SETTING THE SCENE
The Sacred Heart football team closes out the 2011 season on the road Saturday afternoon against the Albany Great Danes. The Pioneers will be looking to secure the program's first winning season since 2008. A victory would also round out SHU's conference record at a level .500, 4-4, after being picked to finish the 2011 campaign in eighth in the NEC Preseason Coaches' Poll. Sacred Heart fell in its home finale last week, 29-15, at the hands of Duquesne despite a defensive touchdown and a blocked punt for a safety from the special teams. Albany recorded a 41-24 triumph at Monmouth last week to win a seventh game in their last eight outings. The Great Danes played an overtime affair in their season opener but since then have not had a final margin of single-digits.
THE SACRED HEART vs. ALBANY SERIES
Albany holds an 11-2 advantage in the all-time series between the two programs and is currently riding a nine game winning streak over SHU. The Pioneers last defeated the Great Danes, 32-17, in 2001 en route to a Division I-AA Mid-Major National Championship. The two sides met in Fairfield, CT last season with the visitors walking away with a 35-22 verdict. SHU has dropped each of its last four trips to University Field by double-digits.
AERIAL ATTACK AT ALBANY
Saturday's clash between the Pioneers and Great Danes will feature the top-two passing offenses in the Northeast Conference. Tim Little (Egg Harbor Twp., NJ) paces the circuit with 220 passing yards per game. Albany relies on senior signal caller Dan Di Lella, who has racked up 2,160 yards through the air and thrown for 20 touchdowns. The Pioneers boast the higher ranked pass defense in 2011, allowing just 168.8 yards per game through the air, good for third in the NEC.
SHU BLOCK PARTY
Connor Caveney (Fitchburg, MA) blocked a punt through the back of the end zone late in the fourth quarter against Duquesne to give SHU a chance to win on its final drive. The Pioneers have recorded six total blocks this season, including two on punts from red-shirt freshman Robert Dim (Sicklerville, NJ). Matt Colucci (Hopewell Junction, NY) also has a blocked punt that resulted in a touchdown. The Pioneers round out their block party with a blocked field goal from Matt Linnehan (Worcester, MA) and a stuffed extra point by Stephan Thomas (Egg Harbor Twp., NJ).
LIKE A ROCK
Red-shirt junior wide receiver Rock Tate (Lantana, FL) has been dependable all season, recording at least two catches every time out. However, Tate has been especially hot as of late. Last time out versus the Dukes he grabbed a game high seven catches for 73 yards. Tate hauled in a second-half touchdown reception in each of his last two games. He had a 7-yard TD to give the Pioneers a two score cushion at Robert Morris as well as SHU's final points versus Wagner.
MANDAS IS THE MAN IN THE NEC
Preseason All-NEC linebacker Chris Mandas (Mission Viejo, CA) has validated that distinction all season and currently leads the Northeast Conference in both tackles and sacks. The senior captain has registered 98 tackles in 2011, 9.8 per game. Mandas has been a force in the backfield as well, topping the circuit with eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss.
The Pioneers have the opportunity to play spoiler Saturday against Albany as the Great Danes claim the Northeast Conference regular season title with a victory. A win would also guarantee the league's automatic berth into the Division I FCS National Championship Tournament. The Great Danes can also enter the field with a loss to the Pioneers if Duquesne is defeated by Robert Morris.
SIERRA SNAGS ANOTHER
Junior Niko Sierra (Longmeadow, MA) grabbed his fourth interception of 2011, tying the SHU linebacker for the top spot in the Northeast Conference for INTs. Sierra accounted for two of his picks against Robert Morris in the Pioneers victory over the defending league champion. Teammate J.D. Roussel (Pawtucket, RI) sits right behind Sierra with a trio of interceptions this season.
A LOOK BACK - THE 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF SHU'S NATIONAL TITLE
The 2001 Sacred Heart Football team finished a perfect 11-0 and claimed the NCAA Division I-AA Mid-Major National Championship. Every week we will recap the Pioneers historical through the 2001 season, going through the 10 year anniversary game-by-game.
The 2001 Pioneers finished their perfect season with a 31-15 victory over Duquesne in the ECAC Bowl, securing the Division I-AA Mid Major National Title. The Pioneers opened the game with 17 straight points and closed strong down the stretch with 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Brian Pawlowski notched the first touchdown of the game with a 69-yard interception return. Marvin Royal made it 17-0 going into the half with one of his two touchdowns, this one coming on an eight-yard connection with quarterback J.J. Holtfreter. Odain Mitchell sealed the Pioneers final win of the 2001 season with a 35-yard fumble recovery for six points that gave Sacred Heart a 16 point cushion with 2:30 to play. The Pioneer defense, which was dominant all season, recorded eight sacks in the championship tilt.