Mark Tillotson – Staff Writer –
A long, painful season for the Southern Owls football came to a close with a 13-10 win against Stonehill College, ending the year on a positive note and avoiding a five-game losing streak to end the season. They finished the season with a 3-8 record and recorded just one home win, much to the dismay of head coach Rich Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh said he couldn’t find one bright spot from his team’s season, as his team failed to accomplish their goals.
“I wasn’t satisfied with anything we did this year,” Cavanaugh said. “Our preparation was inconsistent all year long and it was disappointing. Our main goal is always to win our conference but we obviously couldn’t do that.”
The Owls played their opponents very tough for good portions of their games this season but couldn’t perform when it counted most. Cavanaugh said this was one of the biggest issues his team faced this year.
“We were in most of our games this year in the first half,” Cavanaugh said. “We just didn’t play well enough in the third and fourth quarter to get some wins.”
The feeling was mutual with Cavanaugh’s senior tight end Jerome Cunningham, who said his team struggled to close out games.
“As a team we struggled with playing with the lead at times,” Cunningham said. “Once we were leading in games we would try to put the game in cruise control, and as our record shows it didn’t work for us.”
Two of the three wins the Owls were able to record this year came in back-to-back weeks midway through the season. During that span, the Owls outscored their opponents 102-60. In their other nine games, the Owls were outscored by their opponents 274-98, as they failed to score more than 14 points in eight of those games. Cavanaugh said his team lacked consistency in all phases of the game this year.
“We played very well at times but other times we played very poorly,” Cavanaugh said. “We had a lot of young guys who had to step in and they weren’t ready to handle their roles, so they didn’t perform well.”
Cavanaugh will need to rely on his young players next season to have success.
He said the experience they had this year should translate onto the field next season.
“They’re not going to be freshmen anymore,” Cavanaugh said. “All of their roles are going to change and they will have to become better players and leaders for us.”
Senior offensive lineman Tom Beliveau said the O-line was one of the bright spots for the Owls this season.
“I was happy with our offensive line,” Beliveau said. “We were a strong front and got along well with each other, and in most cases we could rely on each other to make the blocks.”
The offensive line helped junior tailback Vaughn Magee rush for 1,141 yards, which was good for first in the Northeast-10 conference and thirteenth in all of Division II.
The team totaled 1,818 rushing yards. Cunningham said he was proud of the fact that Magee had such a solid season.
“The offensive line did a good job this season,” Cunningham said. “This is the second year in a row that we have had a 1,000 yard rusher, which is a great accomplishment.”
Cunningham said he couldn’t criticize the physical aspects of his team but he was skeptical about his team’s ability to perform both physically and mentally.
“I will critique the fact that we should have been more mentally tough during the offseason,” said Cunningham.” Some of my teammates are mentally tough, don’t get me wrong, but this is a team game and we needed everyone who suited up to be mentally tough.”
Zachary Williams, a sophomore defensive lineman, backed Cunningham’s claims by saying the team had some mental lapses off the field.
“We could’ve done a lot of things differently,” said Williams. “Eliminating off-field stupidity and taking the team and football more serious is the number one thing I can think of. Also playing as a team and having each others backs.”
Williams, who was one of the leaders of the defensive line, said that he didn’t like anything about the way his team and the defensive line in particular, played all season.
“I feel that we did well but not well enough,” Williams said. “Nothing about this season is satisfying and we all have things we need to work on, especially me.”
For the season, senior linebacker Jack Cooper led the defense with 72 total tackles and was a First-Team All-Conference selection. Senior receiver Willie Epps, junior defensive lineman Mwamba Williams and Magee all earned Second-Team All-Conference honors.
As for next season, Williams said everything the Owls did poorly this season shows where the team needs to strengthen. He also said the team needs to get bigger, stronger and faster if they want to make a run at a championship.
“This season shows that we need to have a great offseason and work at our crafts,” Williams said.
Williams said if the team strives for perfection, they could expect one thing for sure: greatness.