It has been a rough start for Saint Vincent as the Bearcats are 0-4 for the first time since 2009 while also sinking to the bottom of the Presidents' Athletic Conference with an 0-2 record.
But coach Bob Colbert doesn't expect a repeat of '09, when the Bearcats finished 0-10. Instead, he believes this team could win a lot of games down the stretch if they execute better and continue to improve their fundamentals.
And that's why the Bearcats spent last week -- an open week -- getting healthy, working on fundamentals and letting some of reserves audition for starting jobs or at least increased playing time. Colbert is hopeful that approach last week will pay off in a big way Saturday when the Bearcats play host to Thiel in their homecoming game, and there are some reasons -- historical in nature -- to believe they will break their losing streak.
Saint Vincent has not lost after an open week the past two seasons and has won two in a row against Thiel and two in a row at homecoming. Thiel is a good opponent for the Bearcats because the Tomcats have lost 26 of their past 27 games. On the other hand, they nearly pulled off an upset against PAC-leading Waynesburg Saturday before losing, 20-19.
Robert Morris has had a tough start, but the Colonials got their first win of the season Saturday when they beat Lafayette, 31-28, at Joe Walton Stadium.
A number of players played huge roles in the win, including freshman cornerback Marcelis Branch, who forced a first-quarter fumble that was returned for a touchdown by teammate Mike Neilsen.
Branch, from Homestead, Fla., was named NEC rookie of the week after making 15 tackles, forcing that fumble and intercepting a pass.
IUP coach Curt Cignetti believes a great defense and strong running game are the foundations for success, and it is hard to argue with him.
The Red Hawks are 4-1, ranked in the top 25 in both polls (No. 21 in D2football.com poll, No. 22 in coaches poll) and, despite a conference loss, remain a threat to win the PSAC.
Not surprising, their formula for success has been play great defense and run the football.
IUP features Division II's leading rusher, Harvie Tuck, who averages 152.4 yards per game. The Red Hawks average 292 yards rushing per game, second best in the PSAC.
The defense leads NCAA Division II in scoring defense (allowing 7.8 points per game), is second in rush defense (37.75 yards per game) and third in total defense (211.6 ypg).
California, which beat IUP, 26-24, is the only team that has scored more than seven points against the Red Hawks, who have two shutouts.
Carnegie Mellon's homecoming is this weekend, and the Tartans will play host to Denison, but the game has a deeper meaning. That's because the team has dedicated the entire week to raising funds for breast cancer research in honor of the late Cindy Lackner, who died in August from breast cancer.
She was the wife of CMU's football coach Rich Lackner, and the game will be dedicated to her and called the "Cindy Lackner Memorial Football Game." Volleyball players will collect donations at the game and coordinate a raffle to raise funds for breast cancer research.
"This is a rare opportunity for us as a team to give back not only to coach Lackner but also to our community. Cindy left a lasting impression on the entire team over the years in so many ways. She always had a kind word after a tough loss, and you definitely could never find her without a smile," senior running back Jake Nardone said in a statement.
"This memorial game is our way of honoring her memory and also helping others who face similar struggles that she faced by raising money for breast cancer research. I know that we'll have great support over homecoming weekend for the event."
California lost to West Chester Saturday but remains the highest-ranked district team in Division II. The Vulcans are No. 15 in the D2football.com poll, No. 16 in the coaches poll. IUP is No. 21 and No. 22.
Waynesburg and W&J received votes in the Division III coaches poll and both, along with Carnegie Mellon, also earned votes in the D3football.com poll.
Youngstown State, No. 3 in both Division I-AA polls, visits No. 1 ranked and defending champion North Dakota State Saturday.