Charles Nailen/The Hoya The Hoyas expect to improve their ground game in 2003, though sophomore Hanif Suluki probably will not see much playing time.

Beginning their third Patriot League campaign, the Hoya football team faces the same obstacle that has beleaguered them in their past two years: an opening game against the previous season’s champion. The Lehigh Mountain Hawks knocked off the Hoyas, 41-14, in 2001 and blew them away in a 69-0 rout last September.

This time, Georgetown’s opponent is Colgate, a team that shared the conference title with Fordham last year but wound up losing the tiebreaker and sitting at home during the Division I-AA playoffs. The Raiders come into 2003 ranked in the top 30 of both major Division I-AA polls – one by ESPN/USA Today and the other by The Sports Network.

The Hoyas and the Raiders have met on the gridiron only once before – in Hamilton, N.Y. on Nov. 16, 2002, where Colgate handed Georgetown its only loss of the last four games of the season. The Raiders opened up the contest in the second quarter, marching down the field on three consecutive drives to put the Hoyas in a 17-0 hole by halftime. An early second-half touchdown by Colgate sealed the Hoyas’ fate, and the Raiders went on to win 44-22.

“We made some mistakes in that game last year,” Georgetown head coach Bob Benson said, “but we learned in the second half of last year that we can play with anybody. Our approach to every game is different.”

One of the team’s focuses this year will be the running game. Six conference rushers had more yards individually than the Hoyas did as a team in 2002. Georgetown averaged 74 rush yards per game, with junior John Sims leading the team with just 369 yards.

“We must run the football,” Benson said. “The key to this whole year is up front. We have to control the clock, move the chains . [and] make ourselves more difficult to defend against.”

To that end, he said he expects sophomores Marcus Slayton and Kim Sarin to share time at tailback. Senior William Huisking will start at fullback for the second straight year.

Junior quarterback Drew Crawford will round out the offensive backfield. Benson announced last week that Crawford would start in the pocket, despite earlier questions about his maturity as a passer.

“He earned the starting job,” Benson said. “We asked him and he has taken his play to the next level.”

With the running back and the quarterback positions settled, the only wild card going into opening weekend is special teams. The Georgetown coaching staff expects to be without sophomore kicker ichael Gillman, who has been sidelined with a hip injury. Both sophomore punter Rob Smith and freshman Keith Allan have been focusing their practice efforts on kicking.

The Hoyas are otherwise well prepared for the 2003 campaign, returning 18 starters overall. This may prove to be key on the offensive line, where three of their five projected starters began at least six games last year.

Alternatively, the Raiders bring back a conference low 11 starters, and four of their five men on the line of scrimmage will see their first intercollegiate action against Georgetown. Colgate brings a young backfield to Harbin Field, with sophomore Chris Brown starting at quarterback and sophomores Joe Pinion and Ben Evans splitting time at running back in the absence of junior Ray LaMonica. LaMonica has been sidelined for academic issues, which is good news for the Hoyas: he ran for three touchdowns and a career-high 179 yards in last season’s matchup between the two teams.

Both clubs will have breakout receivers to contend with – Raider junior Luke Graham and Hoya senior Luke McArdle. Graham notched 65 catches for 1,192 yards in 2002, including nine for 113 yards against Georgetown. But McArdle, who led the Hoyas with 47 receptions for 802 yards last season, may not be as important as junior tight end Jordan Jarry. At 6-5, Jarry stands well above the Raider secondary, which averages 5-10, giving Crawford a large target in his first game since sustaining a collarbone injury against Fordham last October.

Georgetown has not lost the first game of the season and finished the year with a winning record since 1994, when it fell to Duquesne on opening day but wound up 5-4 and tied for third in the id-Atlantic Athletic Conference.

This weekend’s match is the first of the three in a season opening road trip for Colgate. The Raiders will not see the home turf of Andy Kerr Stadium until Sept. 27, when they play host to Towson. Georgetown travels to Holy Cross next Saturday before coming home to face Monmouth on Sept. 20.

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