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The CAA Today: Mid-Season Review
Terence Thomas, Sr. CSN CAA Today columnist
Well here we are seven games into the season for some, six for others. It’s time to look and see how the CAA is shaping up for the playoffs, and who the likely contenders will be for the conference championship and post season play.
The following is the standings after last weekends games;
NORTH: CAA Overall
New Hampshire 2 - 1 5 -1
Massachusetts 2 - 1 4 - 2
Hofstra 2 - 2 4 - 3
Maine 2 - 2 3 - 4
Rhode Island 0 - 3 1 - 5
Northeastern 0 - 3 0 - 6
Richmond 4 - 0 6 - 0
Villanova 3 - 1 6 - 1
William & Mary 2 - 1 5 - 1
Delaware 3 - 2 5 - 2
Towson 1 - 2 2 - 4
James Madison 0 - 3 2 - 4
It’s in this writer’s humble opinion that Richmond, Villanova, William & Mary, and New Hampshire are sure things to make the playoffs.
In Richmond’s five remaining games, three are at home against top ranked teams (Massachusetts, Villanova, & William & Mary), but their two road games are against Towson and Georgetown. If Richmond wins the two road games, they will have the magic number of eight wins, and can be assured of a playoff spot. To secure the conference championship and a possible seed in the playoffs, Richmond would most likely need to win at least two of those home games.
Villanova has four games remaining on their schedule, two at home and two on the road. Nova will host Rhode Island, then have a bye week prior to traveling to Richmond. Nova will finish the regular season at Towson and home to Delaware. The Richmond game looms large as this could be the battle for first place in the conference. Villanova should win at home against Rhode Island, and on the road at Towson giving them eight wins on the season.. Villanova currently holds a three game win streak against a vastly improving Delaware squad that will be fighting for their playoff lives on Nov. 21..
William & Mary has five games remaining vs. JMU, at URI, vs. TU, vs. UNH, at UR. The Tribe should win the first three giving them the eight wins that should more than qualify them for the playoffs. If the Tribe could win out, they could make a claim for conference champion and a playoff seed.
New Hampshire has five games remaining at HU, vs. NU, vs. URI, at W&M, vs. Maine. If the Wildcats can win their remaining home games, that will give them the magic number of 8 wins. Like the rest, if the Cats win out, they could claim the conference title and secure a seed for the playoffs.
ON THE BUBBLE
The next three teams all have a chance to make it to the dance, but it will require some huge late season wins over top ranked opponents to help their cause,
Massachusetts has five games remaining at UR, at Maine, vs. NU, vs. JMU, at HU. The Minutemen would need to win at least four to be assured of a playoff spot. Three wins might get them in, but it would be left in the hands of the committee, and we all know from past experience some good 7-4 CAA teams have been left home for the holidays. With that said, it‘s this writer‘s opinion that Massachusetts has the best chance of being the fifth team from the CAA to get into the playoffs.
Hofstra has four games remaining beginning with a home games against UNH, then a bye week, followed by a trip to Newark, De to take on the Blue Hens. The Pride will next travel to NU, before returning home for the season finale against Massachusetts. The Pride has the difficult task of having to win out to achieve eight wins to make the playoffs. However, with one loss there would still be hope. The final game against the Minutemen will be huge for both teams.
Delaware has four games left on their schedule, and with four FCS wins to date, the Blue Hens may need to win all four to get in the playoffs. The Blue Hens are on bye this week, but will come off the bye to play JMU at home, followed by HU at home, then conclude the season with two road games at FBS Navy, and at Nova. If the Blue Hens could finish at 8 - 3(7 D1 wins) , they certainly would be in the discussion of being playoff worthy, but those last two road games may be too high a hurdle for the Blue Hens to clear.
The best thing going for each of the above team is that they have their fate in their own hands. Simply said, “WIN AND YOU’RE IN”.
CONTENDERS NO MORE
Of the remaining five teams, JMU is mathematically still alive for a playoff run. However, their play of late does not indicate this year’s team is a playoff team. JMU, along with Maine, Rhode Island, Northeastern, and Towson can play spoiler for the bubble teams and those vying for conference champion.
In last week’s column, “Road Warriors”, I predicted all five road teams winning. Sitting in the Press Box in Harrisonburg watching the Nova vs. JMU game with one eye and keeping an eye on the other CAA scores, there was a point in time when four of the road teams had won and UNH was winning. More on the UNH @ Massachusetts game later.
In the Hofstra @ Rhode Island game, the Pride used the talents of their two QB’s, Sr., Cory Christopher (Miami, Fl) 11 - 15, for 111 yards passing and 29 yards rushing on 17 carries and So., Steve Probst (North Massapequa, NY) 4 - 6, 112 yards, 1 TD, and 60 yards rushing on 7 carries for a 28 - 16 win. The Rams countered with Jr. QB, Chris Paul-Etienne (Miami, Fl) back from a leg injury. Paul-/Etienne was 19-32-1 for 207 yards. The Pride defense limited the Rams rushing to a mere 32 yards on the day.
Pride head coach Dave Cohen believes the Pride are capable of playing better, the running game has improved, the defense is playing hard, and the team will continue to work on reducing turnovers. Rams coach, Joe Trainer stated his team must play sound and aggressive when they travel to Nova this Saturday.
In the Delaware @ Towson game, the Tigers were all set to celebrate their homecoming. The weather forecast had called for rain and wind. Little did the Tigers know that it would be raining Blue Hens.
Through three quarters with the UD starters in, the Blue Hens had 9 possessions, 7 TD’s, and 2 punts. In the 4th quarter, UD played their reserves and allowed TU to score 21 points. The final score was UD 49 TU 21.
UD QB, Jr., Pat Devlin (Downingtown, Pa) was 9 -15, 127 yards and 2 TD’s, To end the second quarter, Sr., FS, Charles Graves (Raleigh, NC) returned an interception 90 yards for a TD. To begin the third quarter, Sr., RB, Jerry Butler (Philadelphia, Pa) returned the kickoff 89 yards for a TD.
TU head coach, Rob Ambrose stated the Tigers lost their starting QB on the second drive of the game, and pretty much had to shuffle players around to find someone who could run the team. While his status was still unclear, it did not appear to Coach Ambrose that his QB would be back in time for next week’s game against Northeastern.
UD head coach, K.C. Keeler stated everything came together for the Blue Hens during this game, The Blue Hens will use the bye week to heal, get better, and work on recruiting. With regard to recruiting, Coach Keeler stated he’s looking for maybe 2 RB’s, 2 WR’s, and a TE. UD already has 1 OL and 1 QB committed. The Blue Hens will also look to add 2 to 3 DL’s, a couple of DB’s, and maybe 1 LB. The Blue Hens have coaches looking in Fl, Ga., Va., and Oh.
In the Villanova @ James Madison game, you had Nova coming in after suffering their first defeat of the year, and a loss on the road, facing a limping Dukes team that just narrowly lost to Richmond, and had lost two straight. It was the Dukes homecoming and the Dukes had something to prove. The Dukes had won three straight over Nova, twice in 08, and soundly in 07 at Bridgeforth stadium. The Dukes were however without the services of Jr. QB, Drew Dudzik (Clifton, Va) with a fractured foot.
During the pre-game festivities I had a chance to speak with Coach Talley who was brimming with confidence about his Wildcat chances.
As I stated earlier it was homecoming for JMU and the Duke fans were out in full force.
It was a gray day with rain in the forecast. During the pre-game warm-ups was the last time the JMU faithful had something positive to cheer about. As this day would belong to the Wildcats, and more specifically, Jr. QB, Chris Whitney (Warminster, Pa). Whitney was 11 - 16 for 93 yards and 3 TD’s, and rushed for 97 yards on 18 carries.
JMU won the toss and deferred. Nova drove down the field in 7 plays, 67 yards, and 3:28 for a Whitney to Sr., RB, Tony Canci(Brookhaven,Pa) 4 yard jump pass for a TD and a quick 7 - 0 lead. Just prior to the TD pass Whitney would also hit Sr., WR, Brandyn Harvey (Spring Valley, Ca) on a sideline pass placing Nova at the 4 yard line.
The Nova faithful cheered on in appreciation for their team’s efforts. Who said Nova doesn’t travel???
The Nova defense would bottle up the JMU offense all day. JMU did not reach the Nova side of the 50 until late in the second quarter. Rs., Fr., Justin Thorpe (Richmond, Va) literally had very little help out there today.
Thorpe carried the ball 18 times for 65 yards. The other three RB’s for JMU combined to carry the ball 17 times for 51 yards. Nova was relentless in their blitz schemes. In the second half, I asked the Director of Sports Media Relations for JMU, Gary Michaels, who is backing up Thorpe??? Because, if Thorpe doesn’t start handing the ball off soon to some of the JMU RB’s, JMU was going to lose another QB. Mr. Michael replied that Fr., Kavon Seaton (Murrieta, Ca) is the backup, but the plan is to red-shirt Seaton this year. I went on to say that neither Thorpe or Dudzik is built like Landers, you can’t continue to run your QB’s like that. Mr. Michaels replied, “JMU is an option running team. That is what we do. The QB’s run the ball”. It appeared that the Dukes tried to hand the ball off more in the second half.
During the post game press conference, I asked head coach, Mickey Matthews the same question. Coach Matthews stated they tried to hand the ball off, but JMU just wasn’t getting any production from their RB’s. The offensive line and the ends/receivers/backs did not block well according to Coach Matthews. When questioned on why Rs, Jr., Griff Yancey (Glen Allen, Va.) didn’t run the ball more, Coach Matthews replied that Yancey didn’t practice much during the week and if you don’t practice you don’t play. Coach Matthews also stated that 5 of his top receivers were hurt, that was why he had to run the option.
Thorpe was 13-32 for 144 yards in passing. JMU had 260 in total offense to Nova’s 318. Thorpe fumbled twice which led to 10 Nova points.
Below is a picture of Jr. WR/KR, Matt Szczur (Erma, NJ) catching his second TD pass from Whitney midway through the third quarter making the score 27 - 0 Cats.
By this time, the cheering Nova crowd below was the biggest crowd left in Bridgeforth stadium.
In the New Hampshire @ Massachusetts game, it was homecoming for the Minutemen, playing in front of 13,000 fans at McGuirk stadium. It was a cloudy 51 degree day, perfect fall weather for New England. This game was as about as even as they come. The Minutemen would win the toss and elect to receive the ball. Starting on their own 8, Umass would drove 54 yards in 8 plays using up 3:26 before having to punt the ball to UNH.
UNH beginning on their own 9 yard line drove the ball 91 yards in 7 plays using up 3:08. Jr. QB, R.J. Toman (Mission Viejo, Ca) hit Sr. TE, Scott Sicko (Stillwater, NY) on a 58 yard /TD pass for an early 7 - 0 Wildcat lead. There was no more first quarter scoring as both teams traded punts. Umass finally got on the board early in the second quarter when Rs., Sr., PK, Armando Cuko (Beverly, Ma) hit one from 31 yards out to close the score to 7 - 3 UNH. With 7 and a half minutes remaining in the half, Umass drove 87 yards in 13 plays using 6:15 to take a 10 - 7 lead on a 10 yard TD pass from JR. QB, Kyle Havens (Concord, Ca) to Rs., So, WR, Julian Talley (Winslow, NJ)
In the third quarter both defenses stiffened up as on the second Umass possession, Sr. LB, Terrence Klein (Westwood, NJ) stepped in front of a Havens pass intercepting same at the Umass 40. Seven plays, 22 yards later, Sr. PK, Tom Manning (Rome, NY) tied the game at 10- 10 by making a FG from 35 yards out. Klein would pick off Havens again on the next Umass possession The Cats drove 56 yards in 8 plays and scored on a Toman toSicko 6 yard TD pass to take a 17 - 10 lead with just under 13 minutes remaining in the game.
On the Minutemen next drive, they would cover 57 yards in 13 plays, and Cuko would hit from 36 yards out to narrow the Wildcat lead to 17 - 13 with a little more than 7 minutes remaining in the game. The Umass defense held the CATS to a 3 and out, forcing the CATS to punt the ball back to the Minutemen. After a ‘Pass Interference’ call, Rs., So, RB, Jonathan Hernandez (Leominster, Ma) raced 42 yards for the go ahead TD to give the Minutemen their first lead of the day at 20 - 17. Hernandez had 166 yards rushing on 29 carries on the day.
Cuko would tack on another FG from 41 yards out to increase the Minutemen lead to 23 -17 with just under a minute and a half remaining in the game. But the Cats would not go quietly into the night as UNH mounted one last drive covering 54 yards in 10 plays and ending in the end zone as Toman’s 13 yard pass would get intercepted by Rs., Fr, DB, Kumar Davis (Nutley, NJ).
Both teams had 21 first downs. Umass had 162 yards in rushing to UNH’s 72. UNH had 284 yards in passing to Umass 207. UNH had 356 in total offensive yards, Umass had 371. Both teams threw 2 interceptions. UNH turned their turnovers into 10 points. Umass used the second interception to seal the victory. With an assist from Umass fan, Larry Sheedy, Mr. Sheedy tells me the Umass OL & DL made the difference in the later stages of the game as they wore down the UNH Dline, and pressued Toman all day with their front four.
Both coaches would agree on what a hard fought battle that game was and how both had opportunities that got away from them. In this game on this day, the home team stood tall.
On a cool and breezy autumn afternoon in Orono, Me., the Defending Champion and number one team in the nation, Richmond Spiders invaded Alfond field on homecoming for Maine. The Black Bears welcomed the Spiders with some fight as they held an halftime lead of 14 – 10. However, beginning in the third quarter, the Spiders would score four consecutive touchdowns, including a 90 yard punt return by Rs, Sr., FS, Derek Hatcher (St. Petersburg, Fl). The Spider defense was tough as they only allowed Maine -2 yards total rushing. The final score was 38 – 21 as Maine would score late in the 4th quarter.
Switching gears for a minute, as a fan, it is easy to get caught up in the games and forget that the players and coaches are people first. They perform with such greatness on the field, it’s often hard to remember that they have a human side too. I want to take this time to acknowledge a couple of coaches for their humanitarian efforts.
The first coach I want to recognize I have to give an assist to Jeff Breyer who has a son that plays for Richmond. Jeff, brought it to my attention that in the JMU vs UR game, UR punter, Sr, Brian Radford(Wilson, NC) dislocated his ankle during the game. Coach Matthews of JMU sent Brian a personal handwritten note wishing Brian a speedy recovery. What’s special about this gesture is that Coach Matthews was under no obligation to do same, and he has the welfare of his own players to concern himself with. Yet, Coach Matthews went out of his way to extend some get well wishes to a player from another team. This type of behaviour should be acknowledged and applauded as good will is just not promoted enough in this modern age of ‘ME TIME’.
Another coach worthy of a warm handshake or pat on the back is Andy Talley. While it’s no secret that Coach Talley is passionate about his “Bone Marrow Donation” program, just this past Monday, he was visiting a patient in the Philadelphia area hospital who had just a bone marrow donation, and still made the time to call in to the CAA teleconference call that morning.
Each week we see coaches like these prowling up and down the sidelines actively advocating for their players. We sometimes forget that they too are men, caring and warm individuals. If you get a chance this week, say hello, or shake the hand of your favorite coach. Tell him what a wonderful job he’s doing. You’d be surprised how far a few kind words will go.
Last week I improved over the previous two weeks going 4 -1. Not hard to do when you go with the favorites. This brings me to 39 – 15, pushing me up to 73% correct on the year. Still not acceptable. On to the previews:
Towson (2 - 4, 1 - 2) @ Northeastern (0 – 6, 0 – 3) @ 1:00
Series: Northeastern leads 6 – 3
Coach Hager stated he was going to have the kids work on their fundamentals, limit reps on his OL & DL. Spend some time on recruiting this week as NU has 27 Seniors, and the Huskies need some depth. While the Tigers defense is improving, Coach Ambrose will have his hands full trying to find a QB for this week’s trip up to Parsons. I think this is the week the Huskies get their first win of the season.
Upset Meter [—–8–] Huskies 20 Tigers 17.
#8 New Hampshire (5 – 1, 2 – 1) @ Hofstra (4 – 3, 2 – 2) @ 3:00
TV: Verizon Fios 1 (New York)
Series: UNH leads 7-5-0.
Coach McDonnell knows the importance of what it means to a team to win on the road. He also knows what’s at steak playoffwise. Coach Cohen wants his players to play better and as a unit, be he too as his eye on a possible post season birth. A loss toUNH won’t be devastating, but a loss by HU, and they’ll be playing for next year. The Pride will push the Wildcats hard for 3 quarters, but in the end, it will be the CATS who are still standing.
Upset Meter [—-5—–] Wildcats 28 – Pride 24.
James Madison (2 – 4, 0- 3) @ #5 William & Mary (5 – 1, 2 -1) @ 12:00
TV; Comcast Sportsnets, Philadelphia, New England, & Mid-Alantic
Series; JMU leads 17 – 14
Coach Matthews would tell you he’s not thinking about the playoffs, but rather on getting a first down. While his team is young, Coach Matthews will have his Dukes bring their “A” game to Zable. The Tribe worked on getting healthy, improving on fundamentals, and recruiting during the bye week. Look for the Tribe to pressure young Thorpe early and often.
Upset Meter [—3—-] Tribe 31 Dukes 17.
Rhode Island (1 – 5, 0 – 3) @ Villanova (6 – 1, 3 – 1) @ 3:30
Series; Villanova leads 13 – 2
Nova will be without the services of Jr. MLB, Marquis Kirkland (Syracuse, NY) and Sr., C, Brian Brannigan (Clementon, NJ) due to injuries. Coach Trainer will try to have his team play fast and aggressive against the Wildcats.. Nova moves one step closer to the playoffs.
Upset Meter [0—] Wildcats 35 Rams 7.
#11 Massachusetts (4 – 2, 2 – 1) @ #1Richmond (6 – 0, 4 – 0) @ 3:30
Series: Umass leads 13 – 10
This game will be won in the trenches. The Minutemen OL will look to wear down the Spider DL. The Spider Defense will look to outquick the Umass offense. Sr.. Eric Ward will put the Spiders on his back and carve his way through the Minutemen secondary. It’s a shame this game is not on TV, as this would be a fun one to watch.
Upset Meter [—–7–] Spiders 27 Minutemen 17.
Thanks to Kim Thomas for the photographs for this week’s article.
As always keep the emails and comments coming to CAATODAY@YAHOO.COM, and I’ll do my best to get back to you with a response.
CAATODAY signing off.