When things aren’t working, it’s often time for a change. That’s what Lions head coach Wayne Dickens saw in the team’s 7-2 win over Southern Virginia University on Saturday, Sept. 28 when he benched sophomore quarterback Chris Spellman in favor of sophomore quarterback Sam Paladino. The result was the College’s first win of the season.
“We were sputtering at the time and we needed a spark,” Dickens said.
Paladino came in and directed the Lions’ (1-2) only scoring drive at the end of the first half. A mobile quarterback, Paladino was able to use his legs to not only pick up yards, but also for defensive attention. Sophomore running back Brad Young had a few nice runs on the drive that ended with Paladino throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to sophomore running back Brandon Brocklehurst for the team’s only points.
“When coach told me to warm up, I was ready to go,” Paladino said. “I knew my shot would come eventually, so I stayed patient and continued to work and improve every day.”
At the end of the day, Paladino finished with 49 yards rushing and 51 yards passing, while Young had a solid 66 yards on the ground. The team’s ability to run the ball well was crucial to the win.
“We started getting some misdirection plays going, which held Southern Virginia’s linebackers on their heels,” Paladino said. “This helped our line open up some gaping holes for (sophomore running back) Victor Scalici and Brad Young. I knew that whatever team established a running attack would win the game, and it made my job a whole lot easier.”
The day didn’t start off all too great for the College. Midway through the first quarter, the Knights executed a perfect punt, setting up the Lions at their own 1-yard line. The ensuing play saw Southern Virginia’s Dakoda Winsor tackle Young in the end zone for a safety and the game’s first two points.
Those were the only points the Knights would get all day, with the Lions’ defense proving to be strong. Junior defensive lineman Jeffrey Adubato had a nice pass deflection, followed by a sack from senior defensive end Justin Bruso and senior defensive lineman Mike Barber to end the first quarter.
Southern Virginia mustered only 18 yards of total offense in the first half and picked up zero first downs.
“The game plan was the same game plan I had the first day I walked onto this campus. We have to be able to run the football and we have to be able to stop the run,” Dickens said. “Today, we were able to do both of those things.”
The second half was very quiet, with defense once again ruling the game. The Lions got some big-time sacks, including one from junior defensive lineman Thomas Masi, who got the Knights offense out of any sort of rhythm. The biggest plays of the game, though, came from senior defensive lineman Patrick Kimball.
With the Southern Virginia offense gaining momentum and driving down the field in the final minutes of the game, Kimball recorded back-to-back sacks to effectively kill any chance the team had at making a comeback.
“Our guys can be dominant football players,” Dickens said. “There may be one or two who got big numbers on a given day, but our eight defensive linemen can all play the game.”
With their first victory under their belts, the Lions can take in the win before they set their sights on Montclair State University in their NJAC opener on Saturday, Oct. 4.
“Those ‘L’ things — people hate those,” Dickens said. “But the ‘W’s’ are sweet. Sunday is our day off, so these guys get to go home, eat something for dinner, relax on the couch and get a whole day of enjoying this ‘W.’”
Paladino agreed, as he relished in the win while looking forward to next week’s home game.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to get this first win,” Paladino said. “We are not satisfied and are focused on beating Montclair. Hopefully we can carry this momentum throughout the practice week into Friday night.”