Skip to main content

FCS East Wrapup: Minute Hens Fall, Clarify CAA Playoff Bids

(Photo courtesy Fred Comegys/The Delaware News Journal)

Going into last weekend, the specter of five CAA teams in the playoffs loomed large. But with James Madison's 20-8 upset of Delaware and Maine's 19-9 upset of UMass made it that much more likely that the CAA only puts three at-large teams into the playoffs.

If there was any thought that Mickey Matthews' James Madison team was going to roll over the rest of the year, that was dispelled this past weekend on the road against the Blue Hens. Trailing 3-0 at halftime, the Dukes' long-dormant offense finally came alive, with freshman QB Justin Thorpe breaking a ten quarter touchdown-less streak with a 12 yard run. Add to that a smothering defensive performance - forcing Hen junior QB Pat Devlin into a 19-for-42, 2 interception day, and only allowing the Hens a paltry 9 yards rushing.

Since beating New Hampshire and remaining in the hunt for a playoff spot, UMass has self-destructed. There's no other way to describe it, having committed an amazing 13 turnovers in two games. No, that's not a typo: seven turnovers against No. 1 Richmond, ands six against Maine. Black Bear sophomore LB Donte Dennis nabbed two of the interceptions, broke up two passes, recovered a fumble, and got 11 tackles in the afternoon. One of his interceptions set up what would end up being Maine's go-ahead touchown, a 7 yard TD pass to freshman WR Derrick Johnson.

Folks around the country will continue to be huge JMU fans. With four losses, UMass is an unlikely (but not impossible) at-large choice - but if JMU beats them in two weeks, they will definitely be out with five losses. Delaware only has three losses - but with a win over Division II West Chester, they would have to run the table - including against FBS Navy, who is the front-runner for the Commander-in-Chief trophy (and not to mention No. 4 Villanova as well, who was idle last week).

If UMass and Delaware don't survive, that leaves 7-1 Villanova, 8-0 Richmond (who just won their seventeenth straight game with a 42-14 throttling of Towson) 7-1 William & Mary (who took out Rhode Island last weekend 39-14) and 7-1 New Hampshire (who pounded Northeastern 48-21).

Fortunately for the CAA, there are going to be some great games coming up - including No. 4 Villanova at No. 1 Richmond this weekend. New Hampshire at William & Mary next weekend, and the "Oldest Rivalry of the South," Richmond and William & Mary, play for the 119th time on November 21st. Still, barring a meltdown in the next three weeks by one of these four teams, the Patriot League Champion - and possibly a Patriot League at-large team as well - seems likely that they will be playing at one of these four venues.

Other big games this past weekend:

  • Last year, 7-1 Central Connecticut State saw their dreams of a NEC title go up in smoke in Albany when they missed a late two-point conversion. This time at home, the tables were turned as the Blue Devils stopped the Danes' two-point try - and stopped Albany's 18 game NEC winning streak with a gutty 31-29 win. Senior RB James Mallory had his best-ever day running the ball - 204 yards, and 3 TDs. "I felt good about the game the whole week," Mallory said. "I just followed my blocks. I have to give all the credit to my offensive line. I did the easy part, running the ball. They did the hard part." The Blue Devils look like a shoo-in for the NEC title - with a weak schedule remaining - and if they go 10-1 and get a lot of help, might even be playing in the playoffs instead of the "Gridiron Classic", the postseason game between the NEC and Pioneer League champions.
  • The Big South became a two-team race this weekend. One of the teams was expected: 6-2 Liberty, with a predictable 55-19 burying of Presbyterian last weekend. The other team, not so much: 5-4 Stony Brook, whose 24-14 win over Gardner-Webb gives the Seawolves a real shot. As long as the Seawolves take care of business against Charleston Southern in two weeks, when they host Liberty the final week of the season it may very well be for the championship. If the Flames win, at 9-2 will be prime candidates for an at-large bid (especially if Lafayette, whom they beat 19-13, finishes strong). If the Seawolves win, at least one at-large team might be sending Seawolf senior RB Conte Cuttino and senior RB Ed Gowins Christmas cards.
  • Not many teams can only eclipse the 21 point barrier two times during the course of the season and still be in the title race, but that's exactly where Penn finds themselves this year. The Quakers hadn't beaten Brown since 2004 nor had they won an overtime game since 2004, but both streaks were broken with their 14-7 overtime victory over the Bears. If their offense isn't doing it, it must be their defense, led by senior DL Joe Goniprow and senior LB Jake Lewko - giving up only 66 rushing yards per game (good for No. 2 in FCS). Undefeated in Ivy play, their game at Harvard in two weeks looks like it will be the Ivy League championship game, barring any major surprises.
  • Finally, Lehigh's three final opponents - Lafayette, Fordham and Holy Cross - all showed that they are teams to fear. 7-1 Lafayette's 35-14 win over Bucknell featured a near-perfect game by senior QB Rob Curley that was so amazing he won Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week - 30 for 35 passing, 3 TDs, no interceptions. And Fordham and Holy Cross combined for over 1,000 yards of offense - fitting a matchup between two NFL prospects, Holy Cross senior QB Dominic Randolph and Fordham senior QB John Skelton - as the Crusaders avenged their loss at Fordham two years ago by beating the Rams 41-27. Amazingly, if Lehigh were to run this gauntlet of hell - and if Lafayette beats Colgate this weekend - Lehigh would win the Patriot League at 5-6 and win the Patriot League's autobid, and would become the first-ever team to play in the playoffs with a losing record.
  • PS. It is conceivable that Lehigh will have played the NEC champion (Central Connecticut State), Ivy League Champion (Harvard) and CAA Champion (Villanova) all in the same year (and, might I add, all in the first four weeks of the season!). That's not an excuse for a losing record, but in retrospect this has been Lehigh's toughest schedule in recent memory. Furthermore, if the Blue Devils end up in the Top 25 - and they very well might - that means that Lehigh will have played six teams that spent time this year in the Sports Network Top 25. Six! And one huge purple one, of course, looms ahead this weekend.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nick Shafnisky Is Pushing Hard to Get To Play at the Next Level in Football

"Don't take anything for granted, just keep pushing."
Those are the words of QB Nick Shafnisky, told to The Whitehall-Coplay Press all the way back in 2013, about his preparation as a high school athlete.
And they seem to summarize the Whitehall, PA native perfectly, then as now.
Dubbed the "Male Athlete of the Year" by that publication, the article goes on about Shaf's many exploits at Whitehall high school - leading the Zephyr football team to a co-Lehigh Valley Conference title, becoming the first player ever in that conference to rush and pass for over 1,000 yards, and earning the league's co-MVP award as well.
He also was a member of the Zephyrs playoff basketball team, and for good measure also helped set a record for the 4x100 relay team as well.
At Whitehall, and at Lehigh, coaches pushed him, but it was his own hard work that helped make him the best athlete he could be.
This weekend, Shaf, like every eligible college football player, will be …

#TheRivalry Flashback: November 21st, 1987: Lehigh 17, Lafayette 10

Since becoming an undergrad at Lehigh back in the late 1980s, I first heard about the historic nature of the football team and "The Rivalry" through the stories that fellow students would share.

I did not attend the final meeting between Lehigh and Lafayette at Taylor Stadium, which was the final time a football game would be played there.

Those that did attend said that was that it was cold.

"I remember it being one of the coldest games ever," Mark Redmann recollected, "with strong Northwesterly winds and the temperature hovering around 20.  By the end of the game, the stands were half empty because most of the fans just couldn't take the cold.

"Fortunately, several of my fraternity brothers snuck in flasks to help fend off the chill."

Dominick Bragalone Goes Into Monster Mode As Lehigh Is One Win Away From Title

It has been a most unusual season for Lehigh.

Starting the year off at 0-5 and getting swept in their out-of-conference schedule, the Mountain Hawks were in danger of having their season go off the rails.

But two things have come together over the last five football games that have put Lehigh on the brink of back-to-back championships.

The first is the late blooming of the Lehigh defense, which kept battling every week since the low point of the September 30th loss to Wagner to do the job in four of their five Patriot League conference games. 

The second is the development of junior RB Dominick Bragalone into a bellcow running back, a back who has to be in the conversation for Patriot League offensive player of the year.

In five Patriot League games, Bragalone has run for 863 yards in 5 games, rushing for 11 touchdowns and adding two more receiving touchdowns as well. 

The South Williamsport, PA native certainly wasn't unknown before this week - after all, as a freshman and a sop…