BRIDGEWATER, Va. – After four years of tangling with St. Vincent in the season opener, the Bridgewater Eagles football team will do battle with Gettysburg College on Saturday in the first meeting between two very similar programs.
Last season, the Bullets finished the campaign with a 4-6 overall record, including a 3-6 mark in Centennial Conference play. Bridgewater is also coming off of a 4-6 season, but the Eagles picked up their lone victory in Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) play last year with a triumph over Emory & Henry.
Historically, the Eagles and Bullets have risen to national prominence. In the early part of the 21st century, the Eagles posted an unprecedented run of five straight ODAC titles and made six appearances in the NCAA Division III Playoffs. During that period, the Eagles reached the national title game and made two appearances in the national semifinals. The Bullets won three straight conference championships in the mid-1980s and also reached the national semifinals with an appearance in 1985.
When the contest kicks off on Saturday, more than 50 years of head coach experience will be on opposite sidelines as Gettysburg head coach Barry Streeter enters his 34th year at the helm of the Bullets program and Bridgewater head coach Michael Clark enters his 20th season in charge of the Eagles squad.
At the same time, one of the main questions for the Eagles from preseason will remain relatively unanswered as the Eagles gear up for the 2014 opener.
On Gettysburg's side of the ball, the quarterback situation is completely settled with a senior trigger man who has one year of full-time experience under his belt. When you flip to the Eagles side of the ball, two players with similar skill sets are primed to make a case for the starting job.
The Bullets return senior Zach Miller for his second season in command of the Gettysburg Spread Wing attack. Last season, Miller posted one of the best individual single-season efforts in school history. His 178 completions, 2,486 passing yards, and 2,789 yards of total offense were all the second-best marks in school history. He tossed 15 touchdowns against just six interceptions and he led the Centennial Conference in passing yardage at 248.6 per game.
For the Eagles, a shortened preseason camp didn't produce a clear-cut starting quarterback. Junior Ross Rushing was the backup quarterback to Willie Logan a season ago and comes in with the most playing time in terms of game day snaps. Fellow junior Matthew Pisarcik also saw limited playing time a year ago, completing just four passes in two games. When kick-off rolls around on Saturday, both Rushing and Pisarcik will see time behind center in a predetermined number of series.
Bridgewater returns a solid group of upperclassmen at the offensive skill positions with Jacob Wright leading the way as the premiere tailback in the Eagles' Multiple-I system. Last season, Wright earned All-ODAC accolades after rushing for 743 yards and eight touchdowns.
Defensively the Eagles return eight starters, including three All-ODAC performers and the entire defensive umbrella, to defensive coordinator Jack Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme.
Kenneth Szabo, Logan Whitaker and Nick Cawthon return to the defensive front after solid seasons last year. Cawthon is the returning statistical leader in the group after posting 36 tackles and one sack en route to earning second team all-conference accolades last year.
Senior Alex Collins returns to the squad after picking up third team All-ODAC honors last season. Collins tallied 49 tackles, including five for a loss, and is the returning statistical leader among the defensive group.
Explosive senior Darrick Gore returns to the umbrella after earning first team All-ODAC honors last season. Gore amassed 42 tackles and an interception on the year and accounted for one score with an interception return for a touchdown in the conference opener at Shenandoah.
Gettysburg's returns nine offensive starters from last season. The Bullets finished among the conference leaders in several key categories a year ago, including paving the way in passing yardage at 256.2 per game.
Outside of Miller, junior Kyle Wigley returns after rushing for 855 yards and five scores last season. Wigley posted three 100-yard efforts, including a career-high 176 yards in the opener against Misericordia.
While the backfield returns a number of key veterans for the Bullets, the wide receiver position took a hit due to graduation. Senior Joe Rava and junior Brandon Sparks have played primarily on special teams, while the freshmen will look to make an early impact.
Defensively, the Bullets return all three starters to the squad's 3-4 system. Senior Steve Pondo-Voigt will hold down the center of the line at nose guard after racking up 23 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss last season. Seniors Drew Winters and A.J. Hill return at the end positions after starting every contest last year and combining for 103 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, and 11 sacks.
At the linebacker position, the Bullets return junior Kodie McNamara who led the Centennial Conference last season with 119 tackles. The Bullets also return three starters to the secondary, including senior Gordon Prince who started the first eight games of the season at strong safety and posted 51 tackles and one interception.
The Eagles will be looking for their 46th victory in the month of September under Clark and their ninth straight season opening victory when action kicks off on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Shirk Field at Musselman Stadium. 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 1 p.m. For fans outside of the area, a live video stream will be available at GettysburgSports.com.