September 12, 2013

Fenti finally off and throwing

More news about: St. John Fisher
Tyler Fenti has done a lot of waiting and rehabbing in order to get to this moment.
Photo by Eric Kelley, d3photography.com

Tyler Fenti dropped back in the pocket, scanned his receiving options and fired a pass to Ryan Kramer for a short 3-yard completion.

Never before had Fenti cherished such a minimal gain on a football field. Then again, Fenti wondered if he'd ever get the chance he got this past Saturday -- to start at quarterback for St. John Fisher.

Fenti, now a senior, has taken a long, winding road full of speed bumps to the starting job. But two major injuries, hours of standing on the sidelines and years of waiting couldn't stop him from completing that pass to Kramer -- his first attempt as a college starter -- in the Cardinals' 28-0 road win against Otterbein in the season opener.

"There were a lot of times where I doubted, 'Should I keep doing this, put myself through this?'" Fenti said. "But I knew football has been a huge passion of mine over the years and I knew I never quit anything, so I stuck with it."

Fenti arrived at St. John Fisher in 2010 as a highly regarded recruit. At the time, Tim Bailey was firmly entrenched as the starter and would eventually go on to have one of the finest seasons in school history, but the thought was that Fenti could gain valuable experience on the JV team and push for the starting job in 2011.

That long-term plan quickly became unfeasible and, in light of Fenti's injury, unimportant. In the first half of his first JV game, Fenti suffered a ruptured spleen, a serious injury that could have threatened his career. Fenti's first season was over just as quickly as it had started.

The injury bug again bit Fenti just before the start of training camp his sophomore year when he broke his right wrist outside of football. That injury again sidelined the 6-3, 210-pound signal caller for the season. 

"My first two years when I was hurt, it was hard for me to feel like a part of the team, to be honest," Fenti said. "I just didn't put the effort in because I didn't know how to handle the situation of being hurt and not being able to play."

It's at this point many coaches and programs would simply give up on a player like Fenti, or at least actively seek to replace them through recruiting. The Cardinals weren't going to do that. Longtime St. John Fisher coach Paul Vosburgh and offensive coordinator Rob Kramer -- a former Cardinals quarterback and Ryan's older brother -- both have formed strong bonds with Fenti.

"We've always thought that he had potential to be a very good quarterback for us. Now we do have him healthy and we're seeing some good things," Vosburgh said. "... He's matured. He's not a kid anymore."

Fenti saw action in seven games last season as Kramer's backup. But for this season, the Cardinals made the decision to move Kramer, the starter for most of the last two seasons, back to running back, where he was an all-Empire 8 selection as a freshman. The versatile Kramer also works out of the slot as a receiver, and handles the kickoff and punt return duties.

The Cardinals wouldn't have been able to move Kramer if they didn't have a viable alternative at quarterback. 

"It allowed us to use Ryan in more of a variety of different ways on the field," Vosburgh said. "... We thought it would open our offense more and be an addition to our special teams and return game."

Vosburgh said Fenti has a better arm than Kramer, but isn't the same caliber runner, though he can run when needed. That's an acceptable assessment, particularly when you consider that Kramer came into the program as a running back.

But Fenti, a sociology major who hopes to eventually break into law enforcement as either a state trooper or sheriff, said the team's offense hasn't changed dramatically with the switch at quarterback.

"We still run the same run plays, we still run the read-option, it still gives me the opportunity to run the ball here and there like Ryan did," Fenti said.

In the season-opening win, an impressive 28-0 shutout, Fenti finished 19-of-24 for 233 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 27 yards on eight carries. It was a successful showing by any measure, even if the offense failed to pick up a first down until its fourth series.

"Going into the game my emotions were running high, I was pretty nervous," Fenti said. "And that showed in the first few series, we had two three-and-outs [and a turnover]. It took me a few drives to get comfortable."

When you've been waiting a few years like Fenti has, a few drives, in comparison, don't seem so bad.

Christopher Newport upsets Salisbury

It's only one game, but it's a troubling one for the two-time defending Empire 8 champions.

Christopher Newport marched into Salisbury, Md., last Saturday, shut down the Sea Gulls' vaunted option attack, and pulled out a 17-10 win after scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 15 seconds left in regulation.

Last season, Salisbury averaged five yards per carry and just under 273 rushing yards per game. On Saturday, they were held to just 111 yards on 40 carries (2.8 per rush). When Salisbury can't run the ball -- which, granted, is exceedingly rare -- it doesn't win. The Captains knew that and made it their main defensive focus.

All things considered, Salisbury's defense played well. But even that normally stout unit faltered when it mattered most, allowing Christopher Newport to put together an eight-play, 59-yard drive over the final five minutes of the fourth quarter to take the lead.

This is taking nothing away from Christopher Newport, a strong team that made the NCAA playoffs last season. But for a team like Salisbury, that maintains national championship hopes, the home opener against an unranked opponent is an absolute must-win.

Salisbury faces Wesley, one of the country's top five programs, on the road this week, and travels to NC Wesleyan the following week before opening up Empire 8 play. The season is hardly lost. The Sea Gulls still remain the team to beat in the Empire 8. But it's fair to wonder whether the perceived gap between Salisbury and teams like St. John Fisher, Alfred and even Buffalo State is as large as first thought.

MAC gets the better of NJAC

Which conference is better -- the MAC or the NJAC? It's a silly question, really, because it's subjective. College football doesn't always allow us to see entire conferences match up head to head. Fortunately for East region, this is one of those rare times.

And, if you're going with a straight numbers answer, the MAC is the better conference this season. MAC teams won four of the six matchups with NJAC teams in this season's MAC-NJAC Challenge.

Last year, the conferences split their eight head-to-head matchups, with the MAC narrowly out-scoring the NJAC 178-176. Since Western Connecticut left the NJAC, there were only seven scheduled games in this year's challenge. FDU-Florham and TCNJ will play this Friday, but the MAC won four of the six games this past weekend, highlighted by Delaware Valley's 35-27 win against Rowan and Albright's 30-14 victory over Kean.

Lebanon Valley also edged Montclair State 15-14, while Wilkes defeated Morrisville State 41-26. Brockport State beat Lycoming 30-2 and William Paterson topped King's 21-19 to score wins for the NJAC.

Teams in the two conferences have a long history of playing each other, and the games have traditionally been close. This season was no different.

Aaron Wilmer finished with 260 passing yards and two touchdowns, as well as a key 13-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left to cement Delaware Valley's victory. Rowan shouldn't be discouraged -- the Profs still have a strong season ahead of them.

Albright played great defense, highlighted by four team sacks and a pair of Drew Peterson interceptions, and got three Dan Sobolewski field goals in its impressive win against Kean. This was a good showing for the Lions, who figure to push for a MAC title this season.

Hobart runs over Dickinson

Hobart coach Mike Cragg said his team would run run the ball early and often this season. He was right.

The Statesmen, led by senior Steven Webb's career-high 207 yards, piled up 343 yards on the ground in a 30-7 win against Dickinson. Webb also scored three of Hobart's four rushing touchdowns.

Expect to see plenty of Webb this season, along with sophomore Conner Hartigan, who added 55 yards against Dickinson. New starting quarterback Patrick Conlan (8 of 16, 127 yards) looked solid, though he wasn't asked to do much, either.

Defensively, it comes as little surprise the Statesmen looked elite in every facet. This is one of the most talented defenses in Division III, and it was on full display in the season opener as it allowed just under four yards per play.

A strong running game and a stout defense usually travel well, which will be key for Hobart as arguably its two toughest Liberty League games -- Springfield and Union -- both come on the road later in the season.

But for now Hobart has served notice that it can be every bit as good as last year's team that reached the NCAA quarterfinals.

Quick hits

Jonathan Marrero rushed for 149 yards and a touchdown and Louis Fenaroli rushed for 120 yards and a score as Springfield outlasted Western New England 49-40 in a shooutout. Matt Berni's 70-yard interception return for a touchdown sealed the Pride's win. ... Casey Kacz passed for 226 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 118 yards and three more scores in Buffalo State's 41-28 victory against Cortland State. Tyler Augliano passed for 400 yards and three scores in the losing effort for the Red Dragons. ... Jake Larson rushed for 124 yards and a pair of scores and Connor Butkiewicz threw two TDs in his first career start as Utica beat Lewis and Clark 42-22. James Lenahan picked off a pair of passes on defense for the Pioneers. ... Jessie Maynard rushed for 125 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, as RPI defeated Norwich 20-7 in its season opener. ... Phil Neumann tossed a pair of TD passes and Rakim Jones rushed for 132 yards and a score as Ithaca routed Moravian 31-7. Will Carter had a pair of sacks for a Bombers defense that finished with four sacks and three interceptions. ... Matt McDaniels rushed for 196 yards and three touchdowns in Merchant Marine's 35-28 win over former conference rival Susquehanna. ... John Garcia passed for 290 yards and five TDs, including four to Frankie Molina, in Hartwick's 33-7 win over Husson. ... Charlie Cornell hit a pair of field goals, including a 30-yarder late in the fourth quarter, to lift Stevenson to a 19-9 win against NC Wesleyan. ... Mike Lefflbine connected with Joe Battaglia on the go-ahead 15-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to seal St. Lawrence's 21-17 win against Coast Guard. The win was the Saints' first since Nov. 12, 2011. ... Zach Grasis tallied 195 yards and four touchdowns on the ground to lead WPI to a 48-28 victory over Curry.

Top 25: Salisbury takes a tumble

Salisbury, following its loss to Christopher Newport, fell from No. 16 out of the top 25 in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll.

Hobart held steady at No. 7, while St. John Fisher climbed five spots to No. 19. Widener slipped to No. 24 and Delaware Valley cracked the rankings at No. 25.

Salisbury led a group of four East teams -- Buffalo State, Rowan and Cortland State -- that received votes. 

Looking ahead

Salisbury (0-1, 0-0) at No. 5 Wesley (1-0, 0-0), 1 p.m., Saturday: Salisbury certainly doesn't want to fall to 0-2, but winning at Wesley is a sizable task. Even if the Sea Gulls come up short in the win column, they'll want to play better than they did against Christopher Newport.

Brockport State (1-0, 0-0) at Buffalo State (1-0, 0-0), 1 p.m., Saturday: This is a nice matchup between two upstart teams coming off impressive wins. Brockport State, in particular, looked strong in a thorough domination of Lycoming. Expect a close game here.

No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor (1-0, 0-0) at Kean (0-1, 0-0), 1 p.m., Saturday: Kean is coming off a disappointing showing in its season opener against Albright, so not much is expected against national championship contender Mary Hardin-Baylor. Of course, no one expected Buffalo State to upset then-No. 1 UW-Whitewater last season. The precedent has been set.

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me by email at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com and follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell).

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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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