Allegheny Gators football team falls 28-14 to the Thiel Tomcats at season home opener

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AMASA SMITH/THE CAMPUS Nick Matic, ’17, misses a pass in the endzone and another oppurtunity to score.

ANASTASIA GEORGIADES, Staff Writer

The Allegheny Gators took on Thiel College for their home opener at Frank B. Fuhrer Field on Sat. Sept. 6, succumbing to the Tomcats 14-28. This year’s home opener was the first game played “under the lights.” While the loss to the Tomcats was not the start to the season the Gators were looking for, head coach Mark Matlak still holds high hopes for the upcoming season.

“This week is our off week, so we need to go back to fundamentals and executing assignments and techniques,” said Matlak. “We aren’t playing any games, so we need to focus on just that, fundamentals.”

Going into Saturday’s game, the Gators aimed their focuses on the individual aspects of the game: kicking, the defense, creating field position, and, importantly, the offense. Coming off of a loss, Matlak believes that improved execution on the offensive end and working on fundamentals against tackling on the defensive end will help improve the Gators’ game as a whole.

“There was lack of execution on both sides of the ball,” said Matlak. “In all phases we had a lot of missed assignments and decision errors on the offensive end which led to problems, and digging ourselves a pretty big hole.”

The end of the first half left the Gators scoreless, trailing Thiel 21-0. At halftime, Matlak led the Gators back into the field house to regroup. However, for Matlak, it is less about being inspirational, and more about being practical.

“I’m not an inspirational speech kinda guy, I focus on practicality,” said Matlak. “I told them what we needed to do to get back into the game, and that was increasing our execution. I don’t think it was what we were doing, but more of what we weren’t.”

The second half brought both excitement and execution to the Gators’ game, resulting in two touchdowns, scored by Jonathan Nigro, ’17, and Nick Deichler, ’16, and both extra points scored by Ben Ziolkowski, ’17.

Nigro, the starting quarterback against Thiel, expressed his excitement as a returning starter.

“It was so exciting to play in front of a packed stadium and see the student section filled and supporting us,” said Nigro. “That motivation really rallied us to get back into the game after the first half. As the quarterback, I need to be able to lead the team during the good times and the bad; I need to be there to celebrate in the end zone and to pick them back up after a missed play or a broken pass.“

In addition to his touchdown, Nigro credits the young talent on the team, spotlighting the linemen who played in Saturday’s game. Nick Murgo, ’18, led the team with an impressive eleven tackles for the night, despite having never played a college football game before.

Being a starting freshman has Murgo keeping level.

“I think it really puts the pressure on to make sure I prove myself not only to the coaches, but the players,” said Murgo. “I want their respect, because they’re giving me this privilege. It’s a lot of responsibility.”

Even though he led the team in tackles Saturday night, Murgo is not letting his good game get to his head.

“I wouldn’t say I had a great game,” said Murgo. “I had some high points and some low points, but for my first college game, I’d say I did alright.”

If there is one thing that Matlak, Nigro, and Murgo all have in common besides football, it is a positive perspective. Each believes that the key to the team’s success is focusing on what they do well and capitalizing on that, and revisiting the things that need work, and improving those. For Nigro, it is more than just the game.

“Overall, the character of the team is what matters and this team certainly has great character and drive,” said Nigro. “We are ready to do whatever is necessary to get better and win. We need to improve on the things we did well and eliminate the things we did poorly. It was a tough loss in front of that crowd and we don’t want that to happen again.”

Despite defeat early on in the season, the Gators plan to put the loss behind them, keeping a positive outlook on the rest of the season.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time,” said Matlak. “It’s about the process. We’ll work out the kinks over the next three days and really come out on top.”

The Gators will take on the Hiram College Terriers on Sat., Sept. 20 at Hiram College.