BUENA VISTA, Va. - Under second-year head coach, DeLane Fitzgerald, the Southern Virginia University football team recorded the second best season in program history, and saw a number of firsts in year seven of the program. Despite SVU's 4-7 record, several things went right for the program, and Fitzgerald saw growth in the program which bodes well for upcoming seasons.
Things started well for the Knights in the pre-season, as Thomas Canady, Tommy Davidson and Matt Mellor would be named to the NAIA Preseason All-Independent Team. The trio would have involvement in all of the games throughout the season, and for Mellor, it would be the beginning of a very prolific season.
On the field, SVU suffered a rough start to the season, as they travelled to Athens, W.V. for a matchup with NCAA D.II foe Concord. Little went right for the visitors, as Concord used a potent run and pass attack to overwhelm the Knights, streaking to a 72-21 win. Despite the challenging game, SVU saw a player of the week candidate emerge, as Mellor was voted NAIA Independent Special Teams Player of the Week. The senior had a punt of 70-yards, and prevented the hosts from starting in good field position throughout the game. The Knights quickly regrouped as they hosted Radford in a Friday night game in Buena Vista. Zach Garner threw for two-touchdowns, and Mitch Stevenson added three more, as The Knights struggled early against the Highlanders, but broke away in the second half, to record a much needed 44-6 win.
At 1-1, the Knights were looking for momentum heading in to a match with first-year program, Lindsey Wilson. Mellor had another solid outing, recording a season high 14-tackles, but the visitors could not get the ball rolling, and suffered a loss to go 1-2 on the season. SVU was on the road again in week 4 when they faced off against familiar foe Ferrum. SVU had never beaten the Panthers, and had suffered some lopsided losses to the D.III school.
All of that changed in the first quarter of the game, as freshman defensive lineman, Fine Itaaehau, picked off a Ferrum pass, and ran it back 70-yards for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. The interception return was the first of Itaaehau's career, and the 70-yards made it the longest in SVU history. The Knights took a 20-10 lead in to the half, only to see the hosts mount a comeback to get the game close at 20-17. The Panthers had one more chance for a tie, and were marching towards the goal line in the dying moments of the game before the Knights' defense dug in to stop the field goal attempt. The 20-17 win represented the first time that the knights had beaten one of the winningest programs in the state of Virginia. For his efforts, Itaaehau was named NAIA Independent Freshman of the Week.
SVU was now 2-2 before October for the first time in program history. A tough home loss followed, as SVU could not contain the running attack of Brevard at home. SVU had a quick turnaround, as they travelled to Salem, VA. to take on Bridgewater in a charity game for the Southwest Virginia chapter of Feed America. SVU took a lead into the fourth quarter, but could not stop a winning drive from the Eagles. The game took place at Salem Stadium, which is the sight of the NCAA D.III national championship game.
The Knights had just lost two-straight, and a homecoming battle with a familiar foe in Guilford was just what the team needed. Behind three touchdown passes from Garner, and two rushing touchdowns from Steven Scott, the Knights recorded the 36-21 win in front of the homecoming crowd, and recorded another first for the season. The win was the first for the Knights against Guilford, but also represented the first time SVU had beaten an Old Dominion Athletic Conference foe. The Guilford game had other moments of firsts, as The Knights blocked a PAT, and returned it the 98-yards for 2-points in the game. The blocked PAT was the fourth block in four consecutive games.
The Knights had little time to savor the victory, as a trip to Dover, DE was next. The Knights continued a season of firsts, as they faced off against a ranked D.III team. Wesley was ranked #3 in the country, and the Wolverines had been national semi-finalists the year previous. The Knights had few answers for the running game of the hosts, and there would be no slaying of the giant, as Wesley recorded a 52-3 win on the way to another semi-finals appearance.
History was made the following for the Knights, as Mellor recorded three tackles against the Apprentice shipbuilders. The amount was small, but added to his career total, and pushed him to the top of the all-time tackles leaders. Mellor passed Shea Owens, who had 262-tackles. Mellor would finish his career as the leader with 282-tackles. The momentous occasion was dampened by the Builders' win over the Knights.
In week 10, SVU took a trip to Grayson, KY for a matchup with Kentucky Christian. In 2007, SVU recorded the most points in a game against the Knights of KCU, and the visitors were hoping to get into the win column. SVU jumped to a quick lead, only to see KCU make a comeback. Garner would not let the visitors lose, and behind 263-passing yards, and 4-touchdown strikes, the team rallied for a 45-28 win. Brick Wilce pulled in two touchdown passes and 166-yards. For his efforts, Wilce was named NAIA Independent Freshman Player of the Week, and Tyler Bowen was named NAIA Special Teams Player of the Week, as he hit on all of his PAT's and added a field goal early on.
One more game was on the schedule for the Knights, as they returned home looking for five wins, and hoping to send the seniors off on a high note. Unfortunately, Webber International played spoiler, as they recorded a 34-20 win.
Despite the season ending loss, a number of positives came out of the season. Mellor's march to the tackles record helped the season move along, and SVU has found a solid receiving target, as Wilce broke freshman-receiving records for receptions (42), yards (588), and touchdowns (8). The Knights were again receiving post-season awards, as Mellor finished as a First Team NAIA All-Independent member. Canady also joined Mellor on the first team. Tommy Davidson joined on the second team along with Wilce and redshirt freshman offensive lineman, Jacob Lee. Mellor also was named to the VaSID All-State Second Team. SVU also had a first of 22-returned missionaries on the team, and 22-players leaving for missions after the season.