|Lebanon Valley has had a few
things to celebrate this season, at one loss, ranked in the Top 25
and in the driver's seat for a playoff bid.
Lebanon Valley athletics photo
Jim Monos only needed a few drills to see that Frank Gaffney and his raw athleticism would be a welcome addition to the Lebanon Valley football team. That was the easy part.
Figuring out exactly where to play the dynamic Gaffney was a bit tougher. Monos and his staff ultimately slotted the 6-2, 205-pound Gaffney at outside linebacker, a key position in the team's 3-4 defense.
The rest, as they say, is history. Or, in Lebanon Valley's case, is quickly becoming history. The Flying Dutchmen can clinch at least a share of the MAC title -- their first since 1969 -- with a win against Stevenson this Saturday. A win coupled with a Widener loss would clinch Lebanon Valley's first NCAA bid in program history.
And Gaffney? All he's done is pile up 13 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 49 solo tackles through eight games. Gaffney ranks second in the country in sacks, fifth in tackles for loss, and 45th in tackles per game.
"There's certain guys that just have instincts to play the game. Frank's got 'em," Monos said. " ... You get a few players in your career who have great talent, but also combined with a great work ethic. That's what makes them special."
Monos can't imagine his defense without Gaffney, but just five months ago, the two had never met.
It was July, and Monos was still about a month away from opening preseason camp with his players. He received a phone call from Mike Farr, the football coach at Schuylkill Haven in Schuylkill Haven, Pa., less than an hour from Lebanon Valley's campus. Quarterback Brian Murphy and fullback Evan Fink, both starters for Lebanon Valley, played for Farr. Farr's daughter also attended Lebanon Valley, so there is a longstanding relationship between Farr and Monos.
"When he says to me he's got somebody, I believe him," Monos said.
Farr told Monos to check out Gaffney, who played for Schuylkill Haven's rival, Blue Mountain High School. Gaffney was, after all, just one year removed from the second of two record-setting seasons at Thaddeus Stevens College, a two-year technical school in Lancaster, Pa. Those records and back-to-back Seaboard Conference titles, however, came with Gaffney at quarterback.
Monos compared Gaffney's athletic ability and range of skills to Pro Football Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik, the last two-way player in the NFL.
"He does have a cannon for an arm," Monos said. "In reality, he could play at least two or three different positions on our football team. ... No question he could play both ways, either way in [the MAC], and be really good."
Gaffney originally planned to transfer to Millersville, a Division II school in Millersville, Pa. But he spent the 2012 academic year getting his credits in order, with an eye toward the 2013 season. That never came to fruition.
"They ended up getting a new head coach," Gaffney said. "So I was sort of stuck, didn't know where to go."
Gaffney soon spoke to Farr, who mentioned Lebanon Valley as a possibility. Gaffney and Monos met in July, shortly after Farr's phone call, and Gaffney soon found himself enrolled at the school.
Gaffney, as it turned out, would be one of four new transfers to make an immediate impact on the team this season. Junior wide receiver Tyler George, sophomore running back Austin Hartman and sophomore free safety Kevin Antol also transferred to Lebanon Valley at various points between January and the start of camp.
Monos said adding four experienced players to an already solid core has helped the Flying Dutchmen win their last six games, all in conference, and many in nail-biting fashion.
"These guys don't blink," Monos said. "It doesn't matter what happens. We've been in some close, close football games this year and we just keep playing and we find a way to win. It's been a real joy to watch this team play every week."
Gaffney has excelled as a stand-up linebacker in Lebanon Valley's defense, though even Monos admits he didn't expect this kind of production so quickly. Gaffney's numbers are stellar.
"I really don't expect anything with stats," Gaffney said. "It's more about just playing football. ... Stats are something that I look at as, not a goal, but something I look at to achieve."
Monos said friends and supporters of the program have asked why he doesn't Gaffney on offense and defense. With how this season has gone for Lebanon Valley so far, Monos likes Gaffney right where he is.
In a conference that features Salisbury, St. John Fisher and Ithaca, Alfred can often be overlooked. Note to self: stop making the same mistake!
The Saxons defeated the Sea Gulls 31-21 and, in the process, further complicated an already tight Empire 8 race. And they pulled out all the stops to make it happen.
Sure, starting quarterback Tyler Johnson completed 16 of his 23 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. But it was the TD passes by a pair of wide receivers that ultimately made the difference. Jonathan Ruffin took a handoff on an end-around, but pulled up and found Alec Ladonis in the end zone for a second-quarter touchdown.
David Lee Tack threw the other one -- a 62-yard catch-and-run TD to Josh Phillips -- after taking a direct handoff just before halftime. The Saxons controlled the time of possession thanks to a strong performance on the ground, led by Austin Dwyer's 85 yards on 18 carries.
Defensively, Alfred held Salisbury's option attack to just 185 rushing yards and, more importantly, allowed no big plays. Alfred also forced three turnovers.
The win was the third straight for Alfred and sixth overall in its last seven games. Alfred and Salisbury, both 4-1 in Empire 8 play, trail only Ithaca (5-1 E8) in the conference standings. The Saxons host Utica this weekend before closing the regular season at St. John Fisher, a tough two-game stretch.
One team advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals last season. The other failed to win even a single game.
And yet, less than one calendar year later, Hobart and St. Lawrence will meet with first place in the Liberty League on the line.
Undefeated Hobart beat Union, 41-20, behind Steven Webb's 128 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. St. Lawrence knocked off WPI, 32-15, behind Zane Fish's four TD passes. The Saints have won three of their last four, while Hobart has only lost once in its last 20 games, dating back to the start of last season.
Hobart, which hosts Saturday's game against St. Lawrence, will enter as a heavy favorite. But at this point, St. Lawrence is playing with house money. Considering the Saints were winless a year ago, playing meaningful games in November has to be considered a victory.
If St. Lawrence is able to slow down Hobart's Webb-led rushing attack, it will have a chance. But that's infinitely easier said than done. The Statesmen are averaging 261.6 yards per game on the ground, good for 18th in the country.
The NJAC, as a whole, has not had a strong 2013 season. There's simply no denying that.
Only two of the eight teams have overall records above .500. One of those two teams is Rowan, which asserted itself as the team to beat after its 10-9 win over Cortland State. The Profs have now won three straight, which includes impressive home wins over Wesley and Cortland State.
Running back Withler Marcelin continued his strong sophomore campaign, rushing for 168 yards on 28 carries against Cortland. He also scored Rowan's lone touchdown on a 41-yard pass from Bill McCarty in the first quarter.
Rowan's defense was led by Dominic Caruso (12 tackles, two sacks) and Chris Alvarez (eight tackles, two sacks). The Profs have allowed just nine points in back-to-back games, and have only allowed 20 or more points twice this season (both losses).
Rowan and Brockport State have identical 4-1 conference records, though the Profs won the head-to-head meeting between the two teams in early October. Rowan closes the regular season with games at Kean (1-4 in NJAC) and home against TCNJ (3-2), both winnable games.
Linebackers Jake Santora (16 tackles) and Will Carter (15) spearheaded a dominant effort by Ithaca's defense in the Bombers' 23-0 shutout of Frostburg State. Ithaca held the Bobcats to just 86 total yards of offense and forced five sacks en route to its fourth straight win. ... Wayne Bonsell passed for 259 yards and ran for an 11-yard touchdown in Brockport State's 14-3 win over TCNJ. Dan Andrews added 101 yards and a score on the ground for the Golden Eagles, who won their fourth straight. ... Tyler Fenti passed for 203 yards and three touchdowns -- with all three TDs coming in the final 5:11 of the first half -- to lead St. John Fisher past Utica, 28-27. ... Tyler Hartranft connected with Justin Burke on a 39-yard touchdown pass in the final 10 seconds of regulation to clinch a 28-24 win for King's over Lycoming. The Monarchs have won five straight, their longest winning streak since 2006. ... Matt Lane rushed for 84 yards and two scores on just nine carries, while Brendan McGlynn and Nick Schlatz also scored rushing TDs in RPI's 28-13 win against Merchant Marine. ... Matt Pattison finished with four sacks, and Tyler Hamlet and Don Gould each added 2.5 sacks for Albright in its 33-19 victory against Widener. Albright, which scored the game's final 16 points, finished with 10 sacks of Widener quarterback Seth Klein. ... Robert Meade passed for 261 yards and three touchdowns and Sean McKee rushed for 129 yards and a score as Kean routed Morrisville State 47-21 to earn its first NJAC win of the season. ... Rich Pete rushed for 132 yards and four touchdowns and Casey Kacz passed for 347 yards and three TDs in Buffalo State's 59-41 shootout win over Hartwick. ... Denzel Nieves rushed for 123 yards and three scores, while A.J. Scoppa added 106 yards and a touchdown to spark Montclair State's 40-13 win over William Paterson. ... Marcus Holley tallied 145 yards and three touchdowns on the ground as Stevenson snapped a four-game losing skid with a 48-3 rout of Misericordia.
Ithaca (No. 24) and Lebanon Valley (No. 25) both jumped into the rankings in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll after key conference victories.
Hobart, ranked in the top 10 in every weekly poll this season, held steady at No. 7 overall.
Rowan was the only other East region team to receive a vote this week.
St. Lawrence (6-2, 4-1) at No. 7 Hobart (7-0, 5-0), noon, Saturday: If upstart St. Lawrence hopes to earn even a share of the Liberty League title this season, it will need to score an upset win on the road against undefeated Hobart.
No. 24 Ithaca (7-1, 5-1) at Salisbury (5-3, 4-1), noon, Saturday: Ithaca finds itself in the driver's seat in the Empire 8, but the Bombers face a tough road game against Salisbury. A win would put the Sea Gulls right back in the conference mix.
Stevenson (4-4, 3-4) at No. 25 Lebanon Valley (7-1, 6-1), 1 p.m., Saturday: Lebanon Valley controls its own destiny in the MAC race. A win over Stevenson, coupled with a Widener loss, would earn the Flying Dutchmen their first ever NCAA berth.
Other games of note: King's (5-3, 5-2) at Widener (5-3, 5-2), 1 p.m., Saturday; Utica (3-5, 1-4) at Alfred (6-2, 4-1), 1 p.m., Saturday.
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