2024 Landmark Football

Biggest Takeaways From The Inaugural Landmark Conference Football Season

Biggest Takeaways From The Inaugural Landmark Conference Football Season

Here’s a look back at the first season of football in the Landmark Conference — and what to look forward to as the 2024 season now gets underway.

Dec 6, 2023 by Briar Napier

For its inaugural year of existence as a football-playing league, the Landmark Conference most definitely held its own.

With a top-10 ranked team nationally and plenty of young talent through the ranks, the Landmark — won by Susquehanna, which dominated its way to the conference’s first-ever regular season title — had a great year to set the tone and set it up for future success in NCAA Division III.

The playoff-qualifying River Hawks were unquestionably the stars of the show, leading most major statistical categories and placing 17 players on All-Landmark teams. But SU was battle-tested all the way up until the season’s final week as league rivals (featuring both old and new friends) tussled with it all year, but the River Hawks stayed strong and finished with an unbeaten regular season because of it.

Now that the seal has been broken on the Landmark and its football-playing teams can sink their teeth into the competition at hand, the best may very well be yet to come for the league. Will its growing history involve a new champion soon, too?

Here’s a look back at the first season of football ever in the Landmark Conference — and what to look forward to as the work leading up to the 2024 season now gets underway:

Susquehanna Will Reign Until Further Notice

Very much expected to be the Landmark’s favorite to win the league’s inaugural football championship going into this season, the River Hawks — who entered the conference after coming off of an unbeaten regular season title in the Centennial Conference the year prior — did not disappoint with so much in the way of expectations placed on them. 

Far and away Landmark’s No. 1 team all year, SU won all of its league games by an average of 39.8 points to romp its way to the title, ending it with an exclamation point as it smashed rival Lycoming 49-10 in its regular season finale in a winner-take-all showdown for the first-ever Landmark crown. 

Paced by the league’s best offense (404 yards gained per game) and backed up by the league’s best defense (231.5 yards allowed per game), Susquehanna’s toughest tests were on the nonconference slate as it picked up a top-10 win on the road over SUNY Cortland and had other impressive victories against SUNY Brockport and Western New England, going 4-0 outside of the Landmark in all to help it extend its ongoing regular season winning streak to 21 games entering next fall. 

Several key departures will hurt; defensive back Keith Green III — the Landmark’s inaugural Defensive Player of the Year in football — will be gone, as will defensive lineman Jake Schultes (11 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) and 20 others, but on offense, the core is slated to return. League rushing champion Tommy Grabowski, the only player in the Landmark to hit the 1,000-yard mark on the ground, will only be a junior next season, as will impressive dual-threat quarterback Josh Ehrlich and his 21 total touchdowns (13 passing, eight rushing) from this past season. As long as those two, in particular, keep chugging along for the River Hawks, they should be favored to win again in 2024 — barring disaster or massive changes elsewhere in the Landmark — and get another shot at the D-III playoffs after back-to-back disappointing first-round exits the past two seasons.

The Landmark’s Middle Tier is Cutthroat

While the top of the Landmark standings was pretty predictable from before the first kick, the rest of the table was anything but. Hardly anything separated slots 2-6 in the conference standings at season’s end as Lycoming, Wilkes, Catholic, and Moravian frequently beat each other up and found themselves tangled against one another in often exciting and/or dramatic games. 

If there was one definitive program that was the best of the rest behind Susquehanna, however, it was Lycoming. Despite not finishing the season with a winning record (5-6 overall), the Warriors played their way into a chance for a D-III playoff spot after starting 0-5, going on a four-game midseason winning streak — which included a 28-25 triumph over Catholic and a 31-20 win over Moravian — as Lycoming qualified for the Cape Charles Bowl at season’s end, defeating Washington & Lee to help the Landmark sweep the Chesapeake Bowl Series over the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. 

The other teams surrounding the Warriors in the standings had plenty to be proud of, too; Wilkes, led by Landmark Rookie of the Year JayJay Jordan and first-team All-Landmark running back Elijah Jules, was second to Susquehanna in the league in total touchdowns (44) on the year, and Catholic finished the season on a three-game winning streak which included a shootout 40-35 victory over Wilkes, paced by quarterback Madden Lowe’s monster 40 for 47, 352-yard, four-touchdown day throwing the football Nov. 4. 

Moravian was plenty strong at times, too, playing SU to its closest game (33-14) in conference play as junior quarterback Jared Jenkins stood alone on the All-Landmark first team for his position following a league-best 2,737 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air. Year 1 in the Landmark was fairly straightforward, but Year 2 could provide a few more shakeups as the league’s football pedigree continues to grow.

A Look Ahead Into 2024

Any predictions for the 2024 season in the Landmark need to be marked with an asterisk, due to the fact that the transfer portal and all of the hijinks that go with it across the NCAA could mean that the rosters of the league’s teams could look entirely different from now to next August. But unless something dramatically changes, it’s hard not to see Susquehanna standing on top once again. 

River Hawks coach Tom Perkovich, who led the team to its highest national ranking (No. 9 in the D3football.com poll) in program history this past season, is still around, helping to further grow the power he’s helped build in central Pennsylvania for what SU hopes is years to come. Ehrlich and Grabowski were the best one-two punch at quarterback and tailback in the Landmark last year, and with both expected to be back as only juniors, an already-stellar season from the duo could get downright nasty next year, even with several crucial pieces from the River Hawks’ defense on their way out. 

However, additionally don’t be surprised if Wilkes makes a major step forward and challenges for the title, especially because the Colonels only lost seven seniors and played numerous underclassmen with plenty of room to grow in significant roles. Jenkins’ continued growth under center could see Moravian boost past Lycoming and Catholic, while Keystone and Juniata — the two teams anchored to the bottom of the Landmark in Year 1 — both have a lot of work to do to get out of the league’s basement, but also have nowhere to go but up. 

The Giants, who only returned to playing football in 2021 following a 74-year hiatus, are gradually making progress under coach Justin Higgins, while Eagles coach Blake Treadwell, the son of former Miami (Ohio) boss Don Treadwell, just wrapped up his first season at the helm at Juniata as he looks for his first career Landmark win.

Predictions for the 2024 Landmark Conference Football Season

  1. Susquehanna
  2. Wilkes
  3. Moravian
  4. Lycoming
  5. Catholic
  6. Keystone
  7. Juniata