Football faces must-win game

Photo courtesy of Ed Mailliard/alleghenysports.com

Broken records, position changes, and stingy defense have marked the fate of the Allegheny football team’s season, but Saturday’s matchup at Wabash will decide it, as the Gators need a win to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot.

 “To keep our season alive, we have to beat them,” said strong safety Sid Facaros, ’11. “Everybody is getting after it in practice, working hard and watching film. Everybody is taking [the game] very seriously.”

The Gators (5–2, 3–1) will most certainly need every bit of extra effort this week since they have fallen to the Little Giants (6–1, 4–0) the past three seasons, including last year’s 37–3 blowout at home.

“They’ve pounded us the past couple years, so we have a tough task at hand,” said quarterback TJ Salopek, ’11, who earned his second NCAC Offensive Player of the Week honor Saturday against Ohio Wesleyan. “We’re going to have to play our best game to beat them.”

Offensively, head coach Mark Matlak stressed that the game plan is to stay focused on their strengths, which means the Gators’ passing game will be the cornerstone of the offense this week.

“We may be looking to throw the ball a little more this week,” said Salopek. “The coaching staff thinks there are a couple holes that we can take advantage of.”

If the Gator offense performs anything like it did during the Homecoming game Saturday against Ohio Wesleyan, the team should find itself right in the thick of the battle against Wabash.

Salopek’s award-winning performance included three touchdowns, an 89 percent completion rate and a season-high 342 passing yards. Terry Hartford, ’11, was Salopek’s favorite target, reeling in eight catches for 71 yards and three touchdowns.

However, Salopek and company won’t be able to do much this Saturday unless the Gator defense can improve upon both last year’s 37–3 debacle against Wabash and Saturday’s breakdown in passing defense. Allegheny’s defense surrendered 406 passing yards against Ohio Wesleyan, including a second half in which Matlak said they could not stop them at all. 

“It was probably our poorest defensive effort of the year,” said Matlak. “I think it gets down to our foundation of hustling and working hard. We did not get that Saturday and had trouble stopping them, particularly in the second half.”

The amount of yards allowed coupled with OWU’s winless record has acted as a wakeup call for the Gator defense, which is now more focused for this week.

The task this week for the defense is developing a strategy to counter Wabash’s unconventional and reactionary technique to play calling. Instead of huddling, lining up and running the play, Facaros explained, the Little Giants line up and then look at their coach for a new call, which is based on how the defense lines up. To combat this, Allegheny hopes to turn the tables and play the sleuth.

“We have a couple defensive packages of lining up specifically no matter what, and playing the play no matter what they do,” Facaros said. “We want to create the illusion of playing a different call when really we are playing the same one.”

Going into the season, one of Matlak’s goals for the year was for the Gators to put themselves in the situation to compete for a playoff spot, and the team has done just that, culminating in Saturday’s game.

“We have to win our last three games [to remain in post season contention] but hey, we put ourselves in position to win our last three games, so I would hope that the guys are excited,” he said. “It makes it fun.”

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. and fans can see live stats, video, and audio of the must-win game for the Gators against Wabash via alleghenysports.com.