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Local college football: Saints QB Lefflbine upbeat about season

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CANTON — Even though the St. Lawrence University football team already has two wins, after a winless 2012 season, the Saints are not satisfied.

For new SLU quarterback Mike Lefflbine, a junior from Greenwich, Conn., losing is not something that is acceptable.

Lefflbine was part of a state championship team as a high school player and, after spending his first two years at Sacred Heart, an NCAA Division I FCS school, he is now directing the Saints’ offense.

He’s helped the Saints to a 2-1 start after the nonconference portion of the schedule. SLU defeated Coast Guard 21-17 and beat Norwich 14-3 before falling last weekend 28-23 at SUNY Morrisville.

The Saints open Liberty League play Saturday with a 1 p.m. game at Union College in Schenectady.

“The fact we won our first two games, we know what it takes and what we need to do to get better,” Lefflbine said. “Even the (SUNY Morrisville) game, I thought we should have won. We are still learning and still progressing each week. We’ve got to get better.”

Lefflbine, who never played at Sacred Heart, has been proficient for SLU’s offense. Through three games he has completed 57.1 percent of his passes for 615 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.

“He’s done a good job,” SLU coach Mark Raymond said. “He came here in January and he stepped up right away as a leader. He learned the offense and really endeared himself to a lot of the players on both sides of the football. He has a lot of leadership ability.”

Some might think winning two games, after going winless a year ago, would be satisfying for the Saints.

But Raymond and Lefflbine both feel this is a team that can compete, and they are hoping to add many more wins to the total in conference play.

“Everyone here wants to win,” Lefflbine said. “That first loss really hurt the team. But at the same time I think it was good for the team. We have to go into league play hungry. If we won that game we probably could have gotten a little complacent. Since we lost, we’ll get back on track.”

What should concern SLU’s future opponents is the Saints have shown the potential to be better than their 2-1 start indicates.

SLU had to rally with a late drive to beat Coast Guard in the opener, but the Saints had several chances to put that game away in the first half and failed to capitalize.

The Saints also had chances to turn the 14-3 win at Norwich into a bigger margin and missed a few chances to take a big lead early last weekend at Morrisville.

“Part of (finishing drives struggles) is we had some penalties,” Raymond said. “We have a lot of new guys up front and if you make some mistakes they are very evident, especially (inside the 20). This past Saturday against Morrisville we were much better and we improved on that. If we can improve every week, that’s what we have to do. The run game needs to get better and that will come as our offensive line is able to gel. We haven’t even come close to starting the same five guys these first three games. As we get better up front, we’ll have more opportunities.

“This group here, they prepare very well and they know they have the ability to do things. We just need to eliminate mistakes. If we are going to continue to succeed, it’s got to come from us eliminating mistakes.”

One reason for SLU’s winning start has been the play of the team’s defense, which is allowing only 16 points a game and has a plus-eight turnover margin.

“In our first game, we wouldn’t have come back if it wasn’t for our defense,” Lefflbine said. “I have to credit the defense for what we do. We are plus-eight right now and it’s a focal point of our team. We want to get it higher. It gives us more of an opportunity to win and when the defense creates turnovers, we have to capitalize on those turnovers.”

Times sportswriter Cap Carey covers St. Lawrence University football. He can be reached at ccarey@wdt.net

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