Crusaders Look to Regain Footing in OAC Opener

2013 football captains Anthony Colucci (at left) and Jason Hutchins make their way out to midfield for the coin flip against Thomas More on Sept. 7 at Bernlohr Stadium. (Jeff Mills photo).
2013 football captains Anthony Colucci (at left) and Jason Hutchins make their way out to midfield for the coin flip against Thomas More on Sept. 7 at Bernlohr Stadium. (Jeff Mills photo).


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The Capital University football team opens the Ohio Athletic Conference season this Saturday against Marietta at 7 p.m. in Marietta, Ohio.


The Crusaders (0-1 overall) seek their third consecutive OAC season-opening win. Capital defeated Marietta 13-7 last season and downed Wilmington 26-12 in 2011. Both games took place at Bernlohr Stadium.


For the third straight year, the Crusaders hope to recover from a season-opening loss. Capital was defeated 20-0 against Thomas More (Ky.) on Sept. 7 at Bernlohr.


First-year head coach Craig Candeto, who looks to post his first career victory this Saturday, said the Crusaders enjoyed a strong bye week, when several players healed nagging injuries and the team was able to take an extra look at its performance in the opener.


"The great thing about the bye week after a loss is we get two weeks to improve," Candeto said. "In my experience, it has been the case, that teams improve the most between week 1 and week 2. I'm really hoping that's the case for us, because we have a lot of room to improve."


Against Thomas More, the Crusaders drove deep into Saints territory on the first drive of the contest, but were unable to take advantage of the opportunity. Following an interception by junior defensive lineman Gene Rucker (Marion, Ohio) with 10:41 to play in the third quarter, Capital had the ball at the Thomas More 10-yard line, but again came up short of getting into the scoring column.


The Crusaders held a decisive advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for over 38 minutes in the affair, but was outgained 379 yards to 190.


"We had our opportunities to take advantage of situations," Candeto said. "We had momentum going on our first drive, and weren't able to score. I think putting up points there would have helped us and changed the game.


"With that said, I was proud of the team and the way they fought. I don't think they gave up, even though we were in some pretty bad situations. I think our guys hung tough and fought through four quarters."


Like Candeto, first-year Marietta head coach Andy Waddle aims for his first career win Saturday. The Pioneers (0-1) suffered a 37-16 setback at Case Western Reserve on Sept. 7. Marietta was outgained 345 yards to 220 and committed three turnovers in the contest.


Sophomore quarterback Axten Franzoy is listed as the Pioneers' starter for Saturday's contest. Franzoy was 9-for-23 with 60 yards and two interceptions against Case, while backup Tom Fulton was 10-of-13 for 91 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing) after entering the contest in the fourth quarter. Junior wide receiver Josh Llaneza posted six receptions for 65 yards and a score.


Senior linebacker Jake Hammer, the league leader in tackles a season ago, led the defense with a team-best 13 tackles.


Candeto acknowledged that the two teams are in similar situations with new coaching staffs. Marietta, which hasn't defeated Capital since 2000, will be especially hungry for a victory on its home field.


"It's going to be a very competitive game," Candeto said. "Depth-wise, I think they're very similar to us. We're both looking to rebuild our programs, and, after losses in week one, get back to the win column. It's a huge game for both of us."


Candeto stressed the need to limit big plays defensively and play mistake-free football on the offensive side for the Crusaders to have a chance at a road win.


All three of Thomas More's scoring plays in Capital's opener were 16 yards or more. One of them – a 31-yard pass – came immediately following an interception.


"We have to limit big plays defensively," Candeto said. "Our defense stepped up at times, but it was 'bend but don't break', and when we did give up big plays, that really hurt us.


"Offensively, I think we have to be more physical than we were against Thomas More. We did a relatively good job taking care of the football with only one turnover last week, but we have to get that to zero."