The post-season awaits

Stevenson football clinches post-season berth on emotional Senior Day by blanking Wilkes 28-0

By Grant DeVivo
Villager Sports Editor

Stevenson’s football players woke up on Saturday knowing that they had two big goals. One goal was to celebrate the senior class, as it was Senior Day. It was a chance to acknowledge and celebrate the careers and accomplishments of the seniors of Stevenson football.  

The other goal was much bigger, and that is where the team’s primary focus was centered. Entering Saturday’s regular-season finale versus Wilkes College, the Mustangs needed just one win to clinch their fourth consecutive Mid-Atlantic Conference bowl series berth.  

“You try not to make one game bigger than the next, but this game certainly was the biggest game of the year in many respects,” head coach Ed Hottle said after Saturday’s game. 

At 3:12 p.m., the final play of the game, it was mission accomplished. The Mustangs (8-2, 6-2 in the MAC) clinched a MAC bowl series berth with a 28-0 victory against Wilkes College at Mustang Stadium.  

Stevenson football takes the field before their final regular season game in which they would clinch a postseason berth with a 28-0 win over Wilkes.

At third place in the MAC behind Delaware Valley and King’s, Stevenson is guaranteed a spot in the MAC bowl series if the Mustangs aren’t chosen for the NCAA Division III playoffs. The 32-team NCAA playoff field will be announced at 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 13.  The MAC-Centennial Bowl Series games are played Nov. 19, the same date as the first round of the Division III playoffs.

The Mustangs earned bowl bids in 2018-19 and 2021, with the 2020 season cut short because of COVID. 

On a beautiful 77-degree day in front of a raucous home crowd, Stevenson pulled away from Wilkes with a touchdown in each quarter. Senior quarterback Ryan Sedgwick totaled 124 passing yards while throwing three touchdown passes, two to Stephen Smothers. Junior running back Brandon Walker totaled 126 yards on the ground to lead SU.  

Hottle was pleased to see that his team battled and hung in there for all four quarters, something that he continuously stressed to his team all season. 

“When we [as a team] talk about things that we set out to do, [one thing we discuss is] we want to finish strong,” Hottle said. “We finished [all four quarters out]. We finished really strong, keeping [Wilkes] out of the endzone to preserve the shutout. Scoring a fourth-quarter touchdown on offense, finishing a very long drive, that is a big deal.” 

SU’s defense was red hot entering the game, only allowing 24 points in their previous three games coming into Saturday’s game. They knew they had a test ahead of them with one of the best MAC offenses in Wilkes, which ranked first in the MAC in scoring offense (29.9) and total offense (374.3) entering the game. 

Stevenson held them to nothing. Justice Pettus-Dixon picked a throw from Wilkes’ quarterback Jay Mazuera that led to a 27-yard Walker touchdown run in the first quarter that gave the Mustangs a 7-0 lead.  

In all, the Stevenson defense intercepted three passes and had nine tackles for loss. Clarence Travis totaled 11 tackles on the day, including two tackles for loss.  

Head coach Ed Hottle talks to Go Mustang Sports after Saturday’s game.

“[The defense] is getting better every week,” Hottle said, adding that seeing his defense keep opponents to 24 points in four games (including vs. Wilkes) is exciting. Hottle also mentioned the inexperience of his defense entering the season and that watching them “grow up and gain that confidence is exciting to see.” 

The Mustangs knew what was at stake on Saturday — win or go home. People must have been wondering what the game plan was and if Hottle and his guys changed anything specifically to clinch. Hottle’s answer to that question will remain the same to anyone that asks: the gameplan remains the same for each and every game. 

“The preparation for this week was exactly the same [as other games],” Hottle said. “The expectations and standards that we set for our guys do not change.” 

Senior kicker Brody Campbell said he felt the Mustangs overlooked teams in past seasons. 

“But this season we have been preaching ‘one thing at a time’ and this team takes everything including practice and lifts one game at a time,” Campbell said. “This was just another game.” 

So how will the Mustangs approach the post-season? It appears that the first thing the team will do is take a slight break. They did not have a single bye week this season, so the week between the victory over Wilkes and the post-season announcements will provide a nice rest. 

“Having 10 straight games like we did is unprecedented,” Campbell said, “so we will gladly take a slight break this next week, but then come Monday of the last week [before the playoffs] we will be practicing harder than we have before.” 

“The preparation for a postseason with a bye week in between is going to be a little bit of a different experience,” Hottle said. “We feel like we got to focus on us. We have got to work on being the best football team that we can be, and that means being a better football team than we were today [vs. Wilkes].”  

Speaking to Go Mustang Sports, Hottle said he acknowledges that his team is tired after 10 straight weekends, so he wants them to not focus on football for a little bit.  

The Mustangs celebrate Senior Day after beating Wilkes and clinching a post-season berth. Kicker Brody Campbell is being recognized above.

The Mustangs went from one celebration to another within minutes of the game ending on Saturday. As the Mustangs celebrated their post-season berth, they also reserved time for Senior Day to recognize their 26 seniors and careers. 

After the game, the Mustangs lined up on the field, creating a pathway for the seniors. One-by-one, each senior was announced over the intercom as they walked with their families. As coach Hottle exchanged hugs and watched them “walk into the sunset,” he took time to reflect on his senior class. 

“Watching them grow up from 17-18-year-olds to 22-23-year-old men is a cool experience,” Hottle said. “Watching them become mature, high-functioning adults is exciting. They are going to be successful, and I just could not be more proud of them. 

“I told every one of them that I will miss them,” Hottle added, “but the way I see it is it is not goodbye. It is ‘I’ll see you later.’ Once a Mustang, always a Mustang.”  

Hottle also added that the sadness is somewhat condensed thanks to the season not being over yet with playoffs approaching. His message to his seniors is “just check back with me in two weeks.” 

Hottle acknowledged how much his senior class not only impacted his younger players but himself as well.  

“They have changed the way I coach a little bit,” Hottle said. “Because they are so responsible and because they are strong leaders, turning over a lot of the leadership responsibilities to them has made my job infinitely easier.” 

Campbell, who was among the 26 seniors recognized, reflected on his career as he walked down the path with his family by his side.  

“Being a senior here and having such an impact [on this team] is special for me,” the 2021 All-MAC honorable mention said. “[It is] definitely bittersweet to be out there at Mustang Beach for the last time, but I hope I’ve left a far bigger impact on the community and team as a person, than a player.” 

Campbell, who was perfect in extra-point attempts on Saturday and 29-for-34 overall on the season in extra points, added that he has no regrets about his college career.  

“Being blessed with the position that I am in, I don’t have any regrets,” Campbell said. “I know in my heart that I have done everything I can to be the best kicker at Stevenson I can be.  

“None of it would be possible without any of my teammates who block, snap and hold,” Campbell added. “Mason Ledford, Matt Gannon, Cade Rambler, and Ethan Cregin have all been instrumental parts of my success and I cannot thank them enough.” 

It was a magical ride leading up to this weekend. With a beautiful weather day for Saturday’s game, an emotional sendoff to a beloved senior class, and an important win that extended their season, one could not have asked for a better way to conclude the regular season.  

But that was just the regular season. For Stevenson football, the real fun is just about to get started. 

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