BETHLEHEM, --- Junior running back Chris Negron became just the second running back in Moravian College history to hit the 3,000-yard milestone as he ran for 226 yards and a touchdown on just 18 carries, and Negron added a receiving touchdown to help the Greyhounds to a 42-10 Centennial Conference win over Juniata College on Senior Day at Rocco Calvo Field.
"I think we were productive for 60 minutes today, and we while we didn't play mistake free, we did a lot better than we have the last two weeks," stated Head Coach Jeff Pukszyn. "We concentrated this week on doing the little things, and I thought the guys did a great job with that in practice and it showed today."
The Blue and Grey have now won six straight games, the longest winning streak for the program since starting the 2004 season with a 7-0 mark. Moravian is now 8-1 on the season, just the second time in school history the program has been 8-1, and it is also just the fifth time in 91 seasons that the Greyhounds have won eight games in a single campaign. The only other team to start a season at 8-1 was the 1988 team that played in the NCAA Division III playoffs. The current squad is currently tied for fifth in the NCAA Division III South Region.
"This is great for Moravian College, and it is great for the Moravian football family that we always talk about," noted Pukszyn. "I think the guys are doing a great job representing the College and what we stand for as well as what the football program stands for. I'm really excited for these guys because it has been a long time coming."
The win also guaranteed the Greyhounds that they will play a postseason game this fall. If Moravian does not make the NCAA playoffs as an at-large selection, the Hounds, who are 7-1 in Centennial Conference action this fall, can finish no lower than third in the Centennial standings and that will put Moravian into the Inaugural Centennial Conference – Middle Atlantic Conference Bowl Series that will be played on Saturday, November 21 with the top non-NCAA qualifier in each conference hosting the next non-NCAA qualifier from the opposite conference.
"It is outstanding to be able to reward these seniors for what they have been through in four years with an extra game is unbelievable," Pukszyn said. "I'm really glad for everyone in the program that we're in the mix to play an extra week."
Negron helped the Greyhounds rack up 273 yards on the ground on just 36 carries as Moravian had 469 yards of total offense on 71 plays, the fifth game this fall the Hounds have picked up over 400 yards in a contest. Negron's 226 yards are the seventh most in a single game in school history and raise his season total to 1,309 yards and his career mark to 3,219, both second in the record books. Negron's two touchdowns also moved him to second in school history with 33 career touchdowns and third in points with 198.
"It was a little different for Chris today. It's usually #1 (Eli Redmond) making those plus-40 yard gains but Chris was great today," commented Pukszyn. "He had a really good week of practice, and his work ethic speaks for itself so that is why you see big things happening for him on Saturday afternoons."
Junior quarterback Mike Hayes completed 21-of-34 passes for 194 yards with a pair of touchdowns, and he added nine yards and a touchdown on three carries while not being sacked. Senior running back Luke Gotzon added 38 yards and his first touchdown of the season on a game-high 18 carries.
"Mike did a great job today not being greedy and really just taking what Juniata was giving him," stated Pukszyn. "He might not have been mistake free but he did a good job managing the ball, playing into the system and his reads were pretty good today. If he can continue to do that and keep up the leadership out there, we'll be in a good spot."
Hayes completed eight of those passes to junior wide receiver Jalen Snyder-Scipio for 81 yards as Snyder-Scipio moved into fourth in school history with 127 receptions and 11th with 1,417 yards. Negron added four receptions for 29 yards and a score while sophomore wide receiver Aaron Hudson and junior wide receiver Liam Nolan each caught three passes with Hudson picking up 32 yards and Nolan gaining 21 yards.
"Jalen is such a complete wide receiver because the thing that impressed me today was not the catches but the way he was blocking either on the long runs or when his teammates caught the ball," Pukszyn explained. "When you're a complete player like Jalen, you're going to end up with some good stats. He is a great leader by example out here during the week, and it pays off on game day."
The Greyhounds limited Juniata to 260 yards on 66 plays as the Eagles had just 136 yards on the ground and 124 through the air.
Moravian received the opening kickoff and picked up a pair of first downs before junior Aaron Brown came on to punt for the first of eight times in the contest. The Eagles would go three-and-out on their opening drive.
The Hounds began their next possession at their own 37-yard line. Moving down the field on the ground and through the air, Hayes would finish off the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Andrew Racobaldo. Senior Jerome Wachter made the first of six extra-points on the day as he extended his school record to 39 PATs this fall as the Blue & Grey took a 7-0 lead with 8:07 to play in the opening quarter.
The Eagles had another three-and-out but a long punt would pin the Hounds at their own three-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Negron burst through the right side of the line and bounced to the Moravian sideline where he raced for a career-long run of 87 yards before being caught at the Juniata 10-yard line. Three plays later, Hayes pulled the ball on a zone read and kept it into the end zone for a four-yard scoring run and a 14-0 lead with 5:36 remaining in the first quarter.
"The offensive line did a great job today," commented Negron. "Every time I got the ball, they had a huge whole opened where the play was designed to go so I just accelerated through it. It feels amazing to be 8-1 especially how hard that we've worked and how far we've come together. It just feels good for everyone on both sides of the ball and proves that the hard work pays off. Even the guys that don't play a lot or those on special teams came in today and contributed. We hope to feed off of this game and use the momentum next Saturday."
The teams would trade punts on the next two possessions before Juniata took over on its own 27-yard line at the end of the first quarter. The Eagles needed just five plays to get on the scoreboard with a 47-yard catch-and-run to cut the Greyhounds' lead to 14-7 with 13:32 left in the first half.
Moravian punted again as did Juniata on the next two drives before the Hounds took over at their own 34-yard line. Once again Hayes moved the offense down the field on the ground and through the air before hitting Negron with a seven-yard scoring strike in the right flat to extend the lead to 21-7 with 6:41 before the intermission.
Moravian's defense forced another three-and-out as the Blue & Grey would start at their own 18-yard line after the punt. On the third play of the drive, Negron cut through the left side and bounced to the sideline again, this time running 69 yards before being dragged down at the one-yard line. Gotzon came on and finished the drive on the next play as the lead became 28-7 with 4:21 left in the second quarter. Negron had 197 of his 226 yards on just 12 carries in the first half of action.
The Greyhounds would get one more score before halftime. On Juniata's next possession, junior defensive Noah Miller stepped in front of a pass on the far sideline for his first interception of the season, and Miller raced 47 yards into the end zone for the score as Moravian headed to the locker room with a 35-7 advantage.
"We talked about winning the turnover battle after the last two weeks, so getting a pick and being able to score on that pick really helped us today and kept the momentum going at the end of the first half," Pukszyn said.
Juniata had the opening possession of the second half but it would result in a three-and-out.
The Hounds' first drive of the second half started at their own 30-yard line, and Hayes led the squad on a 10-play, 70-yard drive that was capped off with Negron finding the end zone for the 14th time this season on the ground and 15th overall with a one-yard run as the Greyhounds scored their final points of the game.
After holding Juniata to a punt, Moravian had a three-and-out but would flip field position as Brown drilled a 64-yard punt, tied for the fourth longest punt in school history and the Hounds second 60-plus yard punt of the year. Brown finished the game by averaging 42.5 yards on his eight punts, and his 340 yards were the fourth most by a punter in a contest in school history.
Late in the third quarter, Juniata connected on a 32-yard field goal to finish the scoring at 42-10.
The Greyhounds would have their reserves on the field for most of the fourth quarter as neither team scored in the final 16 minutes of action.
"The good thing is you get quality snaps for younger guys so you are able to evaluate these guys in game situations," note Pukszyn. "You are also able to make sure these guys have confidence because next year, we're going to need a bunch of them to step into some roles in 2016. Getting them into the fire with these quality snaps is a good building block for the program."
Senior linebacker Brendan Downey and sophomore linebacker Dominic Rossetti each had six tackles to lead the Moravian defense with Rossetti adding one tackle for loss. Senior defensive lineman Ryan Pysher had five tackles with two behind the line of scrimmage as did senior defensive lineman Tim McCabe, who also had a sack. Junior linebacker Edward Delia also added five tackles with one for loss.
"For a senior, seeing Ryan playing his best football right now is tremendous," stated Pukszyn. "He's had some really good weeks of practice and to see him playing at such a high level at the end of his career is just phenomenal. I'm proud of the way he has been conducting himself out here and being a good leader for the younger guys."
Miller had two tackles and two passes defended to go with his interception while senior defensive lineman Chernoh Shaw made a sack on his only tackle in the game.
The Greyhounds will finish out their 2015 regular season on Saturday, November 14 when the Blue and Grey make the short trip to Allentown for a Centennial Conference and Matte Award game against rival Muhlenberg College. Kickoff is slated for 1:00 p.m. at Frank Marino Field at Scotty Wood Stadium.