December 5, 2013

St. John Fisher goes on the road again

More news about: St. John Fisher
Quarterback Tyler Fenti and the Cardinals wear the red jerseys at home, but they've had success on the road, in white, this postseason.
St. John Fisher Athletics photo

By Joe Sager
For D3sports.com

Some football teams dread going on the road to play.

St. John Fisher College actually welcomes it.

That's a good thing because the Cardinals must travel from their Rochester, N.Y., campus to Belton, Tex., to meet the University of Mary-Hardin-Baylor on Saturday in the quarterfinals.

Fisher (10-2) doesn't mind, though. The Cardinals, ranked 25th in the last D3football.com poll, look forward to visiting the third-ranked Cru (12-0).

"We're very excited. We've been fighting and clawing all year to get to this position. Now that we're here, we're trying to make the most of it," Fisher senior cornerback Ryan Seymour said. "We got (playoff) two games under our belt and we won those. We're looking to keep the ball rolling. We're playing really well together right now and, hopefully, we can do it again. "The pressure is not on us, that's for sure. They're the top dogs and they're the team everyone is expecting to win, so being the underdog plays in our favor. We like being on the road. I think we play better on the road."

Fisher, which made the tournament as an at-large (Pool C) team, proved it belongs among the nation's elite after the first two rounds. The Cardinals traveled to Ohio and upset ninth-ranked John Carroll, 25-16, to open the postseason. They followed with a 27-6 triumph over backyard rival Hobart, which was ranked eighth.

"They are feeling good about themselves. When you beat two good opponents like we have, you will feel good," Fisher coach Paul Vosburgh said. "Our guys are smart enough to know you can't dwell on two wins too long. We are facing an outstanding opponent. It's the best team we have seen on film this year. The kids really have to be ready to go."

Going against powerful UMHB is a daunting task for Fisher. The Cru averages 49.3 points per game, which ranks second in D-III.

"We're excited to go down there. It'll be a good experience for our program. The elite eight is an exciting place to be and we're looking forward to the game," Fisher senior quarterback Tyler Fenti said. "We're playing a very good team and it'll be a challenge. We all want to be playing football in December, so we want to keep it going."

The Cardinals' defense faces another strong test. However, Fisher has responded and forced 15 turnovers in the team's past three games.

"Coach comes up with a great game plan every week and we just go out there and execute it," Seymour said. "Sure enough, we're in the right spot at the right time and we come up with those big plays. I think that's huge. Our offense is doing a great job holding onto the ball. If we can create turnovers, things will usually fall the right way."

Fisher's offense made those turnovers hurt, too. The Cardinals turned all three takeaways into points in last week's win against Hobart.

"I know we had one turnover last week where we scored on the next play," Seymour said. "That's a huge boost because we know those points were from our turnover. We helped them get that. We don't always get a chance to score points, but if we can get the opportunity to put our offense in a good position to score points, that's just as good as scoring points for us.

"We've been watching film on them and I know Coach has come up with something good. If we all play together, hopefully, we can put ourselves in those situations again. If we can force some turnovers, I think we have a shot at winning this game, too."

Offensively, Fisher may not match the Cru's firepower, but the Cardinals have been opportunistic, especially in the playoffs.

"I think the offense has done a pretty nice job. Against Hobart, we were in the red zone six times and scored on five occasions. We missed one field goal, but had three touchdowns and two field goals," Vosburgh said. "We capitalized on three turnovers we caused and got points off all three. That is pretty critical. We were very good in the red zone against John Carroll, too. You have to do that against good teams. If you get opportunities, you have to come away with something."

On defense, UMHB shines as well. The Cru ranks ninth nationally in total defense at 258.9 yards per game. The team features the second-ranked rushing defense at 62.9 yards per game. Those statistics don't intimidate Fisher because John Carroll had the second-ranked scoring defense and the Cardinals prevailed.

"We have to go into this game and just do what we do," Vosburgh said. "We have to be fundamentally and technically sound and get it done."

Fisher features a balanced attack. Fenti passed for 244 yards and two touchdowns last week. Kevin Francis had eight catches for 133 yards, while Nathan Nigolian hauled in six passes for 77 yards and Dan Rudy had four catches for 34 yards. Cody Miller rushed for 60 yards in the triumph.

"Our offense is playing well. Everyone is making plays when we need to," Fenti said. "The line is blocking great and our playmakers are doing well. We're playing well together. We're doing what we can to succeed and move forward."

This is the Cardinals' second trip to the quarterfinals in three years. They dropped a 45-10 decision to St. Thomas to end their 2011 playoff run. So, some players already have experienced being in this situation.

"Two years ago, it was a completely different team. There aren't many starters now that actually played in that game. I just played special teams," Seymour said. "I know a lot of our starters now didn't even travel two years ago. It's a different field and a different team. Each team has its own uniqueness and character. I think we've been building ourselves a nice character and we've been working together nicely and coming together as the season's gone on. That's making us a better team.

"Being back two years ago, it takes a little of the anxiety off of being in a new situation. We've been there; we know what it feels like; we've played in big games. Virtually every game we play throughout the season is a big game based on the schedule we have," he continued. "To us, this is just another week. Sure, it's the elite eight, but we line up against whoever we're playing and we play with our backs against the wall like it's the last game we're ever going to play."

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