By Adam Samrov
Merely two days after the NCAA playoff bracket were revealed, and with the committee moving the defending national champion Mount Union into the East bracket, many feel that because MUC dominated to a level this season that hasn’t been seen in college football for a very long time, the Purple Raiders are just going to waltz right through the East.
Well, I don’t believe that will happen.
Call me crazy.
OK. Now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to rehash a post I wrote Monday morning on the Empire 8 message board because I feel the East region and the seven playoff teams in this bracket can stand up to MUC’s dominance:
I said this
I'm going to jump in here and defend the East.
MUC may be the king of the "mountain," but I wouldn't count any of the other seven teams in the bracket out.
Ithaca is probably the toughest 8 seed in the bracket, and they have a ton of talent. IC will not be afraid to come up and punch you in the mouth a couple of times.
Jamie Donovan and Alex Baez are a talented 1-2 punch in the backfield and both have different running styles, making it tough for defenses to stop them.
Dan Juvan is a multiple year starter, so he's been through some big games. IC has a ton of good receivers including Brian Seamus Hogan and Patrick Heenenan, among others.
But if you manage to get through that, you'll face either The College of New Jersey or RPI. TCNJ went 6-1 in the NJAC, one of the better conferences in the region, beating Cortland 30-0 along the way.
RPI won the LL, a league where four teams started the final day with a chance to win and get in. Quarterback Jimmy Robertson is one of the top quarterbacks in the East and receiver Brendan McGowan is a big-play receiver, who might have some success against the MUC secondary.
If you get past that, you may have to face Hartwick, Curry, Hobart or St. John Fisher.
Hartwick's defense isn't terrific, as evidenced by my alma mater, Utica, scoring 70 on them, but they will run and gun and outscore you if they have to. Their quarterback, Jason Boltus, has thrown for 500 yards this year in a single game twice, and they are one of the highest ranked offenses in Division III.
Lindy Crea is an all-purpose yards machine, and he will create some matchup issues.
Hobart is another Liberty League team who had to fight to get in. Andrew Strom has the power to beat a team with his arm and his feet. Strom also has a plethora of receivers to get the ball to, but they can also be a team to grind it out a little bit and really make you work for it.
MUC fans know about St. John Fisher, and you'll learn even more in 2008 when you guys face off on opening weekend.
Another high powered offense from the Empire 8, the Cardinals have Rob Kramer at quarterback, one of the top quarterbacks in the region. They have a two-headed rushing attack with Ryan Hanson and James Reile, and both backs can create matchup issues because they have different running styles. The Cardinals have a big o-line that can play with any defensive line, and not be intimidated in the least.
I know MUC is good. I know MUC is dominant. But don't tell me for a second they are going to waltz through this bracket, because it's just not going to happen.
The Cortaca Jug game is considered to be one of the biggest rivalries in Division III football. The game is defined by great performances, and despite the lopsided natures of the 2007 version (Ithaca won 40-17), both teams had some worthy performances on Saturday.
For Ithaca, Donovan ran for 131 yards and three touchdowns, picking his way through the Red Dragons’ defense.
Juvan only completed 12 passes, but two of them were for touchdowns and added up to 306 yards total, for a nice yards-per-completion average of almost 25 yards
Ithaca tight end Brian Weverburgh stepped up nicely to make five catches for 128 yards and both of Juvan’s touchdowns.
And despite the loss, Cortland had some plusses as well, with senior running back Mike Sveda running for two touchdowns, the first two of his career, in the last regular season game for the Red Dragons. Both teams will get playoff games, Ithaca in the NCAAs and Cortland will host Union in the ECAC Northeast Bowl.
RPI won for the first time at Frank Bailey Field since 1992, as the Engineers beat Union 20-14. Not only was it a rivalry win, but it was also a Liberty League-title clinching win. Down 20-7, Union quarterback Jared Gourrier scored on a two-yard run to put the Dutchmen within 20-14. On the next possession, Union held RPI to a 3-and-out and took over after a punt on their own 40-yard line. But on the first play, senior linebacker Tom Rayhill intercepted Gourrier to secure the win for the Engineers.
RPI gets one more home game at ’86 Field when the sixth-seeded College of New Jersey comes to Troy to meet the fourth-seeded Engineers.
Unless Ithaca wins, it will be the last game at 86 before they move to the new facility on campus.
Scoring 70 ... and losing?
Yup, Utica did it. With their opponent, Hartwick, needing to beat them to secure the automatic qualifier for the Empire 8, the Pioneers would not go quietly. After ending regulation tied at 49, the most points Utica scored all year, neither team scored in the first overtime, as Utica missed a field goal. Both teams scored in the second overtime, tying the score at 64.
In the third overtime, Hartwick scored on the second play from scrimmage and then made the two-point conversion to go up by eight, 72-64. Utica came back and scored in the possession to come within two, 72-70. On the two-point conversion, Utica false-started on its first play, then Hartwick came up with a defensive stop to win the game and the automatic qualifier.
The two teams set an NCAA record for most combined points in a game, breaking the record by one by Weber State and Portland State, who scored 141 combined earlier this year.
Utica set a record by scoring 70 points in a loss, the record was set by Division II’s Western New Mexico.
Hartwick quarterback Jason Boltus threw for 420 yards and six touchdowns and Utica quarterback Alex Conlon completed 13 passes for 216 touchdowns and four touchdowns.
Hartwick’s Jack Phelan caught 11 passes for 240 yards in the offensive showdown that featured 52 first downs by both teams.
In the nine games previously this season, Utica only scored 129 total, and scored 70 against the Hawks.
Hartwick gets the New England Football Conference’s rep, Curry, out of Milton, Mass., in the first round of the playoffs, while Utica, at 3-7, can take this game into next year knowing they can play with the big dogs of the Empire 8.
Wesley’s Mike Pennewell carried the ball 18 times for 136 yards against Morrisville State and it was the eighth straight game that Pennewell went over the 100-yard mark this season.
William Paterson’s Frank Mosolino won the New Jersey Athletic Conference defensive player of the week award in the Pioneers’ 21-20 win over Rowan. Mosolino had 10 tackles, five solo and three for loss to help secure the victory.
Brockport State Matt McCormick was the do-everything guy for the Golden Eagles’ offense in Brockport’s 55-13 rout of Buffalo State in the “I-90 Bowl.” He rushed for a career-high 226 yards on 29 carries and also scored a touchdown on the ground. He also threw for 96 yards and a touchdown.
McCormick set Brockport single season records for touchdowns with 13 and points with 78. He also became the first Brockport running back to get over 1,000 yards on the ground since 2002.
Rochester’s Matt Bielecki put forth a yeoman’s effort in his last regular-season game for the Yellowjackets. With a chance to win the Liberty League title against Hobart on the line, Bielecki was a workhorse, running the ball a career-high 42 times for 191 yards and two touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough as the Statesman got two touchdowns drives of less than a minute to win 30-14.
Hobart quarterback Andrew Strom went 20-for-31 for 284 yards and two touchdowns in the win. The Statesman, as a five-seed, go on the road to Pittsford, N.Y. To take on the St. John Fisher Cardinals, the East’s de facto No. 1 seed with Mount Union at the top of the bracket.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute senior Matt Burger had one of the best days of his career statstically against St. Lawrence on Saturday. Burger caught nine passes for 135 yards – albeit in a 24-13 loss. Burger ends his career with the Engineers at the top or near the top in many of WPI’s receiving categories.
In the same game, St. Lawrence quarterback Brad Heil set a single-season record for the Saints for most yards passing with 2,157. Senior receiver Mike O’ Donnell caught six passes for 101 yards in the win, and he set two school records – most catches in a career – 135 – and career receiving yards with 2,396.
Newport News kicker Matthew Edelen kicked seven PATs, a single-game record, in the Builders’ 61-55 four-overtime loss against Chowan, a Division II school. Edelen also set single-season records with 31 PATs made.
Newport News senior receiver Travis Reid caught 12 passes for 170 and three touchdowns and became the first player in Builders’ history to go over 1,000 yards in a season.
Wesley set school and Atlantic Central Football Conference records in their last game of their regular season against Morrisville State on Saturday. The Wolverines gained 710 yards total and scored eight rushing touchdowns. They tied the record from earlier this year of ten total touchdowns, with Alpha Koroma scoring on three of them.
Salisbury secured their place in the field of 32 and a first round date wuth Muhlenberg in the South region with a 35-14 win over Frostburg State. Salisbury finished 9-1 overall and earned a Pool B bid. They scored 418 points this season with their vaunted option attack, breaking the school record of 415 set just two years ago in 2005.
Kean’s A.J. Roque set a New Jersey Athletic Conference record in their 37-27 win over The College of New Jersey. Roque threw for 272 yards and five touchdowns to knock the Lions out of a possible No .1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Roque ends his career with 8,448 career passing yards, breaking the record of 8,408 set by Montclair State’s Ed Collins from 1999 to 2001.
Springfield’s Joe Harasymiak snagged two interceptions against Norwich in his last game, to get to 17 for his career, tying a school record set by Keith Sweeney from 1991 to 1993.
Springfield senior quarterback Chris Sharpe went out with a bang in his final game in a 54-42 win over Norwich. Sharpe accounted for 442 yards in total offense, a new Springfield school record, to get coach Mike DeLong’s 150th career win. Sharpe ran for 276 yards and three touchdowns, just four yards short of his record set against St. John Fisher last season. He also threw for a career-high 166 yards and two touchdowns.
Norwich’s Darnell Jackson ran for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to Springfield.
The Merchant Marine Academy’s J.J. Watson set career-highs in touchdowns and yards, scoring twice and 145 yards in the MMA’s 37-32 win over Susquehanna. It was the first win of the year for the Mariners.
MUC gets more than they bargain for, but still beat IC 40-24.
RPI vs. TCNJ: RPI has more experience in the playoffs, but this one will be close.
RPI wins 27-20.
Hartwick vs. Curry: Hartwick beats up on the NEFC.
Hawks 56, Curry 16.
St. John Fisher vs. Hobart: The best game of the weekend. Hobart comes out strong, but Fisher is too much.
Fisher 24, Hobart 21.
My last column of the year
Another year of columns is over. Thanks to all the people who read and contribute to what I do.
Division III football is one of the best sports out there, and it’s nice to be able to talk to people, both here on the column and on the boards, about something that everyone loves.