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Junior running back Charlie Houghton

On Saturday afternoon, Georgetown will begin its season with a road game in Washington, D.C., for the first time in the program’s history.

The Hoyas will make a short 20-minute bus ride to clash with their neighbors to the northeast, the Howard University Bison of the MEAC conference. Though it is the first meeting of the two, the inaugural D.C. Cup, as it is being billed, pits two teams with football histories that start in the 19th century (Georgetown in 1887; Howard in 1893).

The kickoff at William H. Greene Stadium is the season opener for both teams.

“We’re making history and fighting for the crown of college football in the District. It definitely adds a little extra zing to the season opener,” Head Coach Kevin Kelly said.

Kelly sees plenty of advantages in playing just a few miles from campus against the only other D.C. team in the Football Championship Subdivision.

“I think it’s terrific,” he said at last week’s joint media day at Howard. “It makes too much sense. We’re right across town. A gallon of gas is awful high, and with budget awareness these days, it’s a great natural rival for us. Even though it’s a road game, in my mind it’s a home game. We can sleep in our beds and wake up and come play.”

For the Hoyas, a budding local rivalry and a brand-new season provide exciting opportunities to improve upon the 3-19 mark posted over the last two seasons. With eight offensive starters and seven defensive starters returning, reason for optimism permeates the locker room.

In Kelly’s office, goals that the seniors put together in January appear on a poster aligned against his window. They read: 1) win the day, 2) win the game and 3) win the Patriot League.

“The biggest thing is getting better. The team has displayed a tremendous work ethic in spring workouts and in camp, and the players have done a great job in getting themselves conditioned for the season,” Kelly said. “But, the first game is like Christmas, you unwrap your gift, but you don’t know what you got until you actually see it.”

With the departure of quarterback Matt Bassuener (SFS ’08), the school’s all-time leader in completion percentage and passing yardage, the Hoya offense hands its reigns to sophomore Keerome Lawrence, who saw action in five games last season but has handled 95 percent of the snaps in the spring. Lawrence is an athlete in the mold of Tim Tebow or Pat White, a dual threat that can hurt you on the ground and in the air.

“Keerome is our quarterback, but I wouldn’t be opposed to playing someone else if need be. That’s the rage in college football these days anyway,” Kelly said.

The 2006 Patriot League Rookie of the Year, junior Charlie Houghton, who battled injuries last season, will shoulder much of the offensive workload behind an offensive line that returns four of five starters, anchored by junior co-captain and three-year starter Dan Matheny. Despite being bitten by the injury bug last season, Houghton still rushed for 458 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games, averaging 4.2 yards per carry.

“Charlie has to produce to make our offense go,” Kelly said.

At wideout, the Blue and Gray will employ an experienced group to infuse firepower into the passing game. Senior Sidney Baker, who started every game last season and caught 28 passes, will be the primary target for Lawrence. Junior Rick Cosgrove, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver, walked on last season and started the first two games of the year before breaking his finger. The Pennsylvania native should see an increase in his production if he stays healthy.

The slots will be led by senior Kenny Mitchell, a star on special teams and member of the Hoya track and field squad. Sophomore Mychal Harrison, who excelled in Houghton’s absence last season, will also provide a speed threat out of the backfield.

On the defensive side of the ball, the collective effort of the front four will play a tremendous role on the Hoyas’ ability to put pressure on the quarterback. The Hoyas, who finished 109th out of 116 Division I-AA teams in both total and scoring defense, hope an experienced front will solve their defensive headaches. Senior defensive end Ataefiok Etukeren anchors the Hoya line. Seniors Anthony DiTommaso and Travis Zorilla and juniors Chudi Obianwu and Jared Myers form a veteran group.

In the defensive backfield sophomore Nick Parrish, the second-leading tackler from last season, headlines the linebacking corp. In the secondary, juniors Travis Mack and Chris Rau provide a solid backbone for a unit that ranked 47th in Division I-AA in pass defense in 2007.

“Players are anxious for the season to start, we’re ready to play,” Kelly said. Tomorrow the Hoyas look to win the day and win the game. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

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