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New life for St. John Fisher

St. John Fisher athletics photo

Cody Miller sat anxiously, surrounded by a handful of teammates and coaches. Fingers tapped and feet bounced in nervous anticipation. They were all waiting to hear the same thing.

When St. John Fisher was finally announced as one of the five Pool C selections for the NCAA playoffs, that nervous energy quickly turned to passionate excitement. Other players, many watching in dorm rooms or off-campus houses, were locked in on the selection show, too.

"Especially as a senior on the team, you're just thrilled to have one more chance, one more opportunity to play," Miller said.

After a one-year absence, St. John Fisher is back in the playoff field. And, just like they were in 2011, the Cardinals are a road underdog in the first round.

The Cardinals drew OAC runner-up John Carroll, the ninth-ranked team in the final D3football.com Top 25 poll of the regular season. The Blue Streaks, who gave No. 1 Mount Union one of its toughest tests of the season in a 42-34 loss last weekend, rank third nationally in total defense (224.8 yards per game) and first in scoring defense (7.5 points allowed per game).

This is, undoubtedly, the Cardinals' toughest test of the season. But they don't need to be reminded of that -- in their minds, they've been in the playoffs since Oct. 26.

"Ever since our second loss, realistically, every game has been do-or-die for us," Miller said.

St. John Fisher lost to eventual Empire 8 champion Ithaca, 25-22, on Oct. 26, its second loss in as many weeks after a 42-35 loss to Salisbury on Oct. 19. After opening the season with five straight wins, St. John Fisher faced a crucial three-game stretch against Utica, Buffalo State and Alfred to end the season.

The Cardinals punctuated a 3-0 showing in that stretch with a 48-13 rout of Alfred in the annual Courage Bowl. Among St. John Fisher's eight wins were strong non-conference victories over playoff-bound Washington and Jefferson, Cortland State and Otterbein. Those wins, combined with a 5-2 mark in a strong Empire 8, looked solid on the Cardinals' postseason resume come selection time.

"That's where everybody wants to be," Vosburgh said. "They want to be in that tournament. There's only 32 teams and there's, what, 242 Division III schools, so [it's] a nice place to be in November, playing in that field of 32."

The Cardinals are in the NCAA playoffs for the fifth team in school history, all of which have come since 2004. Reaching the playoffs has become an expectation in the program, but, given the team's history in the postseason, it seems that simply reaching the playoff field isn't enough.

St. John Fisher has won at least one game in each of its previous four playoff trips, including a trip to the quarterfinals in 2011, a run that featured a number of players still on the team.

"We remember the experience," Miller said. "We remember the feelings of winning those games as the underdog against Johns Hopkins and [Delaware] Valley."

John Carroll's defense ranks among...

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Columnist

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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