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Upstate-to-West Palm combination serves Statesmen

Brandon Shed has kept plenty warm on the run for Hobart as a key target of Shane Sweeney in the Statesmen passing game.
Hobart athletics photo by Ken DeBolt

Making the adjustment from high school to college can be tough for any freshman. It can be even tougher when that freshman also has to deal with a change in climate.

Hobart receiver Brandon Shed hails from sunny West Palm Beach, so handling winter in upstate New York is something he wasn’t prepared for.

“He told me that when he first came here he didn’t have a jacket,” said Statesmen quarterback Shane Sweeney, who also happens to be a native of Geneva where Hobart is located. He’s always complaining about the weather but I think he’s adapted pretty well now.”

“The first year was brutal, very brutal,” Shed added. “It was milder last year. So far this year it’s been nice.”

Fortunately for the Statesmen, Shed and Sweeney have adapted well on the football field to guide them to the NCAA playoffs even if they might prefer different environs.

Both juniors, they may be the most explosive quarterback/receiver tandem in the nation. Shed has 70 catches for 1241 yards and 17 touchdowns while Sweeney completed more than 61 percent of his passes for 3145 yards with 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions. They have been the catalyst to a change in philosophy for the Hobart offense too.

As a local kid, whose cousin is the school’s basketball coach, Sweeney remembers going to Hobart games growing up where they threw the ball most of the time.

“We were a ground and pound type of team,” said coach Mike Cragg. “Control the clock, have a very strong defense to keep you in very game.”

But with Sweeney transferring home after a redshirt year at D-I FCS Albany before the 2015 season and receivers such as Shed, seniors Jack Pfohl and Sean Cunningham the Statesman had the weapons to throw it around.

It has also led to all sorts of end-of-game excitement this season. Five Statesmen victories and their only loss have been determined within the last two minutes of the fourth quarter.

“This year has been different,” Cragg said. “We’ve had five comebacks in the last minutes to win. It’s nice to have those kind of weapons at receiver, running back and certainly the quarterback position.”

Sweeney has broken out this season after missing multiple games last season with a shoulder injury. An extra year in the offense that included Spring practice has been the key.

“I love to throw the ball.” Sweeney said. “We have some great athletes playing the receiver position. We want to get them the ball and we’ve done a great job of doing it. They make me look good.”

He left Albany after a coaching change and he was told that the program was headed a different direction. Heading home seemed a logical choice. Cragg had recruited and they had gotten close.

“I have so many family and friends that come out to games,” Sweeney said. It’s thrill playing in front of them. I am grateful to get the opportunity to play at home and play at Hobart.”

And while Sweeney has been great, it’s been Shed that has made the biggest jump. Statistically, he has doubled his output. Shed credits opportunities back in Florida like training with several NFL athletes like C.J. Jones formerly of the Patriots. Shed and Sweeney also worked hard to develop chemistry during the offseason.

“Back home I have a lot of resources,” Shed said. “Working with them has made me bigger, stronger and improved my technique.”

It takes Cragg awhile to run out of adjectives when describing the 6-foot-4, 205-pound receiver.

“He is big, long, can get off jams, ran by people, has excellent hands, runs great routes, and doesn’t take plays off. He’s really special.”

The string of last-minute victories helped the team develop confidence and that has played off the past two weeks in more comfortable victories over St. Lawrence and Rochester. The victory over the Saints was especially important and the pair hooked up 12 times for 241 and a pair of touchdowns. Hobart gained control of its own destiny with the 34-18 victory over a team previously unbeaten this year.

The Statesmen will need that confidence as they head into this Saturday’s matchup a Mount Union. After a one-year absence in the playoffs, Hobart has drawn the defending national champions a week after their first regular season loss in more than a decade. The Purple Raiders will also have to play a playoff game on another team's field for the first time in 21 years.

“That’s over two decades of being seeded number one,” Cragg said (although the Purple Raiders were seeded third in 2005). That’s unbelievable. It speaks to the kind of program they have there. We just have to go out and be the best Hobart we can be and see how we match up.”

“In order to be the best you have to beat the best,” Shed added.  Shed actually had considered and was accepted to Mount Union as a high schooler, but decided on Hobart after he felt it fit his academic direction best.  “This is a great opportunity. We know the polls and blogs say that they’ll steamroll us, but we know what this team is capable of. We know out talent, so we’re going to play them as hard as anybody else.”

“They’re an exceptional team, the best we’ve seen all year,” Sweeney said. “We’re looking forward to the competition.”

Best of the Rest

Stevenson (9-1, 8-1 MAC) at Wesley (8-2, 8-1 NJAC) The Mustangs are making their playoff debut in their sixth season. Meanwhile, Wesley clinched their 12th consecutive playoff bid by winning the NJAC. The Wolverines are 11-1 in first round games and haven’t knocked out in the second round since 2008. Stevenson coach Ed Hottle was on the Wesley staff back in 2002 and 2003. The teams have one common opponent in Delaware Valley, who defeated Wesley in the season opener 21-14, while the Mustangs downed the Aggies 19-0 in mid-October.

Bridgewater St (8-2, 8-0 MASCAC) at Alfred (10-0, 8-0 E8) The Saxons return to the playoff field for the first time since 2010 as the presumptive number one seed in their pod. That year they made it all the way to the quarterfinals before falling to Mount Union. Could history repeat itself? The Bears have won eight straight after dropping their first two games of the season, both nonconference

ECAC Football Fest in Philly

There are plenty of teams still in action this weekend aside from those competing in the NCAA tournament. Here’s a quick look at the matchups’:

Friday, 11/18 at Franklin Field, Philadelphia

Kean (6-4, 5-4 NJAC) vs. Cortland (5-5, 3-5 E8) The Cougars have quietly put together a second straight winning season by winning three straight to close the regular season. They’ll face a Red Dragon squad that was ranked earlier in the season before the injury bug bit. 

Washington & Jefferson (8-2, 6-2 PAC) vs. Brockport (7-3, 6-2 E8) The Golden Eagles lost three games this season by a total of ten points to teams that made it to the postseason.

Saturday, 11/19 at Franklin Field, Philadelphia

Utica (7-1, 5-3 E8) vs. Westminster (7-1, 5-3 PAC) The Pioneers earn their second bowl bid in three years.

Frostburg State (9-1, 8-1 NJAC) vs St. John Fisher (8-2, 6-2 E8) Interesting matchup between two team that were in the running for at large bids. The Bobcats ended ranked ahead of the Cardinals in the final regional rankings. Did that keep Fisher out of the playoffs? We’ll never know.

Sunday, 11/20 at Franklin Field, Philadelphia

Carnegie Mellon (7-3, 6-2 PAC) vs Salisbury (7-3, 6-3 NJAC) The Sea Gulls controlled their own destiny a couple of weeks ago but dropped their final two contests to archrivals Wesley and Frostburg State. Here’s a chance to take some of the sting out of that.

SUNY Maritime (6-4, 4-3 ECFC) vs RPI (5-5, 3-4) The Engineers are the only ECAC Bowl selection with a win over a team in the NCAA playoffs. Who did they beat?

MAC-Centennial Bowl Challenge

Delaware Valley (8-2, 7-2 MAC) at Muhlenberg (9-1, 8-1 CC) What could have been for the Aggies this season? A last-second home loss to Albright and a disappointing day in Baltimore in a 19-0 loss to Stevenson. They’ll face a Mules team that lost only to Centennial champ Johns Hopkins by four.

Franklin and Marshall (7-3, 6-3) at Albright (7-3, 7-2 MAC) The Lions fell on a late field goal last week to Lebanon Valley 28-25. The Diplomats defeated LVC 30-6 in the season opener. Does that mean anything? Probably not.

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Columnist

Jason Bowen

Jason Bowen has 10 years of Division III coaching experience at Wesley, where he was also the Sports Information Director. He currently provides color analysis on broadcasts of Wesley games on WDEL Radio 1150AM and has served as a staff and freelance writer for the Delaware State News in Dover. He has been a contributor for D3football.com since 2006. By day he teaches high school biology. He is a 1992 graduate of and three-year letter winner at linebacker for Mansfield (Pa.) University.

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov
2011-14 columnist: Andrew Lovell

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