California University football coach Gary Dunn easily remembers the last time he was involved in a Friday night football game.
“(It was) 1991, Seton LaSalle, when I was in high school.“ said Dunn with a chuckle.
That 27-year drought will come to an end tonight when the Vulcans play St. Anselm to open the season.
Kickoff is 6 p.m.
St. Anselm is tucked away in the hilly regions of New Hampshire and requires about a 10-hour bus trip to reach the city of Manchester.
But everyone has to start somewhere, right?
That’s where the Vulcans begin the march to what they hope to be a redemptive season after missing the playoffs last year.
“When we talked to them about this, we thought we would play on either Friday or Thursday night,” said Dunn. “We thought because of class schedules and the distance of the trip, it would be better to play on Friday.“
St. Anselm is a member of the Northeast 10 Conference and plays in the same region as Cal. That’s what made the game more attractive to both teams, which were looking for openers.
St. Anselm is coming off a pair of one-win seasons while California brings back a number of starters from a 7-4 team that was passed over for a playoff spot in the NCAA Division II tournament.
It’s a major motivating factor is also one that Dunn wants to play down.
“We can’t change what happened last year,” said Dunn. “We are just focused on this year. We can’t control what happened last year. We can only work to get better this year.”
The Vulcans return two key players from last year’s team in quarterback Noah Mitchell and defensive back Lamont McPhatter. The two are coming off excellent seasons and should play key roles again for this team.
Mitchell threw for 2,759 yards and set just about every freshman quarterback record at the school.
McPhatter enters his senior year after leading Division II safeties in interception return yardage. He had five interceptions last year and is looking for an even stronger season to finish his college career.
“I worked hard in the offseason on reading my keys,” said McPhatter. “I did a lot of film study to find out the tendencies of my opponents. I worked on a lot of the mental aspects of the game.”
With a number of first-year starters last year, Cal got an early baptism to life in the rugged PSAC West Conference.
“We had a salty taste left in our mouths for not making the playoffs last year,” McPhatter said. “The younger guys know what it takes now. It’s going to be an everyday process.”
Another key part of the Vulcans offense will be the running game, which is led by Nelson Brown. The senior rushed for more than 1,200 yards and led the conference with 22 touchdowns last season.
“I think the lessons we learned from last year will help us move forward this year,” Dunn said.
Waynesburg at Muskingum
Waynesburg University begins the season with two consecutive road games, the first coming Saturday at Muskingum with a 1:30 p.m. kickoff.
The Muskies have won the past three meetings, the last one, 31-24.
Waynesburg is coming off a 4-6 season and return most of its offense, including quarterback Tyler Perone.