Lafayette stands at the goal line to beat Sacred Heart for Coach Troxell’s first win

Freshman+quarterback+Ryan+Schuster+drops+back+and+runs+away+from+the+rush+during+the+Leopards+6-0+win+over+Sacred+Heart.+%28Photo+by+Rick+Smith+for+GoLeopards%29

Freshman quarterback Ryan Schuster drops back and runs away from the rush during the Leopard’s 6-0 win over Sacred Heart. (Photo by Rick Smith for GoLeopards)

In their first game with native son John Troxell ’94 as head coach, the football team (1-0 overall, 0-0 conference) hung on to beat the Sacred Heart Pioneers 6-0 in a defensive showcase on Saturday.

The teams came into the game on completely different trajectories. Lafayette showed up after only one winning season in the last five years, which came from the make-up spring season of 2021 in which they went 2-1. Sacred Heart on the other hand has won the Northeast Conference, which is thought to be similar competition to the Patriot League, in consecutive seasons.

Despite the odds, the Leopards remained undaunted. It was clear from the opening kickoff that Lafayette was going to do their best to compete. Freshman running back Jamar Curtis returned the opening kickoff 68 yards.

The defense set the tone by forcing a punt on Sacred Heart’s first drive and following that by recovering a fumble on the next drive.

“The new staff really preached on going 1-0 every day in practice,” sophomore safety Saiku White said. “So, it’s all about what we need to win that play or drive and that will eventually chalk up to a ‘W.’”

The offense, however, was not able to capitalize and the first quarter ended with the score remaining tied at zero.

“Knowing the offense was struggling, it put a chip on our shoulder to succeed the way we did,” White said. “Just blessed to be back out on the field battling with my brothers.”

White was named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career after notching 11 tackles and a fumble recovery.

Both defenses continued to wreak havoc as Lafayette’s offense, led by freshman Ryan Schuster, and Sacred Heart’s struggled to move the ball. This was all the more impressive for the Leopards’ defense as senior running back Malik Grant – the Northeast Conference’s Offensive Player of year and third team FCS All American – was held to just 46 yards on 21 carries.

Towards the end of the first half, the Pioneers looked to be stringing together a drive until senior outside linebacker Malik Hamm brought down senior quarterback Marquez McCray for a sack. Not only did that sack keep the score tied going into halftime, it also placed Hamm in sole possession of the Lafayette’s all-time sack record.

Sacred Heart received the opening kickoff in the second half and quickly was forced to punt with Lafayette’s defense pulling through yet again. However, the Pioneers ended up shanking the punt, which set senior wide receiver Joey Gillette up for a 22-yard punt return that gave Lafayette’s offense the best field position they had all day.

Three plays later, Schuster dropped back from the Sacred Heart 11-yard line and began to scramble after the play broke down. Spinning off a tackler, the quarterback leaped into the endzone for the go-ahead score. They could not covert on the extra point, however, which would loom large as the game went on.

“We went into the game knowing it was going to be a dogfight, and that [Sacred Heart] wouldn’t quit at all, and we couldn’t and wouldn’t quit either,” White said.

The defense continued to hold up down the stretch, but the offense could not get anything else going. Schuster ended his day by completing eight of his 15 passes for only eight yards and two interceptions, running for an additional 34 yards. Senior running back Jaden Sutton added another 43 yards on the ground.

The game’s intrigue began to ramp up with 2:06 left in the fourth quarter when the Pioneers got one final opportunity. McCray moved the ball easily, slicing Lafayette’s defense for 50 yards in just a minute of game time. However, Lafayette’s defense bared down and forced a fourth and four with 21 yards to go.

In one of the best plays of the day, McCray threw it over the middle to senior wide receiver Rob DiNota for a 20-yard gain, getting the ball all the way down to the Lafayette one yard line with 12 seconds to go. Sacred Heart then tried two passes from the one-yard line, but they came up short, forcing a third down with three seconds to go.

Lafayette then took a time out before what would be the final play of the game. Sacred Heart gave it to their star running back, hoping for the game-tying score. However, White and senior linebacker Billy Shaeffer came up with the stop, hitting Grant behind the line. After a quick review, the play stood as called to solidify the Lafayette win.

“I believe it is a testament to what one of our steadfast beliefs are, which is, ‘good things happen when you run to the ball’. When you have nine, ten, 11 people to the ball, that is the sign of a great defense, and I think that is what we are evolving to,” White said.

After this huge win, the Leopards will now look towards their match against Temple University – a Football Bowl Subdivision foe who plays at Lincoln Financial Field, the same stadium that the Philadelphia Eagles plays in. Kickoff will be at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

“It will be a challenge playing against Temple for sure,” White said. “But it is a challenge that we are excited and ready to take on.”