By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
There were four games with playoff and CAA title implications and in each one the victor made it clear that they wanted to define the rest of their season and not let their opponents define them.
Let’s be honest, no team plays well every game of the season and the game against Stony Brook, coming on the heels of a huge win at Villanova, was a ripe candidate for a letdown game. That proved to be the case as the Black Bears trailed the Seawolves 14-13 in the 4th quarter. However, championship teams don’t lose home games to inferior opponents and Jack Cosgrove’s squad stayed undefeated in CAA play with a late touchdown with less than six minutes to play for a 19-14 win. Maine has shown an ability to win games in just about any fashion and now is in complete command of the CAA title race with three weeks to go.
Outlook - With Towson picking up a second CAA loss last week, only Delaware is within a game of Maine, but the head-to-head victory gives the Black Bears the edge in a potential tiebreaker. In other words, the boys from Orono are in complete control of the title chase and wins over Albany and Rhode Island will clinch the automatic berth to the playoffs.
After being trounced by Maine and trailing Towson 31-10 last week, it appeared that this edition of the Blue Hens wasn't quite ready to play with the big boys of the CAA. It looked again like Delaware was going to beat up on teams at home but fall flat on the road when it mattered. Then, out of nowhere, the Blue Hens played probably the most improbable quarter of the CAA season, roaring back to steal a win at Towson, 32-31. Not only was the quarter a defining moment for Delaware but the decision to go for two and the win was a defining choice for first year head coach Dave Brock. It was the kind of gutsy call that can spur a team on for the rest of the season.
Outlook - The Blue Hens were a quarter away from being on the outer edge of the playoff bubble, but the win not only put them squarely in the playoff mix at 7-2, but also kept alive an outside shot at the CAA title. The big question is whether last Saturday was just a magical finish or if it was the start of a stretch where Delaware shows it can sustain that level of play. We'll find out quickly as William & Mary comes to Newark this Saturday.
William & Mary
The defining moment for the Tribe has really encompassed the last two weeks as the Tribe returned from a beating at Maine for two home games against archrival James Madison and then New Hampshire. With the Tribe continuing to search for a consistent, reliable level of play at quarterback, it was up to the defense to determine whether the boys from the 'Burg could stay in the playoff chase. The answer was resounding, as the Tribe allowed only 7 points combined in the two games and emerged in the thick of the playoff race.
Outlook - Any team that has a defense playing this well has a puncher's chance, but the Tribe has some serious work to do still ahead. Playing at Delaware has never been kind to William & Mary, but this Saturday will be another great opportunity for this team to show its mettle. That's followed by a matchup at home with Towson that could be for a playoff spot. The Tribe desperately needs to find a way to put some points on the board against two of the dynamic offenses in the CAA if they're hoping to pull out a victory or two.
The Dukes knocked off a dangerous but reeling Villanova team to show that they plan to stay in the CAA race.
Outlook - it remains to be seen whether the Dukes can put together consecutive strong outings especially against quality opponents. They will get that chance this weekend, however, with a trip to New Hampshire. A win there and the season finale against Towson could very well put James Madison in the playoffs.
Yes, the Tigers are 8-2 and still comfortably in line for a playoff spot right now, but we've reached a point where there are some questions that need to be asked about this team. What happened to the dominant squad that raced out to a 6-0 start to the season? The loss to Villanova was explainable as the Tigers couldn't play great every week, but the collapse against Delaware is a troubling sign. Two home losses for a team that expected to win a CAA title are not a good sign for a playoff run. Also, don't look now, but Rob Ambrose's team will find itself in a tricky spot when it emerges from its bye next week. Yes, 8-2 looks nice, but the Tigers still have a road game against William & Mary and a home game against James Madison. Both of those teams are grinding it out for playoff spots and certainly won't make it easy for Towson. If the Tigers aren't careful, a three game losing streak to close the season would leave them with four FCS losses and very possibly without a spot in the playoff field.
Let's be honest, this season has been strange for the Wildcats ever since the unusual start to the schedule with two bye weeks in the first three. That led to a road loss against a Lehigh team that had gotten on an early roll and another defeat against a Towson team that simply has UNH's number. The loss to the Tribe was not surprising given the history between the teams but getting shut out for the first time in nearly two decades was a bit of a shocker. All things come to an end eventually and the New Hampshire playoff streak looks to finally be over.
It's stunning to see the preseason CA favorites sitting at 4-5 and out of the playoff chase, but it was simply the case of too many turnovers and too many close losses. This will go down as one of Andy Talley's great disappointments given the level of talent on this team but there are some years in football where things just simply don't fall into place. It's cliche, but the Wildcats just didn't get enough bounces this year.
CAA PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Offensive Player of the Week: Trevor Sasek, Sr., QB, Delaware
Sasek made the most of his first start of the season, leading No. 21 Delaware back from 21 points down in the fourth quarter to top No. 7 Towson, 32-31, on Saturday. The senior set career-highs with 34-of-46 passing for 330 yards and three scores, which included two touchdown tosses and the game-winning two point conversion over the final 48 seconds of play. Sasek's 34 completions also marked the third-most in school history.
Defensive Player of the Week: Luke Rhodes, Soph., LB, William & Mary
Rhodes receives his second weekly honor after highlighting William & Mary's dominant defensive performance in the team's 17-0 win over New Hampshire. The sophomore secured a game-high and tied a career-best with 13 tackles as the Tribe held the Wildcats to a season-low 312 yards in blanking them for the first time since 1995 – a span of 220 games.
Special Teams Player of the Week: Brandon Jordi, Soph., K, Richmond
Jordi finished with another career day to lead Richmond to its first conference win with a 27-10 Homecoming victory over UAlbany. The sophomore, who joined the Spiders after playing with the soccer program as a freshman, converted four of five field goal attempts to both match a career-best and tie a school single-game high. His 48-yarder at the close of the first half also equaled a career long.
Rookie of the Week: Christophe Mulumba, R-Fr., LB, Maine
Mulumba picks up his third conference honor after continued solid play in Maine's 19-14 win over Stony Brook on Saturday. The Jerry Rice Award Watch List member turned in a game-high 13 tackles to lead the Black Bears, who held the Seawolves to just 129 yards passing as they remain the league's lone unbeaten.
MY CAA TODAY TOP 25
1: North Dakota State
2: Eastern Illinois
3: Eastern Washington
6: Youngstown State
7: Sam Houston State
8: Montana State
9: Southeastern Louisiana
11: McNeese State
12: Coastal Carolina
13: Northern Arizona
15: Southern Illinois
16: William & Mary
20: Eastern Kentucky
22: South Dakota State
24: Illinois State
25: James Madison
THIS WEEK'S GAMES
Villanova at Rhode Island - The Wildcats head to Kingston with the unexpected task of playing out the season will no playoff chances at stake. Meanwhile, the Rams would like nothing more than to pick up a solid home win against the preseason CAA favorites. I'm not sure what motivational tactic Andy Talley will call upon but I've got a strange feeling it won't be enough. Just on a hunch, let's go with the home team. Rams 27 Nova 24
Richmond at Stony Brook - The Seawolves haven't done as well as hoped in their first CAA season, but they have shown that they are going to play hard every week, seen most recently last Saturday in a close loss at Maine. On the flip side, Richmond has really had a disappointing season given the expectations. I expect this to actually be an entertaining game but Stony Brook to come out ahead. Seawolves 31 Spiders 27
Maine at Albany - I thought last week's game could be a letdown for Maine and it was. However, the Black bears pulled out the win and surely learned the lesson that they can't take anyone lightly as the top team in the CAA with a title at stake. Albany actually holds a 4-2 lead in this series and will probably make this a game for a while but Jack Cosgrove should still have an enjoyable trip back to Orono. Maine 30 Albany 17
James Madison at New Hampshire - it speaks to how strange a schedule the Wildcats were handed this year that as we head into week 11 they have played three home games. It's one of the main reasons UNH finds themselves at 4-4. However, I expect a Dukes team that comes to town nursing playoff hopes will be more than enough motivation for the Wildcats to bounce back from last week's debacle in Williamsburg. New Hampshire 34 James Madison 24
GAME OF THE WEEK
William & Mary at Delaware - The Tribe heads to Newark looking to continue their momentum after the two impressive home wins over JMU and UNH. Unfortunately, Delaware Stadium has been an unfriendly destination over the years as the Blue Hens own a 12-5 advantage over the Tribe on their home turf. The First Staters also own a big edge on offense with one of the most potent offenses in the CAA, averaging just over 30 points a game. The Tribe can't hope to match that, but in a classic clash of styles, they will rely on one of the stingiest defenses, not just in the CAA, but in all of FCS. Dominant defenses tend to feed off the home crowd, however, so it will be interesting to see if the Tribe can come up with a better effort than the one at Maine. William & Mary lost to Villanova 20-16 as they settled for three field goals inside the Villanova 10. If the situation presents itself this Saturday, Jimmye Laycock is going to have to take a risk and try to put the ball in the end zone. Otherwise, it might be tough to put enough points in the board. They'll be under the lights in the 4th quarter and I think Delaware's historical home advantage will shine through.
Blue Hens 24 Tribe 19
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