Football Makes Strong Case for NCAA Tournament

Saturday, November 15, 2014 - page 2

The Muhlenberg football team finished its regular season with a steady 37-7 win against its biggest rival, Moravian. Now all the Mules (9-1, 8-1) can do is sit and wait to see if the NCAA selection committee deems them worthy of an at-large bid on Sunday.

The Mules’ season-finale performance against the Greyhounds (5-5, 4-5) fit the trend of their entire year. Muhlenberg paired a strong, defiant defensive performance with a methodical and point-producing offense.

Nick Palladino, Max Cepeda “We keep it coming in every phase of the game,” said freshman Max Cepeda, who cashed in four total touchdowns on the day. “It’s fun. Everybody is having fun and we like what we do, and that’s why I think we have done so well.”

Cepeda finished with 129 total yards to go along with his four scores, and was voted as the co-Bianco Award winner (awarded to the Muhlenberg player of the game every year against Moravian) with sophomore quarterback Nick Palladino. His 944 rushing yards this season are the most ever by a Muhlenberg freshman and the second-highest total by a freshman in conference history.

Palladino ended his record-setting regular-season campaign by completing 27 of his 31 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns, breaking the school record for passing yards in a season (2,610). His completion percentage of .871 was a school record for a minimum of 25 attempts. He also did not throw an interception for the eighth time this year.

Muhlenberg’s 37 points ran its season total to 386, a school record through 10 games. The only team to score more, the 2002 squad, amassed 429 points in 12 games.

The Mules started the scoring with a little over one minute remaining in the first quarter. Palladino picked up two key third-and-5s to keep the 12-play drive alive, and Cepeda finished it with a five-yard scamper to give the Mules the 6-0 lead.

Cepeda pounded in his second score of the day on the very next possession to give Muhlenberg a 13-0 advantage halfway through the second. After a quick touchdown by Moravian, Palladino marched the Mules right back down the field by completing five passes of over 10 yards, ending with a 29-yard pass down the seam to Cepeda with under two minutes left in the half, his first-career touchdown reception.

Ian Gimbar “I saw one-on-one coverage with the linebacker and I knew I had to get open,” recalled Cepeda. “I beat him down the middle and once I saw Nick throw the ball I got excited and made sure I brought it in.”

It looked like the Greyhounds were set to score to end the half, but on the final play before the break senior safety Chris Flynn picked off a would-be touchdown in the end zone, assuring the Mules a 20-7 lead at the half.

Flynn did not wait long to make his presence known in the second half, either. After the Mules were stopped on a fourth-and-short, Flynn picked off a bobbled pass on the third play of the drive, setting up the Mules with strong field position.

“It is a great feeling [to perform like this],” said Flynn, “Especially against these guys. It is always a high-intensity game and the biggest on our schedule. It feels great.”

The feeling got better after two unsportmanlike conduct penalties against the Greyhounds on the same play set up the Mules for a first-and-goal on the 10. Cepeda used a strong second effort on third down to tally his fourth score of the game and give the Mules a 27-7 lead.

Any chance of a comeback for the Greyhounds was thwarted by senior captain Jeremey Thomas’s interception deep in Muhlenberg territory. Senior Connor Winter tacked on a short field goal after that, and Palladino found sophomore Ryan Delaney in the end zone late in the fourth to finish off the scoring.

Senior Cody Geyer had a career-high 11 receptions for 101 yards on the day, eclipsing the century mark for the third time in four games. In total, six Mules had at least two catches. Senior Ian Gimbar led the Mules with 12 tackles (10 solo), while adding 2½ tackles for loss, a sack and a pass breakup. Senior Greg DeLade had two sacks on the afternoon and junior Ronald Christian recorded his first career fumble recovery.

Muhlenberg’s nine wins places it second in the Centennial Conference behind regular-season champ Johns Hopkins. The Mules will surely have at least one more shot at a win, whether it is in the first round of the NCAA Tournament or in an ECAC bowl game.

“It’s obviously what you play for and hope for,” added Flynn. “We put our heart out there every game and I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. Hopefully we will be keeping it going next week.”
Click here for box score.
Click here for complete stats.

pictured at right: Palladino (14) and Cepeda pick up their award from Muhlenberg president Randy Helm.
pictured at left: Gimbar (bottom) and senior Gene Blanco team up for a tackle.