Preview: Football Finishes Up with Home Playoff Game

Thursday, November 15, 2012
 

Women’s basketball season preview

ECAC logo Frank Malandruccolo hopes to turn a rough beginning into a happy ending.

A senior co-captain on the Muhlenberg football team, Malandruccolo made his first varsity start at tackle in last year’s season opener at Delaware Valley – a team that would go on to finish the regular season undefeated and ranked sixth in Division III in total defense.

The Mules gained only 129 total yards and seven first downs in the game, a 10-9 overtime loss.

“It was definitely a learning experience,” said Malandruccolo. “They were really a good defense. It seemed like they had 12 players on the field with all the blitzes they brought. It was nerve-racking to say the least.”

Malandruccolo, who earlier this week was named to the All-Centennial Conference first team, and the Muhlenberg offense have come a long way since then. And on Saturday, the Mules will get a chance to reverse the memories of that tough loss when they host Delaware Valley in the ECAC South Atlantic Bowl game.

Kory Crichton
Junior linebacker Kory Crichton, pictured making a tackle in last year’s Delaware Valley game, leads the Mules with 88 tackles this season.
Muhlenberg, in the postseason for the ninth time in 13 years, comes in at 8-2 and the runner-up in the Centennial Conference. Delaware Valley, making its ninth postseason appearance in the last 10 seasons, is 7-3 and finished third in the Middle Atlantic Conference.

The teams have many similarities. Both feature stingy defenses that are ranked in the top 20 in Division III in fewest points allowed (the Aggies 16th and the Mules 19th). Delaware Valley also is sixth in pass efficiency defense and 11th in total defense, while Muhlenberg is 16th in sacks.

Both went into their regular-season finales with a shot at making the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies needed to beat undefeated Widener by at least 16 points but lost, 42-23. The Mules needed a win, which they got (45-7 at Moravian), and some help, which they didn’t.

Both bounced back from consecutive losses to reel off long winning streaks in which they dominated most of their opponents. Delaware Valley won seven in a row after an 0-2 start, and Muhlenberg enters the game with a five-game streak in which it has outscored opponents by an average of 40-18.

“It’s mostly hard work and learning from our mistakes,” said Malandruccolo in explaining the Mules’ current run. “We haven’t really made mistakes and shot ourselves in the foot. We’ve been able to put strings of good plays together, stay out of third-and-long, and that usually leads to points.“

Spencer Kane
Center Spencer Kane is one of three senior starters on the Mule offensive line.
The offense, which averaged 20.4 points and 354.8 yards over the first five games, has improved to the point where Muhlenberg is now averaging more than 30 points and 400 yards per game – something it has not done for an entire season since 2008. It all starts up front, where the entire offensive line has received one of the weekly awards from the coaching staff in two of the last three weeks. The Mules are averaging 230.4 rushing yards in their current five-game streak.

“We’re playing together as a unit, and we’ve definitely built chemistry over the year. We know what each other’s jobs are and we’ve done a good job of communicating,” said Malandruccolo. “On defense, if 10 people do the wrong thing and one makes a big play, it’s still a great play. On offense, you need all 11 people doing the right thing to be successful.“

The offense will face one of its biggest challenges of the season against the Aggies.

“They have a bunch of great players on defense,” noted Malandruccolo. “They are very physical and very active. They’re going to find a way to get to the ball, whether it’s past you or through you.”

The defense also will have its hands full with a balanced Aggie offense that is averaging more than 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing per game. But the Mules, and particularly the seniors, are ready to take the challenge head-on.

“It’s one last time to put on the shoulder pads and helmets,” said Malandruccolo. “It’s different from other sports where you can play after you graduate. In football, when your college career ends you don’t play anymore, unless it’s on Sundays.

“We’re looking to go out one more time in front of our home crowd, hopefully with a win to finish 9-2, especially in a playoff game with implications for the future.”