Last season, the only sounds coming out of Cooper Field were those of construction. There were no fans, no Pep Band, and no players. COVID-19 shuttered the Georgetown football program. When fans returned to the Hilltop, they found a newly-renovated stadium in the place of the formerly dilapidated field. Regrettably, a new field did not lead to new fortunes. For the ninth consecutive season, the Hoyas finished with a record under .500, leaving fans to wonder what’s next for the squad.
Rob Sgarlata has been head coach of the program since 2014. With a younger team and newly renovated athletic facilities, Sgarlata hoped the team would come back from their nearly two-year hiatus stronger than many of their Patriot League rivals. “The goal for this program is the goal for everything at Georgetown — it’s excellence. We expect to go out and compete,” Sgarlata commented in a preseason interview with the Voice.
After a disappointing season, however, Georgetown football has once again over-promised and under-delivered to its fans, finishing sixth in the conference only above Bucknell University. Georgetown had an optimistic opening to their season against Delaware State University, coming back from a 14-point deficit in the second quarter and forcing the game into overtime. A blocked field goal by Georgetown’s senior linebacker Justin Fontenoux was the difference-maker, allowing the Hoyas’ junior running back Joshua Stakely to find the end zone for a walk-off win.
Returning to the renovated Cooper Field with a win under their belt should have given the Hoyas an edge against Harvard, a team that hadn’t played a game since they went 4-6 in 2019. Instead, the Crimson trampled the Hoyas, 44-9.
The Hoyas’ loss to Harvard set the tone for the rest of the season, as Georgetown dropped the next three games and eight of their last nine, including a stunner to Lafayette in late October. Their only other win on the season came against conference bottom-feeders Bucknell, whose overall record was 1-10. Even this win did not come easily, as the Hoyas scraped a 29-21 victory.
The Hoyas ended their season with a 28-21 loss to Morgan State University, their 17th season-ending loss since 2000. The Hoyas had a promising start, leading the Bears in the first half 14-0. In classic Georgetown form, the Hoyas’ lost steam in the second half, ultimately losing by a touchdown.
The team has struggled to integrate freshman and sophomore players into their veteran team. With just over half the team never having played at the collegiate level, the Hoyas have a different dynamic than most other teams, who rely more on their older players.
“It’s the most unique team we’ve been around,” Sgarlata said about the team’s age composition.
Sgarlata looked to his returners for leadership in bringing the team together. Graduate players Neal Azar, Joseph Brunell, Owen Kessler and Ahmad Wilson stuck around for their extra year of eligibility and were named team captains before the year began. Pandemic restrictions on in-person gatherings hampered normal efforts at team-building.
As restrictions lessened in the spring, the team was able to hold a modified in-person training session. According to Sgarlata, about 80 percent of the team attended the sessions.
“It’s been good to get in a normal routine as we’re getting prepared for the season,” Sgarlata noted at the time.
Clearly, this routine wasn’t enough. Despite the efforts to integrate new players, there remained a season-long divide as many of the younger players never saw time on the field and were overshadowed by the fifth-year players.. At least younger players were able to get a feel for how college football operates, providing for a more confident group of leaders next year.
New Cooper, Same Old Hoyas:
Despite the tough season, one unquestionable bright spot was the long-awaited opening of the renovated Cooper Field. After several delays and funding challenges, the field promised to be the new and improved home for Georgetown football. A 2015 $50 million gift from Georgetown parents Peter and Susan Cooper allowed for the creation of permanent locker rooms, as well as increased capacity in the north end zone and westside stands to fit 3,750 people.
“Between the Thompson Center and the Cooper Field additions and renovations, our facilities are as good as you’re going to find in FCS,” Sgarlata said. “All of athletics have a home, and I think that’s huge not just with our players, but with our players, staff, coaches as well to have a home and kind of build that community.”
These renovations should have helped the team generate an energized home base to cheer their underclassmen-heavy team. The stadium was a draw, with home games averaging over 2,250 fans per game. But higher attendance couldn’t translate to on-field performance: the Hoyas failed to win at home even once this season.
The 2021-22 season will be best remembered as a rebuilding year. Overall, the team finished well below its expectations. In the 2019 season, the Hoyas finished with a 5-6 overall record and were second from the top of the Patriot League. This season, they were 2-8 and second from the bottom. The Hoya’s performance wasn’t for a lack of senior leadership or individual talent, as they have both.
Seven Georgetown players were named to the 2021 All-Patriot League teams, proving that this roster can stack up against their opponents. Senior wide receiver Joshua Tomas makes history as the third Georgetown player ever named to the first team on offense after going for 732 yards and 4 touchdowns on the season. Tomas is joined on the first team by Wilson, who led the team defensively with 71 total tackles and an interception, and sophomore punter Conor Hunt, who topped the Patriot League with an average of 41.7 yards per punt. Three defensive players, linebacker Kessler, senior defensive lineman Ibrahim Kamara, and junior offensive lineman Talati Polamalu, were all named to the All-Patriot League second team, along with senior tight end Zach Jewell.
“There are guys that stuck with us and helped us build this program to being one that is going to compete for a Patriot League title in the future,” Sgarlata said. “There were a lot of bright spots, but we did not finish on the scoreboard.”
This season made clear individual talent is not enough for the Hoyas to win.
With a can-do mentality that supports their growth as a team rather than as individuals, the Hoyas can hope to come into the 2022-23 season ready to make some noise in the Patriot League.
“Last game of the year is always tough, especially this year with the fifth-year seniors and seniors,” Sgarlata said in an interview after the loss to Morgan state. “We will continue to work with our young players. We are excited to get into the spring and start to reload everything into a normal year.”