On Friday night, the Aggies’ Fontana got the opportunity he patiently had awaited: his first career start in the season opener at Kean University.
“(Darden) was a great player, and I learned a lot behind (him), and it was just good putting all that knowledge on the field tonight,” Fontana said. “I learned to stay calm when things don’t go right, to be able always to stay resilient in situations like that.”
Fontana proved efficient against the Cougars, as he completed 6 of 8 passes for 205 yards and three touchdowns – two of them to senior tight end Dan Allen – plus a 10-yard, second-quarter touchdown run during DelVal’s 37-7 victory at Kean Alumni Stadium in Union, N.J.
With the win, DelVal (1-0) moved up in the d3football.com Top 25 to No. 13, up one spot from its preseason ranking. The win also raised the record of sixth-year DelVal head coach Duke Greco to 49-9, an .845 winning percentage, currently the best in school history.
Greco will get his first opportunity to be the fastest DelVal head coach to 50 career wins at 1 p.m. Saturday, in the Aggies’ home opener vs. No. 22 Wesley College at Robert A. Lipinski Field at James Work Memorial Stadium.
For Fontana before this season, his role had consisted mostly of mop-up duty during blowout wins.
Fontana, however, also had taken meaningful snaps last Nov. 17 in DelVal’s first-round NCAA Division III matchup at home vs. Muhlenberg College. In that 20-13 loss, Fontana entered that contest late in the second quarter after Darden had been injured.
Before Darden returned for the second half, Fontana threw a 24-yard completion to then-senior Marquis Ellis, then an interception two plays later.
Fontana said he learned from that brief postseason experience as he prepared in the offseason.
“It was definitely good experience to be on the field like that, and it’s a lesson learned on the play where I threw the interception,” said Fontana, who had transferred to DelVal after his freshman year at Division II program University of Charleston (W.Va.). “Sometimes you need that stuff to happen to come back the next year and to know not to do it again, or to take the chance in the right situation, so it was a good learning experience for me for sure.”
Against Kean (0-1), Fontana showed the ability to capitalize immediately on big plays by the defense.
After the Aggies’ opening drive had stalled at the Cougars’ 1-yard line, DelVal sophomore defensive end Michael Nobile opened the scoring by tackling Kean senior running back Jessey Asare in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead with 7 minutes, 16 seconds left in the first quarter.
“I haven’t had a safety in quite some time – I think my freshman year of high school (in Brick, N.J.),” Nobile said. “So when I saw (Kean) start the drive at the 1, I was smelling (a safety), got excited and was telling myself that I need to get this.
“(The Cougars) ran a play that we game-planned for the whole week, and when it opened up, I was there to make a play.”
On the first play after the free kick, Fontana found senior fullback Nate Pauls open on the right side for a 50-yard score with 6:59 left.
“Mike got a big safety and lifted the whole team up,” Fontana said about Nobile, who earned Middle Atlantic Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors Monday after finishing with 8 tackles, 6 1/2 including the safety. “Then we came out on the next play and hit that pass down: we wanted to hit them with a big shot, and we did – the exact look we wanted, and (Pauls) went up the seam, great catch, great run, he used his wheels.”
“(Fontana) is from my hometown and graduated from the same (Brick Memorial) high school that I did, just a few years earlier,” Nobile said. “We always kept in touch and had a good bond, and I’m so happy for him, he has been waiting for this day for a while.”
In the second quarter, after DelVal junior cornerback Justin Harris’ 46-yard interception down the left sideline to the Kean 10, Fontana took the ensuing play over the left side for a touchdown just 3:05 before halftime.
Sandwiching that touchdown run, Fontana connected with Allen on a 22-yard touchdown pass with 1:21 left in the first quarter and a 59-yard, third-quarter score with 8:55 left.
“(Fontana) is definitely a hard worker,” Allen said about Fontana. “I felt as if Anthony was ready at any moment, even last year, and throughout (training) camp (this year), he showed he was ready and continued to work hard.
“(Fontana) came out here tonight and just showed us that he was ready.”
“An All-American, (Allen) can do it all: He has great hands, wins the ball at the top, he has excellent speed,” Fontana said about the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Allen, a third-team, preseason all-America selection by d3football.com
. “I love throwing him the ball in practice and now in a game.”
Senior running back Mario Nigro closed out DelVal’s scoring on a 4-yard touchdown run, and senior kicker Nick Restaino made his fifth extra point of the game for a 37-0 lead with 13:20 remaining.
With the season opener behind them, the Aggies can look to the home opener knowing that more work is ahead, but also that Fontana is earning the game-day confidence of his teammates.
“... The work ethic that (Fontana) has, and his laser-focus in the meeting rooms and throughout the week, he is just a great quarterback, and he is going to do well for us,” said Nobile, a second-team, preseason all-America selection by d3football.com
Delaware Valley University senior quarterback Anthony Fontana had toiled the past two seasons behind Dashawn Darden, a four-year starter who won 34 of his 40 career starts.