November 17, 2010

Montclair's trip a 40-year reunion

More news about: Montclair State

Montclair State received an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III tournament, getting moved from the Mount Union (East) bracket into the Wesley (South) bracket to help avoid rematches in other regions.

The last Montclair-Hampden-Sydney meeting
Alex Kaplanovich celebrates following an interception on the two-point conversion pass that preserved Montclair State's 7-6 lead in the 1970 Knute Rockne Bowl against Hampden-Sydney.
Montclair State file photo

The Red Hawks will head to Hampden Sydney, Va., to battle the Tigers, an at-large team themselves out of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.

The matchup itself should be a good one, but there’s more than that. History could be on Montclair State’s side, and there’s a group of about 50 men, most nearing retirement age, that will be at the forefront of that history.

Montclair State and Hampden-Sydney, 403 miles apart going South on Interstate-95, have only faced each other once -- a 7-6 Montclair victory -- back in the Knute Rockne Bowl in 1970.

The Rockne Bowl was a regional championship game before the Stagg Bowl, in its current form, came into existence. The game was played from 1969-1972, then in 1973, the Stagg Bowl became the national Division III championship game.

This week, as the Red Hawks will be playing its opening round playoff game, the team that had faced H-SC four decades ago will be preparing to have a reunion of the players who played in that game.

“It’s kind of ironic that it’s worked out this way,” said John Brunelli, the reunion’s chairman and a running back on the 1970 squad.

The group had been planning the reunion since September and had hoped that MSU would get a home game on reunion weekend, so the team could attend. That didn’t happen, as the Red Hawks travel, but when they saw the bracket, it brought back the memories of the only other time the teams had played.

“It was different, a different playoff format now,” Brunelli said, a member of the Class of 1971 who now works as an administrator for the Cliffside Park School District in New Jersey. “They picked the top two teams; we were the top team in the Northeast, they were the top team in the Southeast.”

Brunelli said he knew it would be a defensive struggle, as both teams had allowed less than 50 points on the season.

Montclair finished 9-1 that season and 3-0 in the newly formed New Jersey Athletic Conference. The game was tight, and according to reports from the day, the Red Hawks won after stopping a two-point conversion.

Knute Rockne Bowl program What made the game even more interesting, at least back then, was that the game was played indoors at the Atlantic City Convention Center, right on the boardwalk.

 “Must have been the first dome game ever,” Brunelli said with a laugh. “They just put turf over the concrete and we played. It wasn’t too bad.”

Soon after, Brunelli said, the New Jersey High School Association started to use the center for state playoff games.

No matter the outcome on Saturday, the 1970 and 2010 teams will always be linked, thanks to this serendipitous chance against the same common opponent.

“We’ll always be endeared to this football team, since we’re the only two that have played Hampden-Sydney,” Brunelli said.

Brunelli said he is hoping for a happy ending for his Red Hawks.

“If it turned out 7-6 again our way, I’ll be happy,” Brunelli said.

Montclair State's 1970 team

Around the bracket
The playoff brackets are out and again, Mount Union has been moved east to our region. For the fourth year in a row, the Purple Raiders earned the trip east by virtue of the entire region having at least one loss.

Delaware Valley was the best team in the East for most of the season, based on record and play, but it fell 28-27 to 5-5 Widener, which ruined its chance for the No. 1 seed, in fact, DVC was moved to the No. 4 after the defeat.

Cortland was second, and it received a No. 2 seed, going 9-1, winning its conference, but a loss to Rowan took them out of consideration for a top seed and avoiding MUC.

On the message boards, there have been good arguments both ways -- for bringing MUC into the East and keeping them out -- but one argument seemed to stand out.

If we want an East team to get a No. 1 seed and keep MUC out, win all your games.

It’s very simple. Go undefeated, get the automatic bid, and don’t put the fate of the team in the NCAA committee’s hands. We need a team in the East to be similar to Wisconsin-Whitewater and step up and be a top team, not just regionally, but nationally as well.

This is part of the reason why an East team hasn’t won the Stagg Bowl since Ithaca in 1991. The East beats itself up every year, and until one can rise above that fray, Mount Union will continue to come over and continue to beat the best the East has to offer.

St. Lawrence will be the first team to head to Alliance. The Saints secured its first playoff bid since 1982 after a Hobart loss, and thanks to a win over WPI, the Saints avoided the ignominy of being the first team to get into the 32-team tournament with a losing record.

In the 4-5 matchup, Delaware Valley hosts Salisbury. This should be an interesting matchup. DVC will be balanced, as usual, but Salisbury will not. Salisbury runs the option to perfection and the key for DVC to move on to the next round will be for the defense to stop that triple option and the multitude of running backs for the Sea Gulls.

In the 3-6 battle, Alfred hosts undefeated SUNY-Maritime. Alfred, despite losing Vinson Hendrix due to graduation, won the tough Empire 8, finishing the season with a win over Utica. Maritime, a Pool B selection, won the ECFC and went 10-0 and 7-0 in conference. Maritime’s story, with its coach, Clayton Kendrick-Holmes, has been documented by many outlets. Kendrick-Holmes is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan after the Privateers’ season ends.

In the 2-7 matchup, the NJAC champion Cortland hosts the NEFC champion Endicott Gulls. Cortland is making its third playoff appearance in the past six years, and seventh overall after beating Ithaca in the Cortaca Jug game 20-17. Endicott beat Maine Maritime in the NEFC title game, and makes the long trip from Beverly, Mass., to Cortland.


As mentioned, Montclair will travel south to Hampden-Sydney for the 4-5 matchup in the Wesley bracket. For MSU, it’s the second straight playoff appearance and its 10th overall in program history.

The playoff picks were notable for those left out as much as those who were put in.

Rowan, the third of the three tri-champions in the NJAC, was left out, possibly as the last team out, even though they finished 9-1. The Profs lost to Montclair State early in the season, 26-7.

Radio hosts Frank Rossi and James Baker, on their Liberty League-centric show In the HuddLLe, had Joy Solomen, the NCAA Division III committee chair, as a guest. She explained on the show how the numbers bore out and kept Rowan out.

“All three teams beat each other, and at that point, we have to rely on the numbers,” said Solomen, the Rowan athletic director. Solomen said she recused herself when the committee was trying to determine Rowan’s status.

Rowan was third of the three teams when getting to the third criteria in the NJAC tiebreaker, which is opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage..

“Rowan has some better numbers than Montclair, but when it comes to the final tiebreaker, Cortland got the automatic bid, then Montclair and then Rowan at the end,” Solomen said.

She also explained how Salisbury and Montclair were swapped between the regions.

“It’s not a true seeding when you get to this point in the process,” Solomen said. “It was geographically good for travel (for the matchups we made) and we try to avoid opponents already played and try to avoid conference rematches. I think we did a good job with that.”

While the committee won’t be able to please everyone, Solomen said she and the committee though they did a good job choosing the teams.

“The cream will rise to the top,” Solomen said. “We think we have good matchups and we put the best field out there.”

The other postseason
Three ATE teams are involved in the ECAC bowl games. Springfield hosts Mt. Ida, St. John Fisher hosts RPI and Johns Hopkins hosts LVC. The ECAC games gives those teams close to the NCAAs a chance to end their seasons on a high note.

Cortaca Jug
It’s not every day that someone can set a record in a game as big as Cortaca, but it happened on Saturday. Cortland sophomore Justin Autera rushed for a Jug-record 237 yards and two touchdowns as the Red Dragons took back the Jug for the first time since 2006 with a 20-17, come-from-behind win.

Autera broke the record set in 2004 by Ithaca’s Jamie Donovan -- he rushed for 203.

The sophomore led the comeback for Cortland. Ithaca led 17-3, but Cortland forced the Bombers to punt from near their own end zone. The snap was low, and the refs determine that punter Andrew Rogowski’s knee was down at the three-yard line. Autera scored on the next play to make the score 17-10 and the rest is Cortaca history.

The week that was
Delaware Valley’s Matt Cook rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown in the 28-27 loss to Widener, the 20th time in Cook’s long career that he has done that.

Remember this name: Merchant Marine Academy’s John-Leon Gosselin. Gosselin, a sophomore at Kings Point, rushed 31 times for 197 and three touchdowns in a 29-27 loss to RPI. Bold prediction: He’s offensive player of the year next year for the Mariners.

In that game, RPI kicker Peter Nilson, who was named as the Liberty League’s Special Teams player of the year, kicked three field goals, including the game-winner from 29 yards out with no time left.

St. Lawrence is not backing into the playoffs, scoring a 27-7 win in the finale against WPI. Marcus Washington rushed 32 times for 256 yards to keep the Engineers at bay.

Terrell Cunningham had a career day for the Pioneers in a 37-20 loss against Empire 8 champion Alfred. Cunningham had 11 tackles, two fumble recovery (one for a 53-yard touchdown) and a interception of Saxon quarterback Tom Secky.

Rochester and Hobart didn’t want the season to end Saturday as the two LL foes played a double overtime thriller. In the second overtime, Hobart scored and were down 35-34, and coach Mike Cragg decided to go for two. Unfortunately, the pass from Doug Vella was out of his receiver’s reach, and Rochester snuck out with a 35-34 victory.

Lycoming’s Josh Kleinfelter ended his career in Williamsport, Pa., as the all-time leading rusher in Warriors history. Kleinfelter rushed for 95 yards in a 17-10 win over FDU-Florham, and ended at 3,665 yards. For the season, he rushed for 1,212, the fourth-highest in school history.

Hartwick, who for the past few years has really be known for its impressive passing records, ran over and around Mount Ida in a 27-12 win.

Nate Rockefeller rushed for 181 yards and two long touchdowns, and Anthony Casimano, who rushed for more than 200 yards against Utica, add 131 yards to the nearly 300 that Hartwick had against the Mustangs.

Buffalo State quarterback Ryan Lehotsky set a few records of his own against Brockport in a 56-45 shootout. Lehotsky completed 18 of 24 passes for 338 yards and tied the school record with five touchdowns. His 23 touchdowns set a school record, breaking one set in 2001 by Chris Henry.

Freshman running back Greg Spears rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns as Buffalo State won its third straight game and the I-90 Bowl for the first time since 1999.

Brockport’s Joseph Scibilia rushed for 186 yards and three touchdowns from the quarterback position in the loss.

Union’s Chris Coney reached 4,000 yards for his career in a 26-15 loss against Springfield. Coney, who rushed for 192 yards and two touchdowns on the day, ended his Union career with 4,091 yards, second in school history to the 4,915 of Tom Arcidiacono.

Picks

St. Lawrence at Mount Union
I really hope the Saints stay competitive in this one, even for a half. If they don’t, and they make mistakes, this game could get ugly really fast. Don’t expect a ridiculous score line if that happens, because I don’t think Larry Kehres is all about running up the score.

Salisbury at Delaware Valley
This has the potential to be the best game of the weekend. It matches Delaware Valley’s high-powered offense vs. Salisbury’s high-powered triple option. This game could be the highest scoring of the weekend, or the lowest, it really depends on which defense steps up. I think Del Val gets it done in the end, though.

SUNY-Maritime at Alfred
Endicott at Cortland State

Here’s the problem with these two games. Alfred and Cortland have played tough competition in the Empire 8 and NJAC, respectively, all season. The schedules for the Privateers and Gulls are  nowhere near as competitive. For Endicott, the only game they played of that caliber, RPI in Week 2, they lost, only scoring three points.

Maritime’s schedule was a bit better, and they did beat Merchant Marine, from the LL, but I don’t think they’ve seen a team like Alfred before.

I’ve had fun this season writing about D3 football. I always say it’s the best form of competition by far compared to the other football divisions. Even though the columns are over for 2010, follow me on Twitter, if you don’t already (and thanks to those who do!) @d3fbEAST, as I follow the tournament and the East teams as far as they go.

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