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Dominic Randolph, Holy Cross Vying for First Patriot League Title Since 1991
Dominic Randolph remembers it well: The interception. In fact, he brought it up himself earlier this month during a conversation at the Patriot League’s annual football media day at Green Pond Country Club in Bethlehem Township.
The pick, by Colgate cornerback Wayne Moten with 11 minutes remaining in the Raiders’ 28-27 victory last November, all but sealed the league championship and the team’s eighth trip to postseason playoffs.
“It, obviously, was frustrating,” said Randolph, who played that game in Hamilton, N.Y., as a “senior.” The immediate future for football at Holy Cross took on a rosier hue last December, when the Patriot League granted the Crusaders’ prolific quarterback a medical redshirt season and fifth year of eligibility. The Crusaders, staring at a middle-of-the-pack finish, now are positioned to win their first championship since 1991.
And Randolph has one final season to make amends.
“I knew I had it,” said Randolph, chosen as the coaches’ preseason offensive player of the year. “It was a matter of going in front of the (league) committee. It’s exciting to be back.” His coach, Tom Gilmore, said an injury prevented Randolph from playing as a freshman.
“I saw the news back in December on a Web site,” said Lafayette linebacker Mark Leggiero, the league’s preseason defensive player of the year. Leggiero considers Randolph’s return as yet another challenge.
Holy Cross and Colgate, picked 1-2 in the league’s preseason poll, could decide the title-winner again this fall when the two meet on Oct. 24 in Worcester, Mass. After Randolph threw that interception last year, he saw the ball only once the rest of the afternoon a three-and-out possession. Colgate’s punishing ground attack, which included sprints by multi-faceted quarterback Greg Sullivan, dominated the second half.
“We’re extremely motivated,” Randolph said. “We’ve just got to finish.”
“We have unfinished business,” echoed Gilmore, who during the offseason took himself out of the running for the vacant head coaching job at Yale. “We’ve been so close the last three years.”
Still fresh in the minds of Gilmore and his returning Crusaders are these stark numbers from that Colgate victory: The Raiders’ 81 offensive plays to 37 and an equally lopsided time of possession. Randolph’s unit saw the ball all of 5:11 in a frustrating second half.
Colgate’s unflappable head coach Dick Biddle had no reaction to Randolph’s surprising return. “I worry about Colgate,” he said. “If you throw for 300 yards or run for 300 yards, what’s the difference?”
Lehigh, Lafayette, Bucknell and Fordham each is capable of doing what the latter did in 2007 rocket to the championship after being picked sixth in the preseason by the league’s coaches and publicists. “We have enough players back for us to be good,” Biddle said. “And we lost enough to not be real good. We have to pay attention to detail. Our expectations are to win the league and go to the playoffs.”
It all could come down to another one-point game.
Colgate has the playmakers on offense Sullivan at quarterback, Nate Eachus at running back and 6-foot-6 Pat Simonds at wide receiver but returns only lineman guard Zach Posey.
Sullivan and Eachus were second-string players last fall until injuries thrust them into starting roles. Sullivan, who came off the bench during the second offensive series of the season, responded by rushing for 898 yards, passing well enough to keep defenses honest and finishing second in the league in pass efficiency.
The break for Eachus came Oct. 18 at Cornell, where star running back Jordan Scott went down early in the second quarter. Eachus, who began the game at linebacker and had three tackles one a sack moved to running back, where he rushed 37 times for 241 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-22 victory over the Big Red. Eachus was named first team all-league, as well as rookie of the year.
Simonds, another first team all-leaguer, caught 65 passes for 1,136 yards and nine TDs. He was Colgate’s offensive MVP. The Raiders nearly produced a trio of 1,000-yard rushers in Scott (1,148), Eachus (932) and Sullivan. “This could be the best skill set we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Biddle, who includes wideout Doug Rosnick with 23 catches for 254 yards.
Until the revamped offensive line comes around, the Raiders may have to rely more on their defense with four all-league performers end Austin Douglas, nose tackle Paul Mancuso, linebacker Greg Hadley and Moten, a cornerback.
At Holy Cross, the holder of most league and school records for a quarterback, Randolph should easily have them all by the end of opening day against Georgetown. Among the records still out there for the Patriot’s two-time offensive player of the year are school and league career passing yards Tom Wiley’s 9,698 at Holy Cross and Marko Glavic’s 9,819 for Lafayette. Randolph stands at 9,679 after throwing for 3,838 yards and 34 touchdowns with 17 interceptions a year ago.
The Crusaders have two wideouts with experience Josh Jenkins (35-329) and Nick Cole (30-281). Jenkins also returns kickoffs and was the league’s third-best punt returner. The offensive line features Aaron Jones (6-foot-4, 360 pounds), a first team all-league tackle, guard Chris Poole (6-7, 315), and center Chris Smith, a four-year starter. “Our offensive line,” Gilmore said, “could be the best Holy Cross has had in a very long time.”
Nine players will dress from the defensive unit that could not slow down Colgate in November and was last in defending the pass. Three are All-Patriot second team players linebackers Sean Lamkin and Marcus Rodriguez, and corner Michael Wright.
Fordham, picked to defend its title last fall, disappointed by plunging to a sixth-place finish. Hence, new coordinators on both sides off the ball for head coach Tom Masella. The Rams were not only unable to win games back-to-back, but allowed the league’s top four teams to average 38 points a game against them. This despite having key performers from the 2007 championship squad quarterback John Skelton, running back Xavier Martin, wideout Asa Lucas and linebacker James Crockett who return to try again.
Skelton owns the school’s all-time passing records after throwing for 2,605 yards in 2007 and 2,650 a year ago; Martin, the rookie of the year in ‘07, was the league’s No. 2 rusher with 1,237 yards, producing six 100-yard games; Lucas led the team with 36 catches for 449 yards despite missing four games with an injury, and Crockett was second in team tackles with 67, including 7½ for losses and a league-best three forced fumbles.
The right side of the offensive line, that features center Robby Reis, is new. Nose guard Darzell Wright, linebacker Andre Delaire, who led with 71 tackles, anchor the defense.
The outlook appears slightly brighter at Bucknell, where the Bison have nine regulars from a young squad back on each side of the ball. The team tied for fifth place after losing four of its last five games.
The Bison begin with the highly-productive A.J. Kizekai, the running back/kick returner from Blair Academy who led the league and was fifth nationally with an average of 184 all-purpose yards, and wide receiver Shaun Pasternak, the Bison’s MVP who caught 12 touchdown passes among his 1,083 yards both school records and had five 100-yard receiving games. Pasternak’s 72 catches fell one short of a third record.
Veteran Marcello Trigg and sophomore C.J. Hopson provide a contrast at quarterback. Trigg, an accurate passer with an uncanny knack for locating Pasternak, faces competition from Hopson, who took over when the former suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 8. Hopson, with his mobility and quickness, better suits coach Tim Landis’s ground-oriented option offense.
The Bison must improve on the other side of the ball after ranking last in total defense. One upgrade in their 3-4 alignment is inside linebacker Sam Nana-Sinkam, who was leading the league in tackles when his 2008 season ended with an injury and the Bison breezing along at 4-2.
Landis continues to seek answers for ancient Lehigh Valley rivals Lehigh and Lafayette. His previous six teams are a combined 0-12 against them.
The struggle at Georgetown since joining the league in 2001 shows no sign of abating. While the Hoyas may be improved on defense with Travis Mack, the second team all-league free safety, and at the offensive skill positions with the likes of versatile Keerom Lawrence splitting time at quarterback and in the slot, they lack overall depth, especially in the offensive line. The Hoyas are 8-46 in league games over nine seasons while never finishing above fifth place. They went 1-8 last fall after beating Howard in their opener, and again finished near the bottom in most categories, including defense against the run and turnover margin.
Running back/kick returner Charlie Houghton needs to stay healthy. The league’s rookie of the year in 2006 with 917 all-purpose yards appeared in only three games a year ago. Center Dan Matheny anchors the offensive line.
Dominic Randolph, Holy Cross vying for first Patriot League title since 1991
By ED LAUBACH, The Express-Times