Hobart has playoffs in sight

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Trye Coleman has double-digit sacks for the second time in his two seasons.
Hobart/William Smith photo by Kevin Colton

Hobart coach Mike Cragg doesn't like to look ahead. 

He knows his team can clinch a second consecutive Liberty League title and NCAA berth with one more win. He made that clear to his players on Sunday.

But the last part of his message -- the part about blocking out the playoffs and focusing solely on St. Lawrence this Saturday -- well, he's not positive they'll be able to do that. In fact, he suspects it's on most of the players' minds.

That's to be expected though. After all, they're just anxious to get back to the postseason and erase memories of a promising, but ultimately disappointing first-round loss to Wesley last season.

After its 42-34 win against Union this past Saturday, Hobart now sits at a perfect 8-0 overall (5-0 in the Liberty League). The 8-0 start is the team's best since 1954, and when the first NCAA regional rankings were released Wednesday, it came as little surprise that the Statesmen ranked No. 1 in the East.

"We all feel great right now," Cragg said. "We feel like we're sitting in a good position to be in. Now it's time for us to step up and close out the last two and be able to go into the tournament with a good seeding and a home game and that type of stuff."

You can never assume a win, no matter the opponent. But considering Hobart's overall dominance and the combined 3-12 record of its final two regular-season opponents, it's reasonable to project a perfect 10-0 regular season. That would be a first for the program.

For Hobart, it starts with defense. The Statesmen are led by two of the most dynamic defensive playmakers in the country in junior linebacker Devin Worthington and sophomore defensive end Tyre Coleman. Worthington, a 5-9, 195-pound ball of energy, could literally line up anywhere on the field. Coleman, a 6-1, 245-pound beast up front, can anchor any defensive line. Together, the two feed off each other and create opportunities for the other nine defensive players.

Worthington, a D3football.com second team preseason All-America, has 31 tackles (15.5 for loss), 5.5 sacks and two interceptions, all while barely practicing through the first half of the season with an assortment of injuries. Coleman, just one year removed from finishing second in the country in sacks as a freshman, has 39 tackles (19 for loss), 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, all while playing through broken and dislocated fingers.

What makes talented players great is that, even when teams game plan for them, they still produce. Worthington and Coleman just produce.

"Both of them have been great players," Cragg said. "They were great players last year, and the best thing is they work hard every day to be even better this year. ... They're the anchor of the defense. We kind of turn them loose to do what they do best, and they've been very productive."

When teams pay extra attention to Coleman and Worthington, it opens up lanes for players like senior middle linebacker Andrew Klindera, the team's leading tackler (60) and, according to Cragg, its motivational leader. If Coleman draws a double team on the defensive line, it creates additional chances for senior Nick Auriemma (29 tackles, 3.5 sacks), a blue-collar lineman that doesn't command much publicity, but has proven himself valuable.

The numbers back up Hobart's dominance. Pick any defensive category and you'll likely find the Statesmen among the national leaders. Total defense? Hobart ranks fourth, allowing just 223 total yards per game. Scoring defense? Try 16th, at just 13.7 points per game. How about third down defense? Hobart is 12th, allowing conversions on just 26.3 percent of third downs. In sacks, the Statesmen are tied for eighth with 3.5 per game. You get the point -- Hobart's defense is one of the best in the country.

And they've done it against all kinds of offenses, from options (WPI, Merchant Marine, Springfield) to more open passing attacks (RPI, Utica).

"You really don't know what you're going to face [offensively in the playoffs]," Cragg said.

So then perhaps any concerns as the playoffs approach lie not with the defense, but with the offense. Well, it's hard to argue that, either. Hobart boasts a balanced offense, capable of running the ball and passing with consistency.

The backfield duo of junior Steven Webb (724 yards, seven TDs) and senior Bobby Dougherty (721 yards, 14 TDs) offers a contrast in running styles, but the results have been remarkably consistent. Their success is even more impressive when you consider the Statesmen's biggest question mark at the beginning of the season was up front on the offensive line.

Hobart lost five of its top six linemen from a year ago, but Cragg said this year's group has matured quickly. In particular, sophomore left tackle Ali Marpet and senior left guard Art Garvey have formed a dominating pair on the left side of the line.

Senior quarterback Nick Strang, who suffered a concussion in last year's regular-season finale and missed the playoff game against Wesley, has looked sharp this season as well. Strang is completing 62 percent of his passes and has tossed 12 touchdowns, compared to just seven interceptions. Senior Kelly Olney, who started and threw for 211 yards against Wesley in the playoffs, remains an experienced, valuable backup.

Senior Junior Woodard (38 receptions, 593 yards, four TDs) and junior Yosh Karbowniczak (20 receptions, 327 yards, three TDs) have been the primary weapons in the passing game, combining to catch 58 of the team's 103 completions. 

Even first-year punter Josh Neuss and James Hull have turned in strong seasons.

If Hobart has any weaknesses, they are few and far between, and certainly not glaring. Securing a home game for at least the first round would be key. The Statesmen have only lost four times at home in the last five seasons.

But what truthfully can't be overlooked is the experience last season provides. The sour taste of last year's 35-28 defeat to Wesley can create a greater hunger for success this time around.

"Being there against Wesley and being right in the game right until the very end is only going to help us this year," Cragg said. "... Hopefully that experience will bode well for us in the playoffs."

Widener stays perfect, but road to automatic bid gets tougher

For the second week in a row, Widener had a close call in a conference game. But, for the second straight week, the Pride emerged victorious, this time edging Albright 34-29.

The win keeps Widener atop with MAC with a perfect 8-0 mark (7-0 in MAC play). Quarterback Chris Haupt was again sharp, throwing for 328 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Steve Marrero. The win spoiled a spectacular performance by Albright's Scott Pillar, who caught 13 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns. 

Widener, at this point, is fully in control of its own destiny. The Pride wrap up the regular season at home against Delaware Valley after the cancellation of Saturday’s game at FDU-Florham. Obviously, the finale against the Aggies loom large. If Delaware Valley wins Saturday to enter the game at 7-1 in the conference, here’s how it will break down, according to the conference office.

If Delaware Valley wins by 16 or more points over Widener, Delaware Valley gets the automatic bid. Here’s the math:
       Lycoming + 10 over Delaware Valley and - 5 to Widener = +5
       Widener + 5 over Lycoming and - 16 to Delaware Valley = -11
       Delaware Valley -10 to Lycoming and + 16 to Widener = +6

If Delaware Valley wins by fifteen points or fewer over Widener, Lycoming gets the automatic bid:
       Lycoming + 10 over Delaware Valley and - 5 to Widener = +5
       Widener + 5 over Lycoming and  -15 Delaware Valley = -10
       Delaware Valley -10 to Lycoming and + 15 to Widener = +5

If Widener beats Delaware Valley, Widener gets the automatic bid. If Widener loses to Delaware Valley, it cannot win the tiebreaker and win the automatic bid.

Cortland State clinches NJAC title, playoff berth

No. 20 Cortland State became the first East region team to clinch a postseason berth with its 31-17 win against Kean this past Saturday.

The win secured Cortland's third playoff appearance in the last five seasons and affirmed the Red Dragons' status as one of the hottest teams in the country. Since a season-opening loss to Buffalo State back on Sept. 1, Cortland has won seven straight. The Red Dragons have won blowouts (72-14 vs. Western Connecticut, 56-15 at Morrisville State) and close battles (24-21 vs. Rowan). They've won with defense and special teams, the running game and the passing game. This is a complete team.

Saturday's win against Kean was a perfect display of that balance. The Red Dragons churned out 205 yards on 27 attempts -- led by Bronson Greene's 108 yards -- and forced four turnovers. Mike DeBole connected on three of his four field goal attempts. Even though quarterback Chris Rose, who has had a solid season, tossed four interceptions of his own, Cortland's defense backed him up with two interception returns for touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

The three-headed rushing attack of Dorian Myles (711 yards, 4 TDs), Greene (413 yards, 8 TDs) and Justin Autera (324 yards, 3 TDs) has been both impressive and consistent. Rose has done an impressive job of spreading the ball around through the air -- five players have at least 10 catches. And the defense, perhaps Cortland's biggest strength, has dominated at times.

Andre Green (57 tackles, 2 INTs), Pete Furey (52 tackles, 4 INTs), Gabe Ostrow (45 tackles, 6 sacks) and Andrew Tolosi (49 tackles, 3 INTs) are just some of the players having strong seasons. As a unit, Cortland State has piled up 19 sacks and 16 interceptions in eight games.

Cortland's road game against William Paterson was canceled Wednesday following Hurricane Sandy. That leaves Cortland with a home game against Ithaca in the annual Cortaca Jug matchup.

Trying to make sense of the Empire 8

Here's how you know a conference is, from top to bottom, just solid. Follow along as I recap some Empire 8 results from this season -- Utica beat Alfred, which knocked off St. John Fisher, which defeated Ithaca, which toppled Salisbury, which -- up until this past weekend -- had beaten every Empire 8 opponent. Got it?

Here's the basic gist: Salisbury controls its own destiny. If the Sea Gulls beat Utica this Saturday, they clinch a second straight Empire 8 title. Of course, if the Pioneers head down to Salisbury and come away with the biggest win in program history, then they emerge as the favorites to win the conference. There's also St. John Fisher to consider, which sits just one game back in the conference standings and still has a matchup with Utica on the docket.

Boy, this is fun, isn't it?

In a year where it looked like Salisbury would run away with another Empire 8 title, Ithaca jumped in and messed it all up. The Bombers, playing without head coach Mike Welch, scored on a 58-yard catch-and-run from Phil Neumann to Joe Ingrao in the final minute to secure a 21-14 win against Salisbury. Ithaca saw its 14-0 lead erased in the second half, but pulled off the improbable win late in regulation.

Utica, which hasn't lost since a 40-22 defeat at Ithaca in late September, has emerged as an unlikely contender for the Empire 8 title. The Pioneers have already set a school mark for most conference wins in a season (four) and could turn a promising season into a dream season with a win against Salisbury.

St. John Fisher hosts Buffalo State, a team capable of winning or losing by three touchdowns. If the up-and-down Bengals bring their A-game, Fisher will get a challenge. Another loss would officially end the Cardinals' playoff hopes.

More than just a win for Western Connecticut

Rarely does a late October victory against a 3-4 team mean so much. Then again, when you've lost 28 straight, every win means a lot.

Western Connecticut finally broke its nearly 30-game losing streak, a dubious skid that had stretched back to November 2009, with a 20-14 win over Montclair State. Octavius McKoy scored on a one-yard touchdown run on the Colonials' third play in overtime to secure the win. Devin Myers and Michael Farnsworth each tallied two sacks in the game, and the Colonials' defense intercepted Montclair State quarterback Drew Cathey three times.

You could see Western Connecticut building toward this win under first-year coach Joe Loth. The Colonials played Rowan tough earlier this season, and nearly defeated Morrisville State two weeks ago.

Top 25: Salisbury takes a tumble

For the first time this season, Salisbury came in on the outside of the top 10 in the D3football.com Top 25 poll. After its loss to Ithaca, Salisbury fell from No. 7 to No. 16.

Hobart and Widener each climbed one spot to No. 9 and No. 11, respectively. Cortland State jumped from No. 23 to No. 20, while St. John Fisher slipped from No. 24 to No. 25.

Rowan, Delaware Valley and Utica also received votes in this week's poll.

Quick hits

Alquann Jones rushed for 108 yards and two TDs on just eight carries in Delaware Valley's 31-10 win against Lebanon Valley. Kyle Schuberth and Aaron Wilmer also rushed for touchdowns in the win. ... Tyler Jenny passed for 239 yards and three TDs -- including two to Jarrin Campman -- to lead Lycoming to a 38-7 win over Wilkes. Lycoming's defense allowed Wilkes to complete just two of its 16 pass attempts for 27 yards. ... Louie Bianchini threw three TD passes and ran for another in Rowan's 47-0 rout of Morrisville State. ... Ryan Lehotsky's 16-yard TD pass to Rich Pete in the final minute of regulation capped Buffalo State's 27-24, come-from-behind victory against Hartwick. ... Justin Doniloski rushed for 165 yards and a score in TCNJ's 35-24 win against William Paterson Friday night. Doniloski also caught 11 passes for 76 yards in a superb all-around effort. ... John Antonopoulos passed for 347 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score as WPI defeated winless St. Lawrence 36-17. ... Craig Kimbrough rushed for 161 yards and a pair of scores in FDU-Florham's 41-10 win over first-year program Misericordia. ... Kyle McGrath rushed for 145 yards and two scores and Tyler Hartranft threw for 223 yards and three TDs as King's knocked off Stevenson 34-21. Liberty League teams RPI, Springfield, Rochester and Merchant Marine, as well as Brockport State (NJAC) were all on byes this week.

Looking ahead

No. 16 Salisbury (6-2, 4-1) can clinch its second straight Empire 8 title when it hosts Utica (6-2, 4-1) at noon Saturday. However, a loss could eliminate the Sea Gulls from playoff contention. A win for Utica would put the Pioneers in sole possession of first place and unquestionably stand as the program's most important victory.

For Delaware Valley (6-2, 6-1) to have a shot at the MAC title on Nov. 10, it will have to beat Wilkes (4-4, 3-4) in a 1 p.m. home game Saturday. The Aggies have been one of the hottest teams in the country, winning their last six games by an average margin of 39 points.

Rowan (6-2, 5-1) can't win the NJAC anymore, but it can stay in the hunt for a Pool C by beating Kean (5-3, 5-1) in a 1 p.m. home game Saturday. Rowan has played well enough to earn playoff consideration, but it will need to take care of business against Kean and TCNJ in the season finale to have a shot.

Other games of note: Buffalo State (5-4, 3-3) at St. John Fisher (6-2, 3-2), noon, Saturday; Merchant Marine (4-4, 2-3) at Union (4-4, 4-1), noon, 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.