BUENA VISTA, Va. — The Southern Virginia University 2019 men's football team completed its inaugural season as a member of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference with the program's most single-season wins since joining NCAA DIII, finishing 4-6 overall and 2-6 in conference play.
"We are pleased to see the progress from last season to this season," said head coach Ed Mulitalo. "The 4-6 record is the best season since our program has joined Division III and is a testament of this year's senior class. Changing a culture is always a tough road, but these seniors have bought in, and helped build this foundation for the future."
Southern Virginia was 4-2 at Knight Stadium, winning its four games on average by double digits, with an average margin of victory of more than 15 points per contest.
Offensively, the Knights total offense of 3,274 yards is the highest single-season total in the program's Division III era, averaging 327 yards per game. Southern Virginia set a single-season record in yards per rush at an impressive 4.6 yards clip while tying the single-season records for passing touchdowns (16) and first downs (172). The Knights finished third in the ODAC in rushing offense (178.1). Davis Pinkston, in his first season, tied the program record for passing touchdowns (14) while adding 1,491 passing yards, the most since 2014. Freshman Matthew Johansson set a freshman single-season record with five touchdown receptions.
Southern Virginia's defensive unit led the ODAC in red zone defense while tying for the top spot with 15 interceptions on the team. The 15 picks set a program record surpassing the previous record of 11 in the 2013 season. The Knights returned three interceptions for six to give the team the most defensive touchdowns also since 2013.
On special teams, the punt team recorded its second-longest punt yards per attempt (33.9) since 2014. The Knights set a program record in punt return averaging 12.4 yards. Southern Virginia also added a blocked punt and scored its first kickoff return in the Division III era first against Montclair State.
The Knights began the season 2-0 with wins over former NJAC foe Montclair State (34-21), and it's ODAC opener over Hampden-Sydney (29-17) for the best start in program history. Southern Virginia then hit a rough patch dropping its next five games, all ODAC competition to bring them to 2-5. The Knights responded the following Saturday at home, earning a 30-17 victory against Guilford. Southern Virginia then traveled to crosstown rival Washington and Lee, where they were dealt a 28-7 loss. The final game of the season, the Knights put on a dominating performance, beating Apprentice 40-7 on Senior Day.
Southern Virginia's offense loses six starters beginning with Akiva Wedge (leading rusher), Josh Newman (program leader in receiving yards—810), and Kevin Adams (program leader in receptions). The Knights also take a hit on the offensive line losing Nate Covert and Grady Sami. In the slot and special teams, Caeden Knight (program leader in punt return yards—234, average return yards—13, and kick return yards—997) will also graduate this spring.
The Knights defense takes a hard hit as they will lose seven to graduation. The duo of Neil Davis (program leading tackler—308) and Albert Green IV (fourth in total tackles in program history) leave the secondary after strong seasons while Joel Bergman (second in tackles in program history—216 and tackles for loss —22) and Matthew Blake (27 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss) graduate from the linebacker core. Southern Virginia will lose three starters on the d-line in Skyler Cloward (second all-time sacks—12), Simi Moala (season leader in sacks—5), and Michael Benjamin (33 tackles and five tackles for loss).
The young talent from the 2019 season will look to carry on the steady progress of the program through the upcoming 2020 season.
"We left some goals out on the field this year," said Mulitalo. "I am confident that our underclassmen will not skip a beat and attain those goals. I enjoyed watching our underclassmen fight through adversity. I am pleased we started and ended the season on a high note. We faced our challenges, but the effort and perseverance of our younger players helped us make the proper steps of becoming an even better team."
Davis becomes the first Southern Virginia football player to be named to the D3football.com All-South Region Team. The safety led the team in tackles (80) and tackles for loss (8.5). He tallied three interceptions with a 103-yard pick-six and seven pass breakups. The score is the longest scoring play in the program's Division III era. Davis finished at Southern Virginia as the program's leader in total career tackles (308) tackles both solos and assisted, and interceptions (14). The senior was named the ODAC Defensive Player of the Week for Nov. 4 and later named to the All-ODAC Defense First Team.
Wedge left his stamp at Southern Virginia, setting records and receiving multiple honors. Wedge became the single-season record holder in rushing yards (1,072), defeating his record of 1,032 yards. He also holds single-season records in rushing attempts (202), rushing yards per game (107.2), and is tied for rushing touchdowns with eight. He is tied for second in the ODAC in both rushing touchdowns and rushing yards per game. The senior leaves Southern Virginia the program's Division III leader in rushing yards (2,296), the only player with two seasons of 1,000+ rushing yards, rushing touchdowns (15), rushing yards per game (76.5), all-purpose yards (2,589) and touchdowns (18, 15 rushing and three receiving). Wedge was named ODAC Player of the Week and D3football.com Team of the Week following setting a program record-237 rushing yards against the Tigers and ended the season selected to the All-ODAC Offense First Team.
Defensive end Cloward made history after being named to both the CoSIDA Academic All-District and Academic All-American First Teams. The senior finished fifth on the team with 50 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, and a fumble recovery to sure up the defensive line. Cloward wraps up his career finishing with the most career tackles by a defensive lineman and third in program history (186).
Sami merited All-ODAC Third Team honors, collecting for the second consecutive season all-conference recognition. He played a vital role on the offensive line anchoring the offensive line as the Knights' offense posted the most yards per game in the program's Division III era.
Wide receiver Adams recently was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team. He led the team in receiving touchdowns (6), receptions (49), receiving yards (591), and receiving yards per game (59.1) and graduate with the program's Division III leading in receptions (70).
Justin Mitchell finished the season on a high note after collecting the last ODAC Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording four tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, and two pick-sixes. He is the first player to accomplish two interceptions for two scores in the program's history. He also ended the season leading the team in interceptions (4).