Sports

Seniors power football to fourth

Bruno secured its sixth straight winning season, but its middling record belied the team’s talent

By
Sports Staff Writer
Monday, December 2, 2013

A blowout win at Columbia put an exclamation point on an up-and-down season for the football team, which finished fourth in the Ivy League with a modest 6-4 overall record and 3-4 record against Ivy competitors.

The campaign featured high points, like a 27-0 drumming of defending league champion Penn and a perfect 3-0 record out of conference, but also included painful lows: The Bears blew double-digit leads to rivals Harvard and Princeton.

After a 5-2 start, which included an undefeated non-conference schedule as well as Ivy wins over Cornell and Penn, Bruno hit a rough stretch, dropping two close matches to Yale and Dartmouth before dominating Columbia in the season finale. The season was good enough to secure the Bears a sixth consecutive winning season, but the team still did not meet its preseason Ivy ranking and other expectations for the squad.

“Overall it was a great experience,” said defensive end and co-captain Michael Yules ’14. “We fought hard … but came out on the wrong side sometimes.”

 

Spooney-ful

After last season’s top three tailbacks graduated, many pointed to the running back position as a weakness for the Bears at the start of the season.

But by season’s end, Bruno’s starting running back was a unanimous All-Ivy selection and the league’s leading rusher. John Spooney ’14 wowed crowds with his game-changing speed and frustrated defenses with deceptive strength and toughness.

Spooney contributed to the running attack two years ago but took last season off to focus on his track career, which includes five conference sprint championships. When Spooney returned to the field this fall, Head Coach Phil Estes commented that his speedy back could “break open a ball game.” He was correct.

No game captured Spooney’s mastery better than the Nov. 2 contest at Brown Stadium against Penn. After just 17 minutes of play, Spooney eclipsed 200 yards rushing, including two touchdown scampers of more than 90 yards. And the Quaker defense was not alone in its inability to contain Spooney. The tailback averaged 130 yards per game on the ground and broke the century mark in every Ivy League game he played.

The squad may have finished in the middle of the pack in the Ivy League, but Bruno had the league’s most electrifying player in its backfield.

 

What if?

It is unusual for the fourth-place team to be as close to a championship as the Bears were this year.

A 3-4 conference record suggests mediocrity, but if a few plays went differently, Bruno might well have been hoisting a trophy this season. A few hypotheticals from Bruno’s losses show how close the team truly was.

What if Brown were not flagged for illegal procedure in the second quarter at Harvard Sept. 28? The penalty negated a first down that would have kept Bruno’s offense on the field with momentum and a 13-0 lead. Harvard scored on its ensuing drive, and the game turned.

What if receiver Jordan Evans ’14, who dropped only one pass all year, did not let a good pass from quarterback Patrick Donnelly ’13.5 go off his hands later in the second quarter of the Harvard game? A catch would have given Bruno a first down and some momentum in a tight 14-13 game. Instead, the ball ricocheted off Evans and into the arms of Crimson safety Jaron Wilson, who returned it for a touchdown. Harvard used the momentum to run away with a 41-23 victory.

What if Bruno elected to pass the ball on first down at its own 26-yard line in the third quarter of the matchup with Princeton? Instead, the team handed the ball to Spooney, who was injured on the run. Spooney did not play for the rest of the game, and the Bears offense went cold. When Spooney left, his team led 17-12, but without their top back, the offense did not score again. Princeton won 39-17.

What if the referees of the Brown-Yale game did not make a contested call of roughing the passer on Dan Giovacchini ’15 halfway through the fourth quarter? The game was tied at 17, and the penalty negated an interception by Xavier Russo ’15 that he returned to the Yale 22-yard line. If the interception were allowed to stand, All-Ivy kicker Alexander Norocea ’14 would have had little trouble kicking a go-ahead field goal, and Yale would not have had time for its last-minute touchdown that propelled them to a 24-17 win. After the game, Estes said the penalty “didn’t exist” on their film.

What if Donnelly threw the ball two feet lower to Brian Strachan ’14 on an out-route in the fourth quarter of the Senior Day matchup with Dartmouth? Donnelly, who completed almost two-thirds of his passes and uses out-routes as his bread and butter, threw a little too high for an open Strachan to catch on a fourth down in Dartmouth territory. If the ball were caught, the first down would have been converted and Bruno would have been knocking on the door to score a go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute remaining. The turnover allowed Dartmouth to sit on the ball and preserve a 24-21 win.

 

Seniority

Of the Bruno starters — 11 offensive, 11 defensive, one kicker and one punter — 21 of the 24 were in their final year with the program. The talented crop of seniors ended their collegiate careers with an impressive 26-14 record.

“They mean everything to me,” Estes said of the seniors on this year’s Senior Day.

The seniors leave behind some large shoes to fill at the skill positions.

Donnelly is a two-year starter at quarterback and finished second in the Ivy League in passing yards per game this season, improving from his third-place finish in the category last season. Spooney is arguably the league’s best player, and receivers Evans and Tellef Lundevall ’14 combined for 112 catches and 1,363 yards, more than 57 percent of the team’s total receiving yardage. Six of Bruno’s top eight receivers are seniors.

The offensive line was made up exclusively of seniors, including three All-Ivy selections — Cole Hooper ’14, Daniel Austin ’14 and Clayton Paino ’14. Often forgotten amid the highlights of Spooney and Donnelly, the front line played a major role in the team’s impressive statistics.

The defense started three non-seniors: Giovacchini, Russo and Ludovic Richardson ’16. But the unit, which allowed the fewest points in the Ivy League, will sorely miss star seniors as well. Defensive ends Yules and John Bumpus ’14 were nightmares for opposing quarterbacks, both finishing in the top five in the conference in sacks and earning All-Ivy selections.

Public address announcers struggled to pronounce Ade Oyalowo’s ’14 name after each of his tackles, but they received plenty of practice, as the senior linebacker finished second on the team in tackles and third in the league in tackles for loss. Finally, cornerback Emory Polley ’14 locked down opponents’ best receivers and nabbed six interceptions on his way to another All-Ivy performance.

As the decorated senior class bids the program adieu, Bruno will have a crop of new faces to carry on the winning tradition. Yules said he is optimistic the turnover will not hurt the program.

“The guys coming back next year will make a very strong push and learn from some lessons this season.”