LANCASTER, PA - On the heels of a 4-6 season in 2003, the Franklin & Marshall College football team has been selected to finish fifth in the race for the 2004 Centennial Conference title in a pre-season ranking by D3football.com.
The ranking marks the second projected top five finish of the preseason for F&M as the team was selected fourth in a poll of the Conference's head football coaches and Sports Information Directors earlier this month.
Johns Hopkins, who shared the CC title the past two years, is the preseason favorite to win the honor outright in 2004 according D3football.com as Muhlenberg, McDaniel, Ursinus, F&M, Gettysburg and Dickinson round out the rankings.
Leading the Diplomats charge to the title in 2004 will be tailback Scott Stephen (Sr., Glen Rock, NJ/Glen Rock), linebacker/defensive lineman Matt Capone (Sr., Scarsdale, NY/Scarsdale) and linebacker Chris White (Sr., Vestal, NY/Vestal) who were elected to serve as football team captains for the 2004 season.
A 2003 All-Centennial Conference honorable mention selection, White tallied 48 tackles and ranked eighth in the Conference in tackles-for-loss with 11.5 for 74 yards last year.
He finished sixth on the team in tackles with 48, including one sack for loss of 10 yards. Further, he recorded an interception and notched four passes defended.
An All-Conference second team selection on the defensive line last year, Capone earned his second All-Conference as he finished second on the team in tackles and tackles for loss with 80 and 11 for loss of 35 yards, to raise his career total to 151 tackles, 7.5 sacks for loss of 37 yards and 21 tackles for loss of 70 yards with two passes defended.
On offense, Stephen finished second in scoring with 54 points off nine touchdowns, while placing fifth in receiving with 17 catches for 160 yards with three touchdowns, an average of 16.0 yards per game.
Further, he completed three-of-four passes for 45 yards with three touchdowns, while leading the team in rushing with 190 attempts for 676 net yards and six touchdowns.
He finished second in all-purpose yards with 676 rushing, 160 receiving and 68 off punt returns for 904 total yards, 82 less than 2003 D3football.com All-America wide receiver Justin Salton '03. In addition, he finished third in total offense with 721 yards.
Against Gettysburg College in the season finale, he rushed 28 times for 141 yards and tossed two touchdowns to account for the Diplomats' scoring as Franklin & Marshall recorded a 14-13 victory at home on Williamson Field.
Trailing 3-0 in the opening minutes of the second quarter, Stephen completed a one-yard pass to Salton on fourth-and-goal to put the Diplomats in front 7-3 with 13:06 left in the first half. He completed his second pass of the game with 10:36 left in the fourth quarter as he found tight end Dan Houseman in the right corner of the endzone for a two-yard TD reception for all the Diplomats needed to record the win and even the series record at 41-41-7.
The victory marked the Diplomats second straight over the Bullets following a 20-14 win to conclude the 2002 season in which Stephen ran for 213 net yards for the first 200+ yard rushing performance since 1996.
For his career, he has rushed for 1,425 yards with eight touchdowns and has completed 24 of 75 attempts for 288 yards with three touchdowns.
Another player to watch will be 2003 All-Centennial Conference second team quarterback Jeff Harner (So., Mohrsville, PA/Schuylkill Valley).
A transfer from West Chester of Pennsylvania, Harner stepped into the starting quarterback role beginning with the first game of the season and finished the year ranked among the Conference's best in passing average (2nd, 138.0 ypg), touchdown passes (3rd, 8) and total offense (3rd, 148.8 ypg).
Historically, he tied for second all-time in single game completions with 27 for 306 yards versus the #1 nationally ranked pass defense of Johns Hopkins. Further, he guided a pass offense, which finished third all-time in school history in yardage (1,994) and completed an all-time school record 181 passes breaking the record of 174 from the 1992 season.
All-CC honorable mention punter Dan Eggertsson (Sr., Royal Palm, FL/Suncoast) should also factor in the Diplomats' fortunes in 2004 as he led the Conference in punting average for nine of the season's 10 weeks in 2003. The Centennial Conference season champion with a 36.9 yard per punt average, Eggertsson made the play of the game punting 40 yards to the Gettysburg one-yard line with 3:14 remaining in the game to seal the Diplomats' victory in the final game of the season.
Overall, he recorded a Conference best 14 punts inside the 20-yard line and nailed the third longest punt in school history with a 70-yarder at Centre College as he finished the year with 58 kicks for 2,142 yards.
Franklin & Marshall concluded the 2003 season with a 4-6 record, 3-3 in the Centennial Conference as the team finished fourth in the CC. The record included a series of high marks for the Diplomats as F&M won three of its final four games for the first time since 1996 and the team defeated "Little Three" opponents Gettysburg and Dickinson at Sponaugle-Williamson Field for the first time since 1987.
The 2004 season kicks off Saturday, September 4, with seven games: Juniata at Dickinson; Bethany at Franklin & Marshall; Gettysburg at Lebanon Valley; Rochester at Johns Hopkins; Bridgewater at McDaniel; Kings Point at Muhlenberg; and Susquehanna at Ursinus.
2004 D3Football.com Centennial Conference Preseason Rankings
1. Johns Hopkins