The Colonial Athletic Association will try to become the first league to get two teams to an NCAA Division I Football Championship game with Villanova and Delaware attempting to reach the FCS title game in matchups with Eastern Washington and Georgia Southern
By Terence Thomas
CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
After selection Sunday, I struggled with writer’s block in coming up with a theme for that weekend.
I reached out to my son for a recommendation, and he responded with “Us (Villanova) vs. The World”.
Changing “Us” to “CAA” made it more inclusive of the entire conference.
While I liked the theme, it didn’t quite fit that weekend. However, now that we’ve reached the semifinals, and we have a CAA team on each side of the bracket, the entire CAA family can get behind Villanova and Delaware and cheer for an All-CAA National Championship final.
Of course, Georgia Southern and the Southern Conference members and followers, and Eastern Washington along with fellow Big Sky members and fans will do everything within their power to prevent that possibility.
Then you have the rest of FCS which will be split between football purist, those wishing to see good football regardless of who is playing, and those fans rooting for or against certain teams and/or conferences.
The most recent GPI rating had the Colonial Athletic Association ranked No. 1 with a 22.188 rating.
The Big Sky was ranked third (29.097), followed by the Southern Conference (30.403) in terms of strength of conference. The MVFC was second with a 27.234 rating.
In his Monday morning teleconference call, Delaware coach K.C. Keeler remarked how amazing the CAA is as a conference.
"You could take six teams from the CAA and four or five teams from around the country and those are the teams that can win a national championship," Keeler said. "Half of the teams that can win a national championship come from this league every year."
Keeler also stated that you root for fellow CAA teams to progress throughout the playoffs, but the flip side of that happening is you know that’s a team that can beat you if you meet them in the playoffs.
Unlike Delaware who will have played all of their playoff games at home, Villanova coach Andy Talley stated if you’re not seeded, it’s real rough when you have to travel.
The Wildcats opened up at Nacogdoches, Texas, then traveled to Boone, N.C., and as Coach Talley puts it, drew the long straw and must now travel to Cheney, Wa., to take on the No. 1-ranked poll team in the Eastern Washington Eagles.
Currently Villanova, like most FCS schools, is in the midst of finals, and some of their players would have taken finals on Wednesday, the day of their flight to Spokane, and others will take them on Thursday the night before the game.
The players were given Monday off, and will only get to practice on Tuesday before their trip west.
This is the fourth straight year and fifth overall in conference history that the CAA has had two teams in the semifinals (2004, 2007-10).
The CAA will be making a bid for a fifth consecutive year with a team in the national championship game.
Delaware 16, New Hampshire 3
On a cold, 31 degree evening in Newark, De., 8,770 Blue Hen faithful came out to see their beloved Delaware Blue Hens take on the New Hampshire Wildcats.
This game was nationally televised on ESPN2, it was a Friday night, and bitterly cold.
A defensive battle in the first half led to a 3-3 score at halftime, and there was not a lot for those who attended to cheer for.
As the night grew later, the temperature dropped even more.
In his post-game press conference, UNH QB, R.J. Toman stated it was warmer in Delaware than it was in Durham, N.H.
However, penalties and sacks undermined the offensive efforts of the Wildcats.
UNH coach Sean McDonnell stated the same, that his team was better than they showed, but penalties got the better of them this evening, and his team did not execute well on Friday.
The Wildcat had 10 penalties for 72 yards. UNH had five drives in the first half and committed one penalty in each drive in addition to allowing two sacks of the QB.
UNH overcame one of those false start penalties to get on the board first in the form of a Mike MacAuthur (North Hampton, NH) 23-yard field goal in the first quarter.
The Blue Hens only netted one first down in their first four offensive possessions.
Keeler stated quarterback Pat Devlin (Downingtown, Pa.) was not as sharp as he had been all season as Devlin was four for seven passing for 21 yards, and was sacked twice.
Keeler said that Devlin was holding the ball too long, and is usually more accurate.
On the Blue Hens' fifth drive, Devlin was 8-of-9 for 56 yards.
This drive ended with a 25-yard field goal by Mike Perry (Thorofare, NJ) that tied the score at 3-3 in the second quarter.
With 17 seconds remaining in the first half, Perry would get another try from 41 yards out, but hooked the ball left and missed, keeping the score tied at halftime.
Keeler said he believed at that point in the game his team was fine, that all of the reasons the Blue Hens did not have more points on the board were self inflicted.
Keeler did not think his team needed to make any adjustments, and that his offense would be able to find the end zone in the second half.
After the break both defenses continued their dominance from the first half. The Blue Hens allowed the Wildcats one first down before forcing a punt, and the Wildcats sacked Devlin and forced two incomplete passes on the Hens first offensive series.
However, on the Hens' second offensive series of the second half, Devlin would not be denied.
Devlin was 4-of-4 for 46 yards and a 24-yard touchdown pass to receiver Nihja White (Wayne, Pa). White was lined up in the left slot.
The left flanker, Philip Thaxton (Yorktown, Va.) ran an out route (Thaxton ran forward five yards, stopped, faked running right, then turned left and ran towards the sidelines), pulling cornerback, Dino Vasso (Crum Lynne, Pa.) with him leaving the area outside of the numbers on the field (on the left) open.
White ran a corner route (running ahead about 10 yards, and then angling left towards the corner of the end zone), caught Devlin’s pass at the five-yard line and dove with his right arm extended holding the football for the touchdown.
UNH safety Ryan McGuinness (Howell, NJ) could not arrive in time to stop White from scoring. Perry pushed his PAT attempt right of the uprights, and the Blue Hens led 9-3.
For the remainder of the game, the Blue Hen defense dominated the Wildcat offense. UNH only crossed midfield twice in the second half, and could not string together enough first downs to post a score.
Meanwhile the Blue Hens had one scoring drive left in them.
Starting on their 13-yard line, Devlin was 6-of-7 for 77 yards, culminating in a nine yard touchdown pass to WR, Rob Jones (Tampa, Fl.).
Jones simply lined up on the left side of the formation at the nine-yard line, ran up to the goal line, then cut right, crossing in front of Devlin.
Devlin looked the defense off to his right and came back to Jones who was crossing over the middle just across the goal line. The PAT was good, and the Hens led 16-3.
The Wildcats' last scoring attempt was intercepted by Anthony Walters (Philadelphia, Pa.) at the Blue Hen nine yard line.
The Blue Hens ran out the clock to earn the victory and a semi-final matchup with Georgia Southern University.
Villanova 41, Appalachian State 24
In Boone, NC, 15,706 fans braved the snow-covered roads to visit Kidd Brewer Stadium and watch the host Appalachian State Mountaineers take on the visiting Villanova Wildcats.
You often hear about games being won or lost at the line of scrimmage. This game was dominated at the line of scrimmage by the Wildcats en-route to a 42-24 win.
Ironically, the Mountaineers scored first as tailback Travaris Cadet (Miami, FL.) took the handoff, ran up to the middle of the line, then broke right through a hole and raced 47 yards untouched for the opening score and a 7-0 Mountaineer lead. This was the third snap from scrimmage, and only one minute into the game.
Villanova head coach, Andy Talley stated in his Monday morning teleconference call that he was very pleased with the way his defense played, and how they tackled well.
The opening score was a missed defensive assignment as Nova had a blitz called on the play, and the defender responsible for the “B Gap” did not get there before Cadet found the hole and ran through it.
When it was Villanova’s turn to go on offense, the Wildcat scored touchdowns on four of its first five drives covering 73, 67, 61, and 61 yards respectively.
On the first drive, the Wildcat offensive attack kept the Mountaineers off balance by mixing pass and run. The Wildcats had 37 yards passing and 36 yards rushing. Matt Szczur (Erma, NJ) ran out of the Wildcat formation for two yards to the left of the offensive formation for the Cats first touchdown to tie the score at 7-7.
With a second and nine at the Mountaineer 21-yard line, Mountaineer QB DeAndre Presley (Tampa,Fl.) hit Devon Moore (Mebane, NC) who ran a flare pattern from his tailback position to the left.
Moore received a couple of excellent blocks from his receivers and was able to run 74 yards down the home sidelines before being driven out of bounds at the Nova five-yard line by cornerback James Pitts (Montclair, NJ) in one of the key momentum plays of the game.
Nova’s defense stiffened, forcing the Mountaineers to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Jason Vitaris (Seneca, SC) and recaptured the lead at 10-7.
The Wildcats second scoring drive took four plays as Szczur, playing QB out of the Wildcat, took the snap at the Nova 47 yard line, threw a pass to wide receiver Norman White (Hammonton, NJ).
White was lined up on the right of the offensive formation and was running towards the goal post.
The ball was slightly overthrown and White had to tip the ball with his extended left hand up and to himself at the 32-yard line, collect the ball, and at the 19-yard line, he had to stiff arm safety Mark LeGree (Columbus, Ga.), to shake him off and run into the end zone.
The Cats took a 14-10 lead with 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter which it would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.
The Cats had set this play up earlier in their first scoring drive as Szczur had thrown a sideline pass out of the Wildcat formation to wide receiver Joe Price (Haverton, Pa.) for a four-yard pass completion.
The Wildcats gave the Mountaineers the same look, except this time Szczur threw the ball over the empty middle of the field where White could catch and run for a score.
Few people outside of Villanova knew that Szczur played QB in high school.
Villanova had 449 total yards of offense (285 rushing, 4 rushing TD’s, 164 passing, 2 passing TD’s). The Cats averaged 5.9 yards per rush, and 11.7 yards per completion.
The Mountaineers had more total yards of offense than the Cats (461 total, 100 rushing, and 361 passing), but the Mountaineers had come into this game predominantly a run-first team.
With the exception of Cadet’s touchdown in the early moments of the game, the Mountaineers were unable to get their ground game going.
Defensively, the Mountaineers had no answer for the Wildcats offensive line led by All American, Ben Ijalana (Hainesport, NJ).
It is anticipated that Villanova’s Pro Day in March will be well attended by NFL scouts looking at Ijalana, Szczur, and their fellow Wildcat teammates to play on Sunday’s on the highly anticipated expanded rosters of NFL teams.
The second round of the CAA vs. SoCon challenge went to the CAA. Up next for the Wildcats is a Wednesday flight to Cheney, Wa., for a date with the Eastern Washington University Eagles.
No. 10 Villanova (9-4, 5-3 CAA) at No. 1 Eastern Washington (11-2, 7-1 BSC) at 8:00 p.m. Friday
Series: First Meeting
Friday’s game in Cheney, Wa., will mark the first the first meeting for any CAA football squad against the Eagles in the playoffs.
Villanova is 2-6 in playoff road games having won those two games in the last two weeks.
Nova has only played one Big Sky opponent to date, and that was Montana in last year’s National Championship game where the Wildcats won 23-21 after coming back from a 14-3 deficit.
In its first two playoff games this season, Nova has fallen behind early, but has maintained its composure and came back each time to post a commanding victory.
In Villanova’s 9-4 overall record, five of those victories have come against conference champions.
Nova has defeated Patriot League champion, Lehigh (35-0), Ivy champion Penn (22-10), CAA co-champion Delaware (28-21 O.T.), Southland champion, Stephen F. Austin (54-24), and Southern Conference co-champion, Appalachian State (42-24).
Four of those wins have come on the road. The Wildcats are currently riding a six-game playoff win streak.
This year marks the eighth time the Eagles have received a playoff bid.
The Eagles are 7-7 in the playoffs and making their second trip to the semifinals. The last time the Eagles were in the semfinals was in 1997.
Eastern Washington never advanced to the championship game. The Eagles barely escaped North Dakota State University with a 38-31 win in overtime last week, but lost All-American running back, Taiwan Jones (Antioch, Ca.) to a fractured foot.
The Eagles have the third longest consecutive victory streak, nine games, in all of FCS. The Eagles are a perfect 7-0 on their new red surfaced called “The Inferno”.
On defense, the Eagles will be led by All American LB, J.C. Sherritt (Pullman, Wa.).
The Eagles strive to win the turnover margin as they rank first nationally in interceptions (23, tied with UNH), and second in turnovers gained (40).
In the last two years, EWU was 13-0 when it has fewer turnovers than its opponents.
In scoring offense, The Eagles are 17th in FCS with an average of 31.62 points per game whereas the Wildcats are 22nd (30.77).
In total offense, The Eagles are 20th (401.85) and Nova is 35th (380.77). In scoring defense, Nova is seventh (17.54 ppg), and EWU is 60th (24.92 ppg). In total defense, Nova is 28th (318 ypg), and EWU is 93rd (387.38 ypg).
The offensive line for EWU averages 6-4, 283. Nova’s defensive line averages 6-2, 263. The Eagles line up in a 4-3 defensively, and their defensive line averages 6-3, 265, but the Eagles have two run stuffers on the defensive interior lines in LT, Tyler Jolly (Nine Mile Falls, Wa.), 6-3, 285, and RT, Renard Williams (Port Orchard, Wa.), 6’2, 300. Nova averages 6-4, 306 on their offensive line.
Losing Jones will slow down the Eagle rushing attack, where Nova is strongest.
If jet lag, travel fatigue, or weather conditions cannot slow Nova down, the Eagle may find it tough sledding against the defending champions.
Look for the Wildcats to run behind that big offensive line and try and wear down the Eagle defense.
Both teams have been putting up 30-plus points in the playoffs, but as this is a semifinal game, look for a lower scoring affair.
Wildcats 24 Eagles 13.
No. 20/22 Georgia Southern (10-4, 5-3 SOCON) at No. 5 Delaware (11-2, 6-2 CAA) at 12:00 p.m.
Series: Tied 2-2
These two teams have met twice in the playoffs and twice during the regular season.
In 1997 the Blue Hens defeated the Eagles 16-7 in the quarterfinals of the playoffs in Delaware. In 2000, the Eagles won 27-18 in the semifinals at Delaware.
In the 2001 regular season, the Eagles won 38-7 in Statesboro, Ga. In 2002, the Blue Hens won during the regular season 22-19 in Delaware.
The 2010 version of both teams are very different from when they last met.
Georgia Southern is fourth in the nation in rushing offense (261.50), whereas Delaware is 28th (183.85).
Delaware is 34th in the nation in passing offense (223.38), the Eagles are 116th (out of 117 teams) with an average of 87 passing yards per game.
In total offense, Delaware is 18th in the nation (407.23), whereas GSU is 61st (348.50). The Eagles are 34th in the country in Scoring Offense (28.79), and right behind them in the 35th spot in UD (28.62).
The Blue Hens are eighth in the nation in rushing defense (99.77), whereas the Eagles are 24th (123.29). GSU is 14th in passing defense (161.57) and UD is 26th (175.15).
The Blue Hens are 5th in the nation in total defense (274.92), and the Eagles are 7th (284.86). The Blue Hens lead the country in scoring defense (11.62 ppg), whereas GSU is 8th in the nation in scoring defense (17.86).
UD is ninth in the country in turnover margin (+12). The Blue Hens have recovered seven fumbles and intercepted 19 passes.
GSU is 28th (+7). The Eagles have recovered 16 fumbles and intercepted 15 passes.
The Eagles do not like to throw and they want to impose their will upon you with their triple option rushing attack. The Blue Hens last faced the triple option against Navy in 2009, and have had success against opponents who have had formidable rushing attacks within the CAA.
What sets UD apart is their passing game and the fact that the entire team is healthy.
As we move to round three of the CAA vs. SoCon challenge, expect the TUB to be rocking for this semifinal matchup.
The Blue Hen fans will be adorned in their blue and yellow gear and the crowd noise will be deafening.
The Blue Hens are healthy and the defensive front four will be counted on to neutralize the Eagle rushing attack. It is in this writer’s opinion there will be a All-CAA final in Frisco, Texas.
Blue Hens 28 Eagles 20.
As always you can email your thoughts and comments to CAATODAY@YAHOO.COM
This is the CAA TODAY signing off.