Tag: Lorenzo Valencia

Five New England College Football Teams That Surprised Us This Fall

Phil Lutz enjoyed a very successful senior season with the Tufts University football team. (PHOTO COURTESY: Tufts University Athletics)

By Matt Noonan

Every season, there are a handful of New England college football teams that surprise me.

Sure, there are the favorites, along with squads many expect to contend for a conference crown – perhaps a national championship? – but with another season of college football slowly winding down, I thought I would highlight five teams that exceeded my preseason expectations.

Assumption University: The Greyhounds enjoyed one of their better seasons this fall, winning eight games to go with their first Northeast-10 Conference crown in five years. Additionally, Assumption advanced to the NCAA Division II playoffs where their run toward a national title concluded in the opening round with a 17-14 setback to Slippery Rocky.  

Sure, losing in the first round is not an ideal way to conclude a season, but perhaps this year’s effort is a sign of more exciting things to come for coach Andy McKenzie’s squad.

McKenzie and his staff deserve credit for a successful season after posting a 5-5 record last fall, including a 5-3 record against NE10 foes. The fifth-year coach was tabbed the NE10 Coach of the Year last Wednesday while three members of the Assumption defense earned First-Team All-Conference honors, including linebacker Lorenzo Valencia.

Plymouth State: The last time the Panthers won nine games, they were sharing the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) crown with Framingham State.

Plymouth State clinched its ninth win this past weekend, thanks to a come-from-behind 21-20 win over Husson University in the New England Bowl.

Halfbacks Manny Sanchez and Willie Lombard were a big reason why the Panthers were in the mix for a conference crown as the duo combined for 20 rushing touchdowns and 1,343 rushing yards.

Jake Donahue led the receiving core with 38 catches for 562 yards and six touchdowns while Evan Wilson paced the defense with 80.0 total tackles, including 49 solo stops and a team-best nine tackles for a loss of 25 yards.

21 seniors made-up this year’s Plymouth State squad, along with six graduate students. It is possible we could see a few of these student-athletes return next season – the NCAA granted student-athletes an extra year of eligibility during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tufts University: After producing back-to-back 4-5 seasons, the Jumbos concluded its 2022 campaign with six wins and three losses.

Wide receiver Phil Lutz was a big reason why the Jumbos enjoyed their best season since 2018 as the North Caldwell, New Jersey native finished the year with 78 catches for 1,221 yards and 14 touchdowns. Lutz averaged 15.7 yards per catch and established a new single-season record for touchdown receptions in New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).

Lutz is currently one of 15 NCAA Division III student-athletes being considered for this year’s Gagliardi Trophy.

Quarterback Michael Berluti enjoyed his best year under center, throwing for a career-high 2,749 yards and 26 touchdowns. The Westwood, Massachusetts native completed a career-best 197 passes and averaged 305.4 passing yards per game.

The Jumbos’ 2022 momentum should carry over to the next season, which should help Tufts contend for its first-ever NESCAC crown.

University of Connecticut: The Huskies exceeded my expectations.

Coach Jim Mora guided UConn to its first six-win season in seven years to provide the Huskies with an additional contest this fall: their first bowl game since 2015.

The Huskies’ regular season concluded with a 34-17 loss to Army last weekend, but it was highlighted by halfback Victor Rosa, who rushed for a career-high 111 yards and a touchdown.

Prior to ending their regular season with a two-score setback, UConn scored three-straight wins over Boston College (13-3), UMass (27-10), and Liberty University (36-33).

No matter what transpires in UConn’s upcoming bowl game, the Huskies are heading in the right direction, thanks to their first-year coach.

University of New Hampshire: After concluding its 2021 campaign with an eight-game losing streak, the Wildcats bounced back to share the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) crown with William & Mary while earning a spot in this weekend’s NCAA FCS Tournament.

First-year coach Rick Santos guided the Navy Blue and White to an eight-win season this fall, along with a 7-1 conference mark.

Santos was tabbed the CAA Coach of the Year on Tuesday while halfback Dylan Laube collected a trio of end-of-season honors, including a spot on the All-Conference First team as a punt returner.  

Laube will be one of a few players to watch this Saturday, November 26 when the Wildcats entertain Fordham University.

Five New England College Football Teams to Watch In Week Two

Lorenzo Valencia and the Assumption University defense will be a unit to watch this week against Merrimack College. (PHOTO COURTESY: Gil Talbot/Assumption Athletics)

By Matt Noonan

The second week of the New England college football season technically began Sunday, but before we kick off another busy weekend of games, how about we highlight five teams fans should watch (or keep an eye on) this week?

Like we did last year, we will be highlighting five teams from the New England region that fans should keep an eye on every week. This year, we will include all three divisions, not just NCAA Division III teams, and schools.

So, without further ado, here are five teams I’ll be watching on Friday and Saturday.

Anna Maria College (0-0, 0-0 ECFC): When we last saw the AMCATs on the gridiron, their exciting season concluded in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament.

Anna Maria enjoyed its best season in program history last fall, winning its first-ever Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) crown while also setting a program record for wins in a single season: seven.

As expected, the AMCATs were picked to win the conference crown again this season, but face a challenging non-conference slate, which begins with a home date this Saturday with the UMass Dartmouth Corsairs. Neither team has met before on the gridiron, but this will certainly be a good measuring stick for Steve Croce, who begins his first season as the program’s head coach.

Croce was named the fourth head coach in program history, succeeding Dan Mulrooney, who stepped down earlier this year to accept the head coaching role with Lock Haven University.

Assumption University (1-0, 0-0 NE10): They say defense win championships.

Last Saturday, the Greyhounds’ defense shined in their season-opener, helping the Greyhounds score an impressive 3-0 win over Kutztown University, which entered last week’s tilt as the 13th best team in NCAA Division II.

Assumption’s defense concluded the game with three interceptions and five sacks.

Jael Feliz led the Greyhounds’ defense with 12 total tackles, including nine solo stops and two-and-a-half tackles for a loss of 10 yards. Lorenzo Valencia, who was named the Northeast-10 (NE10) Conference Defensive Player of the Week, chipped in eight total tackles, including four solo stops and two tackles for a loss of 22 yards.

Larsen Wilson led the team with two interceptions while Isaiah Huff recorded two solo stops, three pass breakups, and one interception.

Assumption’s defense will be a unit to watch on Friday evening when they visit Merrimack College.

Holy Cross (1-0, 0-0 Patriot League): The Crusaders scored their initial win of the 2022 season last Friday by defeating Merrimack, 31-17.  

This week, the Crusaders face an early-season test against the Buffalo Bulls, a Football Bowl Subdivision squad that dropped its season-opener on Saturday to Maryland.

Buffalo and Holy Cross have not met since 1970 – additionally, the Crusaders’ last win against the Bulls came in 1963.

Holy Cross currently leads the all-time series, 6-3-1, but is 2-3 against the Bulls in Buffalo.

A win over the Bulls would certainly provide the Purple and White with some additional momentum heading into its Homecoming contest next Saturday with Yale University.

Coach Bob Chesney’s squad scored a win over an FBS squad last season when they defeated Connecticut by a score of 38-28.

Quarterback Matthew Sluka will be a player to watch against the Bison after being named this week’s Golden Helmet Award by the New England Football Writers.

Saint Anselm College (1-0, 0-0 NE10): Quarterback Drew Willoughby was the player to watch last Thursday as the Austin, Texas native led the Hawks to an exciting opening day win over Millersville University.

The Hawks’ 18-point win provided the program with its first win in the opening week since 2014, along with its most recent victory against a member of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) since 2012.

Willoughby finished his team’s season-opener with 30 completions and 349 passing yards. He connected with three different receivers for touchdowns and became the seventh signal-caller in program history to reach 3,000 career passing yards.

For his effort, he was named the NE10 Offensive Players of the Week and earned the D-II/D-III Golden Helmet Award from the New England Football Writers.

Willoughby will again be a player to watch on Saturday when they host American International College (AIC).

Springfield College (1-0, 0-0 NEWMAC): It was an impressive start for the Pride last Friday night against Western New England.

Six players rushed for a touchdown while the offense concluded the non-conference meeting with 506 yards of total offense.

The team’s impressive ground game led to the entire offensive line – Lou Cocozza, Cam Borges, Vinny Ruggiero, Jon Weber, and Chris Eichler – being named to this week’s D3Football.com Team of the Week.

While it’s only one game, this Springfield team looked pretty good – their momentum will be tested against Rowan University on Saturday.

Like Springfield, Rowan enjoyed a successful debut by defeating Widener University, 42-20.

Rowan lost to Springfield last fall – the Profs defense struggled to contain the Pride’s rushing attack, which was led by Tim Callahan (151 rushing yards and three touchdowns) and Patrick Ladas (115 rushing yards and one touchdown).