November 4, 2009

Susquehanna could take LL title with it

When the casual fan of Division III football looks at the teams in the East Region, they know the names of the perennially good ones -- Ithaca, Springfield, RPI, Union, Hobart, Delaware Valley, Albright, Cortland, Rowan -- and the list goes on.

But just like Lebanon Valley, who I wrote about last week, and who is 7-1 going into the penultimate week of the season, another East Region team has a chance to win a league championship, one that few saw coming.

Susquehanna, in its last year in the Liberty League before moving to the Centennial Conference next season, is 4-1 in the league and 6-2 overall. They face off against WPI this week, then travel to Union in a matchup that for all intents and purposes could be for the league championship.

“We're in a place that we want to be,” said coach Steve Briggs. “We're staying focused and not looking past WPI. They're a very tough opponent, and when you're defending the option, anything can happen. We need to take care of business.”

Senior Dave Paveletz ran for 144 yards in the game against St. Lawrence, pushing his season total to 1,195 yards in eight games this season -- closing in on his own record from last year and the school record of 1,322 yards set back in 1997 by Matt Wichlinski.

Paveletz is fourth in the country in rushing yards per game, at almost 150 per game, a 5.0 average.

“Dave is our leader,” Briggs said. “When you couldn't even grip the ball last week in the rain, Dave ran for two big first downs. He does everything for us. We're going to miss him when he leaves.”

Paveletz is one of only 13 seniors on the Crusader squad in 2009, so they could be a tough opponent for the next bunch of years. Another senior, J.J. Moran, leads the team with 35 catches and 471 yards.

“I'm glad that he's had a chance to get some of the success he worked so hard for,” Briggs said.

At quarterback, a sophomore is at the reins. Rich Palazzi has managed the offense, but was out for two weeks with a separated shoulder.

“He's a kid that can read things the right way, he makes plays, doesn't make too many mistakes,” Briggs said.

Union coach John Audino said they have to try to stop Paveletz.

“He was the leading rusher in the league last year, he'll probably end up the leader this year,” Audino said.

Briggs countered that Union's leading rusher, Chris Coney, is a big-time threat to score any time he touches the football, but that the Dutchman have a lot of balance.

“Union is very good and Coney is a Division I-AA prospect,” Briggs said. “But we can't focus solely on him because [Andrew] Connolly threw five touchdown passes against us last year. We want to keep it a game until the fourth quarter and hopefully make enough plays to get it done.”

Susquehanna is good, but there is a way to stop them -- and I talked to the coach of the only team that's done it in the Liberty League this year -- Mike Toop from the Merchant Marine Academy.

“We got some pressure on the quarterback and the biggest thing was that we didn't want to give up any big plays,” Toop said on Wednesday afternoon. “We knew [Paveletz] would get his yards, but he didn't get any big plays.”

Against the Merchant Marine Academy, Paveletz ran for 159 yards.

“They had an 18-play drive, and [Paveletz] fumbled near the goal line and we went 80 yards the other way for a touchdown,” Toop said.

Sophomore Rich Palazzi has managed the offense all year, but against the Mariners, Palazzi was out with injury.

“I don't care what level it is, you can't be one-dimensional,” Toop said.

Susquehanna's opponent in two weeks is Union, and Audino said that it's hard to tell what's going to happen since the last two weeks in the Liberty League is when all the upsets start to happen. But he knows that his team will have a battle against the Crusaders.

“We're doing whatever we can to control our own destiny,” Audino said. “[Susquehanna] is the best balanced team in the league in the run and pass, and they're much improved in the last two years.”

Audino said that he and his coaches haven't scouted them specifically yet, but have seen them a couple times on film. And last year, Union snuck out of Selinsgrove, Pa., with a 51-45 victory.

“They're a good strong opponent and last year we won right at the end; hopefully we can do that again,” Audino said.

Next year, Susquehanna is moving to the Centennial Conference, and as an administrator, Briggs said it will make things easier financially for the university.

“In all honesty, it makes better sense as an institution, but I'm really going to miss the people dearly in the Liberty League,”Briggs said. “When we needed a place to go [athletically], [the league] took us in and have been extremely first-class the entire time.”

In a tough economy, a move to the Centennial Conference makes sense. Trips to Union (Schenectady, N.Y.) and RPI (Troy, N.Y.) are both nearly five-hour trips and a trip to St. Lawrence (Canton, N.Y.), a seven-hour trek, really put a strain on a travel budget.

“Our travel budget will go from $30,000-plus to between $6,000 and $8,000,”Briggs said. “It's only about 35 miles to Dickinson, 55 to Franklin and Marshall, and we're fairly close to Gettysburg too -- we cross recruiting bases.”

But the time in the Liberty League has really moved the program forward.

“Our recruiting base is still Pennsylvania, but being associated with the league has expanded our recruiting base north,” Briggs said. “We get the best of both worlds -- we can still recruit [in that area] even though we're moving to a new conference.”
Toop and Audino both said the Crusaders have been a big part of the league.

“I'm sorry to see them go, they've been a good addition to the league,” said Audino, who has coached against Briggs for nearly two decades. “Susquehanna is lucky to have an experienced coach who has brought them through some tough years. They've made the league stronger, every week games are tight.”

So while a change makes sense to the university, it's still tough to leave a conference after having a full class of players in it.

“We're leaving with mixed emotions; it'll tug at the heartstrings a bit,” Briggs said.

Heading for a crash

Delaware Valley and Albright continued on their collision course for the Middle Atlantic Conference title after two wins on Saturday.

Delaware Valley stayed undefeated in conference at 5-0 after a win over King's 47-21. Mike Isgro, the senior starting quarterback for the Aggies, didn't play because of a leg injury, but the team never missed a beat.

Junior Mark Hatty made his first collegiate start, and it was a good one. Hatty completed 16 of 22 for 276 yards and three touchdowns, leading DVC to scores on seven of his first eight drives.

Matt Cook ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns, giving the Aggies a balanced attack.

Albright held up its end of the bargain with a 49-28 win over FDU-Florham. The Lions, still undefeated at 8-0, but with Del Val and Lebanon Valley still to face, got 266 all-purpose yards from senior quarterback Tanner Kelly, and despite Kelly's first interception of the season, the Lions still routed the Devils.

Now, Del Val and Albright will battle for what amounts to the conference title. If the Aggies win, they'll win the automatic qualifier in the Middle Atlantic Conference, but if the Lions get the job done on the road, they'll win a share of the conference crown.

The game will be in Doylestown, Pa. And the school is hosting its first-ever “Green Day,” similar to other schools “white-out” or “black-out.”

Lebanon Valley is still in the picture if they win out. The Dutchmen are 7-1, the best record in team history, after a 24-0 shutout of Widener. LVC is 4-1 in conference, and the last time they had seven wins in a season was 1992.

Matt Lillis was the defensive standout for the second week in a row, intercepting two passes and returning one for a 48-yard touchdown. He also changed the game on special teams, blocking two punts to set up his offense with short fields.

The two-headed monster of Charlie Parker and Ben Guiles ran for 158 of the team's 196 rushing yards. Parker also scored two touchdowns, giving him 30 for his career, the first LVC Dutchmen to do so.

Around the NJAC

Montclair State and Kean are on the same collision course that DVC and Albright are on.

If both the Red Hawks and Cougars get past their opponents this week, the two teams will battle in a winner-take-all for the NJAC title in Week 11.

Montclair has a much tougher task, traveling to Glassboro, N.J., to face Rowan. Kean is on the road as well, playing against William Paterson. The Red Hawks made quick work of Western Connecticut on Saturday, 33-17. Senior Tom Fischer threw three touchdowns in the win.

Kean had a long day against Rowan, but managed to squeak out the 23-20 victory in double overtime.

Rowan kicker Mark Getsinger missed a 38-yard field goal as time expired in regulation. In the overtime, Kean kicker Billy Daniels and Getsinger both traded 37-yard boots to keep the game tied at 20.

Rowan got the ball first in the second overtime, but after a sack of quarterback Frank Wilczynski, Getsinger missed a 40-yarder into the wind. Kean retained possession, and Daniels kicked a 26-yarder to win it for the Cougars.

Kean's seven conference wins so far is the most for the Cougars in the D3football.com era and coach Dan Garrett set a school record with his 26th victory.

Cortland kept its playoff hopes going with a 30-7 win over TCNJ. Justin Autera was named as the NJAC offensive rookie of the week, gathering up 165 yards in total yardage between punt returns and rushes.

Senior defensive end Evan Wyler repeated his selection to the D3football.com Team of the Week after making eight tackles and a sack in the win.

Brockport beat Morrisville State 59-28. Brockport quarterback Jake Graci threw four touchdown passes in the win, and Mustang quarterback Jamieson Crest threw for three and ran for another in the loss.

Around the Liberty League

Union finally beat RPI after three years to wrench back the Dutchman Shoes, 20-15, at Frank Bailey Field on Saturday.

Union senior tailback Chris Coney ran for 138 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries to lead the Dutchmen to the rivalry victory. It was Coney's 12th 100-yard rushing game and he was awarded the Liberty League offensive player of the week honor for his performance.

Around the Empire 8

Alfred routed Rochester 51-14 in a E8/LL non-conference clash. Jared Manzer returned a interception 98 yards, the longest in school record, breaking the record set way back in 1922.

No Tom Secky at quarterback for the undefeated Saxons was no problem as sophomore T.J. Kilcarr threw for 173 yards and two touchdowns in the rout.

Alfred is 7-0 and 3-0 in conference, but has two games left, one against Ithaca (at Butterfield) and against upstart Utica. The toughest test for the Saxons will be in the last two weeks.

Springfield routed Ithaca 47-26, led by junior halfback Joe Myhren's 170 yards and a touchdown performance against the Bombers. Myhren was selected to the D3football.com Team of the Week for his career day. It was the first win for Springfield over Ithaca since 2003.

A major talking point this season is about how the East beats each other up, making it necessary for the selection committee to move Mount Union into the top spot in the East Region. This year, two teams, Albright and Alfred, both have the chance to run the table and go undefeated with 10 and nine wins, respectively, but MUC could still be imported with the new “regional” selections.

One good view, from Post Patterns poster “AUPepBand” about the fact that the East Region doesn't have that name recognition in 2009:

“[I] contend that D3football.com voters don't have a traditional East power, a program that is in the NCAAs year-in and year-out, that is leading the East this season. Were the records switched and Ithaca were 7-0 right now and Alfred 5-3, the Bombers would be right up there. Heck, weren't they as high as [No. 8] early this season? By now, if undefeated, they certainly would have made moves toward the top four or five.

Hobart has certainly been there and was getting lots of early season votes. Same could be said for St. John Fisher. Alfred and Albright have not been on the national scene...[Delaware] Valley, with a solid resume, has, and despite one loss, gets more votes than the A-teams.

Same could be said for the one-time Beast of the East Rowan. Had Rowan beaten Cortland (and Kean) this year, they'd certainly be pretty high on the list. ...

But were an East Region team to just go and win out ... including the Stagg Bowl, perhaps NCAA selection officials would look upon the East Region a bit differently, no?”

Pep is exactly right. If the East had a top performance, going undefeated and then getting to the top echelon of the playoffs, the region would be looked at more favorably. I couldn't say it any better, so I took it from the source, with permission, of course. Thanks, Pep.

The last time an East Region team won the Stagg Bowl was when Ithaca did so in 1991.

Record-breakers/milestones/etc.

Delaware Valley's Kyle Gesswein had a sack against King's, the 25th of his career. He's one away from tying the school record of 26, set by Anthony Silver, a D3football.com All-American in 2006.

Montclair State's Marco Capozzoli kicked his 30th career field goal, matching a mark that only two kickers in the school's history have reached. Capozzoli, a senior, matched the record of Anthony Colasurdo (1985-88) and Vin Doffont (2003-06).

In the same game, senior A.J. Letizia, made his 100th career catch, the seventh Red Hawk to reach that milestone, and the first since 2002.

Special teams played a huge role in the Rowan-Kean double overtime thriller on Saturday. Rowan freshman Tariq Gaines returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to give Rowan a solid lead. Not to be outdone, Kean sophomore Jamahl Williams returned a kick 92 yards for a touchdown, the seventh-longest in school history. However, Williams also played defense and had a heck of a game, making 10 tackles, snagging an interception, and breaking up a pass.

St. Lawrence defensive end Gerard Bryant made 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a sack in a 21-7 loss to Susquehanna.

William Paterson beat Buffalo State 33-7 in the rain on Saturday, and held the Bengals to 52 yards of offense, and zero through the air. WPU's Matt Marshall threw two touchdown passes, running his career total to 30.

Utica's Jake Scott ran for a career-high 108 yards and a touchdown in a 33-27 loss to Hartwick. Hartwick quarterback Brian Radley threw three touchdown passes, all to senior receiver Noah Koreman.

Hobart's Michael Oliveri had a career-day against WPI in the Statesmen's 41-20 win. Oliveri had 15 tackles and a sack as Hobart improved to 4-2 in the Liberty League.

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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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