Claremont, Calif. - The Pomona-Pitzer Football team will open the 2014 season when it travels to Cambridge, Mass. to face MIT on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 12 noon (Eastern time).
The game will be a rematch of a dramatic season opener at Merritt Field a year ago, when the Engineers held on for a 28-26 win. Graduated senior wide receiver Duncan Hussey set a school record with four touchdown receptions in the contest, the last of which made the score 28-26 with less than 1:29 to play. However, the Sagehens were unable to convert the two-point conversion, and MIT was able to recover the onside kick hold on for the narrow victory.
Pomona-Pitzer will be playing the game at an usual 9 a.m. start time on the West Coast. The last time the Sagehens played in the Eastern time zone was when they traveled to face Oberlin in 2003 in Ohio. The last visit to the Northeast region came in 1997, when Pomona-Pitzer met Swarthmore outside of Philadelphia.
The Sagehens are looking forward to a potential breakthrough season this fall, as the team entered preseason with 60 players, one of the largest rosters in team history. A year ago, Pomona-Pitzer finished 2-7 with wins over La Verne and Whittier, and were within a single touchdown in three of its losses (MIT, Occidental and CMS).
Pomona-Pitzer does need to replace all four of its All-SCIAC selections as Hussey, left tackle Garret Bell, linebacker Kyle Roskamp and cornerback Weston Staubus all graduated. However, the Sagehens return eight starters on offense and seven on defense, and welcome an enormous class of 23 freshmen, several of whom will make an immediate impact.
Offensively, sophomore quarterback Alex Bresler took over the starting role early in the 2013 season as a freshman and finished the season with 1193 yards passing and six touchdowns. A two-way threat who can also carry the ball, Bresler ran for 332 yards and five touchdowns as well. The Sagehens didn't have much depth at quarterback to end last year and Bresler was able to avoid injury, but this year Pomona-Pitzer has several newcomers looking to compete for snaps, including sophomore Reggie Reed and freshmen Kevin Masini, Taylor Mensik and Luke Lowell.
Junior Brett Harper led the team in rushing last season with 453 yards, but is expected to move to wide receiver this year. A versatile offensive player, Harper has played quarterback, running back and wide receiver for the Sagehens. Fullback Grant Frazier will also move to the offensive line this year, which will open the door for some new faces to handle the load in the backfield. Junior Reese Gaines is the most experienced with two years in the program, while freshmen Errol Francis, Ryan Abele, and Aseal Birir will be in the hunt for carries.
Joining Harper at wide receiver amongst the returners will be seniors Guy Scherzer, Jordy Bank and Alistair Thompson, and junior Jack Pietrykowski. Senior Nicky LaCivita will convert to wide receiver from defensive back, while freshman Oliver Cornelius-Knudsen will be in the mix as well, in addition to seeing action at kicker.
The offensive line has four of its five starters back, led by senior center Jack Horstmann, who is in his fourth year as a starter and senior right tackle Trey Connet. Sophomore Colton Coss moved into the starting lineup midway through the season, and took over at center after Horstmann injured his hand, while sophomore Ian Schiffer started at right guard. Schiffer will move to tight end this season, though, while Frazier will move into his spot on the line. The Sagehens also added some size on the line in its freshman class as Nico Jaffe (6-2, 260), Zach McCort (6-3, 235), Nick Toro (6-3, 290) and Bobby Ciafullo (6-3, 270) will look to earn time in their first seasons, as will sophomore transfer Orlando Gannon.
Sean Mulcahy is the incumbent starter at tight end, and Schiffer will also play there this season to give the Sagehens some added offensive versatility. Connor Roberts, a defensive lineman last year, may also play tight end as well. while Alexander Birk will move from defense to offense and play fullback.
Defensively, Pomona-Pitzer has senior leaders at every position, with Brian Friel and Kyle Whalen on the defensive line, Matt O'Connor at linebacker, Don Swan at safety and Vince Morgan on cornerback. O'Connor is the top returning tackler with 72 last season (six for losses), while Swan led the SCIAC in tackles two years ago with 93 before playing with a cast on his hand much of last year.
Joining Friel and Whalen on the defensive line will be sophomores Sean Cremin and Charlie Fries and freshmen Paul Westcott and Blake Gunn. Sophomore Brian Rauzi is back at his outside linebacker position opposite O'Connor, but the two inside linebacker spots will need to be filled after the graduation of Roskamp and Nick Sbardellati. Juniors Sanders Windham and David Howell, sophomores Bulolo Jonga and Nick Urban, and freshmen Evan Lloyd, Austin Hart, Jacob Fowler, Zach Harris and Chris Papatheofanis will be in the hunt to earn playing time at linebacker.
At defensive back, Morgan increased his role at corner last season, while sophomore Isaac Richard III and Brandon Zemp played there as well after beginning the season as running backs. Junior Nelson Cole emerged as a regular at safety next to Swan and finished with 43 tackles. Sophomore Eric Montgomery also saw playing time as a rookie last year, and junior Andrew Kurtz will play safety this season after previously playing linebacker. New faces in the defensive backfield include Paris Atwater (son of former NFL defensive back Steve Atwater), Cameron Tyus, Will Latta, Adam Hinthorne, and Rory Taylor.
After facing MIT, the Sagehens will have a week off before their home opener against Rhodes College on Saturday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. Pomona-Pitzer will then open SCIAC play at home on Saturday, Oct. 4 against Redlands at 7 p.m.
MIT will offer a live video stream of the Pomona-Pitzer game. The link to the video feed is here and is also available on the Pomona-Pitzer schedule on Sagehens.com.