‘They Sleep On Us’ follows team’s journey to 2019 NJCAA National Championship Game

SCRANTON, Pa. – “Odds are we’ll never be in a national championship game again.”

Longtime Lackawanna College Head Football Coach Mark Duda knew how special it was to reach the 2019 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) championship game in Pittsburg, Kan.

The sentiment was captured in a behind-the-scenes interview that’s now part of a feature-length documentary on the team’s historic season. “They Sleep On Us,” an independent film by Christopher J. Hughes, will premiere on Friday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. in the Peoples Security Bank Theater, Angeli Hall, 501 Vine St., Scranton, as part of Lackawanna College’s 2022 homecoming events. A $5 suggested donation at the door will benefit the College’s athletics programs.

Crafted over the last three years by Hughes, a Scranton resident and 2006 Lackawanna graduate, and executive producer Jason Stershic, of Fountain Hill, Pa., “They Sleep On Us” begins with the Falcons’ 22nd straight victory in November 2019, a win that would propel the team to its first chance at a national title. From there, Hughes follows the Falcons’ every move in Kansas, capturing never-before-seen moments while showcasing how Lackawanna’s playbook both on and off the field sets young men up for success.

Filmmaker Christopher J Hughes

“I honestly can’t believe it’s actually finished,” Hughes said of his first-ever documentary film. “Jason and I have spent almost every night and weekend over the last seven months crafting this story. It’s so much more than a football movie to be because of my deep roots with Lackawanna College. It truly captures the authentic junior college experience as it goes beyond the field and the locker room. These players all have amazing stories to tell, and ‘They Sleep On Us’ is just a part of their inspiring journey.

“In 30 years of Lackawanna Falcons football, nobody has ever told the complete story about what makes this program a powerhouse for player development and a destination for talented individuals in need of a second chance,” he continued. “Lackawanna’s student athletes are recognized once they move on to institutions like Penn State, Nebraska, and West Virginia, but their time as Falcons is so critical to them reaching that next level. For some, that includes being drafted into the National Football League and so many other life-changing opportunities.

“My goal was to show what makes junior college football at Lackawanna so special through the lens of this team and its once-in-a-lifetime chance to become national champions. I think we succeeded.”

The College held a private screening of the film for its current football team, staff, and administration on October 13 to an overwhelmingly positive response.

Hughes never planned to make a documentary about the 2019 Falcons. As the cameras rolled during every moment of the team’s time in Kansas, it became clear that a truly special experience was being captured. Using a combination of found footage from the team’s own GoPro cameras, a handheld video camera and shotgun microphone, and the CBS Sports broadcast of the game itself provided by the NJCAA, “They Sleep On Us” reveals what Falcons football is all about: overcoming the odds and showing the world what it means to “Take Flight.”

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the completion of “They Sleep On Us” multiple times, just as it interrupted player eligibility and competition. As a result of COVID, many players from the 2019 squad are still competing at the college level three years later, including Penn State captain and starting safety Ji’Ayir “Tig” Brown, Albany captain and offensive lineman Scott Houseman, Hampton defensive lineman KeShaun Moore, and West Virginia quarterback Matt Cavallaro.

“I wasn’t committed nowhere. I wasn’t going to college. I was down low,” Brown said in a candid interview recalling how Lackawanna Defensive Coordinator Billy Reiss discovered him through an all-star game in New Jersey. “That’s why I play for these people. They don’t know, but they changed my life. They made my life better.”

The film also explores Duda’s long football legacy, including his full scholarship to the University of Maryland in 1979 and his fourth-round selection by the then-St. Louis Cardinals in the 1983 NFL Draft. His love of the game and care for his players is evident throughout. He remains the NJCAA’s winningest active coach to this day.

“It’s the most important game in program history,” Lackawanna’s then-Offensive Coordinator Josh Pardini says in the film.

Indeed, it was, and now it’s time for everyone to enjoy the Falcons’ journey towards the top.

“They Sleep On Us” runs approximately 90 minutes. A digital release is tentatively planned for early summer 2023.