WORCESTER, Mass. – No. 17 Assumption College looks to start its season strong when the Hounds and first-year head coach Andy McKenzie host Kutztown on Saturday at 1 pm in Multi-Sport Stadium.
A Quick Look Back
Assumption enters 2018 after tying a school record with an 11-2 record and winning nine straight games to open the year. The Hounds won the NE10 Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year. Assumption took down California (Pa.) in the opening round by a 40-31 margin and then scored five second-half touchdowns to oust Findlay 45-26 in the second round. In the NCAA Quarterfinals, the Hounds went back and forth with No. 3 Indiana, taking the lead in the final eight minutes before the Crimson Hawks scored with just 1:09 remaining to escape with the 27-22 victory.
Assumption: Balanced Offense
Last year Assumption relied on a balanced offense to average 43.4 points per game and surpass 50 points and five different games – a single-season school record. The Hounds totaled 393.0 yards per game, with 226.7 coming through the air with 27 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. They averaged 166.3 on the ground, with 4.5 yards per rush and 28 touchdowns. The team converted on 40% of its third down attempts while registering 19.7 first downs per game and scoring on 57 of 61 red zone chances.
Assumption was dominant defensively last year, giving up just 11.7 points per game during the regular season, which ranked third in the nation. They Hounds finished the year allowing 15.5 points and 340.7 yards per game. The calling card of the defense was turnovers as they led the nation in turnover margin (1.77), turnovers gained (39) and interceptions (26). Assumption also finished fifth nationally in sacks with 45 and red zone defense (66.7%).
Last year behind a trio of all-conference players, Assumption had the best special teams unit in the nation. Cole Tracy, now kicking for LSU, led the nation with 27 field goals and totaled 148 points while senior Deonte Harris led the nation with eight return touchdowns and helped Assumption led the nation in punt return average. All-Conference punter Seamus Wallace returns after ranking third in the NE10 in punt average (39.4) and first in fair catches while only having one of his 56 punts result in a touchback. Transfer kicker Jacob Tondel will take over kicking duties this year after making 6 of 7 during his freshman year at AIC.
Assumption owns a 3-0 record against Kutztown, including a 31-28 victory on the road last year. Overall two of the three matchups have been decided by four or fewer points, as the Hounds won 41-37 in 2015 and then 45-21 at home in 2016. Last year was a back-and-forth contest as neither team ever led by more than seven points. Kutztown tied the game at 28-28 with nine minutes left and then missed a 43-yard field goal with 3:36 left that would have given them the lead. Assumption's final drive began with just 1:25 remaining. The team moved 34 yards to the Kutztown six-yard line, where Cole Tracy hit a 24-yard field goal for the three point lead with 18 seconds left. Marc Monks threw for 215 yards with two scores while Dylan Oxsen had 144 yards rushing and Ashton Grant caught 11 passes for 136 yards. For The Golden Bears, they managed just 118 passing yards but Craig Reynolds gashed the Hounds for 133 rushing yards and 335 all-purpose yards with two scores.
Kutztown: A Quick Look Back
The Golden Bears scored nearly 40 points per game last year on its way to an 8-3 record and 5-2 mark in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Eastern Division for a third-place finish. While the offense posted numbers among the program's best in its 100+ year history, the Golden Bear defense held teams to less than 20 points per game for the first time since 2001. Kutztown concluded its strong season by winning four of its last five, including a 42-34 victory over Slippery Rock to end the year on a high note.
Golden Bear Offense
This year Kutztown offense will likely revolved around all-purpose back Craig Reynolds. Though limited by injuries late in the season, he still finished with ten touchdowns and 1,127 all-purpose yards and 140.9 yards per game. In 2016, he rushed for 1,189 yards with 14 scores. Collin DiGalbo returns at quarterback after throwing for 1,976 yards and 19 touchdown, with four rushing TD's. His entire receiving corps returns in 2018, led by Conor Sullivan who had 37 catches for 470 yards and seven touchdowns. Kutztown also brings back three of its five starters on the offensive line.
The Golden Bears return eight starters on defense, including its leading tackler from a season ago in Tajier Jefferson who had 86 tackles, 12.5 TFL and four forced fumbles. As a whole they allowed fewer than ten points in five games while registering 27 sacks and picking off 18 passes. The team graduated both its defensive ends but have great experience in the defensive backfield. They return four starters, including First-Team All-PSAC teamer Ahkee Cox-Cowan and all-conference safety Jack Perry who had five interceptions and 52 tackles last season.
Assumption boasts a pair of veteran signal callers in Marc Monks and Cody Williams. Monks finished with 1,720 yards and 17 touchdowns despite missing two games to injury and was still named NE10 Second-Team All-Conference. Williams played in 12 games last year and saved his best for end of the year. In the second half against No. 3 Indiana in the NCAA Quarterfinals he went 9-for-14 for 101 yards while also rushing for 32 yards and leading two scoring drives.
The duo of Doug Santos and Khaleed Exum-Strong both had some impressive performances last year while combining for 865 yards on the ground and ten touchdowns. Exum-Strong averaged 7.1 yards per carry on the season and led the team with six rushes of at least 30 yards, while Santos had a pair runs over 30 yards.
Paving the Way
Assumption returns three players who started at least half of the team's games last year. Quentin Hall returns as a starter at left tackle for the third straight year, while Jason Rice will start at right tackle once again. Michael McDonald moves to center this year, while first-time starters Noah Brown and Darryl Valme will man both guard positions.
This season defenses will be focused on returning All-American Deonte Harris, who totaled 1,965 all-purpose yards, including 810 receiving yards and 17 total touchdowns in 2017. Senior Brandon Swain-Price joins him as a starter after recording 28 catches the past two seasons and will be expected to contribute, while Freddy Okito looks to break out as a sophomore. Tight end Kevin Falaki proved valuable in the red zone last year with 11 catches and two scores while Tighe Beck, Kyle Sonnie and Junior Oyaronbi will all push for play time at wide receiver.
Sacking the Competition
Assumption ranked fifth in the nation in sacks per game last year, and the team's top three lineman from last year all return. Ray Sarkodieh led the conference with 12.5 sacks to earn All-Region and NE10 Defensive Lineman of the Year honors. Joe Bruno was close behind him with 7.0 sacks as an All-Conference performer while senior Goran Krasic added 5.0 sacks to round out the trio. Elijah Riley, Trenton Wright, Jalen Johnson, Jason Flanagan and Egan Bachtell will provide depth.
Roaming the Field
This season the Hounds bring back their three starting linebackers from 2017 in Bryce Jacob, Levi Fancher and Kaleb Silva. Silva was a First-Team All-Conference selection, totaling 73 tackles with six tackles for a loss and 3.0 sacks, while Fancher was hampered by injuries but still was named All-Conference with 61 stops, 4.0 sacks and three pass break ups. Jacob, meanwhile, led the entire team with 93 tackles, while picking off a pass and registering 2.5 sacks. Antoine Williams, Jared Vargus and Jake Shetrawski will be expected to contribute as part of strong corp.
Last Line of Defense
A pair of starters return in Assumption's defensive backfield in Joe Kim and Carlins Platel. Kim was dominant as a safety last year, as he was named All-Conference while totaling 73 tackles, 6.5 stops for a loss, two forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown. Carlins Platel looks to build on a freshman season in which he made 41 tackles while intercepting three passes with eight pass breakups. Sophomore Jeremiah Edwards will be counted on at the other corner position, while senior Stephon Hill will serve as the free safety. Additionally, Ja'Quez Johnson, Keelan Thomas, Mason Spence and Mac Nkongchu will be counted on to slow down the opposition.