November 8, 2011

CNU proves averse to adversity

More news about: Christopher Newport
Mike King leads Christopher Newport in tackles and has two pass breakups from his linebacker spot.
CNU athletics file photo

Two buses pulled up in Southwest Virginia and unloaded the exhilarated Christopher Newport football team. It was Saturday, and a conference championship and a trip to the playoffs were on the line. The team’s coaches and seniors all agreed that this matchup was important and that being a part of the Captains’ proud athletic tradition meant everyone should be unified in support.

Shortly after they arrived, a CNU player found the back of the net for the match’s first and only goal. 

With a 48-30 gridiron win on the road against Ferrum already in the books, the Captains football players unanimously agreed to make the short trip to Martinsville, Va., to see the school’s soccer teams compete for the USA South title. It’s part of the redefined culture on CNU’s campus, where athletic success has become as much a part of the school as academic success.

“We pulled in and all the guys on the soccer team exchanged high-fives with our guys,” said football coach Matt Kelchner. “Within two minutes, we popped one in, we take the lead and we win the USA South championship in soccer.”

 “We had a blast,” he said.

Coupled with the football team’s earlier win and the school’s volleyball team’s victory, CNU brought home three conference titles on Saturday. For Kelchner and his crew, the football team’s win over Ferrum highlights a season in which adversity has run as deep as the roster.

Though there’s still one more conference game on tap, CNU has assured itself the USA South’s automatic qualifier into the NCAA playoffs. That’s no small feat considering a slow start early in the season. The Captains lost to first-year program Stevenson and then let a 10-point lead slip away against Salisbury in the final four and a half minutes. But perhaps most worrisome of all was that CNU has twice lost its starting quarterback to injury and has now lost its starting tailback, too.

Amid all that, Kelchner said, “Our guys rose to the occasion” on Saturday.

Evan Moog filled the gap as the team’s leading rusher after Markeese Stovall fractured his ankle, ending his season. Moog wrestled ahead for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns, his best performance of the season.

Moog’s been solid all season but hadn’t before gotten the number of carries that he did against Ferrum. He offered a balanced option for junior Aaron Edwards, who began the season as the third-string quarterback and ended up throwing for four scores this past weekend.

Edwards stepped in after returning starter Christian Woelfel-Monsivais tore his ACL against Methodist and backup Lyndon Garner suffered a fracture a couple of games later. Kelchner said there was some disappointment and sadness each time the team saw their starter end his season, but the depth on the team helped ease that.

“The confidence level,” he said, “I don’t think was ever shaken.”

CNU had been in a similar position before, in 2009, when the team was playing a fourth-string quarterback at the end of the season. Kelchner said he told this year’s crop of signal-callers -- Woelfel-Monsivais, Garner, Edwards and Kyle Neumann -- at the beginning of the season that he believed they could all be starters. They all had spring ball under their belt and knew the workings of the offense. They could help the team win games, he said.

He’s been happy that younger players and those deeper on the depth charts have been able to fill the voids on the team.

That’s why you recruit them, he said. “When they get a chance, it’s nice to see them step up.”

As the team readies to face Maryville and then see who it’s paired against on Selection Sunday, work still needs to be done. Mistakes on special teams need to go away. The defense needs to tighten -- tackling players like Ferrum’s Marcus Mayo was a chore at times. Snapping can improve.

As a unit, Kelchner sees continued success. The team has not only won the conference but also has beaten good teams, like Waynesburg, which just last week toppled the front-runner in the PAC.

“There aren’t any All-Americans on our team. There’s no superstars,” the coach said. “You know, Marcus Mayo has been the meat and potatoes of the Ferrum operation this year. He’s been very good, but we don’t have anybody like that.”

Moving forward has meant putting injuries and the heartbreaking losses to Stevenson and Salisbury behind them. Maryville is on a three-game winning streak, and the playoffs will likely pit the Captains against a team at least as good as any they’ve faced all season. Kelchner knows those are the kinds of teams that make the playoffs in the first place.

He said, “Don’t go in with any preconceived notions other than, ‘Everybody in there is going to be good.’ ”

Tigers claw their way into postseason

For the fourth time in five seasons, Hampden-Sydney has earned itself a place in the NCAA playoffs. The Tigers avenged a 2010 loss to Washington and Lee with a 42-35 win this year. But it came with a lot of work: the Generals poured on an impressive rally until time expired and H-SC got itself the ODAC’s automatic qualifier.

The Tigers were sitting on a 28-0 lead midway through the third quarter when W&L scored twice in a row to cut the deficit in half. The fourth quarter lit up with five touchdowns between the two teams, including one with just 78 seconds left in the game to bring the Generals to within 7 points. W&L impressively moved the ball through the air that last quarter, scoring twice on pass plays of more than 30 yards. Hampden-Sydney sealed the win by recovering an onside kick near that final minute and running out the clock.

Of the 11 drives in the second half, eight ended in touchdowns, and that was thanks in part to the ability of quarterbacks from both W&L (Charlie Westfal) and H-SC (Travis Lane) to move the ball. They each had more than 300 all-purpose yards, while each team’s primary rusher, Luke Heinsohn and Kirk Rohle, notched over 100 yards on the ground.

It was a showdown in the making almost all season -- and it was one that didn’t disappoint in excitement.

Rapid Roundup

Dickinson’s Corwyn Gordon blocked a PAT with just 46 seconds left in the game to preserve the Red Devil’s 21-20 win over Gettysburg in the Little Brown Bucket rivalry game.

Melvin Burston was an offensive force for Maryville passing for more than 300 yards and rushing for 134. He combined for four scores in the 42-20 win over Greensboro.

With a 28-32 score, Johns Hopkins survived a back-and-forth matchup against Franklin and Marshall, in which F&M quarterback John Harrison’s 302 passing yards and three touchdowns weren’t enough to put off the upset.

Susquehanna’s Greg Tellish had a blazing 179 yards rushing, coupled with 73 receiving, in a 29-14 win over McDaniel.

Methodist got just its second win of the season under debut coach Dave Eavenson, downing N.C. Wesleyan 24-10. Navahri Holden had nine solo tackles on a defense that forced seven turnovers.

Guilford was another team that has a new coach, Chris Rusiewicz, and celebrated win No. 2. of the year. The Guilford and Catholic quarterbacks -- Zac Halbert and Greg Cordivari, respectively -- combined for 647 passing yards.

Ursinus quarterback Chris Curran put up 361 yards (168 going to Al Desierio) despite falling to Muhlenberg 24-21. In Virginia, Bridgewater also had a signal-caller with big yards, seeing Carlos Gonzalez reach 406 yards through the air and four touchdowns in a loss to Randolph-Macon.

Contact me

I would be happy to hear from anyone this final week of the regular season and into the postseason -- there’s still lots of football to play for a handful of teams. Please email me or follow me on Twitter @D3MidAtlantic.

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