The Erie Community College football team may just be the best-kept secret in the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association (NJCAA). After going toe-to-toe with the fourth-best team in the nation for three quarters last week, Erie followed that performance by beating a team that had appeared in five of the six national polls this season.
The College of DuPage was the latest team with national prominence this season to feel the sting of playing the Kats. After finishing in the national top-10 in three of the last five polls, Erie delivered a time-expiring field goal to beat the Chaparrals, 22-21, Oct. 8 in Glenn Ellyn, Illinois.
Jonathan Royster connected from 42-yards to put the nail in the coffin and improve the Kats' record at 4-2.
In the latest national poll, 26 teams received votes for top-20 status. Of the 65 NJCAA teams, 29 have four wins or more - with one of those teams being Erie. When you consider that Erie's only two losses have come at the hands of two undefeated teams (there are only nine current undefeated teams in the NJCAA) and that both games weren't decided until the final quarter, you can't help but wonder when the pollsters will realize that the Kats belong in the national poll conversation. Who knows, perhaps this will be the week that Erie receives some national polling votes.
It's common football knowledge among coaches that if you win the turnover battle, you'll probably win the game. Not only did the Kats win the turnover battle 4-0, but one of those turnovers was a key in providing offensive points that may have ultimately have been the difference in the game.
John Pope had a monster game for Erie. The defensive stalwart stripped the ball from the Chaparrals on their own 7-yard line, which allowed D'Andre Jenkins to recover the fumble and move the ball just two yards away from an ECC score. Daytwon Burney would convert the turnover to an early second quarter 13-0 Kat lead.
In addition to aiding in the Kats' touchdown, Pope also led the team in tackles with 10 and solo tackles with eight. He registered a game-high three sacks and finished with three-and-half tackles for loss for 19 yards.
Pope led a defensive push that resulted in 73-percent efficiency on stopping DuPage on third down. The Chaparrals could only convert three third-downs on 11 attempts. Less penalty first-downs, the Kats allowed just 13 for the game.
The Kats did not discriminate on takeaways with two coming via air and two via the ground. In addition to Jenkins' recovery, Laquan Moody also scooped up a fumble as well as an interception. Christian Cheatom had the other Kat interception.
Besides Pope, nine other Kat defenders figured prominently into the contest. Moody's two takeaways complemented eight tackles (six solo) – good enough for second on the team. Justin Jones finished third on the team in tackles with five (three solo) and forced a fumble, while William McKenzie-Baker also added five tackles (three solo). Mike Hurd registered four solo tackles, while Altron Webb and Gary Harris each had three solo stops. Dion Woods had a pair of solo tackles with one being for a loss. Jenkins added a sack and Cheatom had added a pick.
Between the 10 defenders, they accounted for two interceptions, two forced fumbles, two recovered fumbles, four sacks and 10 tackles for loss for 42 yards. Not a bad day for the Kats' defensive core.
Offensively, Sam Castronova accounted for 255 yards of offense that included the game-opening score with a rushing touchdown and a touchdown throw of 28 yards to Vincent Gregory that started the Kats' late fourth-quarter rally and cut DuPage's lead to 21-19 with about five minutes to go. Castronova finished the game as the Kat's top rusher with 82 yards and added 173 through the air on 15 completions with no interceptions.