The Ithaca College football team finished out its season by defeating Salisbury University 27–17 in the Scotty Whitelaw Bowl on Nov. 18. The Bombers were down 17–7 going into the fourth quarter but scored 20 unanswered points in the final four minutes and three seconds of the game. This was their first postseason appearance since 2014 and their first postseason victory since 2013. The Bombers ended their year with an 8–3 record.
The win marked the end of Dan Swanstrom’s first season as head coach of the Blue and Gold. He coached a Bombers offense that averaged 28.8 points per game in the team’s last five games and 367.6 yards of total offense in those games.
Senior Writer Matt Hornick spoke with Swanstrom to reflect upon his first season on South Hill and his thoughts going forward as the Bombers’ head football coach.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Matt Hornick: What were your expectations going into the season, and how did the team’s performance reflect those expectations?
Dan Swanstrom: It’s so tough to get a grasp of where you are and where you’re headed, especially because of how different this team was in the past, both offensively and defensively. We didn’t know what was going to translate well for our players and what wouldn’t. We knew we had a lot of work to do, and we were really going to take it week by week. We didn’t really set any long–term expectations except to build on the team culture we are trying to build. Once we got a few games under our belt, we were actually able to set a standard of performance that we knew was achievable for our guys.
MH: What was your biggest surprise of the season?
DS: My biggest surprise was how bad we were in the red zone to start the year on both sides of the ball, and I’m glad we got that fixed. The offense did a nice job of moving the ball, but we weren’t finishing in the red zone, and defensively, every time the team got in the red zone early in the year, it ended in a touchdown.
MH: What was the most drastic change you saw throughout the season?
DS: Just overall consistency with the level of play — fewer wild ups and downs within the group and learning how to play in the moment. We aren’t where we want to be, but there was great improvement in our consistency.
MH: You were able to win a postseason game in your first year as head coach. Describe the feeling of winning that game, especially considering the comeback fashion with which you got it.
DS: All wins are great. We were excited because we beat a very good football team, a team that had only lost to playoff-caliber teams this year. We knew they were really good from what we had seen on film, and we knew stopping the triple option would be tough. It’s always rewarding to beat a quality opponent, and I was impressed with resiliency our guys showed.
MH: With your first season now over, what is your outlook for the team going forward after being so successful this season?
DS: We’ve won eight of our last nine games. We have an expectation now. We know what our guys are capable of doing, and we have a standard of performance now. We know our opponents a little bit better now, so our goal is to build on what we did this season and work to become a better football team and program. We want to continuously move in the direction of championship–level football.
MH: What do you think were the team’s biggest strengths and weaknesses this year?
DS: Defense was a tremendous strength of our team, and I don’t think we had any glaring weaknesses once we addressed the red zone struggles. We are going to continually work at being good at situational football in the red zone, on third and fourth downs and on special teams.
MH: Were there any individual players that stood out to you for their performance this season?
DS: What impressed me the most were the guys who had done a lot of different things within the program for a couple of years and had switched positions but never really played for us before I got here, and some of those guys became major contributors this year. Taylor Catz or Ben Kumph or Ryan Moody or Brad Helmkamp stood out to me for the impact they were able to have on the program this year.
MH: Do you have a most memorable moment from this season?
DS: When we ran the reverse flea-flicker in the Salisbury game on fourth down, that jump started us scoring 20 points in like three and a half minutes. That play seemed to be kind of a big play, but there are so many that it’s an impossible question to answer. Each game is its own entity with its own moment when the game is decided that it’s too difficult of a question to answer.
MH: The defense has eight seniors graduating this year. What are your expectations for the defense next year?
DS: My expectation is for them to be better. That’s college football. Guys are going to graduate every single year, and that’s not going to change.