The Fairleigh Dickinson University College at Florham football team got the early season win they needed to help build confidence for their tough 2013 schedule.
Sophomore defensive back Ryan Rodriguez helped clinch the Devils opening week victory when he picked off TCNJ’s quarterback Chris Spellman during the final minute. The interception helped the Devils secure their road victory, beating the Lions 18-12.
Head Coach Brian Surace knows how big this victory is for his team and the FDU community. The school is used to a losing football team, which has led to a lack of school spirit, but Surace believes the atmosphere is building up and a victory like this can build confidence for his team.
“When you look at their work ethic and what they put in, they’ve done the things we asked of them in the offseason, in spring ball, over the summer, and obviously in preseason,” Surace said.
“I think the biggest thing they have to overcome is getting used to confidence. Maybe getting a win they shouldn’t get, or winning a game that gives them confidence against those other teams. A lot of what has to do on the field is the mentality and confidence level and knowing that you can do it. Until you do it, there’s always that seed of doubt in your mind. When you accomplish something then you have confidence.”
The program was on a downward spiral when Surace took over the Devils three years ago, but with strict rules he has helped develop some positive vibes in the locker room.
The team now has set rules on the field and in the locker room. Academically, players have to maintain a certain grade point average and are expected to complete five hours in the library a week. As for on the field, they now have a more acceptable practice for college.
The offense works on one side of the field and the defense practice together on the other.
Surace explained that the team only had 72 bodies when he came aboard, but now the program has 100 players.
“When you become a head coach that’s your team,” Surace explained. “I know people say those aren’t your guys, well they are your guys. From day one, whether we recruit them or they come in from somewhere else, they’ve bought into a philosophy and have done what we asked them to do. They’re all a part of the family. We do preach that.”
The opening week victory is an example of how far the FDU football program has gone in three years.
Last season the Devils had a lead over the Lions at halftime, but they went on to lose the game, 45-28, after a long lightning delay forced the players to sit in the locker room for a long stretch of time. This year the Devils were hungry to beat the strong football program out of the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC).
Mike Santos had a strong performance at quarterback, throwing for 252 yards and touchdown. Santos was on pace to break the single season passing record before he went down with an injury halfway through the 2012 season.
Anthony Fruncillo continued to be dominant at wide receiver, catching seven passes for 80 yards. Fruncillo was an All-MAC Honorable Mention even after missing several weeks with an injury.
Joe Tauriello also had a solid performance with five receptions for 77 yards.
After a safety that gave the Devils an early lead, Santos got the scoring going when he punched the ball into the end zone with a one yard run.
The Devils had a 15-6 lead heading into halftime, thanks to a 17-yard completion from Santos to running back Craig Kimbrough.
The defense did the rest of the work as they held onto the Devils’ slim lead. The MAC conference’s leading tackler Mike Mancino had four combined tackles. The leading tacklers on the Devils were senior defensive back Joe Mancini and junior defensive lineman Rich Vazzano. The victory was the early boost FDU needed and gave them the confidence that Surace was talking about.
Surace said about TCNJ, “They’re the same way they’ve always been.” He went on to explain, “A well coached, tough team that play hardnosed football and are disciplined. If you look at their offense, defense, or special teams, they are always going to have those qualities. They have good coaches there to lead them through the season.”
Surace feels that the FDU and TCNJ game is great for both schools because the two schools are so close to each other.
It’s a rivalry that has seen some hard fought games the past several years.
“It’s a great game to have for a couple of reasons,” Surace explained. “One, you have similar type of students because we have two New Jersey schools. You have two similar types of schools educationally.
“It’s a great game, we always play it on a Friday night and both stands are always packed. Both teams can travel and all the parents can travel because it’s New Jersey based.”
The Devils were unable to continue the momentum the following week when they faced Stevenson University.
FDU was down by a touchdown heading into halftime, but a disaster of a second half led to a 55-22 loss at the hands of the Mustangs. The offense showed some promise. Kimbrough rushed for 137 yards on 14 attempts and a touchdown.
Santos looked strong early on when he scored the opening touchdown on a five yard run and followed that with a two yard connection with Nick DeFeo to give the Devils a 14-13 lead to end the first quarter. That was the last lead the Devils would have. Kimbrough scored the offense’s final touchdown in the second quarter with a 44 yard run.
The Devils’ mistakes on both sides of the ball hurt them and they eventually allowed the Mustangs to break open the game with 27 second-half points.
The Devils will hit the road for next week’s MAC Conference square off against Lebanon Valley College on Sept. 28 at 1 p.m.
They will return to Robert T. Shields Field for Homecoming on Oct. 5 at 1 p.m. as they will take on Albright College.
The goal of the program is not to set limits for ourselves, Surace said. “Our job is to focus on the first game and then we will move onto the second game. It’s not fair for us to look ahead in the schedule and say we should beat that team. Nobody should be able to do that, we need to look at the schedule and say ‘hey, we need to put everything into this.’”
The Devils now have an exciting atmosphere back with the football program. The stands were packed with parents and students during Friday night’s clash against Stevenson University and the fans were displaying school spirit.
The Devils will play three home night games this season and the two Saturday meetings are Homecoming and Senior Day.
Surace has the team on the rise and the program hopes the opening victory over TCNJ is a sign of things to come for the FDU football team.