A Battle Of Nationally Ranked Teams Marks Start Of The 2001 Football Season

CONTACT: Jeff Foley (518) 629-8085 or (518) 373-1262

FOR RELEASE: Immediate, Thursday, August 30, 2001

25th Ranked Vikings Set To Play No. 11 Lackawanna

After winning the NJCAA Region III title last season, Hudson Valley Community College's football team begins its 2001 campaign on the road against the No. 11 team in the nation. The Vikings, ranked 25th among junior colleges, travel to Lackawanna College (Scranton, PA) Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. Northeast Football Conference (NFC) matchup. The game will be played at Pittston Area High School Stadium.

Last year, Hudson Valley hosted the Lackawanna Fightin' Falcons to start the season. The Vikings fell behind early, trailing 21-0, but rallied behind the heroics of freshman wide receiver Shawn Miller (Troy High). Miller had a fantastic collegiate debut, hauling in two touchdown passes (54 and 64 yards) and tallying 177 receiving yards. Lackawanna still prevailed, though, 28-21.

Hudson Valley won five of its final six games in 2000, finishing the season with a 6-3 record and giving head coach Bob Jojo a 15-10 mark in three years. Lackawanna went on to post a 10-1 record, losing only to Middle Georgia in the Golden Isles Bowl in Georgia. The Fightin' Falcons also won the NFC crown.

"It's always a good game when we play Lackawanna," Jojo said. "We've got some great returning players, and we tend to match up very well with them. It'll be an exciting way to kick off the season."

Offensively, Hudson Valley returns six starters: Miller, who had 33 receptions last year and earned 2001 preseason First Team All-American status; 2000 First Team All-NFC quarterback Justin Kastner (Hudson High), who posted a 137.0 passer rating last year; and offensive linemen Severino Sangro (Hendrick Hudson High), Chris Shanks (Millbrook High), Craig Luebeck (Waldwich High, NJ) and Pete Argyris (Roosevelt High).

On defense, second-year inside linebacker Gary Smith (Concord High, DE) is expected to lead the way. Smith, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 218 pounds, had 57 tackles and two sacks last year. Other defensive returnees include defensive end La'Ronn Paulk (Corcoran High, NJ), who had a team-high 6.5 sacks in 2000, and outside linebacker Casey Bardin (Corinth Central High), who contributed 24 tackles and one sack last year. Bardin had an interception in a scrimmage against RPI on August 25.

Lackawanna, meanwhile, returns seven key players: tight end Tim Heitzmann, a preseason Second Team All-American; quarterback Benny Pritchyk; guards Omar Beyah and Shawn Gaster; center Joel Kline; cornerback Rueben Haigler; and punter-kicker Nik Zdral.

"This is probably the least experience we've had since I've been here," said Mark Duda, who is heading into his eighth season as Lackawanna's coach. "We're extremely young. I think we're going to be a little further behind at this stage than we were a year ago."

The Vikings are 0-4 against Lackawanna.

"We'll be looking to turn that around," Jojo said. "I wouldn't call this a must-win game, but the competition in the Northeast Football Conference is getting better each year, and you can't afford to give any games away. Getting a victory here would be the perfect way to start off the season."

Hudson Valley's football program was established in 1969. At the time, Hudson Valley was one of only two junior colleges in New York to field a varsity football team. Since then, nearly 300 Hudson Valley football players have earned scholarships to four-year schools and 15 have gone on to play professionally. The Vikings competed in the Coca Cola Bowl in Iowa in 1980. In 1996, Hudson Valley posted an 8-0 record, part of a dominant stretch that included 15 straight victories.