BRIDGEWATER, Va. - The start of the 2013 season is just around the corner for the Bridgewater Eagles football team as they finish preparations for the season opener on Saturday against the visiting St. Vincent Bearcats.
In each of the past three seasons, the Eagles and Bearcats have locked up on the gridiron to open the regular season with Bridgewater reigning supreme each time.
Last season, Bridgewater traveled to Chuck Noll Field in Latrobe, Pa. and after a scoreless first half, junior quarterback Willie Logan threw two touchdown passes in the third quarter to get the offense rolling before rushing for an additional score in the fourth quarter as the Eagles earned a 23-7 victory over St. Vincent in the season opener. The win for the Eagles was their seventh straight to open a new season.
Bridgewater's victory in the 2012 season opener helped propel the program to a 7-3 season, while the loss for the Bearcats was the first in a winless campaign.
Aside from team related concerns, the Eagles will also be competing at home for the first time on a turf field after the Jopson Athletic Complex underwent a multitude of changes during the offseason. The College installed FieldTurf at the complex and also fixed lights in each corner of the field to allow for future night contests.
Logan, a senior, enters the 2013 season as the primary trigger man for the Eagles and will guide an offense with veteran returners at each of the skill positions.
On the edges, the Eagles return all but one of their top 10 receivers from a season ago, including Shawn Lee, John Lezcano and Jayme Perry. At the tight ends post, the Eagles saw increased production from the unit last season and return a pair of talented veterans in 2012 leading receiver Michael Colee and senior Anthony Church. Colee and Lee both hauled in a team high 28 receptions last year.
Bridgewater's backfield is also bolstered by a number of veterans, with junior Jacob Wright returning after picking up All-Old Dominion Athletic Conference honors a year ago. Wright rushed for 701 yards and four scores to lead all running backs for the Eagles. Senior Nick Wimer also returns at the fullback position after becoming a dual rushing and receiving threat a year ago.
Bridgewater's offensive front will have to replace a few key components in assistant coach Scott Lemn's third season at the helm of the group. Despite the unit's losses, the Eagles do return all-conference first teamer Kyle Keister and senior Joshua Giusto to help lead the offensive linemen into the 2013 campaign.
Flipping to the defensive side of the coin, the Eagles have some key players to replace from a 2012 defense that was the best in the ODAC.
The Eagles welcome back defensive end John Brilliant after the Purcellville, Va. native ranked second on the team last year with two-and-a-half sacks. The remainder of the front-line unit will have new starters, but each brings plenty of game-day experience to the mix. On the opposite side of the line from Brilliant, junior Kenneth Szabo returns after seeing time in eight games and posting one sack. On the inside of the line, senior Dillon Meacham, junior Tyler Knight and sophomore Logan Whitaker will be looked upon to replace May graduates Joel Francis and Danny Grogg.
At the linebacker position, 2012 first team selection Andrew Palmer will return to the squad after leading the team in tackles a season ago. Junior Alex Collins will be looked upon to replace 2012 all-conference second teamer Salem Nganga at the post.
Finally the defensive umbrella of defensive coordinator Jack Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme returns in full after showing strong improvement a season ago.
Bridgewater's defensive backfield sees the return of a pair of all-conference players from last year, including first team All-ODAC choice Darrick Gore. Gore led the unit in tackles a year ago with 50, including eight for a loss. Sophomore cornerback Daniel Brent also returns after earning third team honors as a rookie. Juniors Sammy Coleman and Lucas Elliott also come back to the defensive umbrella, while sophomore James Winfield will return after seeing time in seven games a year ago and recording 33 total tackles.
For the Bearcats, a veteran group returns along the offensive front to help bolster a squad that returns 16 players from last year's team that dropped three games by a single score. Five players who earned All-Presidents Athletic Conference (PAC) honors last season return to the fold for the Bearcats for the 2013 campaign.
Despite returning last season's starting quarterback in Matt Deakins, the Bearcats will have a new trigger man to open the season after junior Andy Borgen won the quarterback job during preseason camp. Last season, Borgen completed 10-of-17 passes against the Eagles and proceeded to be replaced later in the season behind center. Deakins threw for 1,019 yards and seven scores last season after earning the starting job during week four.
On the ground, Ryan Crawford returns after rushing for three touchdowns in a split role a year ago.
On the receiving end, 2012 honorable mention All-PAC selection Matt Duffey returns after hauling in 42 passes for 477 yards and two touchdowns last season. The Bearcats will have to replace Ricky Douglas who was a thorn in Bridgewater's side a year ago in Latrobe hauling in five passes for 88 yards.
St. Vincent's core strength will come at a position that head coach Bob Colbert directed for a number of years at Bridgewater. The Bearcats' offensive line returns four starters, including 2012 first team All-PAC selection Darius McGhee. The 6-5, 270-pound tackle has started 21-straight games entering this afternoon's contest.
Defensively, the Bearcats have concerns along the defensive front as no starters return along the line of defensive coordinator John Thompson's multiple system.
The Bearcats return a pair of linebackers to the mix, including 2012 honorable mention All-PAC selection and leading tackler Renny LaRue-Holloman. Hollman returns after amassing 102 tackles a year ago, including 16 for a loss. Linebacker Nick Revis also returns to the fold for the Bearcats.
In the defensive backfield, the Bearcats welcome back three players including 2012 honorable mention All-PAC performer Darius Brown. Brown picked off a pair of passes a year ago to lead the team.
Finally, the Bearcats will return four specialists, including kicker Morgan Porter. St. Vincent will look to replace its punter as the new season gets underway.
The Eagles will be looking for their 43rd victory in the month of September under Clark and their eighth straight season opening victory when action kicks off on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Jopson Athletic Complex. For fans who are unable to attend, the game will be aired live on 95.5 WBOP FM in the Shenandoah Valley starting with the pregame show at 12:30 p.m. For fans outside of the area, a live video stream will be available at BridgewaterEagles.com.