Head Coach Ron Caragher and his University of San Diego football team are busy preparing for an important Pioneer Football League game this Saturday, pitted against Campbell (N.C.) University, a team that handed the Toreros their lone PFL blemish during the latter’s 2011 championship season.
The Oct. 22, 2011 game, a 48-24 setback played at the Camels’ stadium in Buies Creek, N.C., provided a wake-up call for USD.
“That loss last year helped us,” said senior left tackle Matt Peleti. “Up to that point, we’d been feeling pretty good about ourselves. The loss hurt us, they beat us fair and square. We’ve not forgotten it.”
The Toreros bounced back in the best possible way, recording three straight PFL wins over Dayton, Marist and Jacksonville, the last two at home, to claim a share of their first league title since 2007.
This week’s matchup with Campbell (0-2 PFL, 1-4 overall) has the Toreros (1-1, 2-3) looking for another bounce back after their first 2012 PFL loss, a 38-10 setback to Drake in Des Moines, Iowa. USD committed six turnovers (four interceptions, two fumbles) last week, causing Caragher and his staff to conduct more physical and fundamentally focused practices with drills designed around protecting the football.
“It was a tough loss to Drake and there are, unfortunately, going to be days like that,” said Peleti, a team captain and a three-year starter. “All you can do is work harder and come back stronger.”
One strength for USD this Saturday is that it’ll be played on Walter J. Zable Field at Torero Stadium. It’s Homecoming and Family Weekend at USD and being at home brings with it an instantly good vibe for the well-traveled Toreros. USD has won its first two home games this season — against Western New Mexico 34-27 and PFL foe Valparaiso 51-14 — to extend its home win streak to nine games and dates back to the 2010 season.
“Homecoming is an exciting time and it’ll be great to be back home playing in front of our fans,” said Caragher, who is in his sixth season at USD and has a 38-22 overall record. “Homecoming, to me, is about people coming back to campus and having fond memories of the great experiences they had during their college days. Hopefully, they’ll get a group together and come to the game to see some USD football. You want to put forth your best performance, play your best game and leave them with a good impression. We look forward to getting out there Saturday and having those additional fans joining us.”
Caragher’s Toreros have won three of five Homecoming games, including last year’s 42-0 rout of Davidson. Losses to Drake and Dayton in 2009 and 2010, respectively, came after wins against Valparaiso (42-14 in 2008) and a 52-49 shootout over Davidson in Caragher’s first USD Homecoming game. The 2007 win came in USD standout quarterback Josh Johnson’s senior season. The NFL-bound signal-caller completed 32 of 36 passes for 428 yards and had six touchdowns, including a late 16-yard strike to John Matthews (11 receptions, 190 yards, four TDs) to put the game away.
USD’s hopes for a victory this Saturday depend on the play of junior quarterback Mason Mills, pictured at left, (1,253 yards, nine TD passes), junior running back Kenn James (268 rushing yards, 1 TD), sophomore receiver Brandon White (31 receptions, 341 yards, 4 TDs) and junior receiver/kick returner Sam Hoekstra, pictured at top, (23 receptions, 294 yards). Defensively, senior linebacker Zach Dunaj is USD’s leading tackler (38) along with one sack, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Steve Gargiulo, junior defensive end, has 3.5 tackles for a loss and two quarterback sacks.
Peleti, who anchors the offensive line with seniors Corey Skolnick, center, and right guard Mike Arnold, said the Toreros are focused on winning Saturday, first and foremost. But to do it at Homecoming, when he’ll have “my own fan club,” including his parents, cousins, aunts and uncles from San Diego and Orange County, present, would be a fond memory. Perhaps, too, it will be the start of something bigger in his final season at USD.
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photos courtesy of Brock Scott (scottphoto.net)