By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
The CAA crown is a feather in the cap for longtime coach Jack Cosgrove, who has been a humble, steadying influence on the program for 21 years and deserves great credit for taking this team to the top of the CAA after being forecasted to finish in the lower half of the standings. Cosgrove will have solid support for the Eddie Robinson award, given to the national coach of the year at the FCS level.
Maine has solidly locked itself into the 24 team playoff field and has most likely secured a seed, but there is still work to do with a rivalry clash looming on Saturday in the battle with New Hampshire for the Bryce-Cowell Musket. At stake will be not only a possible top 4 seeding and two home games in Orono, but the first undefeated CAA season in conference history as well as New Hampshire's playoff fate. Beats playing for blueberries and toothpicks, that's for sure.
LAST WEEK'S GAMES
Towson at William & Mary - Towson and Coach Rob Ambrose have built their reputation over the last few seasons as an explosive offense team led by running back Terrance West. This season, though, the offense has been paired with a pretty solid defensive unit, especially in the front seven. That group was prominently on dislpay in last week's gritty 15-9 win over William & Mary at Zable Stadium in Williamsburg. While west was solid as usual, it was the defense that made most of the key plays in the win that likely locked up a playoff berth for Towson and put them in line for a potential seed.
The Tribe held Towson well below their averages of 40 points and nearly 500 yards of offense a game (just 342 this week) but Terrance West still carried much of the load with 157 yards on 30 carries and both of the touchdowns for the Tigers. This was more than enough to offset the three field goals that were all the William & Mary offense were able to produce.
The Tribe jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and tacked on two more field goals after a West touchdown for a 9-7 halftime edge. However, the key stretch came in the 3rd quarter when Towson lined up for a 30 yard filed goal on 4th-and-9. However, coach Ambrose called a fake and Connor Frazier picked up 10 yards for a Towson first down. West scored from three yards out a few plays later and then Frazier recovered a fumble in the end zone on a crazy two point conversion to give the visitors a 15-9 lead.
When Towson kicker Drew Evangelista hit the left upright from 25 yards with 2:42 remaining, the Tribe had one final chance but the Towson defense came up with its third 4th down stop of the day from the Tigers 43 yard line and held on for the win. The victory was Towson's 10th straight on the road and ended the Tribe's quest for an undefeated season at home.
Richomond at Delaware - The friendly confines of Delaware Stadium are usually the most reliable home field advantage in the CAA, but the Blue Hens have stumbled at home the last two weeks, including a devastating 46-43 loss last Saturday against Richmond that has put a damper on playoff hopes in Newark.
Despite falling behind by scores of 22-3 and 36-17 and surrendering an astronomical 680 yards of total offense, the Blue Hens still managed to rally for a 43-39 lead on the strength of three Trent Hurley touchdown passes and an Andrew Pierce 11 yard touchdown run. Pierce's score came with 45 seconds left and seemed to be the nail in the Spiders coffin but the Richmond offense had other ideas. Quarterback Michael Strauss who threw for 543 yards and 5 touchdowns, completed passes to Stephen Barnette, Rashad Poner and Reggie Diggs for a total of 50 yards to reach the Delaware 25 before calling timeout with 13 seconds left. Strauss next hit Ponder for 22 more to the Delaware 3 before calling another timeout with 7 seconds left. With the Blue Hens playoff hopes possibly in the balance, Strauss calmly hit Diggs for the touchdown as the clock read 0:04. The 46-43 win was a tremendous victory for a Richmond team that has suffered some bad losses this season but still has the talent to play with anyone in the league. On the flip side, it was a crushing loss for a Delaware team that has let a 7-2 start slip away and now finds itself on the outside of the playoff bubble.
Stony Brook at JMU - After planning hard all season, Stony Brook finally got the win it's been looking for with a 41-38 victory on the road at JMU, ending the Dukes playoff hopes. The Seawolves jumped out to a 14-3 first quarter lead, which grew to 31-10 in the second and stood at 38-17 in the third before the Dukes woke up and staged a valiant comeback that came up short. JMU quarterback Michael Birdsong threw five touchdown passes, including three in the second half, the last one coming on a ten-yard strike to Daniel Brown with 4:57 left. However, the Dukes defense came up small in a big spot, allowing Stony Brook to run seven consecutive snaps and grind out the clock.
Stony Brook ran the ball 44 times and controlled the time of possession to the tune of more than 37 minutes and Lyle Negron had a tremendous game going 23-32 for 395 yards and three touchdowns. After knocking on the door several times this year, it was nice to see coach Chuck Priore and his team get a signature win for their maiden CAA campaign.
On the other side, James Madison once again found itself doomed by inconsistent play from Birdsong as the five touchdowns were paired with two interceptions that helped put the Dukes in the hole they couldn't climb out of. Mickey Matthews and his team were hoping to have a chance at Towson this week to play their way into the postseason but it appears they will be on the outside looking in yet again.
CAA PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Offensive Player of the Week: Michael Strauss, Jr., QB, Richmond
Strauss earns his second-consecutive honor on the heels of another historic day that was highlighted by his game-winning touchdown pass with seven seconds remaining to complete Richmond's 46-43 come-from-behind road win over Delaware. The junior finished the game 35-of-46 for a school-record 543 yards and five touchdown passes, a single-game program mark that he has now matched in two straight weeks. Strauss, whose 543 passing yards also represents a single-game school record, now owns or has equaled every single-game and single-season passing record at Richmond.
Defensive Player of the Week: Donnell Lewis, Soph., DB, Towson
Lewis turned in a career-high 10 tackles, including seven solo, to lead Towson to its 10th-straight road win, 15-9, over William & Mary. The sophomore also recorded his third interception of the season, representing a key fourth-quarter play for a Tiger defense that stopped three W&M fourth-down attempts and shut out the Tribe in the second half.
Special Teams Player of the Week: Sean Decloux, Soph., K, Maine
Decloux continued his solid sophomore season with another strong kicking effort as Maine locked up its first league title since 2002 with a 41-0 win over Rhode Island on Saturday. CAA Football's highest-scoring kicker, Decloux finished the day 2-for-2 on field goals to tie the program single-season record of 13 and also converted all five of his PATs.
Rookie of the Week: Dalton Crossan, R-Fr., KR/RB, New Hampshire
Crossan receives his second rookie nod of the season following his two-touchdown effort as New Hampshire rolled to its fifth win in six weeks, 37-20, on the road over UAlbany. After rushing for a 51-yard score on his only carry of the game in the second quarter, the redshirt freshman would follow that up with a 93-yard kick return for a touchdown with 8:04 remaining to put the Wildcats up 34-20. Crossan's first career kick return for a score was part of his 185 all-purpose yard performance.
CAA TODAY TOP 25
1: North Dakota State
2: Eastern Illinois
3: Eastern Washington
4: Southeastern Louisiana
7: McNeese State
8: Sam Houston State
9: Northern Arizona
11: William & Mary
12: Youngstown State
13: Southern Utah
14: South Dakota State
16: New Hampshire
18: Coastal Carolina
21: Montana State
23: Tennessee State
THIS WEEK'S GAMES
Albany at Stony Brook - The two CAA newcomers close out the season on Long Island with Albany looking for in-state bragging rights and Stony Brook hoping to finish strong after a great road win at James Madison last Saturday. Both programs have change on the horizon with Albany head man Bob Ford stepping down after 44 seasons at the helm and Stony Brook looking to replace athletic director Jim Fiore who was abruptly let go earlier this week. It has been a disappointing season for Albany but Ford will leave a new stadium with his name on it and a secure legacy after guiding the Danes for more than three decades. I expect the Albany to play extremely hard to try to send their coach out on a high note, but Stony Brook is the better team and should take care of business as long as the turmoil on campus this week hasn't been too much of a distraction. Chuck Priore played under and coached for Bob Ford but sentimentality rarely has a place in football, and it won't this week. Seawolves 31 Danes 21
Delaware at Villanova - The Battle of the Blue shaped up to be another good one this year with playoff possibilities at stake, but neither team has been able to live up to their billing. Villanova slipped up early and fell prey to turnovers and injuries while the Blue Hens have let a promising 7-2 start slip away in the last couple of weeks, especially in the stunning home loss to Richmond last Saturday. Delaware can still get to 8-4 with a win, but their playoff chances realistically rely on some losses by other bubble teams both in the CAA and around the country. On the other side, this is basically Villanova's playoff game, a surprise for the team picked in the preseason to win the CAA title. With two weeks to prepare for this one, I expect the Wildcats to come out flying and try to take it to a Delaware team whose confidence has to be shaken after the events of the last couple of weeks. It'll be a challenge for coach Dave Brock to get a win this week and I like Andy Talley in the coaching matchup. Wildcats 37 Blue Hens 23
JMU at Towson - Prior to last week, this game looked to have a whole bunch of interesting possibilities. If Towson has lost and JMU had won, it could even have been a de facto playoff game, but the surprising home defeat JMU suffered at the hands of Stony Brook took a lot of the steam out of the matchup. With JMU eliminated and likely lacking a good bit of motivation, Towson will look to cement their status as a likely seed with a first round bye in the FCS playoffs. While they weren't able to capture the CAA title, 10 wins is always a nice accomplishment and Coach Rob Ambrose and his group should carry quite a bit of confidence into the postseason after some hiccups in the later stages of the season. Towson still has some things to work on over their expected bye week, but I expect that a large dose of Terrance West as well as a good helping of a stout defense that bared its teeth last week will carry the Tigers over the Dukes. Towson 41 James Madison 20
William & Mary at Richmond - The Tribe was 40 yards away from locking up a playoff berth last week, but now find themselves in a must win situation on the road against a rival that is suddenly playing some dangerous football. Last week's road win against Delaware showed that Richmond is looking to finish the season strong and they'd like nothing more than to knock the Tribe out of the playoff conversation with a win in the Commonwealth Cup at Robins Stadium on Saturday. The question for William & Mary and coach Jimmye Laycock is how much more can they ask of their defense? For the last four weeks, all against top 25 teams with prolific offenses, the Tribe has allowed only 32 points, an average of just 8 a game. The problem is that the offense has managed only 67 over that time, which sounds like a healthy margin but is really little more than a touchdown a game. Given that Michael Strauss and Richmond are likely to put up some points in front of the home crowd, can the Tribe finally get enough out of Caprio and the offense to get the win they need for an 8-4 finish and a likely playoff berth? maybe the biggest question lies with the Tribe's abililty to make adjustments on offense. In ten games, they have only scored 87 points in the second half and have been shut out in three losses that came by seven points or less. Jimmye Laycock was named an Eddie Robinson award finalsit this week and he's going to need to find a way to keep putting points on the board in order to come out on top. Unfortunately for the Tribe and their playoff hopes, I've got a feeling that's not going to happen. Richmond is a couple of head-scratching 12-10 losses away from being a playoff team and the lack of motivation they seemed to have in those games won't be a problem here. Spiders will take advantage of a Tribe team that might be running out of gas at the end of a brutal schedule. Richmond 27 William & Mary 17
GAME OF THE WEEK
Maine at New Hampshire - It's not often that 10-1 against 6-4 would be the game of the week but the border war between Maine and New Hampshire for the Bryce-Cowell musket has a lot riding on it this Saturday. Given up for dead two months ago after a 1-3 start, the Wildcats have roared back to stay in the playoff picture and look to impress the committee by taking down the Black Bears in the season finale. Maine is trying to finish off the first undefeated season in CAA histroy and lock up a top 4 seed in the process, but they will need to raise their level of play after facing Stony Brook, Albany and Rhode Island the last three weeks. Maine will head to the unfriendly confines of Cowell Stadium to face an unruly crowd as well as the two-headed QB monster of Sean Goldmith and Andy Vailas as well as RJ Harris, Nico Steriti and the rest of the Wildcat offense. Maine will answer with a less ballyhooed but ruthlessly efficient unit that has now gone 25 straight quarters without a turnover. Senior quarterback Marcus Qasilewski has been one of the great stories of the FCS this season and his maturity and decision-making has shown incredible development. The Maine signal-caller hasn't thrown an interception since September, covering six games and 170 passes. The question is whether that streak survives this weekend. There's a reason the Bears haven't won at UNH sine 2001, though, and I've got a feeling the turnover streak will end on Saturday in the swirling winds at Cowell Stadium. I think we're looking at a good old-fashioned Yankee Conference shotout, but the Wildcats will be playing with a little more desperation this weekend. Just a hunch, but I think New Hampshire takes the game and sneaks into the playoffs. Wildcats 40 Maine 37
Bonus Nugget - The Brice-Cowell musket is a special trophy named after two great coaches -- Fred Brice of Maine and William Cowell of New Hampshire. The tradition began in the late 1940s and the winner gains possession of the musket for the following year. The musket is a George I period flintlock rifle made by Ebenezer Nutting of Falmouth, Maine between 1722 and 1745 with a barrel 43 inches in length and rifled to a .65 caliber.
Enjoy the final weekend as well as the selection show on Sunday morning at 11:30. As usual, any comments, questions, rants, complaints, scouting reports, predictions, etc can be sent to CAAToday@yahoo.com .