November 3, 2009

Patience pays off for Rocco

There is something to be said for learning an offense by serving as a backup.

Mount Union senior quarterback Kurt Rocco spent three seasons behind Greg Micheli and watched the Purple Raiders win two NCAA championships, while playing in three finals.

With Micheli, the 2008 Gagliardi Trophy winner, graduating, Rocco and Neal Seaman split snaps at the beginning of the season. However, Rocco’s role has expanded and he has earned the start in all eight games for the undefeated and No.1 ranked Purple Raiders.

“I learned a lot from Greg,” said Rocco. “I always give Greg a lot of credit for what he did when he was here.”

“We’ve got a lot of experienced players on our team, but the quarterback’s not one of them,” Mount Union coach Larry Kehres said. “Some of what you see in terms of us improving is Kurt improving. He makes us look better. Starting with the Capital game, his play has been steady and consistent. He’s the senior, so we feel like he’s earned the right to play most of the time.”

Rocco has completed 123 of 176 pass attempts for 2,103 yards and 22 touchdowns against five interceptions. Rocco averages 262.9 yards per game.

In the last four games, Rocco has thrown for 317, 406, 275 and 359 yards respectively. Over that same time span, Rocco has 15 touchdowns against just three interceptions.

In Mount Union’s 56-7 win over John Carroll last Saturday, Rocco completed 26 of 32 passes for 359 yards with four touchdowns.

Rocco’s 205.68 passer efficiency rating leads Division III.

“We came into it with a good game plan and we executed pretty well on offense,” Rocco said of the win over John Carroll. “I’m glad I’m here now. I waited three years to play, so I’m going to do the best I can to play my hardest.”

Rocco marched the Purple Raiders 80 yards, 75 of which were gained through the air, before Terrance Morring ran the ball in from 2 yards out on the first drive against John Carroll.

Distributing the ball to a multitude of receivers has not been a problem for Rocco. He has connected with many of the 14 Purple Raiders to haul in a reception this season.

Senior wide receiver Cecil Shorts III has been the main target for Rocco and Seaman. In eight games this year, Shorts has 55 catches for 999 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“Every week, we have gotten better,” Short said. “Last week, we threw six touchdowns to six different receivers. This week, Kurt did a good job of finding people out there.”

Vince Petruziello, who caught three passes including two first downs on the first drive Saturday, is second on the team with 31 grabs for 483 yards and three touchdowns.

Late in the first quarter of Saturday’s win, Rocco dropped back and found A.J. Claycomb open down the right sideline for a 36-yard touchdown.

With 11:56 left in the first half, Rocco took the snap on third-and-1 from the Blue Streaks 5-yard line and was swarmed in the backfield. Despite being pulled down by several Blue Streak defenders, Rocco squared his shoulders to the line of scrimmage and fired a touchdown pass to Shorts in the middle of the end zone.

“I couldn’t even tell you,” Rocco said of how he threw the ball under duress. “They were wrapped around my feet and they just didn’t bring me down. I stood up and threw the ball to Cecil.”

“The play was messed up because one of the tight ends was supposed to come over from the right side to the left side of the flat,” said Shorts. “When I was running across, I just stopped and kind of stayed over there. Kurt ended up finding me and made a good play. It was a mistake.”

Not only did Rocco’s play baffle his teammates, it frustrated the opposition.

“I thought we had him,” lamented John Carroll coach Regis Scafe. “I was waiting for him to go down. He threw to a spot and Cecil made the catch. It’s why they’re so good. The kid’s 6-6 and whatever he weighs, 240, he’s bigger than our D-linemen, so it’s tough.”

“The last couple weeks, we’ve struggled and they’re a good running team,” Scafe added. “He had a lot of time to throw the ball. We blitzed and they scored. We can’t play man with their receivers. We tried to do different things, but it’s pretty hard against that team. They’re not one facet. You shut one thing down, the other thing’s open. They’ve got really great receivers.”

On the opening drive of the second half, Rocco connected with Petruziello along the right sideline. Petruziello broke out of a tackle and scored a 50-yard touchdown.

News and notes

Running back Pat Clasgens and linebacker Cam Bramer gave Olivet their best efforts, but it was not enough in the Comets’ 28-14 loss to Hope College Saturday afternoon. Clasgens ran for a league high 178 yards on 25 attempts and scored Olivet’s only touchdowns of the game. Bramer registered a season and league-high 24 tackles and had an interception.

Andrew Keller threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Chad Walker in the last minute to seal Marietta’s 25-22 come-from-behind upset of then-No. 7 Otterbein Saturday. Keller completed 25 passes for 287 yards and one touchdown. On the ground, Keller accounted for 22 yards and another score.

Wittenberg junior defensive end Eddie Vallery reset the school’s single-season sack record with a 2.5 sack performance against Denison. Vallery’s 14 sacks on the season tie him with Calvin Fance of Division II Angelo state for the NCAA All-Divisions season leader.

Thiel quarterback Willie Bova went 27-of-42 for 373 yards and four touchdowns against no interceptions in the Tomcats’ 38-14 win over St. Vincent last Saturday. Bova connected with six different players, including Brendan Taylor who caught eight passes for 160 yards. Tyler Dejong led the way with two receiving scores.

Despite Marshall Oium’s 25-of-50, 324-yard, three-touchdown performance, Chicago still fell to the Case Western Reserve Spartans 38-24. Case was given a big spark in the running game by Greg Meyer, who gained 142 yards on 14 carries. Meyer had a 59-yard touchdown with 1:42 remaining in the game. While Case quarterback Dan Whalen was off-target throwing the ball, he gained 59 yards on nine carries, including a 68-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the game.

Great Lakes Teams in the North Region Rankings

1. Mount Union
2. Otterbein
3. Wittenberg
4. Case Western Reserve
7. Wabash
10. Trine

Great Lakes Region Teams in D3football.com Top 25

No. 1: Mount Union (OAC): No change after 56-7 win at John Carroll
No. 9: Case Western Reserve (UAA): Up three spots following 38-24 win at Chicago
No. 11: Thomas More (PAC): Up nine spots after 14-7 win over No. 23 Washington and Jefferson
No. 13: Capital (OAC): Up three spots following 35-7 win over Muskingum
No. 14: Wittenberg (NCAC): Up three spots after 41-7 win over Denison
No. 15: Otterbein (OAC): Down eight spots following 25-22 loss to Marietta
No. 16: Wabash (NCAC): Up two spots after 41-9 win at Oberlin
No. 17: Ohio Northern (OAC): Up two spots following 49-6 home win over Baldwin-Wallace
No. 23: Washington and Jefferson (PAC): Down 12 spots after 14-7 loss to No. 11 Thomas More
Others Receiving Votes: Trine (MIAA)

Games of the Week

No. 19 Ohio Northern (6-2, 5-2 OAC) at No. 16 Capital (6-2, 5-2), Saturday, 1:30 p.m.: With Otterbein’s loss to Marietta last weekend and a game at Mount Union Saturday, this match-up takes on more significance.

If either Ohio Northern or Capital wins their last two games and Otterbein falls to Mount Union and John Carroll, the Polar Bears or Crusaders may find themselves back in contention for a Pool C berth into the NCAA Tournament.

Adrian (5-3, 3-1 MIAA) at Trine (7-1, 5-0), Saturday, 12:30 p.m.: With Trine completing their portion of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association schedule Saturday, the Thunder could lock up a conference championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Trine beat Adrian 9-0, their second-closest game of the MIAA schedule last year. Of Adrian’s three setbacks this season, two have been by one point, 17-16 to Albion and 29-28 in overtime to Division II provisional member Lake Erie.

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Findlay, Ohio. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending the last 10 at The Courier in Findlay. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois and lives in Ottawa with his wife and daughter.

2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic

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