As time ran out in Hamilton, N.Y., last Saturday, 16 Georgetown seniors trotted off the football field for the last time in their careers.
The team filled the bus back to Washington, D.C., bearing the pain of a crushing 38-10 loss to Colgate (5-5, 4-2 Patriot League) and a disappointing 3-8 record to mark the fourth straight losing season for Georgetown football (3-8, 0-6 Patriot League).
Although this year’s campaign began with a 3-0 start, it was ultimately damaged by key injuries, a difficult schedule and an inability to finish games.
Early in the season, a sense of confidence and excitement existed in a unit that was finding success in all three areas of the sport. On Sept. 24, the Hoyas survived two late scores from Columbia (3-7, 2-5 Ivy League) to scrap out a 17-14 victory and bring the team to 3-0, its best start since 1999.
In commemoration of Georgetown alumnus Joe Eacobacci, who was killed in the World Trade Center the morning of the Sept. 11 attacks, one player each year is honored with wearing the number 35. This year, senior quarterback and captain Tim Barnes was selected for the distinction. Barnes led the way through the first three games with 553 passing yards and seven total touchdowns.
Riding momentum, Georgetown travelled to Cambridge to face a ranked Harvard (7-3, 5-2 Ivy League) team that had thumped the Hoyas 45-0 the year before. This year, however, Georgetown managed to stay competitive with the Crimson, only losing by a two-possession margin. The 31-17 defeat was perhaps more impressive than the team’s three wins, and everyone radiated confidence in follow-up interviews.
At the time, most people did not realize Barnes had already played his last down of football. On a 2-yard quarterback run in the second quarter at Harvard, he landed hard on his shoulder, sustaining an injury that would end his season.
Barnes’ absence was devastating for the Hoya offense, which had to regroup around sophomore quarterback Clay Norris, who had yet to start a game prior to this season. In its next two games, the offense only produced one touchdown and converted six of 27 third downs, resulting in ugly losses to Princeton (8-2, 6-1 Ivy League) and Lehigh (9-3, 6-0 Patriot League).
The defense, on the other hand, was stout and kept Georgetown in games. Several underclassmen began to shine, including freshmen defensive linemen Khristian Tate and Marquis Parris, sophomore defensive back Jethro Francois and sophomore linebacker J’V’on Butler. The Hoyas embodied the “bend but don’t break” mentality, as they made several stops in the red zone.
In the following week, the defense held Fordham’s (8-3, 5-1 Patriot League) Chase Edmonds, one of the best running backs in I-AA football, to zero touchdowns. That game remained tied for nearly the entire second half, until a late field goal sealed a 17-14 Fordham victory.
Even as Georgetown sat at 3-4, there was hope. Harvard and Princeton were both premier Ivy League opponents, and Lehigh and Fordham were the top two teams in the Patriot League. There was little shame in losing to top-tier opponents.
Yet a frustrated Georgetown Head Coach Rob Sgarlata chose to make a change under center, replacing Norris with freshman Brock Johnson. However, the offensive stagnation only worsened. Georgetown produced just 173 total yards en route to a 17-3 loss against a Lafayette team that would finish with a 2-9, 1-5 Patriot League record.
Norris returned the following week, but the team could not recover from its skid as other injuries piled on. Tate and junior running back Isaac Ellsworth became inactive against Holy Cross (4-7, 2-4 Patriot League), and senior linebacker Leo Loughrey was sidelined against Bucknell (4-7, 3-3 Patriot League). Even though the special teams crew made outstanding plays such as blocked punts and return touchdowns, the inconsistent offense and crippled defense could not produce another winning performance for the rest of the season.
As disappointing as this year was, the team fought every step of the way. The offense embraced the challenge of rallying behind three different quarterbacks, while the defense faced some of the best offensive talents in I-AA football. Body language, which Sgarlata stresses immensely, remained positive as players sprinted off the field after extra points even when games were out of reach.
While the team was admittedly outplayed on many occasions, the obstacles in injuries, strength of schedule and inexperience are noteworthy. Although it has been a difficult stretch for the program in recent years, the maturation of young players this season is inspiring for the future.
Dean Hampers is a freshman in the College.