October 12, 2011

A midseason report card

Tyre Coleman leads Hobart with six sacks despite playing just four games so far.
Hobart athletics photo 

Kean, Hobart and Widener are a combined 14-1, while Cortland State, Rowan and Albright are only a combined 10-6. But we all saw that coming ... right?

With five weeks remaining in the regular season, we're just past the midway point of the season. This gives us a perfect opportunity to examine the conference races in the East region. Which teams have surprised? Disappointed? Who are the favorites?

Let's break it all down, conference by conference.

New Jersey Athletic Conference

Biggest surprise - Kean (5-0, 4-0): With apologies to TCNJ (4-1, 3-1), which is having a superb season in its own right, the biggest surprise in the NJAC so far has been the Cougars.

Kean has already matched its win total from 2010, and will likely surpass that total when it faces winless Brockport State this Saturday. Quarterback Tom D'Ambrisi has led a balanced offense, while Bekim Bujari and Jamahl Williams -- among others -- have sparked an opportunistic defense.

Skeptics will point to Kean's slim margins of victory against perceived inferior opponents -- one-point win against TCNJ, seven-point win against Buffalo State. The simple truth is that conference championships aren't awarded based on style points. Wins, which Kean already has five of, earn the crowns.

Biggest disappointment - Rowan (3-2, 3-1): Let me preface this by saying that, in no way, is Rowan's season over yet. The Profs, who still have to play Kean, Montclair State and TCNJ in their final three games this season, are right in the thick of the NJAC race.

What stands as the disappointing aspect is the hole Rowan has dug for itself. Rowan dropped an 8-6 decision in the season opener against Lycoming, failing to score until just over one minute remained in regulation. Two weeks later, Rowan blew an 11-point lead to Cortland, which handed the Profs their second loss in the early going.

Rowan still has key games remaining, so it can make some noise in the conference race. The early-season losses just make it a more difficult proposition.

Favorite at the midway point - Montclair State (5-0, 4-0): Kean isn't the only NJAC team that made it through the first half of the season unscathed.

Montclair State, which finished 10-2 and reached the second round of the NCAA playoffs last season, has lived up to preseason expectations. The Red Hawks have won all five of their games, though some have been nail-biters -- 20-19 over Morrisville State and 34-33 over Cortland State.

Dan Avento leads Montclair State in tackles and is second passes broken up.
Montclair State athletics photo 

"We managed to win a couple ballgames that we were disappointed in our play," Montclair State coach Rick Giancola said Monday. "But as we went from game one to game two to game three, four, five, we've gotten better, and I think that's the key phrase for us for the first half of the season."

Senior quarterback Tom Fischer and fifth-year senior running back Chris D'Andrea have had nice seasons so far, but it's Montclair's offensive line -- which returned four senior and one junior starters from last year -- that has fueled the offense.

The defense, led by senior defensive end Alex Iachetta, senior safety Chad Faulcon and sophomore linebacker Dan Avento, has a mixture of veterans and young players, but has improved from week to week.

"Anybody in our league can win," Giancola said. "That's not a surprise. You can take a look at three or four teams every year in our league and say, 'Hey, they're pretty good.' Yeah, they are. Everyone has an opportunity."

Key games remaining: Montclair State at TCNJ, 2 p.m., Oct. 22; Rowan at Kean, 1 p.m., Oct. 29; Montclair State at Rowan, 1 p.m., Nov. 5; Kean at Montclair State, 1 p.m., Nov. 12.

Empire 8

Biggest surprise - St. John Fisher (4-1, 2-0): It shouldn't come as a surprise that St. John Fisher is in the thick of the Empire 8 race. That the Cardinals were able to shut down Alfred's prolific offense, in fact, was a surprise.

The Cardinals entered this season as one of the top teams in the perennially deep Empire 8, but most considered them a notch below defending champion Alfred and highly-touted newcomer Salisbury.

Yet, two weeks ago, St. John Fisher defeated Alfred 17-3 behind a dominating defense effort. The Cardinals harassed Alfred quarterback Tom Secky, forcing the usually accurate signal caller to throw four interceptions. Of course, it's important to keep in mind that, just one week before that signature win, St. John Fisher was blown out by Hobart in a seemingly winnable game.

The Cardinals aren't without flaws -- particularly in the running game -- but if they can turn in more performances like the one against Alfred, they will compete for an Empire 8 title.

Biggest disappointment - Springfield (3-2, 1-2): Like St. John Fisher, Springfield was widely considered a level below teams like Alfred and Salisbury coming into the season, so a 3-2 record in and of itself isn't disappointing. It's how the Pride has lost those two games that hurts.

Against Alfred, Springfield entered halftime tied 14-14. But in the second half, the Pride managed only 27 rushing yards and eight points as Alfred pulled away for a 30-22 win.

Against Salisbury this past weekend, Springfield entered halftime trailing just 28-23. The Sea Gulls would score all 37 second-half points en route to a lopsided 65-23 win.

With losses to Alfred and Salisbury, Springfield likely has to win out and hope for some help to win the Empire 8.

Favorite at the midway point - Salisbury (5-0, 3-0): It might be their first year in the conference, but the Sea Gulls are playing like they've owned the Empire 8 for years.

After a close, hard-fought win over Christopher Newport, Salisbury has followed it up with convincing wins over Utica and Springfield. Add to that the Sea Gulls' win over Ithaca earlier in the season, and Salisbury has looked like the class of the conference so far.

"Number one, we definitely met a goal to be undefeated through this first half," Salisbury coach Sherman Wood said Monday. "Number two, we found out a little more about our kids in terms of character and never-giving-up type of attitude. We just feel now that there is a little momentum going into the second half."

The Sea Gulls will need that momentum, as they enter their toughest three-game stretch of the season. Salisbury faces Alfred, Hartwick and Wesley in succession, all on the road. Wood said adhering to a strict practice and travel schedule will be key in keeping players fresh.

"Alfred is a big deal," Wood said. "They went to the quarterfinals last year ... that's saying a whole lot. Obviously we've never been to Alfred, our kids have never been to Alfred. We don't know what to expect other than what we see on film."

Alfred had success in shutting down Springfield's triple-option offense, so Salisbury must be wary of that. Games against Alfred and St. John Fisher will be pivotal in the conference race.

Wood pointed to senior fullback Randal Smedley (456 rushing yards, five touchdowns) and senior defensive lineman Matt Leon (27 tackles, six tackles for loss) as key contributors, both with their on-field performance and leadership.

"We haven't played a total game in all phases as of today, so we're still trying to find a way to play a total football game," Wood said.

Key games remaining: Salisbury at Alfred, noon, Oct. 15; St. John Fisher at Springfield, 2 p.m., Oct. 22; St. John Fisher at Salisbury, noon, Nov. 5.

Middle Atlantic Conference

Biggest surprise - Widener (5-1, 3-1): As a general rule of thumb, if you've matched your entire win total from the previous season by Week 6 the following year, you're probably going to be regarded as a surprise team. Ladies and gentlemen, the Widener Pride.

Quarterback Chris Haupt (1,742 yards, 18 touchdowns, six interceptions) has been nothing short of brilliant in guiding the top-scoring offense in the MAC. That high-scoring offense, coupled with a defense that's allowing just 14.3 points per game, has helped Widener win five of its first six games out of the gate.

Widener's only blemish is a surprising 34-27 loss to Wilkes, but with matchups still remaining against MAC heavyweights Lebanon Valley, Albright and Delaware Valley, the Pride have a chance to make up for it.

Biggest disappointment - Albright (4-2, 2-2): After a down year in 2010, the Lions were expected to climb back to the top of the MAC. After two straight conference losses, that climb is looking tougher and tougher.

Albright opened the season hot, winning four straight, including routs of MAC foes Wilkes and King's. But the Lions stumbled against Lycoming and blew a 17-7 lead against Lebanon Valley. Now Albright faces a must-win against the cream of the crop in the MAC -- undefeated Delaware Valley.

A loss to the Aggies all but eliminates the Lions. A win, however, vaults them right back into the mix for the conference crown.

Favorite at the midway point - Delaware Valley (6-0, 4-0):
It hasn't always been pretty, but Delaware Valley has won all six of its games and stands as the lone unbeaten in the MAC.

Three of the Aggies' six wins have come by eight points or less. That doesn't concern coach Jim Clements.

"A win is a win, I don't care if it's by a point or by 50 points," Clements said Monday. "We've had a lot of close games."

The wins have been plenty so far for a team that returned just two offensive starters from a year ago. Freshman quarterback Aaron Wilmer has had some ups and downs, but has shown he can make all the throws. Sophomore running back Kyle Schuberth leads the MAC in rushing (617 yards) and ranks second in rushing touchdowns (eight).

Senior defensive end Mike Jaskowski (5.5 sacks) and senior safety Ryan McCullough anchor a veteran defense that picked up the slack for its young offense early on in the season.

The Aggies still have games against Albright, Lycoming and Widener on the docket, so a conference title isn't theirs yet. But the Aggies are certainly in the driver's seat.

"We really control our own destiny, which is something that's nice," Clements said.

Key games remaining: Delaware Valley at Albright, 1 p.m., Oct. 15; Lycoming at Lebanon Valley, 1 p.m., Oct. 29; Widener at Delaware Valley, 1 p.m., Nov. 12.

Liberty League

Biggest surprise - Hobart (4-0, 2-0): The Statesmen, who won at least eight games every year from 2004 to 2008, suffered through an uncharacteristic 5-4 campaign last season. It looks like they've left any struggles in 2010.

Though they've only played four games because of a shortened schedule, the Statesmen look like the class of the Liberty League this year. Hobart has won all four of its games by at least 17 points, and by an average of 25 points. This includes a 56-20 rout of St. John Fisher and a 41-24 win over conference foe Union. Hobart also blanked defending conference champion St. Lawrence 23-0.

Nick Strang (779 passing yards, nine touchdowns, 202 rushing yards) and Steven Webb (265 rushing yards) lead a balanced offense, but it's the defense that has carried Hobart. Hobart, led by Devin Worthington (five tackles for loss, four sacks, one interception) and Tyre Coleman (team-high 6.5 sacks), has allowed just 53 points this year. That's just over 13 points per game.

Biggest disappointment - Rochester (1-3, 0-2): Rochester entered the season with aspirations of winning a wide-open conference and earning a trip to the NCAA playoffs.

Six weeks in, the Yellowjackets are trying to snap a three-game losing streak and make themselves relevant in the title race. After opening the season with a win over Case Western Reserve, Rochester has dropped three straight to St. John Fisher, Union and RPI.

Rochester has surrendered 121 combined points in the three losses, but it still has time to rectify the early struggles. Rochester faces St. Lawrence and Hobart, two key Liberty League contenders, in its final two games of the season.

Favorite at the midway point - Hobart: Is it possible that Hobart can be both the biggest surprise and the favorite in the Liberty League? This year, yes, it's possible.

The Statesmen have already made it through the tougher half of their schedule without a loss. The four teams remaining on Hobart's schedule are a combined 7-14.

Through the season's first six weeks, Hobart stands as the only Liberty League team with a winning record. All the signs point to Hobart running away with the conference. The key is avoiding an upset loss, particularly against RPI.

Key games remaining: Union at St. Lawrence, 1 p.m., Oct. 15; St. Lawrence at RPI, 1 p.m., Oct. 22; RPI at Hobart, noon, Nov. 5.

DelVento kicks Montclair State past Cortland State

Montclair State can point to many different reasons why it's gotten off to a 5-0 start, but one of the unsung heroes has been kicker Jake DelVento.

DelVento again proved his worth this past Saturday, kicking a 32-yard field goal to put Montclair State up 34-33 on Cortland late in the fourth quarter. DelVento made two of his three kicks against Cortland and has connected on 10 of his 13 attempts this season.

To put that in perspective nationally, DelVento's 13 attempts are tied for second, while his 10 made field goals also rank second. DelVento is two-for-four on kicks over 40 yards, with the two makes coming from 46 and 42 yards.

DelVento has also hit 13 of his 15 extra point attempts. His 43 points rank among the top 10 in kickers across the country. It's been a nice bounceback season for DelVento, who hit only six of his 14 field goal attempts a year ago.

The win over Cortland helped Montclair State keep pace with Kean, who has also jumped out to a 5-0 start.

Working overtime in the Empire 8

St. John Fisher and Alfred both scored key overtime wins over conference opponents this past weekend, which helped them both remain right behind Salisbury in the conference standings.

The Cardinals needed the extra session to edge Ithaca, a team it has dominated in recent years, 13-10. Alfred got all it could handle from Hartwick, but ultimately prevailed 32-29.

The Cardinals and Bombers slugged it out in a defensive battle that features five combined interceptions. Ithaca held a slim 10-7 lead at halftime, but a Chad Monheim field goal in the third quarter would prove to be the only second-half points.

Ithaca had a chance to take the lead late in the third quarter, but quarterback Jason Hendel was intercepted by Troy Sant in the red zone. Two possessions later, Ithaca again drove into field goal range, but Andy Rogowski's 29-yard kick was blocked Ryan Seymour.

In overtime, St. John Fisher's drilled a 36-yard field goal on the first possession to put the pressure on Ithaca. But Rogowski's 35-yard attempt was blocked again by Seymour, securing the win for the Cardinals.

Austin Dwyer rushed for 119 yards and scored on a 67-yard touchdown run that helped put Alfred up 29-21 in the fourth quarter. But Hartwick, led by quarterback Dan Brainard (25-of-43, 227 yards, two touchdowns), responded with a 16-play, 84-yard drive that culminated in Brainard's four-yard scoring strike to Chris Hoose.

Hartwick took possession first in overtime, but after stalling at the 18-yard line, kicker Alex Tesoriero missed a 35-yard attempt wide left. Five plays later, Alfred's Eric Rockwood booted home a 29-yard field goal to seal the Saxons' win.

Salisbury wins battle of the triple-options

Salisbury enters
Salisbury has been off and running.
Salisbury athletics photo 

Salisbury coach Sherman Wood said it best -- "I have a whole new respect for what we do offensively after having to prepare for [Springfield]."

In a battle of two of the nation's premier triple-option offenses, it was Empire 8 newcomer Salisbury that emerged victorious, 65-23. Salisbury's Randal Smedley rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns, while quarterback Dan Griffin rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown and threw for 185 yards and three touchdowns.

Springfield scored just before the half on a five-yard touchdown pass from Josh Carter to James Poggio to cut the Sea Gulls' lead to 28-23. But the second half was all Salisbury, as the Sea Gulls rattled off 37 unanswered points to run away with the win.

The win keeps Salisbury in the driver's seat in the Empire 8.

Carter rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown and added two more scores threw the air for Springfield.

Top 25 glance: Salisbury looking up, Cortland drops out

Five of the six East region teams ranked in last week's D3football.com Top 25 poll won this past weekend. Kean and Montclair State held steady at No. 10 and No. 11, respectively, in this week's poll.

Delaware Valley jumped two spots from No. 16 to No. 14, while Salisbury made the biggest jump, climbing from No. 22 to No. 18. Alfred held steady at No. 23, while Cortland State, following a tough loss to Montclair State, dropped just out of the top 25 to No. 26.

Quick hits

Ben Guiles tallied 120 rushing yards, 83 receiving yards and three total touchdowns -- including two in the final 10 minutes -- as Lebanon Valley rallied for a 24-17 win over Albright. Quarterback Colt Zarilla completed 11-of-17 passes for 264 yards and a pair of scores -- both to Guiles -- as the Dutchmen erased a 17-7 deficit and defeated the Lions for just the third time since 1994. The win will also trigger one of Lebanon Valley's oldest traditions, in which students will march to the college president's home Thursday and request to have classes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving canceled. Last year, hundreds of students made the march and were successful in their request. ... Jake Larson rushed for 173 yards and a touchdown and Andrew Benkwitt threw for 289 yards and a pair of scores as Utica topped RPI 38-28 in a non-conference battle. Anthony Acevedo was Benkwitt's top target, hauling in eight passes for 157 yards. Quarterback Mike Hermann again fueled the Engineers' offense, passing for 216 yards and one touchdown and rushing for 99 yards and three touchdowns. ... Kody Flail broke up two passes and returned a fumble 40 yards for a touchdown as the Lycoming defense smothered King's in a 42-10 win Saturday. The Warriors' defense held the Monarchs to just 196 yards of total offense. Zach Klinger tosses a pair of touchdowns -- one each to Jarrin Campman and Greg Kovacs -- to provide Lycoming (4-1, 2-1) with more than enough offense. ... Linebacker Nick Bricker tallied 15 tackles, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in a dominating effort in TCNJ's 26-17 win over Brockport State. TCNJ, which received 299 passing yards and three rushing touchdowns from quarterback James Donoghue, is quietly on pace for its best season since finishing 9-3 in 2007. ... Chris Haupt threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns as Widener steamrolled FDU-Florham 55-3. Over the last two weeks, Widener has outscored its opponents by a 125-3 margin. ... Quarterback Alex Coviello rushed for a career-best 243 yards and scored two touchdowns to lead Merchant Marine to a 34-27 win over WPI. John-Leon Gosselin added 166 yards on the ground, as the Mariners piled up 468 rushing yards on 65 carries. WPI's Johny Antonopoulos passed for 285 yards and four touchdowns. ... Lemar Johnson threw two touchdowns and ran for another as Morrisville State edged Western Connecticut 35-21 for its first win of the season.

Looking ahead

While it's obviously too early to crown the Empire 8 champion, the winner of the Salisbury-Alfred tilt at noon Saturday will have a leg up. Salisbury (5-0, 3-0) and Alfred (4-1, 2-1) were considered the top two contenders in the conference entering the season. That hasn't changed through the first six weeks.

Union (2-4, 2-1) and St. Lawrence (2-3, 1-1) will both try to keep pace with Liberty League-leading Hobart when the two squads face off at 1 p.m. Saturday. Oddly enough, both teams are coming off losses to Hobart -- Union this past Saturday and St. Lawrence two weeks ago.

Delaware Valley (6-0, 4-0) will face its stiffest test of the season when it faces a desperate Albright (4-2, 2-2) squad on the road at 1 p.m. Saturday. Albright is coming off back-to-back losses to Lycoming and Lebanon Valley, and needs a win to keep pace in the MAC title race.

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com. You can also follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell), and be sure to get involved in the discussions on the Around the East thread on the message board.

comments powered by Disqus

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 

Previous Columns

October 1, 2014
Pedal to the metal
When the coach has a 200-mph speed limit sign on the wall in his office, it shouldn't be a surprise...
September 24, 2014
Camp Good Days has a great partner in Courage Bowl
A crowd of around 9,400 saw St. John Fisher win a game and supported a good cause at the same time.
September 17, 2014
From the Orioles to the Bengals
His baseball dreams played out after a few seasons in the minor leagues, Kyle Hoppy turned to his...
September 11, 2014
Need a hammer? Lycoming has one
Craig Needhammer's unique style on the field and off helps drive Lycoming, as the Warriors try to...
September 4, 2014
10 games to watch for 2014
Around the East is back for the 2014 season with a look at the top games involving teams from the...
November 21, 2013
New life for St. John Fisher
Cody Miller sat anxiously, surrounded by a handful of teammates and coaches. Fingers tapped and feet...
November 14, 2013
Playoff-bound Ithaca has a new star every week
Just two years removed from the worst season in decades, the Bombers have clinched a spot in the...
November 7, 2013
Lebanon Valley making history
The Flying Dutchmen can clinch at least a share of the MAC title on Saturday, their first since...
October 31, 2013
Glad to be back
Injuries can be overcome and opponents can be game-planned for. But Mike Toop and his coaching staff...
October 24, 2013
Acevedo returns to Utica, redeems himself
Out of school entirely last year, Anthony Acevedo knew he was letting his team down and worked his...
October 17, 2013
Morrisville finds reason to believe
At halftime of the Mustangs' win vs. Rowan, coach Curt Fitzpatrick saw the usual blood, sweat and...
October 10, 2013
No hangover at St. Lawrence
St. Lawrence hasn't let last season's winless disaster carry over into 2013. St. Lawrence is 4-1, a...
October 3, 2013
For Accorsi, football was a calling
Jay Accorsi went back to football after working at a package delivery company and is now the...
September 26, 2013
Hobart back on the run
When defenses line up against Hobart, they know the Statesmen will run the ball. It's being unable...
September 19, 2013
In third season, Stevenson is cooking
Stevenson has had a lot on its plate the past couple of years, but things are starting to come...
September 12, 2013
Fenti finally off and throwing
After two major injuries, hours of standing on the sidelines and years of waiting, Tyler Fenti...
September 5, 2013
Games to watch for 2013
I've highlighted below what I feel are the 10 best games to watch this season. This is now my third...
November 16, 2012
A second senior season
As Mitch McClune lay in the hospital waiting to undergo surgery to reconstruct the lower part of his...
November 7, 2012
Six years later, Fuentes' recovery continues
The scouting report was clear and Julio Fuentes knew exactly where to be. But if you ask him about...

Other Columnists