CHEYNEY — That resounding “phew” sound you heard at about 4:00 Saturday afternoon was the collective exhale of 55 players and coaches wearing white jerseys with purple and gold helmets down the road at Cheyney University. For finally, after trudging through an 11 game regular season and escaping Cheyney with a victory, the time has finally come for this team to showcase itself in post-season play.Had it not been for Mike Mignogno’s first career interception return for a touchdown, and Joe Cefalo rumbling 55 yards for a touchdown following his fumble recovery, the outcome of Saturday’s 35-13 game might have been very different. The Wolves used slant patterns in the middle of the field, and the athleticism of quarterback Derrick Murry to keep this game much closer then any game between these two teams since 2003. Ironically, those are the two areas that this defense has struggled to defend all season long.
In the latter stages of this season, the Golden Rams have been tested. After falling to California (PA) a week ago at Farrell Stadium, and getting out of Cheyney alive, surviving a war of attrition against a team less disciplined then a group of school children on Saturday, the Golden Rams now embark on what they hope to be a long playoff run.
For this group, the season truly begins this Saturday and everything that has taken place over the past two and a half months, hell, the past three years has been nothing but a preamble to this post-season campaign.
West Chester’s quest to bring home the first National Championship in school history begins Saturday at Farrell Stadium at noon against Indiana University (PA).
The fabric that makes up this team was weaved around the thought of playing meaningful post-season games well into November and December every season. To that end, Saturday marks the fourth consecutive playoff appearance for the Golden Rams, a feat that has only been accomplished since the Golden Rams appeared in six straight PSAC Championship games from 1969-1974.
From day one, winning an NCAA II Championship has been the ultimate goal for this club.
Their self proclaimed lofty expectations are both this club’s best attribute and its own worst enemy at the same time. While the Golden Rams have been able to dispose of opponents on their schedule with great ease, with the exception of Delaware and California, they have struggled at times to maintain the high level of focus necessary to put teams away in games leading up to matchups against top tier opponents. See September 22nd’s near fatal second half collapse against Shippensburg with Bloomsburg looming, and the offensive hiccups against St. Joseph’s (IN) prior to California to verify that point. Such momentary letdowns, as minor as they may appear to be, cannot occur in the post season.
From here on out, each Saturday must be taken as a gift. Every Monday film session, every Tuesday workout and every Friday walkthrough, leading up to a Saturday game could very well be the last for many on this club. One luxury Coach Bill Zwaan has at this disposal is that this group is dominated by seniors who have been down this road every year of their collegiate career.
Saturday’s opening game against IUP is the most important game to date that these players will suit up in, only to be surpassed by the potential matchup at Shepherd the following week, if for nothing else, the finality of it all. In four seasons this group, representing Zwaan’s first recruiting class since arriving here four years ago, has amassed the best record of any four year class in school history. West Chester has an overall record of 37-14, including a 3-3 mark in the post-season since 2004.
In addition to the production on the field, the intangibles that this core group of leaders brings to the locker room and to the field day in and day out is immeasurable.
Bill Zwaan Jr. has earned the respect and admiration of his teammates. Over the past four years he’s gone from the brunt of jokes as the coach’s son, to the unquestioned leader of one of the most efficient offenses in school history.
Lateef Ferguson Saturday etched his name in the record books as the all-time leading tackler in school history, and throughout his career has been a game changing force from the linebacker spot.
And of course there’s Mike Mignogno who has continued to improve as the season went on, and who’s interceptions were instrumental in this club’s-get the monkey off of their back- victory over Bloomsburg, and again in Saturday’s season finale.
Those are just the captains. For them, as well as the men they are leading into the playoffs, many for their fourth year in a row, and some tasting post-season play for the first time, there is just one task ahead: win. For this team, the ultimate goal is a National Championship, but in order to accomplish that lofty aspiration it will take five more film session Mondays, four more Tuesday workouts, four more Friday walk throughs, four more Saturday.
Matt Lombardo hosts a weekly sports talk radio show on 91.7 FM WCUR, Saturdays from noon-2pm and can be heard worldwide online at www.wcur.fm
Matt Lombardo is a third-year student majoring in communication-studies with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at ML606516@wcupa.edu