BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – If championships are destinations, then this journey that the Lebanon Valley College football program has been on has lasted six years – or even 44, depending upon one’s point of view. And it certainly does seem that the more difficult the journey, the more satisfying the reward.
On Saturday afternoon at Arnold Field, the Flying Dutchmen captured their first piece of a Middle Atlantic Conference title since 1969 when they defeated Stevenson 30-6, before a spirited Senior Day crowd. Lebanon Valley registered points on its first three possessions, and led 17-0 before the first quarter was out, on its way to tallying the initial 30 points of the contest.
With a win next week at rival Albright, LVC, the 25th-ranked Division Three squad in the country, will claim the championship outright and qualify for its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. Lebanon Valley had won just two previous conference championships in the 115-year history of the sport in Annville.
The Flying Dutchmen’s seventh straight triumph moved them to 8-1 overall and 7-1 in the MAC. Stevenson slipped to 4-5 on the year and 3-5 in the conference.
“We said that up until this point, we were 7-1 and in first-place,” said Lebanon Valley head coach Jim Monos, “but we didn’t have anything to show for it. We need to get some hardware. But we have to win this week (at Albright) so no, we don’t have to share the title.
“It’s hard to explain what happens,” said Monos. “But the chemistry on this team is unbelievable. The players don’t care who gets the credit, they just want to win.”
Lebanon Valley ran off 13 plays during its opening possession to get Sean Fakete’s 43-yard field goal, and a 3-0 lead. The Flying Dutchmen turned Zach Wierman’s interception into the 34-yard Brendan Irving scoring scamper that made it 10-0. And LVC marched 65 yards in eight plays, before quarterback Brian Murphy hooked up with Jake Ziegler for 31 yards and the touchdown that upped its advantage to 17-0, with 33 seconds left in the opening period.
“That was the biggest concern, that we play at a high level,” said Monos. “We were making plays, moving the football and putting points on the scoreboard.
“When you talk about the history of the sport at this school, it’s been unbelievable,” said Monos. “I have gotten so many messages, e-mails, phone messages from alumni. This team did it. But they did it for a lot of people.”
While the LVC offense certainly performed at a high level, it was the defense which again stole the show.
The Flying Dutchmen defense did not surrender a score, came up with five picks and held the Mustangs to just 235 yards of total offense. Stevenson broke the shutout with 3:22 to go when it returned an LVC fumble for a touchdown.
“We were in position to make some plays on defense,” said Monos. “It was a team effort. It was a great way to finish (the regular season), in front of the home crowd.
“We talk about them (his players) being good, but they’re good young men,” Monos continued. “This team wants to play more than ten games.”
Sixteen seconds before halftime, Lebanon Valley pushed its margin to 24-0 when Murphy hit Joey Miller with a 13-yard fade in the right corner of the end zone. That score was also set up by a Zach Wierman interception.
With 7:45 remaining, Irving ripped off a ‘little something-something’ for himself from 23 yards out.
“We are a much better football team now,” said Monos. “We’re playing with confidence. That’s the way we’ve been playing. It’s a special team. It doesn’t happen like this every year.”
The Flying Dutchmen running game, a point of emphasis for Monos earlier in the campaign, churned out 317 yards. Irving amassed 136 rushing yards, while Austin Hartman collected 130.
“When we go against each other offensively and defensively in practice, sometimes we go against each other hard,” said Monos. “After facing battles together, we ‘mix and match’. We’ve been doing that for a while. But it’s really become more prominent after games this season.
“Albright’s our rival,” concluded Monos. “That’s all I’ve got to say. But there’s an added importance on the game this year.”
|Fairleigh Dickinson – Florham||0-8||0.000||1-8||0.111||L8|