Jan. 19, 2006
BEVERLY, MA - The NCAA announced Endicott College was the statistical champion for turnover margin in Division III and will be presenting the Beverly-based school a plaque in recognition of its accomplishment.
The Gulls, who - in just their third varsity season - finished with a program-best record of 7-3 falling one game shy of appearing in the New England Football Conference championship game, owned a turnover margin of +23. The EC defense intercepted 30 passes and gained 10 fumbles while the offense lost just 10 fumbles and threw a mere seven interceptions.
"This really is the best statistic to be leading," said Endicott head coach J.B. Wells. "I'm very proud of this accomplishment.
"The coaches create the climate to be successful, but the players make it happen on the field. And regardless of what position you play, every single player in the program is directly tied to this achievement. It encompasses all three phases of the game and I'm very proud of leading the nation in this statistical category."
The 30 interceptions was tops in all of the NCAA (all divisions), averaging an interception every 10 pass attempts. The Gulls' pass efficiency defense rating was 80.3, placing them third in the NCAA Division III.
Moreover, Endicott ranked 12th in the nation - first in the NEFC - in scoring defense (13.6 points per game) on a conference-low eight touchdown passes allowed. The Gulls were also 22nd in the NCAA in total defense (266.5 yards per game) and 40th in rush defense.
Conversely, the offense was equally effective. In leading the NEFC in time of possession, Endicott's rush offense was 17th in the nation (242.5 yards per game). Junior running back Gerard Festa (Revere, MA/St. Mary's) was an integral part of the offense and the epitome of ball security. He carried the football 192 times for 1133 yards (5.9 per attempt) and nine touchdowns. Festa fumbled the ball just once all season and it did not result in a turnover.
Sophomore quarterbacks Vinny Orlando (Manchester, MA/Manchester) and Alex Smith (Winthrop, MA/Winthrop) were also ball hogs. Orlando threw for four touchdowns on 607 yards in 74 attempts with only two interceptions while Smith was picked off five times on 121 pass attempts that went for 742 yards and five touchdowns.
"We did a tremendous job on offense protecting the football," said Endicott defensive coordinator Kyle Sweeney. "As a defense, we spent a lot of time focusing on creating turnovers, and finding ways to confuse offenses.
"This award speaks to how far we've come in such a short time of building a program - that we can lead a national statistical catagory in just our third varsity season of competition."
Sophomore safety Pego Jean-Paul (Stamford, CT/Stamford) was named to D3Football.com second team All-Region for 2005 after leading the Gulls with five interceptions and 14 passes defended. The two stats ranked fifth and fourth, respectively, in the NEFC.
Junior cornerback Orlando Johnson (Newport, RI/Rodgers) was third on the team in tackles with 37.5, and had four interceptions, three breakups and a forced fumble for the season. On the other corner, junior TJ Sawyer (South Burlington, VT/South Burlington) also picked off four passes while sophomore defensive back Chris Kane (Swampscott/Swampscott) made three interceptions. Linebackers Jesse Blackwell (Concord, NH/Concord) and Mike Kelley (Abington/Cardinal Spellman) recorded three and two interceptions, respectively.
Junior defensive tackle Joe Leaver (Stoughton, MA/Stoughton) led the team with 31 solo tackles (39 total tackles) including 7.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks. Leaver had his best efforts in the Gulls biggest games of the season. He had a team high eight tackles in a win over Fitchburg, and six tackles and a sack in the Gulls' narrow loss to Curry that kept Endicott out of the NEFC Championship game.
"This is a big feather in the cap of the program," Wells added. "Turnover margin is one of the biggest determining factors in winning a football game. We've focused on running the football, creating turnovers and playing great defense. We were successful in those areas and it's a big reason why we finished 7-3 this season."
Hamline College finished second to Endicott in turnover margin, averaging 2.0 per contest.