WALTHAM, Mass. – With an offense that includes five game-tested sophomores and an experienced secondary leading the defense, the Bentley University Falcons will kick off Bill Kavanaugh's fifth season at the helm Thursday night at home. Kickoff is slated for 6 pm.
West Chester University, coming off a 9-4 season that culminated in the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament, will provide the opposition. This is the third straight year the two teams will face each other in the opening game with the Golden Rams having won the previous two.
Despite an offense that relied heavily on freshmen last fall, the Falcons averaged 33 points a game against Northeast-10 opponents and put up 139 points in the four contests that Stephen Sturm (Collegeville, Pa./Perkiomen Valley HS) started at quarterback.
Sturm is back for his sophomore year as are classmates Austin Ryan (Foxborough/Foxborough HS), Andrew Brazicki (Franklin Park, N.J./Bishop Ahr HS), Tim Leonard (Rumson, N.J./Rumson-Fair Haven HS) and Sean Mitchell (Park Ridge, N.J./Saint Joseph Reg. HS). With the exception of Brazicki, all were voted to the NE10 All-Rookie Team, and the record-breaking Ryan collected a host of honors, both postseason in 2017 and preseason this year.
The left-handed Sturm set school records for passing efficiency (189.31) and completion percentage (.731) in his first collegiate season. He threw 11 TD passes in his four starts, ten of those hauled in by Ryan, and was intercepted only twice on 130 pass attempts.
Ryan finished his rookie season with 16 TD catches, a total that was tied for the most nationally in Division II and was the highest total recorded by a Division II freshman in more than a decade. His per-catch average of 25.3 was a Bentley record and he led all freshman, regardless in division, in receiving yards (1,242) and TD receptions.
Running behind a line that included Leonard at left tackle and Mitchell at center, Brazicki was the team's leading rusher. He ran for 479 yards and six TDs while averaging close to five yards per carry.
Other key returnees on offense include senior slot receiver Drew Mahoney (West Suffield, Conn./Suffield Academy), senior wide receiver Jordan Zlogar (Clifton Park, N.Y./Shenendehowa HS) and a trio of senior linemen: right tackle Jack Hansbury (Tyngsboro/Chelmsford HS), left guard Matt Boyle (Duxbury/Duxbury HS) and right tackle Ryan Finn (Centerport, N.Y./St. Anthony's HS). Mahoney led the team in receptions (51, with 6 TDs).
They'll be playing for a new coordinator as former Brown University quarterback coach Todd Parsons has succeed Keith Levan, who is now on the staff at New Hampshire.
The Bentley secondary returns intact with senior strong safety Nick Athy (Holliston/Holliston HS) joined by junior free safety Quintin-John McDermott (Franklin/Milton Academy) and a pair of junior corners, Pete Thorbahn (Norwell/Xaverian Brothers HS) and Derek Perkins (Milton/Milton HS). Athy was a first-team All-Northeast-10 honoree while Thorbahn has twice received second-team All-Conference recognition.
Athy has come up with nine takeaways in his career and Thorbahn has seven career interceptions, two of which he took back for scores.
Senior linebacker Andrew Carmichael (Wayland/Wayland HS), whose average of 7.6 tackles led the Falcons last season, is the most experienced amongst the team's front seven. Sophomore linebacker Marc Doran (Ramsey, N.Y./St. Joseph Regional HS) showed his potential off the bench last season, making 22 stops while appearing in all ten games.
On the front line, senior nose Brad Greenway (Jackson, N.J./Jackson Memorial HS) will be flanked by junior Matt Yanes (Stewartsville, N.J./Phillipsburg HS) and freshman Cedric Dashiell II (Buena Park, Calif./Buena Park HS). Kavanaugh will also be able to call upon senior Frank Damata (Framingham/Marian HS), who started five games and made 21 tackles last year.
Junior Grant Buchanan (Holliston/Holliston HS) is back to once again handle the placekicking chores for the Falcons. He's totaled 108 points over the last two seasons while putting 14 of 26 field goals and 66 of 69 point after attempts through the uprights.
West Chester, under veteran coach Bill Zwaan, lost a number of key players on the offensive side of the ball, including 1200-yard rusher Jared Elder and leading receiver Tyler Kapinski, but returns a good share of a defense that held 12 of 14 opponents to 28 points or less.
Leading the list of defensive veterans is AP Little All-America linebacker and PSAC East Defensive Player of the Year Tyler Morrissey. He totaled 137 tackles in 2017 and his stat line also included 14 tackles for losses, seven sacks and two forced fumbles.
The West Chester defense also features defensive end Diquan Gilbert, who had nine sacks for 57 yards, and cornerback Shaquille James, who had three interceptions and 16 pass break-ups. Both received All-PSAC East honors.
Red-shirt junior A.J. Long is expected to make the start at quarterback for West Chester in the opener. He started five games for Syracuse in 2014, throwing for 935 yards and four TDs, and saw limited action for the Golden Rams last season. He completed 22 of 45 for 453 yards, six TD and three interceptions. In addition, he scrambled for 380 yards, gaining 5.5 yards per attempt.
Returning running backs are Mike Class (177 yards) and Mark Dukes (367 yards, 8.2 per carry), and the top returning receiver is Rasheem James, a second-team All-Conference honoree a year ago. Tight end Dan Neuhaus (15 for 289) is the only other returnee who caught more than two passes last fall.
In the two previous meeting between the two programs, West Chester captured both. The Golden Rams scored 17 fourth-quarter points to prevail 31-24 in their previous trip to Waltham two years ago and saw seven different players cross the goal line during a 51-9 win last year down in Pennsylvania.
The Falcons will also play on Thursday night next week when they launch their Northeast-10 schedule at Southern Connecticut State.