|RPI athletics photo
By Jason Bowen
The regular season comes to a close this Saturday with rivalry weekend. Several of these rivalries have huge postseason implications.
Widener (7-2, 7-1) will travel to MAC leader Delaware Valley (9-0, 8-0)) for the Keystone Cup. The winner earns a Pool A bid.
For the RPI (7-2, 3-1) in The Dutchman Shoes game against archrival Union, the task is simple. Win and clinch the Liberty League’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Lose and Ithaca goes in regardless of their result in the Cortaca Jug game against Cortland. The Engineers can make their first NCAA appearance since 2007.
In the Regent’s Cup, Salisbury hosts Frostburg State. Neither team has a shot at the NJAC bid, but the Bobcats can increase their chances of an at large (Pool C) bid with a victory. Their only loss came to Wesley, who clinched a share of the NJAC by beating Salisbury last week, in overtime back in early October.
According to RPI coach Ralph Isernia, the key is to keep the players focused on the task at hand. Make them aware of all the possibilities but stay in the moment. The next play is the most important.
“We just put it out there, this is what’s ahead of us,” Isernia said. “None of that makes any difference if we don’t take care of business.
“We’re not looking at what-ifs. It’s about this game, each individual play and each player doing his individual job. It sounds like coach-speak but you have to focus in like that in game like this with a lot of emotion. You have to put all that stuff aside and just focus on the assignment.”
That usually isn’t tough in a contest as storied as RPI vs. Union, the oldest football rivalry in New York State. It has all the gravitas of a great rivalry: separated by 18 miles, tech school vs. liberal arts, and maroon vs. red.
“It’s just like all those rivalries you see on ESPN,” Isernia said. “The alumni, if they have a chance to come back to the “Shoes” game or homecoming, they’re coming back for the “Shoes” game.
“There’s a lot riding on this but the biggest thing is getting that trophy every year. It’s one of those weeks that if you have some bumps and bruises, all of a sudden there’s a miracle healing that goes on that allows you to play. It one that you remember for the rest of your life.”
When Isernia watches video of Union, it is a lot like looking in the mirror. The Dutchmen have rebounded from a 0-10 record just two years ago to win seven games this season.
“It’s like looking at a version of your own team in a lot of respects,” Isernia said. “They want to turn you over and play with a short field. They’ll lull you to sleep and go over top with some play action. Coach Behrman’s done a really good job preparing his team. A lot the same things that you see if our success, that’s what they’ve done.”
The Engineers started the season 3-0, but back-to back losses to Buffalo St. and Hobart almost derailed their season. They have since rallied to win four straight.
“Obviously, we were playing some pretty good opponents,” Isernia said. “We got away from some of the things that we were doing earlier in the season.
“We lost our identity a little. Our formula has been playing great on defense and taking the ball away and putting the offense in good field position, playing with short fields. If it was baseball analogy, we’re getting good pitching from the defense and timely hitting (on offense.) In baseball terms you win a lot of games that way. In football terms also.”
Also key to their current win streak has been a change a quarterback. George Marinopoulos was inserted as the starter after the loss to Hobart. Just a freshman, the 6-3, 185 pounder has completed 65 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
“He comes from a really good high school system that translates very well to the college level,” Isernia said. “He’s poised in the pocket. He’s experienced in a system that’s like ours. When you get a guy that has that experience, it’s a lot easier to transition from a freshman into a college player. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was what we considered was best for the team.”
At Frostburg, the Bobcats were rolling along on a 13-game winning streak before the Wesley loss. They bounced back with three blowout victories before running into Kean last Saturday. This week to stay in the running for an at large bid, Frostburg will meet the cross-state rival Sea Gulls in the Regent’s Cup game.
“This will be my fourth time,” said Bobcat coach Delane Fitzgerald. “It’s as healthy a rivalry as I’ve ever seen. Now, is it competitive and do some people blow it out of proportion -- YES. But it’s a lot of fun.”
Last season, Frostburg snapped a long losing streak to the Sea Gulls beating them 21-17 for the first time since 2003.
“Last year we were able to squeak one out,” Fitzgerald said. “But here we are again. We think we are even with them talent-wise (now.) They are as well-coached as any team in our conference”
Last week, Kean grabbed a 14-3 lead by the half. But Frostburg was able to score on its first two second half possessions and limit the Cougars to 40 yards of offense to win 17-14. NFL prospect on the defensive line Nile Scott helped lead the way with his ninth sack of the season.
“Last Thursday, we went into a staff meeting and had to scratch six starters,” Fitzgerald said. “Kean has been on a hot streak and they came out that way.”
The majority of the guys out were due to injury and a few due to violation of team rules. One of the most important was third year starting quarterback Connor Cox with injury.
Quarterback TJ Peer fired both third quarter touchdowns to Sergio Andino. Will Cox be back for this week’s game?
“I think so,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s throwing the ball around and looks pretty good.”
Andino has had to step up after the team parted ways with leading receiver mid-October. The freshman has caught eight touchdown passes in the last four games.
“He’s always been a good player,” Fitzgerald said. “Now is his time”
The coach admits that losing a player for disciplinary reasons hurts in the short run but helps in the long run.
“I’m not going to tolerate players handling themselves incorrectly off the field. We are going to go to class and handle ourselves in an adult and gentlemanly manner twenty four-seven.”
Sticking to his guns, made the comeback victory even more satisfying for the fourth year coach and team.
Games This Week
Widener (7-2, 7-1 MAC) at No. 7 Delaware Valley (9-0, 8-0): The winner of the Keystone Cup earns the MAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs. The Aggies, who have won 10 of the last 14 in the series, may be playing for a regional number one seed too. Tailback Devauntay Ellis has produced 378 rushing yards and eight scores in his past five quarters. Meanwhile, the Pride have won five straight since starting 2-2. Defensive back Jordan Powell continued to put together a monster season with a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. The junior has a D-III best five defensive scores this season. With two excellent defenses, Delaware Valley is simply the more experienced, consistent unit on offense.
No. 10 Brockport (9-0) at St. Lawrence (2-7): Applying the eye test, Brockport may be the best team in the east region this season. Undefeated in the E8, they end the season with a nonconference trip to the St. Lawrence. The Eagles already have good looking nonconference wins over Hobart and Ithaca, but their SOS won’t get a boost this week against a Saint team that won nine games last season. Pressed by Alfred last week, Brockport, will be without quarterback Joe Germinerio, who suffered a brutal hit that knocked him unconscious. Either he, or running back Justin Morrison, averaging 7.2 yards a carry, are listed on the Brockport two-deep entering the game. It appears Jason Hellwig will start under center as the Eagles, who seek to go 10-0 for the first time.
Christopher Newport (5-4, 4-4 NJAC) at No. 13 Wesley (8-1, 8-0): The Wolverines clinched their 13th consecutive playoff bid by beating Salisbury last week. This week, ranked fourth in the regional rankings a victory could secure a first round home game. It was also give them a chance to avenge last season’s 42-28 loss to the Captains. EJ Lee has rushed for 100 yards in nine consecutive games, while Khaaliq Burroughs has started making plays with his arm and feet. CNU has dropped three of four games since starting the season 4-1. The Captains scored with two seconds to in a loss to TCNJ, but were thwarted on the two-point conversion in a 21-19 home loss.
RPI (7-2, 3-1 NJAC) at Union (7-2, 3-1): For the Dutchmen the playoffs aren’t an option, but with a win a share of the Liberty League and their first win in the “Shoes” game since 2012 would cap a great turnaround.
No. 16 Frostburg State (8-1, 7-1 NJAC) at Salisbury (7-2, 7-1): The Sea Gulls would love to end the Bobcats’ Pool B chances and secure an ECAC bowl bid.
Cortland (6-3) at Ithaca (6-3): The Bombers clinched a share of the Liberty League title last week but will need a Union win over RPI to secure the conference’s automatic qualifier. That will matter little on Saturday as the Dragons have won the last seven in this heated rivalry. This could be Cortaca Jug, Part I, was the teams could possibly meet again next week in the inaugural New York State Bowl, for the E8/LL runners up that don’t make the playoffs. The teams have only played twice in a season in 1988 when Cortland won the regular season game and Ithaca turned around and beat the Dragons in the playoffs. Stay tuned.
Wilkes (0-9, 0-8 MAC) at King's (4-5, 3-5): The Monarchs are favored in this crosstown rivalry and can post their second straight .500 season with a win. Though winless, the Colonels have played two of the MAC best (Delaware Valley and Albright) tough this season. Throw out the records, the Mayor’s Cup is up for grabs.
Lycoming (4-5, 4-4 MAC) at Stevenson (5-4, 5-3): The Warriors will seek to avoid their third straight losing season. The Mustangs will dedicate Saturday’s game to Nick Flowers, a member of the program’s original team in 2011, who passed away of melanoma in 2016.
Misericordia (1-8, 1-7 MAC) at FDU-Florham (2-7, 1-7): The Cougars best chance to get a second victory in the program’s short history.
Lebanon Valley (5-4, 5-3 MAC) at Albright (7-2, 6-2): The Dutchmen can clinch third place in the MAC and a spot in the third annual Centennial-MAC Bowl Series with a victory over the Lions. Albright is looking for its second straight trip to a Centennial/MAC Bowl.
St. John Fisher (2-7, 2-4 E8) at Buffalo State (5-4, 2-4): The Bengals will shoot for a winning season after topping Hartwick last week on a Kyle Hoppy touchdown pass with 10 seconds left. The Cardinals are guaranteed their first losing season since 2001, but have won 2-of-4 since starting 0-5.
Hartwick (3-6, 2-4 E8) at Alfred (6-3, 4-2): The Saxons nearly stole the E8 AQ last week against Brockport, while the Hawks have lost three straight. Alfred has posted 14 non-losing seasons in a row.
Morrisville State (3-6, 1-5 E8) at Utica (3-6, 2-4): After throwing four interceptions against Alfred two weeks ago, Mustang quarterback Nick Flatlow bounced back by tossed five touchdowns to beat St. John Fisher. Nick Edmond added 184 rushing yards. The Pioneers have lost back-to-back despite nearly doubling up Cortland in total yardage. A blocked punt for a touchdown proofed fatal.
Southern Virginia (2-7, 1-7 NJAC) at TCNJ (3-6, 3-5): The Lions have won 3-of-4 after upsetting CNU on the road last week, while the Knights stayed out of the NJAC cellar by beating William Paterson.
William Paterson (0-9, 0-8 NJAC) at Montclair State (4-5, 4-4): The Pioneers have lost 15-straight dating back to last season. Breaking that streak on the road against a Red Hawk team fighting its way back to the .500 mark won’t be easy.
Rowan (3-6, 2-6 NJAC) at Kean (4-5, 4-4): When is the last time Rowan lost six games in a row? Kean has played well over the last half of the season, nearly knocking of a ranked Frostburg team on the road last week.
Hobart (6-3, 2-2 LL) at Rochester (2-6, 0-4): The Dutchmen look to post their seventh straight season with at least seven wins. It will be the last time you’ll get to see the record-setting quarterback-receiver combination of Shane Sweeney and Brandon Shed. The Yellow Jackets have been outscored 172-34 during their four-game losing streak.