|« Stony Brook's powerful run game will challenge Villanova||Coastal Carolina’s risk hiring ‘billionaire coach’ pays off with FCS playoff bid »|
Section 4 flavor spices up Wagner-Colgate matchup
Area grads help Wagner through storm devastation, playoff preparation
One has recovered from an 0-3 stumble out of the blocks to capture the Northeast Conference football championship. The other righted a 1-3 ship and claimed Patriot League supremacy.
Come noon Saturday, Wagner College (8-3) and Colgate University (8-3) will square off in the first round of NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs on the Seahawks’ Hameline Field — with Broome County products front and center.
Jason Houghtaling, twice a first-team all-state linebacker prior to 1999 graduation from Windsor High, is Wagner’s offensive coordinator/offensive line coach.
Chris Furner, a member of Seton Catholic Central’s Class of 2009, is the Seahawks’ starter at offensive left guard. Spencer Wallach, a 2011 Chenango Valley graduate, is No. 2 on Colgate’s depth chart at left guard.
Their respective sides will play for the right to fly to Cheney, Wash., for a game against second-seeded Eastern Washington University, the 2010 FCS national champion.
It has been a hectic week of preparation for Houghtaling — “Hoss” to his friends — though not nearly as challenging as were preparations for a Week 9 contest against the University at Albany. That came in the wake of unprecedented destruction to Staten Island dealt by Superstorm Sandy, which left Wagner without electricity or hot water until Thursday, two days before the Seahawks took on UA.
After sending wife Mary and daughters Abbie and Emma to his brother’s Apalachin home, Houghtaling and the rest of the Seahawks persevered.
“We stayed here and game-planned in the dark all week,” he said, recalling flashlights illuminating pen-to-paper offensive scripting. “We had a generator, but that only powered certain things.”
Houghtaling said Furner’s off-campus apartment served as temporary sanctuary for about 10 teammates. One Wagner team member, he said, lost a friend and his friend’s father in the storm.
Nov. 3 brought a 30-0 rout of Albany’s nationally ranked Northeast Conference leaders, the Seahawks’ sixth consecutive victory and a sixth straight turnover-free outing for coach Houghtaling’s offense.
Upon returning home, a strong contingent of Seahawks devoted the following Monday to volunteering their time to relief efforts in the ravaged New Dorp section of Staten Island.
Subsequent victories have come by 31-30 over Holy Cross and 23-17 over Duquesne, making for an eight-game win streak that brought the program’s first NEC championship.
While many things have factored into the Seahawks’ turnaround, Houghtaling emphasized the dedication and drive of the upperclassmen — “Those guys kept believing.”
Leading the charge has been a 25-year-old, fourth-year starter at quarterback, native Staten Islander Nick Doscher. He was chosen by Kansas City in the eighth round of the 2005 Major League Baseball Draft, and spent four seasons as a catcher in the Royals’ farm system.
After successive losses to Florida Atlantic, Georgetown and Central Connecticut, Houghtaling said, “We opened up (the offense) more.” What has ensued has surprised more than a few, as Wagner was picked to finish seventh in the eight-team NEC in a preseason poll.
Saturday will mark Wagner’s first appearance in an NCAA postseason game since a 34-31 loss to Ithaca College in 1988. The season before, the Seahawks were Division III national champions.
“Last Saturday was amazing,” Houghtaling said of the fourth-quarter rally past Duquesne. “I don’t know how many guys from the 1987 team were there but it seemed like the sideline was full of them,” celebrating the 25th anniversary.
Furner (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) redshirted in 2009, appeared in one game in 2010, played 10 games on special teams. He has started the last five games at left guard after injuries hit the Seahawks’ front. Previously, he’d worked at tackle as well.
“He got thrown in at guard and he’s stepped in and done a great job, a great job,” Houghtaling said of a player he recruited to Wagner.
Wallach, No. 2 left guard at Colgate behind All-Patriot Leaguer Brian Crockett, has appeared in two games in this, his sophomore season. In fact, the Raiders had three seniors on the All-League offensive front, that trip helping Colgate to the top of the league in rushing, total yards, scoring, first downs and time of possession.
Colgate brings a seven-game win streak — co-second in the FCS with Bethune-Cookman — into the program’s first meeting with Wagner. The teams have four common opponents, Albany, Sacred Heart, Holy Cross and Georgetown, and have each beaten three.
Colgate, making its ninth NCAA playoff appearance and first since 2008, is 4-8 in the NCAAs. The Raiders were 2003 national runners-up, aided by second-team All-League tight end John Frieser, a Maine-Endwell graduate.
Houghtaling and Frieser were in different-colored jerseys on Halloween Day, 1998, for a classic Section 4 Class B championship game. That day at Windsor, Frieser’s Spartans climbed from a 26-6 halftime hole to a 34-32 win over Houghtaling’s Black Knights — with Hoss’ future wife a member of M-E’s cheerleading squad.
Houghtaling played collegiate ball at Lafayette and — after injuries prematurely ended his time as a player — transferred to Binghamton University and earned a degree in History. He recalled Colgate showing interest in his linebacking services before shifting in another direction for a linebacker.
Asked to complete the sentence, “We can beat Colgate if we … ,” Houghtaling said: “ … Take care of the football, control clock, make some plays. We need to run the ball to be successful.”
Written by Kevin Stevens, Press Connects