December 3, 2010

Alfred next for the challenge

More news about: Alfred

By Andrew Lovell
for D3sports.com

Tommy Secky and the Alfred offense will be tested by the Mount Union defense.

As Alfred coach Dave Murray watched the final seconds tick off the clock in the Saxons' win over Cortland State, he allowed the magnitude of the victory to sink in.

For the second time in school history – the first came just one week earlier – Alfred had won an NCAA playoff game. For the first time in school history, the Saxons had advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals.

But the ecstasy and elation of the milestone win quickly wore off once Murray found out which team the Saxons would be facing.

"You know, it kind of hit me after the game on Saturday," Murray said. "And then I found out we were playing Mount Union, so it kind of vanished from our minds."

The prospect of facing the Purple Raiders usually does that to a team.

Mount Union's exploits in the realm of Division III college football are well-documented, but still staggering nonetheless.

The Purple Raiders are 70-2 over the last five seasons, with the two losses both coming to UW-Whitewater in the Stagg Bowl in 2007 and 2009.

They've won 10 of the past 17 national championships, including Stagg Bowl wins in 2005, 2006 and 2008. It's been 80 games since Mount Union's last loss to a team that wasn't UW-Whitewater – a 21-14 loss to Ohio Northern on Oct. 22, 2005.

And this season has been right on par for the Purple Raiders (12-0), who enter Saturday's game with a dominant defense (NCAA-best 6.3 points per game) and a dynamic offense, led by sophomore quarterback Neal Seaman, sophomore tailback Jeremy Murray and senior wide receiver Cecil Shorts.

Alfred's resume is considerably less gaudy. The Saxons have played in four NCAA playoff games, winning their first two in school history this season.

At 10-2, the Saxons have already tied a school record for wins despite having twice the amount of losses as all the rest of the remaining playoff teams combined. And Alfred's two losses this season came to Liberty League foes RPI and Rochester, two teams that combined to win 10 games this season.

So how can anyone in their right mind expect the Saxons to compete with the battle-tested Purple Raiders?

Simple, Murray says. Follow the same formula the Saxons used to defeat Cortland last weekend – control the line of scrimmage, dominate the running game, and win the field position and time of possession battles.

"I think that our ability to run the football effectively was the key in the [Cortland] game," Murray said. "We were certainly hoping to stop their outstanding run game and fortunately we were able to do that. And then on the flip side, being able to run the football [was key] because the conditions that were out there, the wind and the cold, made it very difficult to throw the ball.

"Winning the line of scrimmage comes down to the ability to run and we were able to do that effectively."

Alfred outrushed Cortland by a 225-70 margin and held a 33:35-26:25 advantage in time of possession. Three of Alfred's touchdown-scoring possessions started in Cortland territory.

Obviously Mount Union poses a considerably tougher challenge than Cortland did, but Murray said the mindset must stay the same.

"We know going in that the field position battle will be crucial," Murray said. "You just can't give a team like Mount Union a short field. Special teams will be huge."

Freshman tailback Austin Dwyer continued his dominance of the Saxons' top opponents with a 32-carry, 187-yard performance against Cortland. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound grinder piled up 168 yards, 162 yards and 273 yards on the ground against Springfield, St. John Fisher and Ithaca, respectively, in crucial Empire 8 games this season.

"For a freshman to step up in those situations and play as well as he did, it doesn't happen that often," Murray said. "And he's the first guy that will give credit for his success to the offensive line. He's that kind of kid. He's modest, he's humble, just tries to get it done, and fortunately for us, he's always leaning forward. He never seems to get tackled for a loss."

Alfred's offensive line, anchored by two all-Empire 8 first team seniors in left tackle Zach Morgan and center Jeff VanDewalker, has been solid all season, but will face its stiffest test against a Mount Union squad that allows an average of just 72.3 yards rushing per game.

"They've certainly set the bar very, very high, there's no question about that," Murray said. "We've been watching a lot of game film for a few days now and a couple things stand out. Obviously, number one, they have great players, and they have them everywhere. ... And the second thing is they're very, very well coached."

No one is going to question Mount Union head coach Larry Kehres' status as one of the all-time greats, but Murray's star is quickly rising. His 86 wins at Alfred already rank second all-time for a program that has had 26 head coaches and dates back to 1895. Murray, now in his 13th year as the Saxons' head coach, was unanimously selected as the Empire 8 coach of the year for a second consecutive season.

There's little question that this season has been Murray's finest coaching performance. After the Saxons stormed out to a 5-0 start to the season – a stretch that included key conference wins against Springfield and Hartwick – they inexplicably dropped two of their next three games to middling Liberty League teams.

"Coming off of last year where we got to the NCAAs ... I think every player's goal was to return to the NCAAs and have some success," Murray said. "Now when we did stumble in the middle of the season, there probably weren't, in all honesty, a whole lot of us that were thinking, 'Hey, we're going to be in the final eight playing Mount Union.' At that point we were just hoping to make it back to the NCAAs."

The Saxons could have folded. Instead, the team responded by running the table and clinching its second-consecutive Empire 8 title.

Alfred will now try to do what Empire 8 rivals Ithaca and St. John Fisher failed to do in recent years – upset Mount Union in the playoffs.

Ithaca held an early lead on the Purple Raiders before falling 42-18 in the first round of the 2007 field. St. John Fisher had a chance to take the lead early in the fourth quarter, but settled for a missed field goal and, ultimately, a 26-14 in the semifinals of the 2006 playoffs.

Murray said his squad must respect – but not fear – Mount Union to have a chance to win, something that's certainly easier said than done.

"We've got to go out and hopefully not get caught up in the aura of Mount Union," Murray said. "We've got to show up and play."

Sep. 1: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Coast Guard at Anna Maria
7:00 PM
Defiance at Baldwin Wallace
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Johns Hopkins
7:30 PM
Trine at Manchester
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8:00 PM
Millsaps at Belhaven
Sep. 2: All times Eastern
TBA
Muhlenberg at Wilkes
6:00 PM
Mass-Dartmouth at Mount Ida
6:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Wesley
7:00 PM
N.C. Wesleyan at Stevenson
7:00 PM
Western New England at Springfield
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Fitchburg State at Becker
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7:00 PM
Albright at Salisbury
7:00 PM
WPI at MIT
7:00 PM
Salve Regina at Worcester State
7:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Curry
7:00 PM
Morrisville State at St. Lawrence
10:00 PM
Adrian at Pacific
Sep. 3: All times Eastern
TBA
Endicott at Framingham State
TBA
UW-Platteville at George Fox
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12:00 PM
Washington U. at Carnegie Mellon
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Chicago at Case Western Reserve
12:00 PM
Husson at Alfred
12:00 PM
SUNY-Maritime at Maine Maritime
Video
12:00 PM
Cortland at Heidelberg
12:00 PM
Otterbein at Buffalo State
12:00 PM
Ursinus at Bethany
12:00 PM
Sewanee at Kenyon
1:00 PM
King's at Moravian
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1:00 PM
Kean at Christopher Newport
1:00 PM
McDaniel at Catholic
1:00 PM
Lebanon Valley at Franklin and Marshall
1:00 PM
Plymouth State at Castleton
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1:00 PM
RPI at Norwich
1:00 PM
Randolph-Macon at Dickinson
1:00 PM
Oberlin at Kalamazoo
1:00 PM
Emory and Henry at Ferrum
1:00 PM
Wooster at Washington and Jefferson
1:00 PM
Alfred State at William Paterson
1:00 PM
St. Vincent at Alma
1:00 PM
Concordia (Wis.) at Finlandia
1:00 PM
Olivet at St. John Fisher
1:00 PM
Rowan at Widener
1:00 PM
Hobart at Brockport
1:00 PM
Union at Ithaca
1:00 PM
Susquehanna at Lycoming
1:00 PM
Utica at Misericordia
1:00 PM
The Apprentice School at Methodist
1:00 PM
TCNJ at UW-Whitewater
1:30 PM
Wilmington at Bluffton
1:30 PM
Monmouth at Hope
1:30 PM
Bridgewater at Gettysburg
1:30 PM
Muskingum at Waynesburg
1:30 PM
Juniata at Grove City
2:00 PM
Wisconsin Lutheran at Trinity Int'l
2:00 PM
Lakeland at Carroll
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-Stevens Point at St. Norbert
2:00 PM
Austin at Hendrix
2:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Martin Luther
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2:00 PM
Millikin at Greenville
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Eureka at Knox
Live Stats
2:00 PM
MacMurray at Rockford
2:00 PM
Gustavus Adolphus at Westminster (Mo.)
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-La Crosse at Luther
2:00 PM
Beloit at Lake Forest
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Jamestown
2:00 PM
Crown at Hamline
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2:00 PM
Carleton at Macalester
2:00 PM
Bethel at Dubuque
2:00 PM
St. Scholastica at St. John's
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2:00 PM
St. Olaf at Grinnell
2:00 PM
Buena Vista at Mayville St.
2:00 PM
Simpson at UW-Stout
2:00 PM
Aurora at Carthage
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at Coe
2:00 PM
Ripon at Concordia-Chicago
2:00 PM
Elmhurst at Loras
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
2:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at Robert Morris-Chicago
2:00 PM
Benedictine at Wheaton (Ill.)
2:00 PM
John Carroll at UW-Oshkosh
2:30 PM
Southern Virginia at Earlham
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2:30 PM
Lawrence at Presentation
4:00 PM
La Verne at Puget Sound
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4:00 PM
Central at Whitworth
5:00 PM
Hartwick at Western Connecticut
6:00 PM
Wabash at Albion
6:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at Berry
6:00 PM
Augustana at Mount St. Joseph
6:00 PM
Thomas More at Franklin
Live Stats
6:00 PM
Hampden-Sydney at Averett
6:00 PM
Redlands at Trinity (Texas)
7:00 PM
Marietta at Denison
7:00 PM
Hiram at Westminster (Pa.)
7:00 PM
Thiel at Allegheny
7:00 PM
Capital at Wittenberg
7:00 PM
Shenandoah at Gallaudet
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7:00 PM
Illinois College at Rose-Hulman
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7:00 PM
Geneva at Frostburg State
7:00 PM
Nichols at Westfield State
7:00 PM
Greensboro at Guilford
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7:00 PM
LaGrange at Birmingham-Southern
7:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
7:00 PM
Anderson at North Park
7:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Mary Hardin-Baylor
7:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran
7:10 PM
St. Thomas at UW-Eau Claire
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7:30 PM
Hanover at Centre
8:00 PM
Willamette at Rhodes
8:00 PM
Cornell at Iowa Wesleyan
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8:00 PM
Augsburg at Northwestern (Minn.)
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8:00 PM
Southwestern Assemblies at Howard Payne
8:00 PM
Sul Ross State at UT-Permian Basin
Dec. 18: All times Eastern
Final
Mount Union 49, at St. Thomas 35
@ Salem, Va.
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