All the off-the-field issues have been taken care of and the coaching staff and team couldn‚??t be more ready to play a game.
Yes, it‚??s finally arrived.
After nearly two years of planning, and the only ‚??football‚?Ě being played at Misericordia being soccer the last several years, the Cougars football team will take the field at Gettysburg College for its first football game in school history.
‚??I think they‚??re anxious to play the game because we haven‚??t had a chance to hit anybody,‚?Ě Cougars coach Mark Ross said. ‚??They are very mature and have had a very mature approach at practice all week.‚?Ě
When Saturday arrives, Ross will be making his head coaching debut after spending 19 months on the job and previously being assistant coach at Ithaca. He doesn‚??t know what kind of emotions to expect in the moments leading up to the game, but knows once the opening whistle sounds all the hoopla will be taking a back seat.
‚??It‚??s obviously a different setting than I‚??ve been in before. There‚??s a lot of excitement here on campus so you won‚??t be able to dodge it,‚?Ě Ross said. ‚??That stuff is on the outside, just have to block it out and focus on the task at hand.‚?Ě
The job the Cougars have will be dealing with the Bullets, who are coming off a 6-4 season and averaged 34.4 points per game playing in the Centennial Conference. They possess a high-powered offense, which tallied 460.9 yards per game ‚?? good for 11th in all of Division III ‚?? and scored at least 40 points on five occasions last year. Six starters are back from its spread wing offense.
Even though the Bullets return a 1,000-yard receiver from a year ago, their strength is running the football. They averaged 225.4 yards per game, which outrushed the second-best team in the Centennial by 45 yards per game. Their top offensive player is senior tailback and punt returner Ted Delia, who ran for 1,071 yards and is a D3 Senior Classic Preseason All-American honorable mention as a punt returner. As a return man, he averaged 25.9 yards per punt return and had three touchdowns in 2011.
The Cougars will look to slow down the potent offense with their multiple 3-4 defensive scheme.
‚??They like to go very fast so that‚??s going to be a challenge for our kids to adapt to the speed that they play. If you don‚??t do that it‚??s hard to mimic,‚?Ě Ross noted. ‚??They have high expectations and based on the improvements they made; it will be a challenge.‚?Ě
At midweek, Ross was still evaluating his players and was unsettled on his starters in the backfield. Regardless of who gets the starting nod, the coach expects all the players on his 79-man roster to contribute not only this week but every week in some way, which should benefit the team a number of ways on a weekly basis.
‚??I‚??ve always believed that your strength is in numbers; nobody on the team has not given it their best,‚?Ě Ross added. ‚??Certainly some guys‚?? performance level dictates a little more time on the field than others, but it‚??s going to be a hot day and with all the adrenaline and excitement of the first game we‚??re going to need to use bodies so that we can stay in it for 60 minutes and not be out of gas come halftime.‚?Ě
Another aspect Misericordia may have in its favor is that for the first few games opponents won‚??t know what to expect from the first-year team because of film and scouting unavailable.
‚??I don‚??t know how much of an advantage it is just because we don‚??t have the experience they have,‚?Ě the coach said. ‚??Not just playing the game but what to expect, but hopefully that will tilt it back a little bit to our way.‚?Ě
No matter what the outcome, the Cougars players will make memories for themselves by making history and being part of a unique experience.