COLUMBUS, Ohio – The 2015 season is just days away and the Capital University football team is chomping at the bit for the chance to hit the gridiron for its first competitive play. Bernlohr Stadium serves as the site of this year's season opener, and the Crusaders welcome the No. 17 Wittenberg University Tigers, this Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
SCOUTING THE TIGERS
Asking for no favors early, the Crusaders will take on its second nationally-ranked opponent on opening day in the last three years, and the first of three opponents this season that open the year in the Top-25 (per D3Football.com). As nationally-renown as programs like the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the University of Mount Union are, Wittenberg is right there as one of the most consistent programs over the last 20 years. Under head coach Joe Fincham, the Tigers are a combined 173-39 in his 19-year reign.
Wittenberg has won conference titles in five of the last six years and last year won its 13th North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) title in program history with its second consecutive 9-0 season in conference play. Since 2009, they have not lost more than two games in a single season and only two games total against their conference foes.
Seniors Jimmy Dehnke and Sean Gary shared the rushing workload last year, combining for more than 1,000 yards rushing and more than 300 yards through the air while scoring 13 times. The Tigers' passing attack returns its top three wide receivers in junior Luke Landis, senior Corey Stump and senior Zach Culvahouse. Culvahouse broke school records with 81 receptions and 1,179 yards in his first year as a starter. Senior Zack Jenkins returns under center after racking up nearly 3,000 passing yards and 25 touchdowns while completing 60.3 percent of his passes in 2014 as a first-year starter.
Defensively, the Tigers welcome six starters back to the lineup, starting with senior tackle Josh Bannick, a two-time First Team All-NCAC selection. Senior safety Winston Thomas emerged as a standout a year ago, and senior cornerback Ryan Myers is ticketed for his third straight year as a starter. Dustin Holmes is the team's top returning tackler (80 total) and was one of three players with 2.5 sacks last year, good for a share of second on the squad.
|The Craig Candeto Show||Nick Wright, Jr., DT|
DON'T COUNT OUT YOUR CRUSADERS
Capital comes off a rough season that included a 3-7 overall record and the loss of their starting quarterback to headline key injuries that hampered their progress. However, third-year head coach Craig Candeto says that his team comes out of camp the healthiest and most ready to compete out of the gate since he donned the Purple and White.
The pride and joy of this year's Capital team may reside in the trenches, and that means on both side of the ball. The offensive line remains largely intact with a junior laden group anchored by Will Weir (Zanesville, Ohio) in the center. His fellow linemates are also his classmates with juniors Zach Bennington (New Vienna, Ohio) and Jack Harding (Bellbrook, Ohio) to his right, and Jake Hooks (Chillicothe, Ohio) to his left. Sophomore Zack Kennedy (Grove City, Ohio) rounds out the line, but even he gained valuable experience as a freshman a year ago. Last year, Capital finished the year ranked No. 7 in NCAA Division III in team rushing, averaging 295.9 yards per contest.
When the ball flips side of the field, Capital can display its depth on the defensive line. Up the middle, the combination of junior Nick Wright (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Davidson) and senior Vince Austin (Highland Heights, Ohio) will eat up opposing offensive linemen while a slew of rushers begin barreling down on the quarterback. Both edges will likely rotate a foursome that includes juniors Tyler Conner (Grove City, Ohio), Jimmy Ahern (North Olmsted, Ohio) and Ben Heilman (Columbus, Ohio/Olentangy Orange), along with sophomore Brett Annis (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Davidson). Aaron Viscounte (Canton, Ohio) will also provide some muscle up the middle.
The second line of defense will see a lot of new faces. Standout junior Jimmy Curtis (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Davidson) will be moved around from his normal safety position to the STAR position in this year defense, allowing the all-conference selection to flex from linebacker to defensive back. He will mentor both groups who feature a mix of young and first-year options at both positions. While Joe Rodriguez recovers from injury, look to sophomore Logan Mahar (Amherst, Ohio) and freshman J.R. Garrigo (Miami, Fla.) to man both safety spots.
The offense will run through sophomore quarterback Nick Iske (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Davdison) after he was named the Crusaders' starter following preseason camp. Iske started eight games last year after being called upon due to former signal caller Chase Longwell's injury and put up more than 500 yards passing, 400 yards rushing and a total of 10 touchdowns in his absence.
In speaking of touchdown scorers, Second Team All-OAC selection Brent Walton (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington Central) is back to lead the Crusaders into their breakout season. Walton became just the third running back to post 1,000 yards or more on the ground, totaling 1,125 and 10 touchdowns in 2014. He will be backed up by Youngstown, Ohio native, sophomore Isaiah Lyle.
Iske will have a lot of playmaking options spread wide of the line, including senior wide receiver and All-OAC honorable mention honoree, Jake Skelton (Madison, Ohio). Skelton led the team with 22 catches for 305 yards and three touchdowns but also used his size to seal edges for the Capital run game.
Sophomore Cory Heeter (Circleville, Ohio) may arguable be the most athletic option Iske has to throw and hand off to. He speed and hands make for a great combination that, as a freshman, landed him 299 yards on the ground (8.1 ypc) and four catches.
Junior Nick Waters (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Davidson) will serve as another solid option in the slot as well as on special teams. Waters had a breakout game in the season finale at Marietta College last year, rushing 10 times for 123 yards and three touchdowns, all before adding a touchdown grab to seal the Crusaders' win.
Senior Jake Breakey (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington North) returns in the slot as well to add more speed in the middle of the field. Freshman Jackson Mauricette (Miramar, Fla.) is a young player that has downfield potential to help Iske stretch the field, while freshman tight end Ryan Stephens (Willoughby Hills, Ohio) can use his 6-3, 230-pound frame in multiple sets to help the run and pass game.
The kicking game will have a more solid foundation this year with the addition of sophomore Jack Johns (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Davidson) holding down field goal, point after tries and kickoffs. His addition will alleviate the pressure off of junior Keegan Irwin (Cincinnati, Ohio), who will now focus on punting for the Crusaders. Last year, Irwin averaged 34.8 yards per boot, pinned four inside the opponent's 20-yard line, forced 14 fair catches, and had a long punt of 50 yards.
HISTORY BETWEEN THE TIGERS AND CRUSADERS
The all-time series between these two teams favors Wittenberg heavily, 29-7. Capital last defeated Wittenberg in 2007, 13-0 in Springfield, and until 2011 had won five straight meetings. Capital has lost the last two matchups in 2011 (45-28) and 2012 (44-17). The last time they met, the two teams opened the 2012 season in Columbus where the Crusaders were downed 44-17 after a big first half by the Tigers. Wittenberg jumped out to a 30-3 first-half lead though Capital equaled the Tigers' second-half point output. Capital committed six turnovers, leading to extra scoring chances that the Tigers took advantage of.
JOIN THE CRUSADERS FOR ITS PREGAME WALKOUT
Capital will be beginning a new tradition prior to all home games. The Crusaders are asking students, staff, faculty and fans to join along Mound Street, united as one CapFam, and cheer on the Crusaders as they walk into the stadium. They will congregate at the fountain two hours prior to game time and then begin their entry into Bernlohr Stadium, together.
Game time is set for 1:30 p.m. Live stats and live video will be provided for this and every home game this season.