CUA has the fire to fight back

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Greg Cordivari and Catholic have orchestrated three fourth-quarter comebacks to start off 3-0.
Catholic athletics photo 

The first three games’ final touchdowns happened with just 1:01, 1:51 and 2:41 left on the clock -- capping dramatic comebacks for a Catholic team that is the best since quarterback Keith Ricca graduated in 2008.

They were finishes that were enthralling for fans and other spectators and helped to get people talking about CUA football again. But as exciting as they were, the team is seeking consistency and discipline.

If Catholic falls behind early to a team like Hampden-Sydney, “It’s probably not going to be the same result,” coach Dave Dunn said. He’s probably right, but it’s hard to ignore the resolve the Cardinals have shown in playing hard for the full 60 minutes of game time.

The team’s current standard-bearer, Greg Cordivari, is helped by a supporting cast of returning skill players and a solid defense. The wins against McDaniel, Gallaudet and Carnegie Mellon in the first three weeks of play have made the Cardinals one of four undefeated teams in the ODAC and proven them to be a conference contender.

Contenders have to have confidence; right now, the Catholic players are swimming in it.

“After the first game, when we came back and won, I think the last two games, we knew we had it in us and just had a lot of fire in us,” said Cordivari, a junior who has put up 1,121 yards this season, making him third nationally in passing.

Last Friday against Carnegie Mellon, Cordivari orchestrated a 63-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to wideout Jeff Frusciante, winning the game 29-28. CUA had been down by as many 15 points. Despite the deficit, Dunn told the team to look toward that one thing they could control.

“I keep telling our guys: Don’t look at the scoreboard, don’t look at the clock. Play the next play,” the coach said.

Cordivari has that kind of instinct. Off and on the field, he’s easy-going and rarely frazzled. Focused. Determined. He describes it simply as keeping a cool head. He said that even after a touchdown, his celebration is muted knowing that the game isn’t done yet.

Frusciante, on the other hand, is the one who is “pumps everyone up,” Dunn said.

“Our team is pretty resilient. They don’t ever look down or dejected,” Dunn said. “For the most part, we have a pretty level-headed group of kids on both sides of the ball.”

The coach has clear confidence in his quarterback and the rest of his team. Dunn gave Cordivari the freedom to go with his gut and call the winning play -- a 34-yard pass to standout receiver Alonzo Cooke -- in the opener against McDaniel. The coach appreciates Cordivari’s cerebral approach to the game and wonders just how good the quarterback would be had he been starting since the beginning of his freshman year.

Dunn is “starting to trust me a little more, now in my second year of starting,” the signal-caller said. “If I see something, he trusts me that I can call the right play.”

Cordivari has improved notably year to year, helping put Catholic in the enviable undefeated position it’s in now. He’s willing to listen to coaching, to improve. He no longer zeroes in on just one receiver and, in fact, has connected with nine different people on pass plays this season. He has changed how he reads defenses, too. In his first year or two, he was focused on making big plays on each snap. Now, he focuses on first downs.

Dunn is happy to have a smart, veteran player under center. Despite some games where the team put itself in “bad positions” by getting down early, Dunn said he’s optimistic of how the team has moved the ball on offense. But kickoff returns for touchdowns against the Cardinals, two pick-sixes, a safety, it all adds up.

“We’ve been lucky enough that we find a way to win it in the fourth quarter,” Dunn said.

Cordivari believes the wins have shown that “we have a lot more heart than any of us thought we had” at the beginning of the season.

Come-from-behind blast

Excitement sparked in Allentown, Pa., as hometown team Muhlenberg rallied for 20 points in the final quarter of play to beat McDaniel and become one of just three Centennial teams that are undefeated in conference play. The Mules trailed 26-7 at halftime before quarterback Dan Deighan began lighting things up through the air, throwing a 40-yard touchdown passes to Zach Klein and J.T. Merklinger. McDaniel lost its No. 1 rusher, Joe Rollins, to injury in the second quarter, but not before he was able to gain 112 yards and a touchdown. (Rollins is expected to be back and playing this coming weekend.) Both teams had impressive days defensively: McDaniel had 12 tackles for loss (3.5 by Sam Cox and three by Steve Wetherhold), while Muhlenberg had nine. The Mules also benefited from three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

Prowling for win No. 1

Both Ursinus and Franklin and Marshall, expected in the preseason to be among the Centennial’s top competitors, went into Saturday’s game hunting for their first win. The Bears found it; the Dips will have to wait a bit longer. Ursinus’ defense clamped down and didn’t give up any points in the second half while the offense, led by receiver Al Desiderio’s 138 yards, posted 21 points on the day. Two Bears defenders, Chris Salaga and Sean Whelan, had particularly strong outings with eight solo tackles each.

Rapid roundup

Susquehanna kept a seesaw season exciting thanks to a 19-yard kick by Spencer Hotaling that split the uprights with just a second to play. The 20-18 win was also helped by 153 yards rushing from Greg Tellish.

Hampden-Sydney wideout Kyle Vance had a school record 228 receiving yards in the 38-14 win against Ferrum. But he wasn’t the only record-breaker that day. Kicker David Prizza has now made 62 consecutive PATs for the team.

Offense was in full force in Washington and Lee’s loss to the SCAC’s Centre. The two teams combined for 891 yards. Defensive back Jack Pelton led the defense with nine solo tackles.

Christopher Newport won the turnover battle by a large margin against Salisbury by going plus-4 in fumble recoveries, but the Captains weren’t able to hold off a 14-point last quarter onslaught, falling 27-23.

Contact me

I would be happy to hear from anyone who has questions or feedback regarding the Around the Mid-Atlantic column or Division III football in general. Please write to me at ryan.tipps@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter @D3MidAtlantic. I invite you to talk about players and performances on the message board’s Around the Mid-Atlantic thread. Additionally, if there is an idea you’d like to see me write about, post it there or email me.

Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is a writer based in Connecticut and a former online news editor for ESPN.com, as well as a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has written feature stories for ESPN.com, currently contributes fantasy football content to RotoBaller.com, and has been a regular contributor to D3sports.com sites 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.

2012-2015 columnist: Adam Turer
2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman

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