CLAREMONT, Calif. – On Saturday afternoon the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps football team will hit the field for the first time in the 2017 season when they travel to Lewis and Clark College. The season opener between the Stags and Pioneers is slated to begin at 1:30 p.m. in Portland, Ore.
See below for a preview of the upcoming season:
A Look Back
Last season, the Stags finished the season with a 7-2 record, placing them second in the final SCIAC standings. CMS opened the season on a four-game winning streak before suffering back-to-back losses against Cal Lutheran and Redlands in the middle of the year. The Stags regained their composure finishing the season with wins over La Verne, Chapman, and rival Pomona-Pitzer to end the season on a high-note.
As mentioned, the season ended in thrilling fashion with a close, 23-21 victory over Pomona-Pitzer in the Sixth Street Rivalry Game. The Stags held control for a majority of the game, but a flurry of activity in the final five minutes saw the two teams put 27 points on the board. The Stags held on for the two-point victory and retained possession of the Sixth Street trophy for the fourth-straight year.
For their play during the 2016 season the Stags had nine student-athletes named All-SCIAC. Senior tight end Patrick Dixon (CMC), senior defensive tackle Paul Slaats (HMC), junior linebacker Brendan MacDonald (CMC), and junior defensive back Victor Bunce (CMC) were named First Team. Sophomore offensive lineman Malcolm Stolarski (CMC), junior tight end Chris Cziesla (CMC), defensive end Henry Wei (CMC), and senior kicker Matthew Aven (CMC) were given the Second Team nod.
In addition to his All-Conference honors Victor Bunce was named All-West Region and Honorable Mention All-American by D3Football.com in 2016. Bunch finished the season with a pair of interceptions, six pass break-ups, and 44 tackles defensively. On special teams, Bunce took two punt returns to the house.
Between the Lines
Over the last three years the Stags have won 19 games, their most over a three-year stretch in program history. The end of a season means the graduation of another class. The Stags will miss the contributions both on and off the field from a class of 17 seniors that graduated this past spring. CMS will look to fill the void left by the graduating seniors with the addition of 25 freshmen to this season's roster.
After welcoming of 25 new freshmen, the Stags are a young team for the first time in a while. Gone is four-year starter Trey Reynolds (CMC) from under center. A group of five quarterbacks have been vying for Reynolds vacated position. Senior Sam Healy (CMC) has risen to the top of the depth chart and will take the first snaps of the 2017 as the starting quarterback this weekend. Healy missed all of last season due to injury, but saw significant time during the 2015 season. He completed 21 of 31 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns against one interception on the season.
At running back, rising sophomores Christian Curico (CMC) and Garrett Cheadle (HMC) are both back after splitting time in the backfield a year ago. The duo both rushed for over 425 yards on the season. Curico led the Stags with 464 yards on the ground and four touchdowns on 110 carries while Cheadle scampered for 426 yards on 91 carries and six touchdowns.
The Stags' offensive line is one of the most veteran units on the squad. The line features a large group of returners that will be anchored by last year's Second Team All-SCIAC selection Malcolm Stolarski as well as upper classmen Jim Keneally (CMC), Mickey McFall (CMC), Owen Morrison (HMC), Jackson Tate (CMC), and Brian Wahl (CMC).
The receiving corps will have some of their top threats back. The Stags will look to target Trey Smith (CMC) as a big piece in their passing game. A year ago, Smith hauled in 39 passes for 523 yards and five touchdowns. Joining Smith on the outside is Nick Wheeler (CMC), who grabbed 25 receptions for 289 yards and a score last season. Out of the backfield, Christian Curcio can also receive the ball. He finished the 2016 season with 147 yards on 17 receptions.
On the defensive side of the ball the Stags will lean on their experienced linebackers and secondary to keep opponents in check. CMS brings back all four of their starting linebackers led by All-SCIAC selection, Brendan MacDonald. Mitchell Allan (CMC), Will Edwards (CMC), and Robby Weissenfels (CMC) are all upper-classmen and bring experience and leadership to the Stags defense. Much like the linebacker position, the Stags are loaded in the secondary. Two-time Honorable Mention All-American Victor Bunce leads the charge along with fellow senior Geno Quaid (CMC).
Upfront the Stags will have some big shoes to fill after the graduation of a large portion of their defensive line. CMS will look to a rotation of young players to shoulder the load. Elijah Jackson (CMC) and Mitchell Allan are the lone juniors or seniors to log snaps on the defensive line.
Speaking of Mitchell Allan, expect the junior to open the season as the primary kicker for the Stags.
What to Watch For
As mentioned the Stags open the season on the road this Saturday against the Lewis and Clark Pioneers. The Stags will return home next weekend for a match-up against a strong Washington and Lee squad. Last year, CMS defeated both the Pioneers and the Generals by scores of 35-3 and 31-28.
After the non-conference games, the Stags jump right into a seven-game conference schedule with a trip to Whittier on Sept. 30. The rest of the October and November schedule will feature home games against Occidental (Oct. 7) and Redlands (Oct. 21) before the season finale against Pomona-Pitzer on Nov. 11.
On the Bench
Kyle Sweeney is on the bench for his seventh season as the head coach of the Stags. Sweeney will, once again, serve as the offensive coordinator while associate head coach Mark Odin will call the defensive plays. Along with Sweeney and Odin the Stags' coaching staff is comprised off Chris Victory (offensive line), Bob Sierra (defensive backs), Jason Reyes (quarterbacks), Erik Johnson (linebackers), Luke Blochowski (wide receivers), and Wayne Moses (running backs)