With one minute left in the half, losing 17-3, the Hoyas were inches away from losing complete control of the game. Yale had the ball at Georgetown’s 45-yard line, one big play away from blowing the game wide open. Then, the quarterback was pummeled on a sack and lost his handle on the ball. Junior defensive back Paul Sant’Ambrogio picked up the pigskin and raced 38 yards for the touchdown, bringing the Hoyas to within seven points.

Unfortunately, like most games this season, the Hoyas couldn’t do much more damage in the second half, eventually falling to the Bulldogs 31-10.

“It’s frustrating,” Sant’Ambrogio said. “But every game is a new game. You can’t look at one game too much.”

Yet with four games left in the Hoyas’ 2009 season, they are beginning to look at each game with more intensity. Georgetown had last Saturday off courtesy of a bye week, which could not have come at a more crucial moment for a team still seeking the right formula for success.

“It was nice because we didn’t have to prepare for an opponent, so we could look at what we needed to correct,” Sant’Ambrogio said. “Stuff like lining up, knowing our responsibilities [on the field], getting our stances right, focusing – the fundamentals.” Sant’Ambrogio has seen time as a middle linebacker and in the secondary, starting the Hoyas’ last game against Colgate as the strong safety. A product of Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J., Sant’Ambrogio has patiently waited for his opportunity to become an important piece of the Hoya defense. He served on the special teams unit his freshman year and then spent his sophomore year rotating through different spots on the defense.

“It was a good chance for me to gain experience, hit some people,” he said with a smile. “I wasn’t even starting this year until [sophomore defensive back] Wayne [Heimuli] got hurt.”

The result: 45 total tackles – fifth best on the team – one interception, 1.5 tackles for a loss and that fumble return for a touchdown, one of only five touchdowns scored by the Hoyas this season, in seven games played.

Despite the Hoyas’ struggles, Sant’Ambrogio remains optimistic. He points to the return of senior co-captain and defensive back Chris Rau as a boost to the team. He is happy that not too many Hoyas have their heads down and is looking forward to assuming a leadership role.

“It’s a change; my freshman and sophomore years, I looked up to other people.” Sant’Ambrogio said. “I just want to help [the younger players] out, make them better players . just tell them that you can’t be Superman on every play.”

Above all else, he likes his team’s chances this Saturday against Old Dominion, which is playing in its inaugural season.

“Their quarterback runs a lot; we’re just focusing on what routes they run.” Sant’Ambrogio said.

“There’s no film on them. Last year they were a club team or Division III, but not a Division I-AA. But they offer full scholarships this year.”

Old Dominion spent nearly $25 million on stadium renovations the last few years, revamping the field the Monarchs last called their football home in 1940, when they were the Old Dominion Braves. That was the last time they played a game.

With its seating capacity of 20,000, Sant’Ambrogio said he’s excited to play in the new stadium.

“It should be interesting,” he said. “It will be special there with so many people.”

A native of Bloomfield, N.J., the 6-foot-1 defender was attracted to the Hilltop at the very beginning of the recruiting process.

“The coaches and I just connected,” he said. “They made [the process] really easy. They communicated and they were really easy to work with. I loved my official visit – they took me to a basketball game and on a tour of D.C.”

After getting adjusted during the preseason before the start of his first year, Sant’Ambrogio remembers his floor in Darnall Hall being especially fun. He still lives with the guys from his freshman floor, but it is during his junior year that Sant’Ambrogio has begun to show his spark on the field.

He points to his speciality in third-down coverage for his increased performance on the field, which was vital to the Hoyas during their close matchup with preseason Patriot League-favorite Holy Cross, back in September.

With November closing in, and the prospect of another miserable season for the Blue and Gray already on the table, Sant’Ambrogio and the Hoyas still are capable of pulling off their best season in three years, with legitimate shots to win against Old Dominion, Marist and Fordham. Sant’Ambrogio certainly believes.

“We’ll take one game at a time,” he said. “We’re not worrying about the past. We’ll just take it as it comes.” “

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