Written by Sean Dahlin
BUENA VISTA, Va—Upon winning its final three contests, the 2012 Southern Virginia University football team finished the season with a 5-6 record—the second-most victories in program history behind the 2007 squad (6-5 record).
"This season was memorable in the way our players rallied together as a team and finished strong," said fourth-year Head Coach DeLane Fitzgerald. "We hope to continue the momentum from this year into 2013."
Looking back, the Knights' success on-the-field was in one way a result of experience with a program-high 29 returners from the year before and a strong class of 10 seniors led by the team captains—Steven Andreasen (Burley, Idaho), Dylan Hall (Redding, Calif.), Luke Herndon (Mechanicsville, Va.), Jeff Waldron (Costa Mesa, Calif.) and Robert Williams (Philadelphia, Pa.).
In addition to preseason nominations,—10 Knights were selected to the USA College Sports, Inc. USCAA Preseason All-America team—a program-best six scholar-athletes were honored as USCAA All-Academic selections. The Southern Virginia football program also garnered USCAA Player of the Week honors nine of the ten weeks awarded.
"I'm proud of not only the awards our scholar-athletes were given for their statistical achievements, but also for what they were able to do in the classroom," said Fitzgerald.
The 2012 squad etched its name in the record books including the special teams unit that shattered the program record having blocked 12 kicks (6 field goals, 5 extra points, 1 punt) in comparison the second-ranked 2007 team with six kicks blocked. A strong push came from senior defensive linemen Hall—who recorded five blocks for the all-time single-season mark—and Herndon—who made three blocks this year moving his career-record total to six blocked kicks.
In football's tenth season, the Knights' defense set team records in points allowed per-game (24.7) and pass break-ups (46) while ranking second in quarterback sacks (24.0), third in yards allowed per-game (371.1) and fourth in tackles-for-loss (66.0).
Southern Virginia's 2012 campaign had its ups and downs; however, the team ended the season down-the-stretch on a high note highlighted by a three-game win streak—defeating Alfred State (21-6) on Oct. 27, Webber International (27-6) on Nov. 3 and Edward Waters (17-10) on Nov. 10—and a final 5-6 record. The only other year a team recorded three consecutive wins was during 2007.
The first victory of the season came in its home opener when Southern Virginia defeated North Carolina Wesleyan 24-14, scoring the game's final 10 points including a 40-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Mitch Stevenson (Muskogee, Okla.) to senior wide receiver Cameron Williams (Sacramento, Calif.) to seal the win for the Knights.
Following the win over the Bishops, the Knights hit a three-game losing skid—including a tough 19-16 loss to Virginia-Lynchburg. Southern Virginia, however, bounced back garnering its second season-win in a momentum-shifting rally scoring three touchdowns in the final 17 minutes of regulation to defeat USCAA-rival The Apprentice School 20-14 at Salem Football Stadium.
Entering with a 2-6 mark through its first eight contests, the team finished the season with three consecutive wins highlighted by a 27-6 victory over NAIA-affiliate Webber International—the Knights' first victory over the Warriors in five attempts—in front of a ruckus home crowd on Senior Day.
"Although our players earned several individual records and accomplishments, I merit their unselfish behavior for placing the team as priority," said Fitzgerald.
On the offensive side of the ball, C. Williams led the receiving corps for the second straight year with 37 catches for 474 yards in the air—ranking him fourth all-time in career receiving yards (980) and receptions (72).
USCAA All-Academic selection and tight end Waldron provided a threat in the middle of the field finishing second on the team with 29 grabs for 409 reception yards and two touchdowns while senior Dewayne Beamon (Eastern Wayne, N.C.) finished third on the team with 20 receptions for 287 yards and two touchdowns.
Southern Virginia's rushing attack that averaged 111.3 yards-per-game was led this season by sophomore running back Jamal Coates (Conover, N.C.) who finished with a team-high 402 yards on the ground and three scores.
Freshman Andy Jones (Salt Lake City, Utah) and Stevenson spent time behind center throwing for 778 and 559 yards respectively.
Defensively, co-captains Hall and Herndon wreaked havoc on opposing backfields all year long as Hall set program records registering 10.5 sacks this season and 14.5 career sacks while Herndon had 9.5 tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks in 2012—ranking him second in career tackles-for-loss (27.0) and sacks (10.5).
Sophomore linebacker Robert Robbins (Glendale, Ariz.) recorded a team-leading 100 tackles (44 solo, 56 assisted) for the fourth-most single-season tackles in program history.
Junior linebacker Dakoda Winsor (Richland, Wash.) and sophomore defensive back Matt Gregory (Staunton, Va.) finished second and third on the team in total tackles. Winsor recorded 86 tackles (43 solo, 43 assisted), 6.5 tackles-for-loss and two interceptions while first-year defender Gregory ended the season with 76 tackles (42 solo, 34 assisted), two interceptions and two blocked kicks.
On special teams, senior punter Brenton Estorffe (Mooloolaba, Australia) averaged 35.7 yards-per-punt, including pinning 17 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. His career 35.21 yards-per-punt average ranks him third all-time.
Two-time USCAA All-Academic selection Brett Murray (Hollywood, Fla.) provided a consistent kicking game for the Knights making 24 of 26 PATs (92%) and 4 of 5 field goals on the year. He also holds the program record for career PATs made (45) and ranks second with a career 62.5% on field goals made.
In addition, the Southern Virginia football coaching staff along with seniors Herndon, Waldron and C. Williams participated on the winning side of this year's D2 vs. NAIA Senior Bowl—the D2 team defeated the NAIA 28-21—on Dec. 15 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
C. Williams was named MVP of the senior bowl for making four catches, including the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Waldron made a touchdown catch as well in the second quarter and Herndon made his presence known with the tackle of the game for a cage-rattling hit on the opposing punt returner in the second half.
"The bowl game was a great experience for our seniors and coaching staff," said Fitzgerald. "It was a top-quality event at a top-notch venue."
After receiving provisional NCAA Division III membership this past summer, Southern Virginia will play a full DIII schedule this upcoming fall of 2013.
"I'm proud of our 2012 team and all they achieved," said Fitzgerald. "Now, we're working hard as a football program to prepare for what we hope is a successful season with our first full DIII schedule."