Bryan Vivaldo (20), Tyler Henninger (1) and Keith Cavallotti (48) will all be honored in a Senior Day ceremony before the game.Courtesy of Wilkes University
EDWARDSVILLE — It would be hard to blame Frank Sheptock for being reserved.
The Wilkes coach has been down this path before — been right at this moment — on the brink of a Middle Atlantic Conference championship.
History has not been kind to Sheptock and his Wilkes program in this situation, perhaps explaining a bit of wariness for the upcoming game. So while the Colonels’ latest chance to clinch a MAC crown comes at home against a struggling Susquehanna team at 1 p.m. tomorrow, they certainly aren’t taking anything for granted.
“Since last January, we expected to control our own destiny,” Sheptock said. “And when you talk about those things in January, it just seems so far away. Now here we are a few days away. It’s going to be tough, and we expect that, so we’re going to play our best.”
All Sheptock has to do is look across the room in his office to be reminded of how elusive a title can be. Team portraits hang on the wall opposite his desk and he can quickly and remarkably go down the list of heartbreak by each picture.
Sheptock’s first team in 1996, a loss to Lycoming in the final game. In 1999, a fourth-and-1 opportunity on the last play of the game that fell short. More recently, it’s been a fourth-quarter loss to Moravian in 2003 and yet another loss on the game’s final play to Delaware Valley last season.
Always one game away.
So when Sheptock is asked what winning a title would mean to him and his No. 8 Colonels (8-0, 7-0 MAC), his voice gets increasingly excited as he describes it.
“It would be a very satisfying, very gratifying experience for me, personally,” Sheptock said. “Because of the passion I have for these players.”
The 11th-year head coach talked about how this squad stands out as special to him, particularly the large core of seniors that has fueled the team.
Those seniors will be honored before the game in their final regular season contest at Ralston Field.
“The pregame ceremony is very nice, but the way I’d like to honor them is to go out there and play as well as we can for them,” Sheptock said. “I’d rather give them the bigger honor in a postgame celebration.”
To pull that off, Wilkes will have to contain Susquehanna tailback Dave Paveletz, a true freshman who was playing for Hanover Area at this time last season and whom Wilkes recruited.
The Crusaders (2-6, 2-5) have been especially stubborn down the stretch and pulled off the upset of the year in the MAC when they beat two-time defending MAC champ Delaware Valley in Doylestown two weeks ago.
“The last out is always the hardest,” Sheptock said. “And Susquehanna is going to be a tough out.”
Susquehanna (2-6, 2-5) at No. 8 Wilkes (8-0, 7-0)
Time: 1 p.m., tomorrow
Place: Ralston Field
Radio: WCLH-FM (90.7), wclh.org
Series: Susquehanna leads, 21-15
Last meeting: 2005, Wilkes won, 59-38
Wilkes at a Glance
Coach: Frank Sheptock, 11th year (71-42)
Last game: Beat Albright, 30-6
Player to watch: Jr. QB Al Karaffa (109-180, 1,302 yds, 11 TDs)
Susquehanna at a Glance
Coach: Steve Briggs, 17th year (96-74)
Last game: Lost to FDU-Florham, 21-16
Player to watch: Fr. RB Dave Paveletz (672 yds, 3 TDs)