Back in the preseason, Steve Briggs said the first month of the season was going to be crucial for his Susquehanna University football team.
He knew the Crusaders played four of the first five at home, although opening Centennial Conference play against three-time defending champion Johns Hopkins wasn’t going to be easy. Briggs also knew the Crusaders were, on paper, pretty good, at least as good as the 2009 team that won the Liberty League title. A fast start, even if there was a blip against Hopkins, and SU was going to pick right back up where it left off a year ago, right?
Now here we are six games into the season and the Crusaders are 3-3 overall and 2-3 in the Centennial. Looking strictly at those records, you would think it’s a lost season.
You would be way wrong.
Certainly no team in the Centennial Conference – and maybe all of Division III – has been crushed by injuries the way SU has. In the span of one quarter in the second game of the season, Briggs lost starting quarterback Mark Rosenbaum and backup Casey Crotty to season-ending injuries. Third-stringer George Pachucy didn’t make it out of the first quarter of the next game, handing the reins over to fourth-stringer Taylor Kolmer less than two and a half games into the season.
The list of teams at any level of football, from the NFL to Division III, that could overcome that, is pretty small. You can count them on one hand.
I’m not sure how Steve Briggs runs his preseason camp, but I’m pretty sure the number of snaps Kolmer got with the starters in camp was about similar to the number of snaps I took with the starters in camp. Seriously, no one gives their fourth quarterback reps with the ones. Ever. Well, unless you have to, which SU does now.
You want a recipe for disaster, that’s not too far from it.
The fact that SU is 3-3 right now is a minor miracle. It’s also a testament to the talent on this team, the ability of the entire coaching staff to prepare the entire roster to play, and everybody’s willingness to not mail in the season when no one would have blamed them if they did.
In reality, Susquehanna could be 5-1 and realistically should be 4-2 at the very worst. The only game SU should not have won was the game everyone thought they were big underdogs, against Hopkins.
And while the Blue Jays won 34-7, it was a two score game with 20 minutes to play and the Crusaders were playing with their No. 3 QB for the better part of half a football game.
The next game, a three-point loss at Dickinson, the quarterback shuffle happened again, putting SU behind the eight ball for the second week in a row.
Yet the Crusaders still nearly pulled off a miracle until Mike Ritter got tripped up at midfield on his way to the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
Then came the game against Gettysburg where Susquehanna returned the opening kickoff for a TD, led by two scores less than four minutes into the game and let it slip away in a loss to one of the nation’s most explosive offenses.
Blowing a 10-point halftime lead at home to drop to 1-3 and 0-3 in league when you are already on your No. 4 quarterback is about time people starting thinking about spring football.
But this team hasn’t. Too much pride. Too much talent. Too much everything. They are already out of the league title picture, already out of the playoff picture, nothing really left to play for.
So all the Crusaders did was go out and blank a really good Muhlenberg team two weeks ago. Then they dominated Moravian on the road on Saturday to get back to .500
Right now they are just playing for themselves and each other. And if you’ve ever been in a locker room like that, sometimes that’s enough.
Sports editor Bill Bowman covers college sports for The Daily Item. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/williambbowman