November 10, 2009

Liberty League, Empire 8, NJAC still up for grabs

Three East Region championships will be decided on Saturday, and two of the games will be winner-take-all battles.

In the Liberty League, both Susquehanna and Union made it through their Week 10 matchups (vs. Worcester Tech and Merchant Marine, respectively) to make it to what is now the league title game. The game between the Crusaders and Dutchmen will be at Frank Bailey Field in Schenectady, N.Y., at noon.

The Crusaders have seven wins, their highest total since 1999 and 2000, when the team was still in the Middle Atlantic Conference.

Sophomore quarterback Rich Palazzi is coming off his best collegiate game, throwing for five touchdown passes in a 35-21 win against the Engineers.
Coach Ed Zaloom’s team held senior Dave Paveletz, the league’s leading rusher, to just 36 yards, so they didn’t let Paveletz beat them, but Palazzi did. Last week, Union coach John Audino said Susquehanna was the best balanced team in the conference, and the Crusaders proved it with their performance against WPI.

Union’s Chris Coney rushed for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the Dutchmen’s 37-6 win over Merchant Marine. The junior tailback now has 1,004 yards, the seventh running back in team history to rush for more than 1,000 yards and the latest since Tom Arcidiacono. Coney is 22nd in the country in rushing yards per game, at just over 111 yards per contest.

The Crusader defense, led by freshman defensive back Jalon Scott and senior defensive lineman Pete Johnsen, will have to stop Coney, just as the Union defense will need to contain Paveletz.

Scott has six interceptions this year, tops in the league, and will create havoc in the secondary against Union quarterback Andrew Connolly and his receiving corps. Johnsen has 9.5 sacks on the year.

Susquehanna’s offense will have to stop Union senior linebacker John Peters, who leads the league in tackles per game at 11.5 per game.

New Jersey title

 

The same holds true in the New Jersey Athletic Conference, but the teams meeting for the title and the automatic qualifier might not be the ones most people would think of first.

The Kean Cougars and Montclair State Red Hawks will battle in Upper Montclair, N.J., for the right to get into the tournament. Both Kean and Montclair are 8-0 in the NJAC, both team records. Montclair had the tough test of beating Rowan on the road, but they did in a close 14-7 contest.

Kean got nearly 250 yards, a career-high, from senior Jared Chunn, in a 20-0 shutout of William Paterson.

Chunn, ranked 20th in the country in rushing yards per game, is the X factor in this one. Montclair’s defense, ranked fifth in the league will be put to the test, but the Red Hawks do have the No. 1 rush defense, only allowing 80 yards a contest. The Red Hawks have given up 100 or more on the ground the past three weeks, so it’ll be interesting which defense shows up on Saturday.

For Montclair, sophomore Tom Fischer leads the offense, throwing for more than 1,600 yards this year, including a 363-yard day against Brockport in Week 3.

In the Empire 8, Alfred failed in its first attempt to clinch the conference’s auto qualifier, falling harmlessly to the Bombers 31-10 on Saturday. Luckily for the Saxons, they get a chance to make a second impression with the tournament committee as they face Utica at Merrill Field.

Alfred is second in the league in offense, led by sophomore signal-caller Tom Secky and senior tailback Vinson Hendrix. Utica will have to stop Hendrix if it wants a chance to upset the Saxons. Hendrix is fifth in the nation in rushing per game at over 140 yards per contest.

If the Pioneers can stop the rushing attack, Secky will have something to say through the air. Secky missed the game against Rochester, and against Ithaca completed 21 passes for 218 yards, a touchdown and an interception. But Secky, a product from Bemus Point, N.Y., has thrown for more than 1,300 yards despite missing the rout of Rochester.

Utica is first in the Empire 8 in pass defense and total defense, so it could be a battle.

Defensively, Alfred needs to contain freshman Andrew Benkwitt and the pass-catching ability of Cody Elliot.

Benkwitt has thrown for more than 2,100 yards in his first season with coach Blaise Faggiano, including a 329-yard effort against Ithaca in Week 4. He’s also thrown for 18 touchdowns.

His primary target in Faggiano’s spread offense is Elliot. The senior receiver has 811 receiving yards on 59 catches, including seven touchdowns.

A key player for Alfred could be two-way ironman Jared Manzer. Manzer plays wide receiver and safety for the Saxons, doubling his chances to make a big play for Alfred. Manzer returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown against Rochester two weeks ago.

Championship predictions at the bottom of the column.

An interesting thought ... or Playoffs?!

 

If Delaware Valley can get past a disappointing Widener team, it would be 9-1 and undefeated in the MAC at 7-0. That loss, to out-of-region and perennial top 10 opponent Wesley in Week 3.

Could the Aggies be a possible 2 seed behind Mount Union? I would say yes, but it’s all a matter of mileage.

Just for the reminder, the NCAA considers first-round matchups to be less than 500 miles, based on their calculations -- you can’t go onto Google Maps or Mapquest to figure out the distance.

If a game is more than 500 miles, the NCAA can choose to fly the visitor, but the sanctioning body doesn’t like to do that in the first round if it can be avoided.

One of the nice things for the NCAA is that Mount Union is less than 500 miles away from most of the schools in the East Region being in Alliance, Ohio, so it makes it easy to move MUC over to the “East” bracket (they aren’t actually geographic).

And what about possible Pool C bids? At first glance, many pundits wouldn’t think for a minute that the East could get any Pool C bids since they all beat up on each other this year, but it could happen.

In the Around the Nation podcast, Pat and Keith said the East doesn’t have eight playoff qualifying teams, and with Alfred and Albright losing in Week 10, they’re right.

The East will have its five auto qualifiers and maybe one Pool C, but the selection committee will have to import a couple of teams.

St. John Fisher is an interesting case, however. The Cardinals have three losses overall, but only one loss in-region. They fell to Mount Union and Salisbury, neither one being regional opponents. They also have the chance at the Empire 8 title and the automatic qualifier if Alfred loses to Utica and they beat Hartwick.

In the MAC, Albright and Lebanon Valley face off in Week 11, and both teams could have a shot at a Pool C. If Albright wins, it is 9-1 (6-1 in conference play) with its only loss against DVC in Week 10.

If LVC wins, they are 9-1, 6-1 in conference, with only the loss to DVC as a blemish. To compare, LVC lost to the Aggies by 21 in Week 4, and Albright lost by 25 last week. So it would be an interesting selection show (Have to plug Pat Coleman on ESPNews!) for the winner of Saturday’s showdown.

The Liberty League has another possibility for a Pool C bid, one of the six the NCAA doles out. If Susquehanna wins on the road on Saturday, the Crusaders would win the AQ with a 6-1 conference record, the only loss to the Merchant Marine Academy when Palazzi was out with a shoulder injury. Union would also be 6-1 in the Liberty League with their only loss to the Crusaders.

Unfortunately, the loser will probably end up in the ECACs, just based on regional rankings. Union is lower in the regional rankings, which according to the ATN Podcast, have been done more by won-loss record vs. strength of schedule this year.

Odds and ends from Week 10

 

Cortland’s Alex Smith completed 22-of-33 for 324 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-42 win over Brockport. Dom Sair ran for 155 yards and the other four Cortland touchdowns.

Brockport quarterback Jake Graci had a good game as well, throwing for 305 yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough to win in the shootout.

Yuck

 

Hobart and RPI went a combined 2-for-33 on third down in the Statesmen’s 10-0 win over the Engineers at Boswell Field.

The real stars were Hobart’s Tyler Vincent and RPI’s Mike Grubbs – the punters for each team.

The shutout was the first against RPI since 2000, when Hobart pitched the shutout 27-0.

Sneaking out of there

 

Utica took a 40-6 lead at the half against Mount Ida, and might have thought the game was over. The Mustangs had other ideas. A long run to start the second half, and a long pass, plus three other touchdown drives tied the game at 40 late in the fourth quarter.

Utica got the ball back with 3:16, and running back Zach Jones completed a 44-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage to put the Pioneers in business.

Two Andrew Benkwitt completions and a rush gave Utica 3rd-and-3 at the 13-yard line. Jones rushed for a first down on the next play, and then with 22 seconds left, Benkwitt threw his fifth touchdown pass of the day, a 5-yard strike to Cody Elliot.

Benkwitt has his best day of his young career, going 27-for-35 for 275 yards, the five touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Records, etc.

 

TCNJ set a school record in its 37-34 loss to Western Connecticut. The 34 points gave the Lions 305 points so far this season, passing the old mark of 295 set in 1989.

Western Connecticut sophomore Greg Galasso had five solo and 17 assisted tackles in the win.

Morrisville State quarterback Jamieson Crast threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns in a 40-27 loss against Buffalo State.

Morrisville’s Kyle Gordon had seven catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bengals’ Willie Hordge had three long touchdown runs and 161 yards rushing, and the Bengal defense held Morrisville to -14 yards rushing.

FDU-Florham junior quarterback Matt Jeffers made his first career start in place of senior Bill Winters, and led the Devils to their first conference victory, 28-21, over King’s. Jeffers threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns.

Rochester’s defense led the way in a 20-7 win over St. Lawrence. Brendan Pidgeon had a career-high 15 tackles, while three big defensive plays in the fourth quarter helped Rochester to the victory.

Clarence Onyiriuka ran for 127 yards, the seventh time this year he’s rushed for more than 100 yards. Onyiriuka has rushed for 1,153 yards this year, the fourth-highest total in school history.

Widener’s Adam Smith carried the ball 33 times for 201 yards in the Pride’s 29-24 loss to Wilkes. Shane Szumski made 10 tackles, including 3 for loss and 2 sacks.

Predictions


Susquehanna-Union

Susquehanna is balanced, but Union is at home and the Crusader defense could have trouble stopping Chris Coney. If they can, they need to be mindful of Andrew Connolly, who can burn even a good defense.
Union 28, Susquehanna 24

Kean-Montclair State
Montclair is at home and already beat the tough test of taking down Rowan in Week 10. I think that momentum will propel them to the NJAC title.
Montclair State 23, Kean 17

Alfred-Utica
Utica is getting better, but unfortunately, the Pioneers aren’t up to Alfred level just yet. Coach Blaise Faggiano is getting them there, though.
Alfred 35, Utica 14

Albright-Lebanon Valley
The winner should get an at-large bid, and I think the two-headed monster of Charlie Parker and Ben Guiles should be the difference.
Lebanon Valley 17, Albright 13

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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is an associate news editor for ESPN.com and a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has contributed freelance work to ESPN Rise and has been a regular contributor to D3football.com since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing. A native of Hyde Park, N.Y., Andrew currently resides in New Britain. 

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov 

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