A Bittersweet Senior Day

The Blue Devils seniors and their families. Photo: Kenny Barto

By Brittany Burke

Fourteen graduating seniors took to Arute field in front of family, friends and Blue Devils fans for the last time Saturday to play Northeast Conference rivals, the Robert Morris Colonials. In the final home game of the season, CCSU managed to snap a six-game losing streak, while handing RMU its fourth consecutive loss, 31-24.

Fifteen Blue Devils were honored in the pre-game ceremonies, despite only fourteen suiting up for the game. The atmosphere around Arute grew solemn as the seniors lined up on the sidelines with family members flanking them on either side. The first player honored was number 94, Rich Royster. The 2011 season was dedicated to Royster, who was killed in a car accident, and it was his mother who met Head Coach Jeff McInerney and Athletics Director Paul Schlickmann at midfield.

“[Senior day is] sad, always sad,” said Head Coach Jeff McInerney. “There are some people you truly love whether you win or lose or draw. I always tell them this, the wins and losses, championships, come and go, but relationships stay for a lifetime and I’ve known some of these kids since right after they’ve shown up out of high school. I can tell you something about every one of them and they’ve all had tough and hard times.”

Many of the players on the CCSU football team (3-7, 2-5 NEC) are recruited right from Connecticut, so it is always special to have longtime friends and family come see them play at home one final time. This senior class had a hand in the 2009 outright NEC championship as well as the 2010 co-NEC championship.

“This is probably my last time ever playing football in New Britain,” said senior linebacker, Isaiah Boddie. “I mean I’ve been playing football in New Britain my entire life, since I was little. So it’s definitely special, especially since I’ve been with these guys … it’s special.”

Prior to the defeat of RMU (2-9, 2-4 NEC), CCSU hadn’t won since Sept. 17 at Wagner, and the fans hadn’t seen a home win since the season opener against the Southern Connecticut State University Owls. The early lead provided by Brian Fowler’s 9-yard run was also the first lead since Oct. 8 in the loss against UMass.

Fowler, a graduating senior, had two touchdowns in the game and 91-yards. He finished second in rushing for the Blue Devils behind running back Chris Tolbert.

Tolbert had an explosive game, finishing with 162-yards rushing and 23-yards receiving. While it may have been senior day, it was the sophomore who had a career-high game, breaking the 100-yard mark for the first time.

“Really just the line was opening the holes and I was just running through them, just making my reads, just opening up,” said Tolbert. “I thought we could’ve done this all season but it is what it is and the win today felt good.”

David Sabilia and Raul Debenendittis also had a hand in securing points for the Blue Devils. Sabilia scored with under two minutes to play in the half following a 15-yard RMU personal foul. The seven points was the first for Sabilia, who plays both tight end and offensive linebacker.

Debenendittis on the other hand had the only touchdown in the third, which was dominated by the defense.

“We had a good scheme out there today,” said graduating quarterback Gunnar Jespersen. “We were opening up the run with the pass, opening up the pass with the run, the way we had our line blocking down at that front opened up for Chris and Fowl, and they looked good. They ran the ball well and we needed that. I think we got sick of where we were at and finally pulled out of it.”

Over the past six weeks the Blue Devils had gotten away from the nitty-gritty fundamentals of football, but offensively things seemed to click for CCSU. Aside from Tolbert’s record game, the Blue Devils also racked up a season high 279-yards rushing.

Defensively there are things that still need to be worked on, but the team is continually building foundations for next year’s roster. While CCSU got up early, RMU managed to score 10 unanswered points, however following the half the team came out with an additional fire.

“[I] had to yell at them at half time, the defense, which I hadn’t had to yell at a team in about four years,” said McInerney. “The problem was handled and [the team] responded and went out and had a bunch of three-and-outs. I’m just happy for our seniors, and we needed that in a bad way to build on our future I think that was obvious.”

A Tyrell Holmes interception kept the Colonials out of the end zone and gave CCSU the chance to get more points on the board, resulting in a 31-yard field goal.

Prior to the half, RMU quarterback Jeff Sinclair had to be helped off the field and was later replaced for the remaining quarters by freshman back Matt Layman.

The Blue Devils now have momentum going into a bye week before traveling to Bryant to finish out the season.

“Us being 3-7, there’s been some things that I didn’t do well, there’s been things that the assistant coaches didn’t do well, and there’s things that some of the players, when you win two championships, not that they’re bad kids, they forget little things and the extra things it takes to win, you just don’t show up and it happens … I learned a valuable lesson so I’m excited I’d like to end this season on a two game winning streak,” said McInerney.