FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Trailing 7-0 at the half, the Sacred Heart football team put on an inspired second half effort, scoring 41 unanswered points to topple Wagner, 41-7, from Campus Field on Saturday afternoon. A third straight league win pushes SHU to 6-4 overall and 4-2 in Northeast Conference play while the Seahawks fall back to 1-9 overall and 1-4 in the conference.
An all-around terrific team performance, the Pioneers snagged four interceptions and recovered four fumbles for a record-setting eight takeaway performance. The eight takeaways for SHU matched a school Div. I record (since 1999) as the only other time the Pioneers forced eight takeaways in a single-game came on Oct. 10, 2015 in a 26-13 road win at Robert Morris. The four-INT total is tied for the fourth-highest single-game total in program history while four fumble recoveries is tied for the second-most in school history.
Today belonged to SHU �� pic.twitter.com/FTCvBmE1M6— SHU Football (@SHU__Football) November 9, 2019
Included in the eight takeaways was a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns as SS Noah Provenzano returned one of his two picks on the day, 59 yards for a touchdown. Provenzano's second career pick-six came at a big time in the game as the score gave SHU a 17-7 lead with 4:29 left in the third quarter. Provenzano, who led the Pioneers with two INTs last season, recorded his first multi-INT game of his career as he now has three on the season. CB Shawn Ramcheran capped the scoring with his first career defensive touchdown, returning the fourth INT of the day for SHU back 41 yards for the score. Ramcheran is tied with Provenzano for the team-lead in interceptions with three.
Other standouts on the defensive end included LB Mike Wilen, who recovered two of the four fumbles lost on the day for Wagner. DB Shamere Collins was a ball-hawk in the first half, forcing a fumble that was recovered by LB Chris Outterbridge on the first Seahawk drive of the game. Collins later intercepted his first pass late in the first quarter as the sophomore forced two turnovers. LB CJ LaFragola punched out an Ahmad Lyons kick return in the second half, handing the ball back to SHU who punched home a touchdown that gave the Pioneers their first lead of the game.
Leading the SHU offense on the day was RB Julius Chestnut who extended his FCS-leading rushing total with 116 on the day to give him 1224 for the season through 10 games. Chestnut's seventh 100+ yard performance of the season came on 27 carries while he also punched two rushes home from inside the 5-yard line, giving him 10 total TD (eight rushing, two receiving) in 2019. Over his last two games, Chestnut has 67 carries for 319 yards (159.5 per game). Chestnut also stands just 63 yards away from 2000 for his career as he'd become the first SHU running back in school history to reach the 2000 career rushing milestone in his first two seasons as a Pioneer.
Starting for the injured Logan Marchi, QB Marquez McCary posted a solid debut in his first career start as the sophomore finished 11-for-14 throwing for 105 yards with 1 TD and 0 INT. McCray also rushed 14 times for 38 yards as he played mistake-free football while tossing his first career score in his first career start.
First Quarter (Tied 0-0)
- Wagner dominated the possession in the opening quarter, holding the ball for nearly 11 minutes but the SHU defense came up big with two turnovers to hold the Seahawks scoreless
- The first came on the opening Wagner drive as Collins punched the ball out of the hands of QB Christian Alexander-Stevens which was recovered by Chris Outterbridge in Seahawk territory
- SHU's offense stalled despite great field position as a three-and-out led to a 41-yard field goal attempt from Dane Borges that was missed wide right
- Wagner proceeded to advance into SHU territory on their next possession but Collins made a great play on a 3rd-and-10 throw from Alexander-Stevens as he cut in front of the intended receiver and returned the takeaway 31 yards back into Seahawk territory
Second Quarter (7-0 Wagner)
- SHU's offense continued to sputter in the second quarter, setting the stage for Wagner who broke through with the game's first score
- That touchdown came on a 12-play, 76-yard drive as Wagner broke through on an Alexander-Stevens 5-yard pass to Noah Ellison on 4th-and-goal
- The Pioneer offense put together their most-productive drive of the first half late in the quarter, going 28 yards down the field and crossing midfield for just the second time but the NEC's career sack leader Cameron Gill snuffed out a 3rd-and-2 play as SHU was forced to punt the ball away to end the first half
Third Quarter (17-7 SHU)
- The SHU defense allowed nine total yards of offense for Wagner as the halftime adjustments paid huge dividends for the Pioneers
- After struggling on offense for the first 30 minutes, SHU put together a successful 11-play, 62-yard scoring drive that resulted in a career-long 35-yard field goal for Borges as the Pioneers got on the board, trailing 7-3
- In that 11-play drive was a huge 3rd-and-12 conversion in which McCray lofted up a 25-yard pass to WR Naseim Brantley who hauled down the catch at the Wagner 23-yard line, setting the Pioneers up for the Borges 35-yarder
- A game-changing sequence followed as LaFragola forced a fumble on the ensuing Wagner kick return, as the loose ball was recovered by Wilen at the Seahawk 25-yard line
- After converting on a 3rd-and-1 rush, Chestnut capped the 7-play drive (all of which were running plays for SHU) with a 1-yard punch-in on 4th-and-goal as the Pioneers had their first TD of the day
- Just three plays later, Alexander-Stevens' pass in traffic was deflected in the air by LB Aliem Shaw and ultimately intercepted by Provenzano who sprinted 59 yards in for the end zone as suddenly SHU led 17-7 late in the quarter
Fourth Quarter (41-7 SHU)
- The Pioneer onslaught continued from the third into the fourth as another scoring drive ending in a Chestnut touchdown run had SHU ahead 24-7
- DT Noel Hijazi was in the right place at the right time as a fumbled Wagner snap resulted in another takeaway for the SHU defense, setting the Pioneer offense up for a third straight touchdown, this time with McCray's first career TD pass going to WR Tyrese Chambers on a fade route at the left side of the end zone
- Yet another Wagner turnover nearly led to another defensive touchdown as Justice Stewart coughed up a reception with Wilen scooping up the loose ball and returning the takeaway all the way to the Wagner 10-yard line
- Borges booted another field goal through the uprights, this time from 22 yards out, as SHU led 34-7
- One more score capped the day as Wagner's backup QB Ryan Yost was picked off by Ramcheran who took the turnover 41 yards to the end zone as the second defensive score of the day for SHU made it 41-7
TD PIONEERS ‼️— SHU Football (@SHU__Football) November 9, 2019
McCray lofts one up to Chambers who hauls in the 9-yard touchdown ��
�� 1st career TD for Marquez and number 7⃣ for Chambers on the season pic.twitter.com/GEsIGmPTHo
- Coming into the game with 13 takeaways (seven INT, six FR) through the first nine games of the season, SHU matched the program's Div. I record with eight takeaways (four INT, four FR) through the course of play
- SHU's four interceptions are tied for the fourth-most in the school's Div. I history, as the Pioneers have three games with 5 INTs since joining the Div. I ranks in 1999
- The last time SHU finished with four or more INTs came back on Nov. 14, 2015 when the Pioeners picked Bryant off five times
- SHU's four fumble recoveries is the second-most for the program since elevating to the Div. I level, falling just short of the school record of five which came in a game at Iona on Oct. 27, 2001
- Leading the nation in rushing heading into play, Chestnut was the catalyst on offense throughout the game as he carried 27 times for 116 yards and 2 TD
- Heading into play with 1,108 rushing yards (123.1 per game), Chestnut's FCS-leading total is now up to 1,224 through 10 games on the season as he's now averaging 122.4 rushing yards per contest (third-most in FCS)
- Head Coach Mark Nofri earned his 50th career victory in the 41-7 triumph over Wagner, giving him a career mark of 50-40
- Coach Nofri is already the all-time winningest head coach in program history while he ranks fifth among active head coaches in victories at the FCS level with eight seasons or less at the helm of their current institution
- Playing for the first time this season without Marchi at QB, McCray stepped in and engineered the SHU offense to a turnover-free afternoon going up against a unit led by two-time defending NEC Defensive Player of the Year and the NEC's all-time sack leader in Cameron Gill
- Chambers continues to produce as the leading receiver for SHU as his four catches for 41 yards and 1 TD led all players on the day
- Chambers now had 40 receptions on the season for 680 yards and seven TD
- FS Jayden Jordan led the SHU defense with seven tackles while the Pioneers combined for 5 tackles for loss
The Pioneers play their final home game of the season next Saturday as SHU hosts Lehigh at 12 PM. The final non-conference game of the 2019 season also serves as Senior Day for the Pioneers as all players will be honored prior to the start of play.