|Steven Webb had another
strong game on Saturday, including ripping off a 58-yard touchdown
run on the first snap of the second half.
Hobart athletics photo by Greg Searles
By Joe Sager
Backyard football games are a tradition for many during Thanksgiving week.
For St. John Fisher and Hobart, they’ll take that to a new level when they clash Saturday, Nov. 30, at noon on the Statesmen’s home turf at Boswell Field.
However, these two geographic rivals – located about an hour apart in Upstate New York – have more than territorial bragging rights are on the line. The winner advances to the Division III quarterfinals.
“It’s the playoffs, so every game is pretty important. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Fisher’s Mike Guinta said. “It’s pretty cool it turned out this way. We’ve played Hobart in the past. They know us pretty well, too. It’s a neat situation. It definitely makes it more of a rivalry game. We played John Carroll last week and we didn’t really know too much about them.”
Even though the two programs play in different conferences, there is a familiarity for the personnel and coaches.
“My boy from home goes to Fisher. He plays safety (Ryan Ballard). There is a kid (Brandon Fuentes) from Avon I used to play against in high school who is on defense. There are some familiar faces,” Hobart running back Steven Webb said. “It’ll be a Round 3. I played them my freshman and sophomore years and we went 1-1. This is the tiebreaker. It’ll be exciting.”
The close proximity is a bonus for both squads, too. Instead of a long bus ride, the Cardinals merely have to make the short trek to Hobart.
“It’s definitely more convenient to be about an hour away, especially with the weather conditions getting worse. We don’t mind a shorter trip,” Fisher’s Sean Preish said. “It’s definitely a little more personal with the close proximity and we know some of the guys and they know us. A playoff game is a playoff game, though. Both teams have their backs up against the wall.”
In addition to the rivalry, both sides expect a challenging game. The teams are coming off strong first-round victories. Fisher (9-2) went on the road to upset John Carroll, 25-16, while the Statesmen (10-0) rolled past Gallaudet, 34-7.
“It is great that two of the top teams in the East moved on; to be playing in the Sweet 16 is a great feeling because there are so many talented players on both sides,” Hobart coach Mike Cragg said. “This matchup is really neat and the guys are excited for it.”
|St. John Fisher quarterback
Tyler Fenti is well-known to Hobart coach Mike Cragg. By first
name, in fact.
St. John Fisher athletics photo
The Cardinals rallied from a 13-0 deficit against John Carroll to earn the upset win.
“Our kids felt good about themselves. They hung in there and persevered,” Fisher coach Paul Vosburgh said. “It’s always tough to win on the road, especially against a good opponent like John Carroll.”
Fisher gained Hobart’s attention by forcing six turnovers and scoring 25 points against John Carroll, which boasted D-III’s top scoring defense.
“First of all, Coach Vosburgh does a great job. That defense has been coming up with a huge amount of turnovers, both fumbles and interceptions. They’ve been doing a really good job at that,” Cragg said. “Offensively, with (quarterback) Tyler (Frenti) and all the weapons they have, they are a very good football team on both sides of the ball. I expect a great game.”
The Cardinals’ defense has emerged as a force. Over the past three games, the unit has produced 15 turnovers. That’s a huge point of concern for the Statesmen.
“We have stressed that to anyone who controls the ball this game. They’re going to be looking to strip it, especially if the bad weather keeps up because that makes it easy to fumble,” Webb said. “Ball control will be a big key part to the game.”
Guinta has been one of defensive ringleaders. Against John Carroll, the senior defensive back recorded his fifth interception in his last six games.
“I am just doing whatever I can to help the team win,” he said. “Turnovers are a big deal for us. We have a little game where we have to get 5 turnovers in practice. If you win the turnover battle, you’re more likely to win the game so we do stress that.”
Guinta is part of an all-new starting secondary for the Cardinals.
“We didn’t have anyone returning in our back five. They are kind of just getting settled in,” Vosburgh said. “I think our defensive coaching staff is doing a great job. I think they have jelled together. We’re not doing anything special, but we’re just playing good football right now.”
Fisher’s defense faces another challenge in Webb and the Statesmen. Last week, Webb continued to his running mastery. He racked up 161 yards on the ground. His three touchdowns gave him 20 on the year, which is a program record.
“We game planned like we have all season. Our coaches stress a body on a body and it’s what our linemen do the best. If they can just keep a body on a body and not allow penetration, we will most likely win the game,” he said. “Once when we start getting the running game going, we can go to the air. We just did what we’ve been doing all season and we don’t plan on stopping. Hopefully, it’ll continue.”
The Statesmen got a scare when junior quarterback Patrick Conlan, a son of former NFL standout Shane Conlan, left last week’s game with an injury.
“He is back. He’ll be fine. He sprained an ankle,” Cragg said. “We gave him a couple of days off and he’ll be ready to go.”
Preish, who had a career-high 21 tackles against John Carroll, two shy of the program record, knows the Cardinals face a tough test.
“The 24-hour rule was in play with that win. It was a great win, but we’re looking ahead .We don’t want to focus on the past too much,” he said. “Hobart has a good offense. They are good up front. They have an underrated quarterback and receivers, but their running back (Webb) is their focal point. We know we have a challenge this week. We’re up for it. We can’t ask for more coming from an at-large berth. We just wanted a shot at the tourney. We got all we can ask for right now.”
Both teams were happy to see Ithaca, which plays in the Empire 8 with Fisher, advance to the Sweet 16 as well.
“I heard from a lot of people that the East was down,” Cragg said. “To have three in the Sweet 16 is pretty nice. It shows there is very good football in the East.”
The squads hope to put on a good display Saturday.
“This is a great time to be playing football and it’s always great to practice on Thanksgiving morning,” Vosburgh said. “It should be a great atmosphere. I think the people that do go to the game will enjoy it.”