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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Sports

Offensive line builds early chemistry

When the football team took the field Saturday at Butterfield Stadium, there were several new faces on both sides of the ball. The South Hill squad, despite 11 new starters, turned in a 33–3 win against St. Lawrence University.

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The Bombers’ offense prepares for the snap in the team’s 33–3 win against St. Lawrence University Saturday at Butterfield Stadium. Four offensive linemen made their first career starts for the squad. ANDREW BURACZENSKI/THE ITHACAN

Even with senior co-captains and wide receivers Tom Vossler and Dan Ruffrage, tight end Dan Higgins, sophomore quarterback Jason Hendel, junior cornerback Spence White and graduate student strong safety Dave Ahonen missing Saturday for violating team rules, the game ended in the team’s favor. The Bombers’ running game, special teams and defense picked up the pace, accounting for all 33 points.

Of the 11 new starters, four made their first career starts on the
offensive line.

Junior right guard Gregory Peck, sophomores right tackle Pat Joyce and center Nathaniel Hemingway and freshman left tackle Pat Stephenson all made their first career starts for the Blue and Gold.

Hemingway said the line’s first priority is to get a feel of how they opperate as a unit.

“We knew a lot of people were going to doubt us,” Hemingway said. “But as a unit, we knew we could play and it took a half for us to relax and play football.”

Directed by new Assistant Coach Mike Hatcher, the offensive line stepped up in the second half, creating holes and giving senior quarterback Rob Zappia time to find open receivers.

Hatcher said the offensive line has been working to develop the chemistry needed to work as a group.

“Trying to get our offensive line consistent and bring them along in terms of the mental aspect of the game has been the toughest part of this offseason,” Hatcher said. “When you have to replace four guys, you’re trying to get a feel for each player’s strengths and weaknesses and bring them along together as a unit.”

Hatcher said it was the players’ strengths that allowed them to immediately impact the offense.

“We have some guys up front that are really good run blockers,” Hatcher said. “Some other guys who are really good athletes are more suited to pass blocking. It really gives us a good balance up front.”

Hatcher said seniors left tackle Leland King and left guard Rich Mallon have helped the younger players become more comfortable in their roles.

“They’ve really done a good job leading the younger guys and doing what veteran players are supposed to do,” Hatcher said.

The eight new offensive starters were the most ever under Bombers’ Head Coach Mike Welch.

With Vossler, Ruffrage, Higgins and Hendel returning to the lineup this weekend, Welch said there are no definite starters.

“Every week we look at the lineup and no one position is solidified,” he said. “We’ll come to our decision [at] the end of the week. No one’s position in the lineup is set in stone. We’re just taking each [game as it] comes right now.”

Welch said for his team to set out and accomplish its goals for the season, it must get solid play from the five players up front.

“It all starts with the offensive line,” Welch said. “With such a young line, we’re going to have to take it week to week and make adjustments based on what we see on film.”

With several new players contending for starting spots this season, Welch said the competition in practices helped the players develop more quickly than expected.

“Practice is practice,” Welch said. “But with so many guys fighting for starting spots, it’s pushed guys this offseason to really improve and compete for a starting spot.”

This young offensive line will look to benefit from more game time as the team returns to the field against Union College at 1 p.m. Saturday at Butterfield Stadium.