Top-ranked defense stifles Hillsdale as SVSU wins 24-3
Division II's best scoring defense gives up only a field goal for the third straight game as the Cardinals play under the lights on the road for the first time this season
September 26, 2005 —
The SVSU defense remained first in the nation in scoring Saturday, holding Hillsdale to three points in a 24-3 Cardinals road win.
The win kept SVSU, ranked ninth nationally, in a three-way tie for first in the GLIAC. The Cardinals share a 4-0 conference record with top-ranked Grand Valley State and Michigan Tech, ranked 15th.
Led by senior linebacker John DiGiorgio, who had 12 tackles and two sacks, the defense gave up only a field goal for the third consecutive game. In four games, the Cardinals have given up just 16 points.
With a tackle in the second quarter, DiGiorgio broke the SVSU career tackles record previously held by Dave Hurst.
"(Breaking the record) shows that he's a great football player, but we already knew that," said coach Randy Awrey after the game. "But he's also a finer captain and finer leader of this defense."
The defense allowed 220 yards to the Chargers, who prevented the Cardinals from the shutout with a field goal in the fourth quarter.
"Winning the game is the most important thing," Awrey said about the shutout possibility. "But our defense played phenomenal. It was a great effort by everybody."
Junior linebacker Brent Rogers opened the scoring for the Cardinals, as he capitalized on a deflection of quarterback Aaron Scholl's pass, intercepting it and taking it 28 yards for a touchdown. It was the opening play of the Chargers' second drive, and just their fifth play from scrimmage.
The play was a momentum changer, as Bobby Belmonte had just missed a 43-yard field goal.
Scholl was knocked out of the game by a fourth-quarter hit. It was the second straight year that the SVSU defense had knocked the quarterback out a game. Last year he suffered a broken collarbone.
Senior running back Logan Barnhart added two more touchdowns in the first half to build the lead to 21-0. The first was a seven-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Chris Dougherty in the first quarter. Then, on first and goal from the five-yard line, Barnhart lined up at quarterback and took a direct snap into the end zone for the score.
Coming off a week where he had 185 total yards and three touchdowns against Findlay and was named GLIAC Offensive Player of the Week, Barnhart finished with 59 yards on 16 carries and two catches for 37 yards. Dougherty continued his stellar play, going 24-34 for 297 yards and the touchdown. Sophomore Rick Cottengim had his second 100-yard receiving game of the year, catching four balls for 102 yards. Senior Jermaine Jackson added five catches for 52 yards.
Also contributing to the effort was senior Mark LaFreniere, who had four catches for 51 yards. He had been held out by "coach's decision" the previous two games because of either injury or an eligibility problem with the NCAA.
After breaking his leg in the Northwood game a year ago, LaFreniere was granted a medical redshirt and sat out the year. However, he enrolled as a full-time student in the winter semester, which caused a problem with his eligibility.
In Division II athletics, students are allowed 10 semesters of eligibility. LaFreniere, who came to SVSU in 2000, had redshirted his freshman year. His full-time schedule in the winter put an end to his 10 semesters of eligibility.
The NCAA ruled in favor of SVSU in the matter, granting LaFreniere one more semester. If it had ruled against the University, SVSU would have had to forfeit the Aug. 27 win at Northwood, when LaFreniere caught four balls for 39 yards.
The Cardinals, 8-of-16 on third down conversions, were slowed in the second half by Hillsdale. SVSU totaled 330 yards in offense, but just 140 came after the half.
The Chargers, on the other hand, played much better in the second half after gaining just one first down in the first half.
The Chargers made a late charge towards the end zone with 47 seconds left and made it to the SVSU 22-yard line. The Cardinals broke up two pass attempts at the end zone to end the game.
The game began at 7 p.m., quite an adjustment for the Cardinals after playing three straight noon kickoffs to begin the season. Under the lights and playing on "field turf," Awrey felt his team adjusted well.
"They played great after driving three hours down there," he said. "It was a night game, and there were a lot of things to overcome."
The turf, which is made up of underneath fibers meant to simulate grass and grounded-up tires, is the same surface used at Ford Field in Detroit. Unlike artificial turf, which is more like carpet, field turf is uneven and more like grass. The Cardinals wore cleats on the field.
Awrey added that the defense adjusted to the field turf quicker than the offense did.
"The defense was able to just fly around and make plays, while the offense had to get its timing down," he explained. "Luckily no one got hurt. It was a little tough to get used to."
The experience will help next week, when the Cardinals travel to Indianapolis to play the Greyhounds. The game will start at 5 p.m., so the lights will be on once again.
"(The experience) helps," Awrey said. "You've got to remember that this was probably the first time for some of our guys playing under the lights. This is just more notch of experience under their belt."
Indy comes into the game 3-2 in the GLIAC after a 23-16 win at Wayne State. Even with the winning record, the Greyhounds have been outscored 98-73 in their five games.
Next week's game will be the beginning of the Cardinals' toughest month of games this season.
Following Indy will be the Homecoming game against 0-4 Mercyhurst, and then matchups at GVSU on Oct. 15 and Northern Michigan on Oct. 22. The Cardinals end the month with a Oct. 29 showdown at home against Michigan Tech.
Both GVSU and MTU figure to be undefeated by the time they meet the Cardinals, although Tech travels to Northwood Oct. 15.
Awrey is not letting any talk of a possible GLIAC championship get in the way of the game at Indy.
"Indianapolis is a great team," he said. "They are the most important game for us this week."