September 5, 2012

Close isn't good enough

More news about: Rowan
Matt Dortch ran for 158 yards on Delaware Valley in Week 1.
Rowan athletics photo by Jared Silber

If there were one concept, one central theme that Rowan coach Jay Accorsi wanted his team to carry from 2011 into the 2012 season, it was that close simply isn't good enough. Getting close is only OK if you can finish the job.

Last season, the Profs struggled with the second part of Accorsi's plea, losing five games by seven points or less. Though the 2012 season is only one game old, the Profs have already shown their coach they have taken his preachings to heart.

Rowan defeated then-No. 9 Delaware Valley 27-13 in its season opener Saturday, holding off the Aggies after the defending MAC champions pulled to within eight points in the fourth quarter.

"We knew it would be a good test," Accorsi said. "It really was like a playoff game in September instead of November or December. ... It was a really good football game between two good football teams."

After Delaware Valley scored the game's first points early in the second quarter on a 15-yard pass from Aaron Wilmer to Lewis Vincent, Rowan rattled off the next 21 consecutive points to take a solid lead. Louie Bianchini tossed a pair of touchdown passes in the second quarter, but it was Kurt Kingett's 38-yard fumble return for a touchdown as the third quarter expired that truly swung the momentum in Rowan's favor.

A number of Rowan defensive players converged on Chris Ruiz, who had just caught a short pass from Wilmer. Tyler Jenkins forced the ball out, and Kingett picked it up and rumbled the rest of the way.

"That was a case of where we had a couple guys converge and got a helmet on the ball and created a turnover," Accorsi said. "That was a big momentum change. It's something we work on in practice every day."

Wilmer's 1-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter cut Rowan's lead to eight points, but after forcing a turnover on downs on the Aggies' next possession, the Profs sealed the game with a healthy dose of Matt Dortch. The junior running back, who was away from football for a few years until joining the Profs last season, ran three times on the drive, breaking the third rush free for a 71-yard touchdown to clinch the win. Dortch finished with a game-high 158 rushing yards.

Accorsi's message to his team has been clear and consistent. Finishing games is a priority of the Profs this season, particularly when you consider just how close the team was to a special season last year.

"Last year was disappointing," Accorsi said. "Going 5-5 was disappointing, no question. We had some tough breaks. Really, a few bounces this way or that way, we could have been a 9-1 or 10-0 team."

Rowan's dealt with its fair share of disappointment in recent years. In 2010 the Profs finished 9-1, only to be left on the outside looking in when the playoff bracket was revealed. But there is reason for optimism this season. Bianchini is a steady, veteran presence at quarterback. Dortch could emerge as a key factor in the run game after playing a reserve role last season. A defense that collected 22 sacks and 20 interceptions last season again looks formidable. 

Rowan travels to face Division II Merrimack this Saturday, the latest D-II team in Accorsi's tenure (CW Post, Southern Connecticut, Wagner, among others).

"If you're going to be the best, you might as well play the best," Accorsi said.

After that, Rowan faces William Paterson, Western Connecticut and Brockport State, so there is potential for a strong start in NJAC play. Of course, Accorsi isn't as concerned with how the Profs start, but how they finish.

Attention Empire 8: Buffalo State is ready to roll

The Empire 8 has an established reputation as one of the deepest and toughest conferences in the country. Few could or would argue that.

But after the conference added Buffalo State to replace Springfield, which departed for the Liberty League, it was reasonable to expect a slight step back. After all, Buffalo State was a young team coming off a 5-5 season, and Springfield was a proven playoff contender. If Week One's results were any indication, Buffalo State might be making some noise in the Empire 8 sooner than expected.

The Bengals piled up a school-record 706 yards of offense in a 49-31 win over Cortland State, an annual NJAC contender. Junior quarterback Casey Kacz threw for a school-record 579 yards and matched another school mark with five touchdown passes. Freshman receiver Ryan Carney hauled in 242 yards and two touchdowns on 12 receptions as Buffalo State routinely gouged Cortland's usually-staunch defense through the air. The Bengals dominated on the ground as well, piling up 127 rushing yards. Sophomore Rich Pete rushed for 103 yards and two scores, and added 80 yards on three catches. 

Defensively, the Bengals forced five interceptions of Cortland senior quarterback Chris Rose, including a school record-tying three by junior Chris Hall. It was an impressive display by a team that had lost its previous six games against the Red Dragons. More so, it was a statement that the Bengals can push themselves into the upper half of the Empire 8 immediately

The next four weeks will be telling -- Buffalo State faces Brockport State, which defeated Lycoming in its opener, defending national champion UW-Whitewater, Empire 8 contender Alfred and defending Empire 8 champion Salisbury, in that order. 

Albright rallies, sets the table for a strong start

Wins in Week One don't always matter. In fact, most coaches will tell you some of the biggest adjustments teams will make during the course of a season occur between the first and second games.

But sometimes a win in the season opener can set a team up for a great start to the season. This just might be the case for Albright. Of course, we won't know for sure for another few weeks, but Albright's 29-26 come-from-behind win against then-No. 14 Kean is the kind of victory that can set the table for a strong start.

The Lions trailed 26-7 before senior running back Ty Hughes' touchdown run with three seconds left in the third quarter cut the lead to 26-14. In the fourth quarter, senior quarterback Adam Galczynski connected with junior Dan McNair on a 27-yard scoring strike, and Hughes netted his third rushing TD of the day on a one-yard plunge with just over three minutes left to put the Lions up for good.

Galczynski finished 7-of-8 for 83 yards and the key fourth-quarter touchdown pass off the bench. But the Lions' workhorse was Hughes, who finished with 142 yards on a whopping 37 carries. Hughes helped Albright hold the ball for nearly 39 minutes on offense.

Albright struggled to a 6-5 record last season in a campaign marked with inconsistency. The Lions are just three years removed from an 11-win season, but to approach that level again, the quarterback play must be consistent. Galczynski was solid in relief of junior T.J. Luddy, who managed 55 yards on 10-of-21 passing with an interception.

On the opposite side, Kean probably doesn't have any reason to panic -- yet. The Cougars could lose Saturday's game to Mary Hardin-Baylor (a likely outcome), and still finish on top of the NJAC. But it's never a good way to start a season by surrendering 22 unanswered points in the second half.

Hobart gets defensive against Dickinson

That Hobart again has a strong defense isn't surprising. But boy, did they ever look dominating in a 31-0 win over Dickinson to open the season.

The numbers speak for themselves -- Hobart surrendered just four first downs and allowed only 54 yards of total offense. The Statesmen recovered a fumble and forced 10 punts, as well. 

It's important not to overreact to what we see in the first week of action. But it's hard to ignore it, too. Yes, Dickinson is a .500 team in the CC, and was never likely to rank among Hobart's most difficult challenges this season. But the Statesmen did what good teams are supposed to do -- beat inferior teams, and leave no doubt about it.

Hobart wore down Dickinson on the ground, riding Bobby Dougherty (88 yards), Steven Webb (67 yards) and Dominique Ellis (45 yards) to a decided advantage. Nick Strang was efficient under center, completing 13 of his 24 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown. The Statesmen won the Liberty League last season and appear poised to challenge for another crown this season.

WPI is coming off its fewest wins in a season since 2000, but four of its seven losses in 2011 came by seven points or less. The Engineers rode Zach Grasis (111 yards, two touchdowns) to a 17-7 win over regional opponent Curry in the opener. Whether WPI can reverse recent fortune and return to its 2008 form (7-3) remains to be seen. But Saturday was a nice start.

In something of an anomaly, Hobart and WPI were the only two Liberty League teams to win this past weekend.

Top 25: Salisbury, St. John Fisher among the top 10

St. John Fisher joined Empire 8 foe Salisbury in the top 10 of this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll. Salisbury climbed from No. 7 to No. 6, while St. John Fisher jumped two spots (No. 11 to No. 9).

Hobart moved from No. 22 to No. 18, while Rowan (No. 20) cracked the top 25 for the first time this season. Delaware Valley dropped from No. 9 to No. 22 by virtue of its opening loss to Rowan. Widener held steady at No. 25.

Kean, Albright, Lebanon Valley and Montclair State each received votes.

Quick hits

Joe Benedetti rushed for 216 yards and four touchdowns in Salisbury's season-opening 40-16 win over Christopher Newport. Quarterback Dan Griffin added 102 rushing yards and two scores. ... Cody Miller rushed for the winning two-yard touchdown in overtime to help St. John Fisher secure a 13-7 win over Thomas More. Ryan Kramer passed for 186 yards and a first-quarter touchdown and rushed for a game-high 127 yards. ... Josh Borrell had seven tackles and returned a fourth-quarter interception 30 yards for a touchdown to help Lebanon Valley top Montclair State 31-21. Vin Fischer caught nine passes for 132 yards and two TDs in the loss for Montclair State. ... Chris Haupt threw for 298 yards and five touchdowns in Widener's 63-17 rout of Western Connecticut. Defensively, Colin Masterson had five tackles and two interceptions for the Pride. ... Clay Ardoin rushed for 206 yards and a score and Jarrett Naiden added 114 yards on the ground as Ithaca blanked Moravian 24-0. On defense, the Bombers held the Greyhounds to 146 total yards and forced five sacks, nearly half as many as they had all of last season (11). ... Joe Scibilia threw for 314 yards and a pair of scores in Brockport State's 24-2 win over Lycoming. Brockport's defense, led by Brett Evensen (nine tackles, one sack), held Lycoming to 14 first downs and just 3-of-12 conversions on third down. ... Andrew Benkwitt passed for 355 yards and three touchdowns and added another rushing score in Utica's 40-7 romp over St. Lawrence. Benkwitt connected twice for scores with Mike Dunn. ... Ken Emmons connected with Anthony Young on the go-ahead touchdown pass with 10 seconds left to give Frostburg State a wild 56-53 win over Geneva. Young caught three of Emmons' four TD passes on the day. ... Jordan Fredo kicked three field goals and the Wilkes defense held Morrisville State to just 225 yards of offense in a 9-7 win. ... Jimmer Bennett caught seven passes for 172 yards and a score in Union's 17-14 loss to Salve Regina. ... Ryan Gresik connected with Howard Davis on the go-ahead touchdown with eight seconds remaining to give William Paterson a 9-3 win over King's. ... Kyle Dalton and Dalton Smith each 1.5 of Hartwick's 10 sacks in the Hawks' 55-14 win over Husson. ... Austin Bateman tallied 110 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but it wasn't enough for Springfield, which lost 21-17 to Bridgewater State. ... Justin Doniloski rushed for a game-high 121 yards and a score, but TNCJ fell short against Ursinus, 24-20. ... K.K. Smith rushed for 122 yards and Anthony Reid added 89 yards in Stevenson's 26-16 loss to Shenandoah. ... Paul Brace caught five passes for 52 yards in Misericordia's first game, a 70-0 loss to Gettysburg.

Looking ahead

Division III fans will be treated to one of the best early-season matchups when No. 7 Salisbury (1-0) hosts No. 3 Wesley (1-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday. Wesley handed Salisbury its only regular-season loss of 2011, and both teams appear set up for deep playoff runs again in 2012. Expect a good one here.

Two of the preseason favorites in the MAC will be looking for their first win of the young season when No. 22 Delaware Valley (0-1) hosts Lycoming (0-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday. Delaware Valley was upended by Rowan in Week One, but that loss doesn't look so bad when compared to Lycoming's 24-2 loss to Brockport State. A second loss this early in the season would be a tough blow for either team.

After a 29-26 loss to Albright in its opener, Kean (0-1) will look to knock off No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor in Texas at 7 p.m. Saturday. Kean will be a heavy underdog in this matchup, but it's important to remember the Cougars' win over then-No. 3 Wesley in last season's opener.

Other games of note: Rowan (1-0) at Merrimack (0-1), 1 p.m., Saturday; Buffalo State (1-0) at Brockport State (1-0), 1 p.m., Saturday; St. John Fisher (1-0) at Washington and Jefferson (1-0), 1:30 p.m., Saturday; Utica (1-0) at Union (0-1), 7 p.m., Saturday

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com. You can also follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell), and be sure to get involved in the discussions on the Around the East thread on the message board.

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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is an associate news editor for ESPN.com and a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has contributed freelance work to ESPN Rise and has been a regular contributor to D3football.com since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing. A native of Hyde Park, N.Y., Andrew currently resides in New Britain. 

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov 

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