off a pass after a SHU receiver fell coming out of his cut. But the Pioneers immediately responded as J.D. Roussel (Pawtucket, RI) intercepted Looney on the very next play. However, neither side would crack the scoreboard in the remainder of the half as SHU took its touchdown advantage into the locker room. Both offenses struggled in the first half as the two sides combined for 22 rushing yards.
The Red Foxes struck quickly to start the second half, needing just 1:21 to cover 70 yards and level the game at 7-7. Rios caught the 43 yard TD strike from Looney to cap the three play drive. Both sides then kept the ball for 10 plays on their next possession but neither could come away with points. The defenses then traded three and outs to bring the third quarter to a close with the game still level at 7-7.
"It always tough when you are on the field a lot but as a defense it's our job to stop them and get the ball back to the offense," commented SHU senior linebacker Chris Mandas (Mission Viejo, CA). There's not much we can do, but at one point it was only a seven-seven game and we tried to bounce back."
The Pioneers were poised to get off the field quickly yet again as Marist faced a 3rd and 10 at their own 37 yard line. But Looney bailed out the Red Foxes with his legs, scrambling for 12 yards and a first down. Marist took the lead on a play that was also set up by Looney's wheels. The sophomore quarterback escaped pressure in the pocket and found Anthony Calcagni in the back of the end zone to make it 14-7 following the PAT.
Sacred Heart took the ensuing possession into Red Fox territory and eventually had a 4th and 4 just past the midfield stripe. SHU used a hard count to try and pick up the first down with an offsides but a false start backed up the offense and forced the Pioneer punter to kick it away.
Looney and Marist would put the game away with 7:26 remaining as Rios and Looney connected on a 47 yard touchdown pass that made it 20-7. SHU could only manage 92 yards of offense and two first downs in the second half as the Red Fox defense kept the Pioneers off the board in the final thirty minutes to give Jim Parady his 100th career victory.
The Pioneers quarterback controversy is far from settled as Little and Luke Wischnowski (West Chester, PA) finished with similar numbers. Little went 9-of-12 for 77 yards while Wischnowski completed seven passes on 13 attempts for 65 yards. The SHU ground game did not help the passing attack, netting 32 total yards on 28 attempts.
"The quarterbacks are a little bit of a problem, but we didn't help them," said Pioneer head coach Paul Gorham. "We had our opportunities, certainly early, too."
Jo Jo Jamiel (West Yarmouth, MA) paced the Sacred Heart receiving core with seven catches for 54 yards. Sierra led the Pioneers with seven tackles while Vinny Branchini (Longmadow, MA) had the teams' only sack. Marist brought down the SHU quarterback four times and also notched eight pass break-ups.
The all-time series between the two sides is now tied at 5-5 with the each team winning on the road in the last two years.
The Pioneers will have a bye week to prepare for a September 16 clash against NEC opponent Bryant for a game that will be broadcast live in HD on MSG Plus and Cox CT/RI.