The football team is one win away from completing a turnaround that would secure a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. However, if the Bombers are to complete that turnaround, they will need their secondary to complete one of its own.
The Blue and Gold’s secondary made costly mistakes in consecutive losses to Buffalo State College and Frostburg State University, giving up five touchdowns on 26 pass completions in those two games and putting the team in a position in which it had to win its final three Empire 8 games to have a chance at making the playoffs.
The defensive backs’ struggles can be attributed to the lack of experience they have had playing with each other, with the entire group being first-time starters. Senior Sam Carney and junior Malik Morris saw limited time at cornerback last season, but have developed a chemistry that Morris said he believes comes from their differing skillsets.
“We’re two different types of players,” Morris said. “I feel like I’m more aggressive. I like to press more. Sam, I’d say, he has better technique. Just combined with that, who’s going to pass on us?”
On Nov. 1, Morris successfully held SUNY Brockport senior wide receiver Andrew Mrozek to 67 receiving yards, half of which came on one play, and sealed the game with a fourth quarter interception. Morris’ performance signifies an overall emergence among the Bomber secondary. After the Bomber front-seven stifled Salisbury University’s triple-option running offense on Oct. 25, the secondary only allowed four Sea Gull completions, and senior free safety Anthony Domenick recorded an interception.
Domenick also recorded an interception against the Golden Eagles, upping his total to three on the season. While he has interceptions in consecutive games, he and junior strong safety Noah Poskanzer have struggled this season defending plays over the top. It was Poskanzer who was beat on a 80-yard pass against Frostburg that allowed the Bobcats to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, a teaching moment in the eyes of head coach Mike Welch.
“It’s a learning process, and we learn from our mistakes,” Welch said. “Our players work hard and take pride in that. One thing about a defensive back is that they have to have short memories.”
Poskanzer, Domenick and Morris are third, fourth and fifth-leading tacklers on the team. They each have more than 20 solo tackles, proving their ability to make tackles in the open field. This will help the Bombers contain a St. John Fisher College passing offense that leads the Empire 8 with 23 touchdowns and averages more than nine yards per completion. To the secondary’s credit, they have only given up six passing touchdowns and have held opponents to under six yards per completion.
Morris and Carney are going to be tasked with containing the Cardinal’s top-two wide receivers in sophomore Mike Collchio and senior Nathan Nigolian. Collachio and Nigolian are one-two atop the Empire 8 leaderboard in touchdown receptions. They each average 15 yards per reception and can outmuscle their defender to make a catch downfield.
While containing Collachio and Nigolian is the primary task for the Bombers secondary, it will also be facing Cardinals senior quarterback Tyler Fenti, who threw his only interception of the season on Nov. 1. While part of Fenti’s efficiency comes from the Cardinals’ safe passing plays, he is still completing more than 66 percent of his passes. Poskanzer, the only member of the secondary without a takeaway, said if the Bomber defense wants to stop the Fenti-led offense, it will have to force takeaways. If it does, it will validate his claim that this secondary has emerged as a special bunch.
“We’ve come a long way,” Poskanzer said. “We’re all new. None of us started last year, but with the experience we’ve gone through, we definitely became something special, and it’s going to continue throughout the rest of the regular season.”