By Steve Maugeri
In his nine years as a head coach, Jim Clements has never coached a team to a losing record. After KU’s thrilling 41-35 overtime win over Clarion this past weekend, the trend continued.
When the final whistle blew at Clarion Stadium this past weekend, Clements managed to improve the Golden Bears’ win tally by two from last year, even though they missed the playoffs.
Although the Golden Bears encountered drastic improvement in 2014, Clements still has higher expectations looking forward. “Having six wins is nice, but our goal is to win championships,” he said.
His emphasis on winning originated from his years at Delaware Valley College, where he made it very clear that he doesn’t keep complacency in his playbook. He immediately brought this demeanor to University Field when he first arrived in KU. In spring football he made it abundantly clear that he planned to continue the trend when asked about this season’s expectations: “I expect to win.”
This philosophy has earned the first year coach a number of accolades, including the first time that a first year head coach had achieved a wining record. Clements also orchestrated a national upset of 20th ranked IUP in his first game on his home turf.
Despite the Golden Eagles’ meager record, the win was not a given. The two teams went blow for blow throughout the entire first half, and were tied at 21 apiece after three quarters.
First-year starting quarterback Chad Barton, and the rest of the KU offense, found themselves in a shootout throughout the contest. Everything came down to a thrilling Hail Mary pass attempt from Barton that was tipped in the air by a CU defender and fell into the hands of Kodi Reed to force overtime.
Barton capped off a career year that no one saw coming. Despite finishing second on last season’s depth chart, the new head coach opened a door of opportunity for Barton and he capitalized on it with a career year, throwing for 29 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
Although he lost his offensive coordinator from last year, Barton continued to thrive in the Golden Bears’ high-octane, quarterback-friendly offense. It wasn’t the composer, but the conductor that paved the way for the offense this season.
The Clarion game was not an anomaly. Barton kept his composure throughout the game, and finished with 30 completions for 403 yards and four total touchdowns, including the game-winning 14-yard touchdown run in overtime.
Although the offense put the proverbial nail in the coffin, the defense was what hammered it through. Although they allowed their second highest point total of the season, they held strong when it mattered. They bent, but didn’t break.
The unit finished the season in the top ten for points allowed and yards allowed, a drastic improvement from last year. The group forced 25 turnovers this year, which is the third highest in the PSAC this season.
The game was of great importance to the 13 senior players. They are the last vestige of the 2011 PSAC championship team, and the most successful four-year period in the programs 99-year history.
It was a very special game to the two preseason All-Americans Sam Dougan and Zach Greenwald. The two were the anchors of the front seven all year, and were key constituents in sealing the win for the Golden Bears.
Dougan ended his career on a high note in the win. On a fourth down that Clarion had to convert, #32 fired through his gap and delivered a huge hit on CU’s Connor Simmons, forcing him to get rid of the ball early and securing the win.
After the play, in a moment of shock and elation, he sat on the turf in a catatonic state, coming to the realization that his football career had come to an end. Dougan finished his historic career doing what he was known for: making the big play.
“It was surreal; it’s something you can’t explain. I had to just sit there and let that play sink in,” he said. That’s the last play I’ll ever play in and I made the play to end my career. I’ll always remember that.”
The senior finished with eight stops, which increases his season total to 91, a career high. In his four seasons, he finished with 285 career stops, which is seventh on the PSAC active leaderboard and 30th in Division II. Dougan ends his career in the maroon and gold seventh on the programs career tackles list.
The win was a thrilling way to put an exclamation point on a year with numerous question marks buzzing in the locker room. Senior defensive end Zach Greenwald believed it was the wildest finish to any game he had ever played in.
“This game was the craziest game I have ever played in, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my career. We had to come together and make a stand to win and we did. It was a team win,” he said.
Greenwald finished with four tackles, which increased his career total to 209 in 46 career games. He ends his career as one of only 19 Golden Bears that have tallied 200 career tackles. Collectively, KU is one of eight teams with three current players in the 200-tackle club.
Coach Clements has instilled a stringent emphasis on winning, and has laid the groundwork for a propitious future for the program. With a strong first season in the books, Clements will look to build on his success in the 100th season of Kutztown Football in 2015.