Tag Archives: CCSU football

Bittersweet Celebration Before Spring Game

By Brittany Burke

Coach Jeff McInerney poses with his NEC championship ring with most of his seniors that will be graduating this month. Photo: Kenny Barto.

Spring training has come and gone for the reigning Northeast Conference Champion CCSU Blue Devils football team. Beginning on April 1 with practices, the Blue Devils’ spring season came to a close, culminating in the annual Blue and White scrimmage game.

The day’s events included more than just a football game. The 2011 team captains were announced during half time, preceded by a performance from the CCSU dance team. The senior athletes taking over as Blue Devils captains are Brendan Brackett, Brian Fowler, Dominic Giampetro, Gunnar Jespersen and Gene Johnson.

While the new captains celebrated at the half, the entire team was able to rejoice as the NEC Championship rings were handed out on the 50-yard line. The first ring to be presented on the field was the one belonging to the belated Rich Royster. Royster’s ring was given to his parents by Head Coach Jeff McInerney, followed by the rest of the team.

Once awards and rings were handed out the game got underway. The eventful and productive game ended in a tie with a score of 31 all. The fact that the team was playing against one another didn’t stop McInerney, who oversaw both squads, from making the match interesting by putting out all the stops.

“Overall I felt really good about it, I always like these games to be tight and close and fun its boring if you come out and win 38-16,” said McInerney. “It’s just flat out boring. You got to see balls thrown around and people running for touchdowns. I am all about that, I am about putting on a show and so overall I thought good.”

Junior Kevin Woolfolk struck first for the blue team with a nine-yard run to put his team up 7-0. Woolfolk went on to be named the game’s most valuable player. By the end of regulation, Woolfolk had racked up 119-yards in eight carries, with three touchdowns. Following his initial touchdown, Woolfolk managed to find the endzone twice for back to back scores in the fourth quarter. In his last touchdown run Woolfolk ran for 48-yards to put the blue team in front 31-23.

“Kevin’s always been a great player,” said McInerney. “Kevin’s had some unfortunate things happen. He was a star in high school, he went to Trinity college, was an extremely talented player since he’s been here in the freshman year, played a little bit then he got hurt, then he came back, then he got hurt again…Kevin can play and he’s really, really, really good and he’s just got to get his confidence, this was the best medicine for him.”

In his second spring game as a Blue Devil, and last year’s game MVP, Jespersen was more comfortable with his line, which only comes with experience. The second year quarterback finished the game

Quarterback Gunnar Jespersen. Photo: Kenny Barto.

14-of-18 with 210-yards and a single touchdown.

“I threw the ball a lot less, but I felt more comfortable on the field. This year I know what I’m doing,” said Jespersen. “Last year I kind of felt like a deer in the headlights, they were signaling plays I didn’t know what they were calling, half the time I just let the receiver run and see where he’d go and throw him the ball late.

“This year we’re a little more fine tuned, like I said I feel more comfortable and that helps…Last year we put in a brand new offense this year’s our second year in the offense in the system so everyone has an idea of what we’re doing instead of trying to piece together a bunch of different position groups all at once.”

While Jespersen is next year’s starting quarterback, freshman quarterback Denzell Jones also had a big game, serving both as a quarterback and wide receiver. The 6-foot-6 rookie from Bloomfield completed five of his seven attempts for a total of 39-yards. His ground statistics proved to be better than the ones he gained in the air, as Jones ran for 63-yards, caught for 54-yards and took the ball in for a touchdown.

“Denzell Jones like to compete, he’s a Big East player at receiver he’s 6’6’’ and can run,” said McInerney. “I don’t know if he’d be a star in the Big East but he can play at that level and in this league he should be extremely, extremely good, and obviously you’re gonna see him make plays.

“I want him to be the quarterback here in ’12, he’s gonna be the quarterback here in ’12 …but we’re still trying to develop him on both sides to keep his horns sharpened at quarterback because I want the transition to be better than it was the last time.”

The offensive side of the ball was in sync, but like McInerney predicted prior to the game, the defense needs work, which is the opposite of last season. Despite only being a scrimmage, the defense allowed for 31 points by both teams.

Freshman kicker Steven Calitri also struggled on the field taking over for Joe Izzo, but McInerney has confidence in his young talent.

“We probably got about 16 defensive players that can play and are ready to play in a game,” said McInerney. “When you divide two teams out there you’re gonna have some guys who are just not ready to play at this time, but you don’t have to be, that’s why you have summer and 29 days of camp to get them cranked and ready to roll.”

The Blue Devils will have a small break to finish out the school year, but will pick things back up over the summer, before the team opens up at home against the Southern Connecticut State University Owls on Sept. 3 at 12 p.m.

Football Coach Optimistic Heading into Spring Game

By Brittany Burke

The competitive football season won’t begin until September, however, for the fans that can’t wait to get their football fix can attend the annual Blue Devils Blue and White Spring game.

The game, scheduled for Friday, April 29, is the first game for the team since its final home game in November. The yearly game serves a less competitive purpose, as the athletes put on the pads and take to the line against their own teammates.

“It’s really a chance for the players to demonstrate their skill level and to actually play a game,” said head football coach Jeff McInerney. “For some of them it’ll be their first game because they didn’t play last year and it’s really a big point of getting used to playing in games and how to approach the game.”

CCSU Blue Devil football has been back in action practicing on the field, and this game will serve as a way of testing new strategies before facing Southern Connecticut State University to kick off the season.

“I’m going to be looking at every individual…obviously a group cannot have a good play but a player can do well on his job, so just how they react, just getting to the grind in the spring and go out there and play and how they handle it because for some of them it’s a new experience,” said McInerney. “For the group it’s a whole different unit so you want to see how they react as one team, because we will have a blue and white team.”

With the departure of 18 seniors from the championship team, the new squad is facing a new regime, which is what the athletes have been working on in the spring practices. With Gunnar Jespersen returning to take the snaps behind center, the Blue Devils offense is more secure than it was going into the 2010 season. However, with a handful of defensive linemen and backs gone, the defensive side of the ball is up in the air. The position of kicker will also be looked at, as Joe Izzo wrapped ups his final season this year.

“We’re putting in a new defense, so we’ve been more aggressive and we’ve been installing like crazy, so I’ve been really pleased with that and on offense we’ve kind of sharpened our horns and we’re way further along,” said McInerney. “Last year we had some things on offense and were further along now on that side of the ball, where a year ago it was reversed, which happens quite a bit. Then in the kicking game, I think Steve Calitri has been doing fabulous as the punter and kicker in kick off, I’m very pleased with Steve.”

The spring game is an opportunity for the Blue Devils to throw everything out on the field as a way of seeing what works and what doesn’t before delving in to the rest of the spring season. It’s not as formal, but it gives the players a taste of the new things implemented, the fans a glimpse of what to expect and the coaches an outlet to test their new strategies, which is what McInerney plans to do.

“We’re gonna use it all, we’re not like a lot of people, I’m not hiding anything. We’re gonna go out there and hit it and get it, we’ve got to see how it looks. Some people limit things that they’ll do but I won’t do that. We’re not gonna hit the quarterback in the spring game, we won’t tackle the quarterback but everybody else will tackle,” said McInerney.

It is also a time to honor the past and future. The spring game will feature the celebration of the 2010 team, which currently serves as co-NEC champions, as well formally announcing which players will serve as captains for the 2011 season.

The Blue and White game will be held on Arute Field with a kickoff time scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

“[It will be a] beautiful spring day, they’re predicting sun and there’s nothing better than watching football, sitting in the stands, talking to your fellow students, classmates, coworkers, peers…it’s not like a regular game, you can come out for 20 minutes, just stop in say hi and enjoy the moment, there’s nothing like sitting in the football stands with the sun out.”

Football Schedule Released; Team Eyes Possible Three-peat

By Brittany Burke

Spring may be a time for baseball, with the cracking sound of the ball hitting the bat and homeruns, but with the release of the 2011-2012 football schedule and upcoming blue and white spring game, there can be nothing but football and touchdowns on the brain.

The Blue Devils will see action on Arute Field five times this upcoming season, including the scheduled opener. CCSU opens in the fall against non-conference opponents, but in-state rivals, the Southern Connecticut State University Owls, who haven’t played together since the 2007 season.

“I think overall it is an excellent schedule. Not only do we have our conference games, we have two excellent out of conference games against traditional FCS powerhouses, James Madison University and University of Massachusetts, which is good for our fans. That one’s on the road but it’s only an hour and a half away,” said Head Coach Jeff McInerney. “Then we get to play a traditional rival in Southern Connecticut which should be a lot of fun.”

The Division II Owls are set to take on the reigning Northeast Conference co-champions on Sept. 3. The Blue Devils are riding a 14 home-game win streak and are looking to continue the streak in the new season.

“You can never take [the win streak] for granted, we haven’t lost a home game in three years, but you can just never take it for granted you got to win your home games if you’re going to be a championship team and I think the guys feel comfortable, there’s a sense of tradition and I think that’s a big part of it,” said McInerney. “But the minute you think that just because you’re playing at home you’re going to win you make a grave error, because that just didn’t come easy. Those 14 straight wins did not come easy by any stretch of the imagination.”

The Owls are a division below the Football Championship Subdivision Blue Devils, but the last time the two teams met on Arute Field the competition drew in a crowd of 4,136. CCSU won the game 56-34 and are looking to do the same in the new meeting.

“Do I think it’s always good to play a former rival that’s a level below you, not always, you have nothing to gain if you lose, anything can happen in football, but I think it’s a good thing,” said McInerney.

SCSU gives the Blue Devils the imperative fifth home game, but tough play won’t begin until the following week. For game two, CCSU travels to Virginia to play James Madison University in their second non-conference game.

The Blue Devils’ have two tough non-NEC games scheduled for the new season. Midway through the season CCSU is set to travel to Amherst, Mass. to play the University of Massachusetts. Following a year in which the Blue Devils were named repeat champions, the two FCS football powerhouses will set a standard for CCSU to try and match.

However, two of the three Blue Devils’ losses came from non-conference opponents. Last year CCSU lost the season opener to the University of New Hampshire 33-3 and the game against Youngstown State 63-24.

Both of the non-conference road games have been scheduled to be part of two back-to-back road stints. The Blue Devils will play at JMU one week prior to playing Wagner on the road to begin NEC play. The same pattern is scheduled for CCSU two weeks later. Following two straight home games against Monmouth and Sacred Heart, the Blue Devils will travel to UMass and then Pittsburgh seven days later to play conference rivals Duquesne.

“[The road stint will] put a strain on [the team], but we’ve got to mix steel with fire and we’ve got to go down there to JMU, get used to the road, play against a team which is opening up their new stadium, there will be about 37,000 there, it’ll be a lot of fun for them. Then come back home, come back regroup, coach ‘em up and at least we’ll be ready for the next week,” McInerney said.

The CCSU football team will finish the season on the road against Bryant on Nov. 19, playing the final home game on Nov. 12 versus Robert Morris.

“A lot of close games is what I’m looking forward to. We’re trying to three-peat, we want to win the league outright and get the automatic bid but we also want a championship and I think it’s like every year, they’re always tough, it’s always a struggle and you got to get your team better and you’ve got to get your team better for the long haul,” said Coach McInerney.

Football season is still months away, but before the Blue Devils take on the Owls the team will play each other in the annual blue and white game on Friday April 29.

Uncertain Season Ends with NEC Co-Championship

By Brittany Burke

The win against St. Francis (PA) at Arute Field cemented the Blue Devils’ share of the NEC title, but it also capped off a hard-fought season and groundbreaking careers.

The final home game of the season was the last game for fifteen graduating senior members of the football team including captains Jeff Marino and Alondre Rush, transfer Everette Benjamin and place kicker Joe Izzo. For most of the graduating class, winning at home to secure another ring in front of a huge crowd is completely opposite from how they began their time at CCSU.

“Since I’ve been here, to see things change from the first year I’ve been here to my final year. I mean my first year, second year we were playing for a championship and there was no one in the stands and it’s amazing to see how the program changed four years down the road and there’s no better way to go out as a fifth year senior than on top,” said senior P.J. Borawski.

The Blue Devils began the season facing some major adversities. The reigning NEC outright champions had lost its two quarterbacks, and head coach Jeff McInerney and the offensive vouching staff were trying to create a top NEC quarterback out of junior college transfer Gunnar Jespersen.

“I remember telling [Sports Information Director] Tom Pincince and everybody, we’ll go as far as we develop our quarterback,” said McInerney. “We have to give Gunnar a tremendous amount of credit to make the transfer from junior college to college. He’s a fabulous, wonderful student coming up from that distance. He’s a good fit here, he’s a tough guy he represents us well.”

Gunnar finished his first season as a Blue Devil completing 145 of his 243 attempts with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions in eleven games. He was also the team’s second leading rusher, gaining 612 yards with a net gain of 495 yards.

Jespersen was ranked second behind fellow transfer Everette Benjamin. Benjamin had a lucrative career, not only transferring from Hofstra, but simultaneously making the switch from fullback to running back. Benjamin recorded 1,330 yards on the season, averaging 120 yards a game. Benjamin finished the season rushing for over 100 yards in eight games. The only times he was held to under 100 was during the team’s losses to the University of New Hampshire, Youngstown State and Robert Morris. Benjamin’s most productive game was against Bryant on Sept. 25 when he rushed for 188 yards.

With two major positions uncertain at the beginning of the season CCSU opened with a tough road game against nationally ranked New Hampshire, dropping the decision 33-3. The team managed to bounce back and take its home opener against Bentley before losing to Youngstown State the following week.

With NEC play picking up after the loss to YSU the Blue Devils remained undefeated until Nov. 6. The team fought hard and made some unbelievable comebacks, such as 30-27 overtime defeat of Albany and a 49-48 win over Monmouth, but Robert Morris was too much for the team. RMU handed CCSU its one and only NEC loss and with identical 7-1 records, the two teams would inevitably share the NEC title.

“I think we had a couple games that looked like football. The Sacred Heart game looked like football, the Wagner game looked like football and this game [St. Francis (PA)] looked like football. We had our moments in the Bryant game but it was good to see them and the coaches and the kids rally up and make some plays and gain some confidence,” said McInerney.

CCSU got major contributions from the returning defense and remained undefeated at home the entire season, increasing the home winning streak to 14, which is the third longest streak of its kind in the country.

The graduating class is saying goodbye with 30 wins and two conference championships. Ushering in a new era of football for the Blue Devils will be the 25 new seniors lead by a more comfortable Jespersen.

“Being a quarterback, it’s already kind of a leading position but we already had four or five senior captains ahead of me this year and15 seniors in the locker room leading and they did a great job,” said Jespersen. “I picked up a lot from them and it’s gonna help me lead the team next year…we have 25 seniors next year so I think my leading role is not gonna be as big of a deal. I’m going to be a leader regardless but I’m gonna have 24 other guys backing me up in that leading position and they’re gonna help push the whole team.”

CCSU may no longer be outright champions, but the title of co-champion only fuels the fire for the outright distinction in the 2011 season.

Season Finale Victory Gives Blue Devils Share of NEC Title

Blue Devils Extend Home Winning Streak To 14

The CCSU football team celebrates its share of the NEC title. Photo: Kenny Barto.

By Brittany Burke

For the second consecutive year in a row the Blue Devils football team was able to hold the NEC trophy up in the air and celebrate as champions

Following the 23-13 defeat of the St. Francis (PA) Red Flash CCSU was named co-NEC champions for the fourth time since 2004, sharing the title this year with the Robert Morris Colonials. The Blue Devils clinched the title in front of the home crowd on senior day, extending the home winning streak to 14, which is the third longest streak in the country.

“The players that have been on this team and played for this team in the past have a great winning record here,” said quarterback Gunnar Jespersen. “They love the atmosphere, the crowd’s good for the team, they help us out in the stands and just to be on your home turf, to be on your home field and just feel comfortable before the game even begins helps the comfort level of everything on the field you don’t stress about the little things you just go out and play football like you do every day in practice.”

The day began with a ceremony celebrating the team’s 15 graduating seniors, including running back Everette Benjamin, kicker Joe Izzo and captains Jeff Marino, Alondre Rush and Mike Allison.

“The defense got together before the game and me and the captains, me, Rush and D [Dominique] Rose, we got everyone together and said, ‘You know what? This is the last game we’re gonna be playing together, last game at home with everybody’ and we pretty much ending our careers so we got to do it we got to come out big come out punch them in the mouth and keep them down,” said Marino.

Everette Benjamin ran for 117 yards on Saturday. Photo: Kenny Barto.

The Blue Devils struck first against the Red Flash with a 20-yard touchdown run made by Jespersen, resulting in a quick six points and the lead. Jespersen struck again two drives later with a one-yard run.

“In a game like this you’ve got to come out with a lot of intensity you know the offensive line was coming out blocking well in the beginning, we had a pretty good running game going we were catching passes,” said Jespersen. “In a game like this you need to put points up early to give you that comfort and just gives you something to work with, it brings the other team down and helps with the victory.”

Jespersen completed 15 of his 27 passes for 199 yards with one interception, while also rushing for 50 yards.

“You’ve got to give credit to Gunnar Jespersen,” said PJ Borawski. “He’s in my mind the MVP of the offense the way he carried this team throughout the season. It’s like day and night from week one. Watching our offense in week one, I mean it was like ‘Wow it’s gonna be a long season,’ and these coaches, these coaches worked really hard to make us better and like I said here we are championship game.”

Despite the two failed extra point attempts by the Blue Devils, it was clear that the team thrived on Arute Field and had control of the game from the opening drive.

The CCSU offense managed to score 23 unanswered points against the Red Flash defense, gaining 415 yards compared to the St. Francis (PA) offense, who managed to acquire 217 yards, most coming in the final quarter.

The Blue Devils have consistently preached that it is the offense that wins the games, but the defense that earns the championships and nothing exemplified this notion like the final game of the season.

The Red Flash was shut out until the fourth quarter when the team went in for two touchdowns, with a failed two-point conversion. At the end of the first the CCSU defensive line had managed to hold St. Francis (PA) to negative three passing yards, one first down and six yards in 14 plays.

The Blue Devils came out complacent in the second half, getting comfortable with the lead, but managed to pull through in the clutch for the win.

Benjamin exploded in the second half, finishing his last game as a Blue Devil with 117 yards, while fellow senior Josue Paul caught eight passes for 105 yards.

“We try to make every team and make it the best that it can be whatever that is,” said Head Coach Jeff McInerney. “Did I think in the beginning that this team could be a championship team? Eh. Watch practice and it always got better and they’re always resilient, they never get down on themselves, they never look at the score board and they practice and when you can do those things you’ve got a chance for greatness.”

The Blue Devils entered the 2010 season with the targets on their backs as defending NEC outright champions. As the year progressed the teams fought the odds by going 8-3 with a new quarterback and team chemistry and in the end were named co-NEC champion, which only gives CCSU more motivation to be the outright champions again next season.