Norwich Football looks toward silver lining of 1-9 season

Players line up and get ready to play for the Norwich University vs. US Coast Guard academy football game. Photo by Darwin Carozza

The 2017 Norwich University Varsity football program finished off their season with one of the worst records in program history, according to the Norwich Athletics website. The Cadets closed this season’s book with 1-9 record. The team’s first season in the New England Women’s and Men’s Conference (NEWMAC) went off script when they could only manage to win 1 of 10 games.

Norwich Football is actively recruiting their 2019 class by hosting high school seniors on campus during the weekends. As winter workouts continue, and spring ball sessions loom, the team looks to put a close on last years 1 win season and look forward to bringing back a winning culture.

This season’s rendition of the good, the bad, and the ugly concludes with the awarding of All-Conference honors to 6 Norwich football athletes. The 2018 Norwich Football team had 5 recipients honored to 2nd team all-conference. Senior Nolan Aurelia, a 2-sport athlete at the school is 1 of the 5 New England athletes who received conference honors. “I didn’t expect it to happen, changing my position 3 years into my career was tough, but I’m happy to have gotten the recognition” said Aurelia.

Aurelia was the team’s backup quarterback for three seasons when he was asked at camp this season by the Norwich coaching staff to switch to the slot wide receiver position. “Once the coaches and I spoke about getting (Matt) Chaffee more involved in the offense, I felt it was best for me to just fully transition from quarterback to wide receiver” said Aurelia. The switch helped Aurelia log almost 400 all purpose yards and a touchdown for his final season as a Cadet.

Other New England recipients on the team were Freshman Tristan Weathers of Seawaren, N.J and Conner Ruland of Waldwick, N.J. whom were both important pieces to the Norwich Offense this year. The team also celebrated Bronx, N.Y native defensive back Brasean Stewart who had 52 tackles this past season. Stewart is only a sophomore and will be one of the organization’s leaders moving forward.

Weathers, who started every single game this year for the Cadets, had 23 receptions for 400 yards in 2 touchdowns in his freshman campaign. “I’m just looking to get better every season, and help the team win more games”, said Weathers.

Although the team struggled adjusting to a new conference this year, and the team’s record sticks out like a sore thumb. There is plenty of optimism to go around in the football front office, as well the athletic department. Head Athletic Director (AD) Anthony Mariano supports the football team fully and is not about to make any rash decisions about the team’s current state. “Their record obviously doesn’t show where we want it to be”, said Mariano, “but there were some games that probably could have been turned around with a play or two.”

The team has just started their first season in the NEWMAC, a new conference that Mariano has been excited to be a part. Mariano and the coaching staff made this decision several years ago to leave the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) in an attempt to be a part of a more competitive league. “The league that were in is certainly a step up from the (ECFC), and we knew that”, said Mariano. The team’s final season in the ECFC did not go as expected, as they managed to only go 5-5.

The team from 2011-2015, earned 3 ECFC championships and a combined record 34-20 (63%). Since graduating 14 players in 2015, and leaving behind several starters from the 2015 season, the teams winning culture has plummeted, posting seasons of 5-5 and 1-9.

To Head Football Coach Mark Murnyack, specific missions and goals that the football program pursues break down success. “The mission of the program is to produce leaders. The goal of the program is to win conference championships”, said Murnyack. Murnyack is not blind to the fact that in order to win conference championships, he must guide his 120-man roster to victories. “Certainly we haven’t done that. We’ve been close, but close is a moral victory more than anything else”.

Murnyack believes a big positive to come out of this year is that because of the team’s current state, they have been able to give a lot of the underclassmen real game experience. Which is considered to “be a real positive” in the eyes of Murnyack and his staff.

Murnyack and his marquee staff members Head Assistant Football Coach Bill Russell and Offensive Coordinator Carl Mintken all believe that the youth of the team is something to look forward to in the future. Both Mintken and Russell did not hesitate to agree when speaking of the young talent the team has stockpiled, particularly in the kicking game. “Owen Mckenna is one of the best punters in the league; Clyde Tamburro has been outstanding as well”, said Murnyack.

Anyone who watches football knows that without a good quarterback, it is very hard for a football team to win games. The team did not get much production out of Senior quarterback Philippe Bazinet of Otterburn Park, Quebec, Canada, whose production has been cut in half since stellar Sophomore season where he led to Cadets to an ECFC title and NCAA tournament bid. In 2017, Bazinet has played in 7 games, only managing to complete 28% of passes for 167 yards, 1 touchdown, and 4 interceptions, according to the Norwich Athletics web page.

Week 4 is when the team decided to make a change at quarterback, putting Sophomore QB Matt Chaffee, a criminal justice major from Middletown, NY, at the helm in an attempt to salvage Norwich’s first season in the NEWMAC. Chafee was thrown into the game as a replacement before he took over starting duties in week 4. In 9 games Chaffee threw for 776 yards while scoring 4 touchdowns and turning the ball over 15 times.

Coach Mintken spends most of his day with the offense or studying film. Although it was not his executive decision to replace Bazinet with Chafee, the team as a whole felt it was time to turn a new page. Mintken made it clear that Bazinet “was not pushed out” or “disposed of,” but made it known from the beginning of the season that there were two quarterbacks that were more than capable of heading the Cadets offense. “We lost our first 4 games of the season, we needed a spark at that time, and Matt has not given the job back to Philippe.”

The team’s offensive woes were a critical turning point in this year’s football team. When looking at the stats, there is a clear level of unsatisfactory production. In ten games this season, the Cadets averages just 11.1 points per game, which is the worst it has been in 10 years. The Cadets managed only 12 touchdowns this season, which is just over one touchdown per game. Their third and fourth down conversions were 34% and 29% successful, the teams goal is to be somewhere around 70% per game in third down efficiency. “We do a defensive goal board every week, and we are not living up to the standard we have set,” said Murnyack. The team also averaged only 280 total yards of offense per game, which is the worst it has been since 2014 (290 Yds./PG).

To the common eye, it is much easier to see what problems a football team is having when they have the football, opposed to when they don’t. A lot of speculated blame wants to be pointed at the offensive side of the ball, given that they have a lack of ability to put up as many points as their opponent. The defensive side deserves as much blame as the offense does, considering that this is one of the worst statistical defensive years the Cadets have had with Coach Murnyack at the helm.

Cadets Football has a well-known reputation for its defense, which heralds gritty players who are willing to get to the dirty areas on the field. This year’s defense has allowed 372 yards per game, getting handed 240 of those yards per game on the ground. The team has consistently held teams to under 200 passing yards per game over the past 5 seasons, but the Cadets gave up 12 passing touchdowns this year to opposing teams, which is the same amount of total touchdowns the Cadets offense had this past season.

Run defense was an evident problem for this year’s team who gave up more than 2300 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns on the ground. “We’ve played back to back the number 1 and 2 rushing teams in the country,“ Murnyack said. The defense gave up an average 28 points per game, which is equivalent to four touchdowns a game. The Cadets collective defensive efficiency was the worst it has been since 2008, a year where the Cadets posted a 2-8 record.

The Cadets have struggled this year for many reasons. With one setback being no more important than the other, the Cadets staff shuffled around the country looking for players to replace what they had lost. “I don’t think there is any blame going around, there were a few players we were counting on to come back, any time you have a squad built up and then all of a sudden a few key players don’t come back, and now you can’t fill those spots because the recruiting season is over” said Mariano. The lack of experience at certain positions explain why teams were more successful running the ball on the Cadets.

The Cadets’ next move will be to assemble a 2022 recruiting class that hopefully lifts the team to more success. “We’ll start to develop a book on some of these teams and we’ll be mindful of the future, but I’m never going to write a season off. That’s just not fair to the players and coaches,” said Murnyack.

Speak Your Mind