September 4th, 2019 8:00pm
It’s the time of year many of us have waited for—time to get a new season of Division II football underway. In less than 24 hours the opening games of the season will be playing out on football fields across the region. The football fields are in the best shape they will be all season long, so get over the evening prior and get some great shots to frame for the home or office. The tales of playoff wins a season ago and what almost was for so many ends now. Each team finds themselves tied for first, tied for last—a clean slate with a 0-0 record. Last year’s standings and this year’s projections are great for talking points, but the teams are ready to set the records straight.
One of the biggest preseason stories, and probably the biggest change to the PSAC landscape is the addition of my alma mater, Shepherd University, to the PSAC East. According to Google Maps, all but East Stroudsburg is within a 3-hour, 15-minute drive from Shepherd’s Campus—with the Warriors slightly exceeding that at 3-1/2 hours. In the Mountain East Conference, only Fairmont State was within that travel window. I am looking forward to the record-setting attendance at Shepherd-Shippensburg matchups in the near future.
For those who may not be aware, I’m kind of the new guy. I am new to covering the PSAC for the website—but not new to contributing for the website as I covered the Mountain East Conference over the past three years. I would like to thank Brandon for inviting me back and Zach for sharing the conference with me. Hopefully I make good use of their misguided faith!
I’m not a stranger to the PSAC. Following my first PSAC visit at Millersville in 1999 for a Shepherd playoff game, following Shepherd’s football program has led me to watch in-person at California, IUP, and Kutztown. I’ve also been on the campus of Bloomsburg for Debate/Forensics tournaments and Shippensburg for fantasy football drafts. I plan to add more to that list, but over the course of time.
I was excited about the opportunity to help cover the PSAC for the site, as well as nervous. I’ve admired the level of involvement among the message board’s participants with PSAC ties. The PSAC consistently took the top bill for message board activity within Super Region 1. That same passion however gave me some pause. As I covered the Mountain East Conference—some years better than others—I left my Shepherd bubble and learned to appreciate the talent throughout the entire conference. While I still followed the PSAC as it pertained to the bigger picture of Super Region 1 standings, naturally I had a more intimate knowledge of the teams and players within the MEC. This year I find myself as a novice once again, with a steep learning curve to learn the PSAC East with an established fan base watching with the glare of an educated critic.
But moving on to what matters, the teams of the PSAC-East ….
1. West Chester 6-0, 10-1
2. Kutztown 5-1, 9-2
3. Bloomsburg 4-2, 6-5
4. Shippensburg 3-3, 6-5
5. Millersville 2-4, 2-9
6. Lock Haven 1-5, 2-9
7. East Stroudsburg0-6, 2-9
1. West Chester
6. East Stroudsburg
8. Lock Haven
The Huskies enjoyed a period of great success just five to six years ago when they found themselves as divisional champs, conference champion and playoff participant. Entering his seventh season at the helm, coach Paul Darragh has not had a losing season. As a matter of fact, the Huskies have not had a losing season going as far back as 2009. Lately, the Huskies continue to be just a few wins shy of being atop the PSAC-East; with losses coming against the usual culprits Kutztown and West Chester. Interestingly enough, Lock Haven has bested the Huskies twice over the past three seasons as well. The Huskies also struggled against their cross-state opponents last year, going 0-3 against teams in the PSAC-West. Bloomsburg’s defense ranked second in the PSAC in Total Yards and Yards Per Game last year, and they only allowed one opponent to score more than 28 points last year. They do, however, lose two Eastern Division All-Conference defensive linemen so it will be interesting to see if they’re able to sustain that production this season.
Jimmy Terwilliger begins his stint as the Warriors head coach following the retirement of Denny Douds—who led the Warriors for 45 years. Terwilliger, an alum of East Stroudsburg and 2005 Harlon Hill winner, took over as the interim coach for the final two games of the 2018 season, closing that stint with a 23-17 win over Clarion in the season finale. The Warriors have been sliding in the wrong direction since 2013 when they finished the season 7-4. The Warriors’ defense ranked last in the PSAC, allowing 44+ points in six of their games last season—and will be a key to improving the team’s record going forward.
The Golden Bears have been heating up over the past three seasons. A 7-4 2016 season was followed up with an 8-3 record the following year. Currently, Kutztown is coming off of a 9-2 season and their first NCAA Division II postseason berth since 2011. Their offense ranked first in the PSAC in Yards Per Game, second in Total Offensive Yards—behind Slippery Rock who played three more games and tied for second with West Chester in Offensive Touchdowns with 56 on the season. While the Golden Bears lose Eastern Division All-Conference running back Craig Reynolds who had close to 1,300 yards of offense and 18 touchdowns, they have three Eastern Division All-Conference offensive linemen returning to protect the quarterback and open up the running lanes. Only twice did they score less than 32 points, and that happened against reigning PSAC champion West Chester and in the first round of the playoffs against Hillsdale. Kutztown looks to prove that their place in the conference doesn’t drop just because Shepherd’s a member of the division.
The Bald Eagles can put up some points. Both of their wins last season came in high-scoring shootouts. The first was a 44-41 win on the road at East Stroudsburg, and the second was a 50-48 win at Gannon. Despite those two games, Lock Haven only averaged 18 points per game last season while allowing opponents to score an average of 44 points per game. Two interesting games to watch come against Bloomsburg and East Stroudsburg. Sometimes a team just has penchant for playing certain opponents tough, and Lock Haven has defeated both of those teams twice over the past three seasons. Along with Millersville, Lock Haven averages less than three wins per season over the past three years, so the Bald Eagles have a lot of hard work ahead of them to turn PSAC fans into believers.
Millersville enters 2019 averaging less than three wins per season over the past three years. Last season the Marauders offensive production ranked last in the entire conference for Rushing Yards, Total Offensive Yards, Offensive Touchdowns and Yards Per Game. Millersville averaged under 50 yards per game with its rushing offense. Similar to Lock Haven, sometimes you just have another team’s number, and Millersville is currently undefeated against East Stroudsburg and Lock Haven over the past two seasons. But again, they have a lot of hard work and wins ahead of them to slowly make believers out of the rest of the conference.
The Rams begin their first season as a member of the PSAC. They are coming off a disappointing 7-3 season during which they lost the season opener against Notre Dame College, perennial MEC contender Fairmont State, and closed the season with a home loss against UVA-Wise. In fairness to the Rams, the loss to the Notre Dame Falcons ended up coming at the hands of the eventual Super Region 1 champions who gave Valdosta State a fit in the NCAA semi-final matchup. One bright spot came in the form of record-setting, freshman quarterback Tyson Bagent, a local talent from Martinsburg High School. This year Bagent will need the help of a newer receiving corps and an effective running game. Defensively the Rams seek to re-establish themselves as a shut-down unit. The Shepherd Rams will have to earn their way to the top of the division where the West Chester Golden Rams have planted their flag. Time will soon tell how the adjustments made by second-year coach Ernie McCook and Shepherd during the offseason prepares the team for the vast depth of tough competition in the both the division and conference as a whole. Then again, in years past the pundits believed Shepherd was done after the regular season when it was time to face the "real" competition only to have the Rams represent Super Region 1 in semi-final matchups.
The Raiders hope to erase the bad taste of a disappointing 6-5 season. While close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, it’s worth noting that when Shippensburg won, they did so convincingly yet when they lost, often times it was close. Their average win was by 24.5 points while their average loss was a 14-point margin. Only one of their six wins was within one score, while three of their five losses were. Shippensburg returns some powerful weapons on offense that include Eastern Division All-Conference Freshman of the Year, quarterback Brycen Mussina, and two of his favorite targets, Eastern Division All-Conference wide receivers Winston Eubanks and Josh Gontarek—Gontarek who was declared Offensive Player of the Year. Adding to the excitement for the Raiders this season is the renewed matchup against the Shepherd Rams and the packed houses that matchup will bring.
Reigning PSAC champions, the Golden Rams are coming off of two seasons making the NCAA Division II postseason, and they look to prove that they are the superior Rams in the PSAC. West Chester finished the regular season unscathed closing with a 33-10 victory over Slippery Rock in the conference championship. The Golden Rams had the stingiest defense in the PSAC last season with regard to Yards Allowed. They held opponents to no more than 24 points during the regular season—with teams only scoring more than 20 points three times in that span. The defense had four seniors who earned Eastern Division All-Conference honors, so time will tell how well they’re able to fill in those holes. At the moment though, the remaining seven teams in the division are looking up at West Chester with the guiding principle, “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”