The College’s 22-16 victory over winless Western Connecticut State University on Saturday meant more than simply the Lions’ third consecutive win on the road.
As the final whistle blew, this contest was the culmination of a 33-year career for head coach Eric Hamilton who claimed his 200th victory as his Lions outlasted the Colonials.
Hamilton, an All-American in 1974 and 1975 and graduate of the College, began his head coaching career in 1977 as the youngest at his position in the nation. More than three decades later, Hamilton enters an exclusive class on only 12 Division III coaches with such a total, but he remains humble.
“It feels gratifying that we have been able to get to this point, especially this year. It hasn’t been easy but the culmination of a lot of people pulling together and believing in what we are doing makes it special … The accomplishment means we have been here a while, and the fact that it is my alma mater means everything.”
For athletic director John Castaldo, Hamilton is a model leader for the department.
“(Hamilton’s) success is a tribute to him, his staff and all of his current and past players,” Castaldo said. “The quality of our outstanding coaching, combined with our top-rated student-athletes, blends extremely well with the colleges’ overall mission. We’ve found the perfect mix in the development of the whole student while integrating the mind, body and spirit in the quest to reach the pinnacle of success. Coach Hamilton symbolizes this mission and it is satisfying to witness this achievement. As great a coach he is, his successful mentoring goes far beyond the playing field.”
Hamilton’s players are honored to be involved in such a milestone.
“We’re all really excited for (Hamilton) and his family,” junior quarterback Jay Donoghue said. “He’s been here for a long time and done a great job with our program. It means a lot to have someone on your side, who’s so invested in what we do on and off the field.”
Senior linebacker Dan DeCongelio also gives Hamilton his respect.
“(Hamilton) has been around for quite some time and I know he gives his heart and soul into everything he does for this program,” DeCongelio said. “There have been a lot of players before us that are just as much a part of it as we are, but to win that game for him was something real special.”
Senior defensive back and co-captain Matt Kreider led the way in this historic win with a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown and two interceptions as the College (4-4) outplayed Western Connecticut.
“When you get an opportunity like that it’s pretty good, but it’s more of setting an example as a defense, not just me,” Kreider said. “It starts with the linemen, to the linebackers to the defensive backs — I was just in the right spot and we were just trying to score points for the offense.”
Kreider’s first touchdown as a returner gave the Lions a 12-0 lead in the first quarter, following a Colonials punt gone awry that led to a College fumble recovery on the 1-yard line. Sophomore running back Joe Falco punched in the goal-line score for the first points of the day.
Despite only gaining 175 yards of total offense, the Lions bested a stifling Colonial defense that held the College to only 91 rushing yards. The Lions came into the game with consecutive weeks of more than 300 yards on the ground.
Donoghue gives the Colonials’ defense credit.
“Our rushing attack was fairly limited this week,” he said. “We lost a lot of yardage due to penalties, fumbles, bad snaps, and sacks so I don’t think the stats tell the whole story. As a team we had several big runs, but overall their stunts and blitzes did a nice job containing us.”
Donoghue found the end zone in the 2nd quarter on a nine-yard pass to sophomore defensive back/wide receiver Brian Mills.
Win No. 201 may be more difficult for Hamilton, as the College prepares to host Kean (5-3) and Rowan (7-1) Universities in the team’s final weeks.
“At this point, staying on the road sounds pretty good,” Donoghue said. “We found a comfort level going away, where your only supporters are your buddies on the field and your coaches. We’ve got an opportunity to finish at or above .500 for the first time since 2007 and that’s something we’re taking very seriously. Kean has had our number the past few years, but we’ll be prepared for a fight on Saturday.”
Hamilton is ready to be play in front of the College’s home crowd … if they choose to come.
“The real question is will our student body know that we are home and hopefully, like on a lot of college campuses on Saturdays in the Fall, come out and enjoy the day, show some spirit, have pride in their school and support their team,” Hamilton said. “We need to feel the home field advantage since we havent experienced that in a month.”
Bobby Olivier can be reached at email@example.com.