By Sam Partridge
CAA Today columnist
College Sporting News
While there was a feeling of nostalgia surrounding both departures, there was a sense of melancholy and disappointment for the family forced to move, while there was almost a mixture of jealousy and resentment for the folks moving to the bigger place.
I couldn’t help but think of the situation as I watched UMass and Rhode Island play the final installment of a classic New England conference rivalry.
The two schools have made vastly different decisions in terms of the importance of football for the institution and this game marked the end of an era as they both depart the CAA headed in opposite directions. UMass is ostensibly moving up to the MAC, with at least one eye on the increasingly desperate Big East, while URI is deemphasizing football, at least financially, while moving to the NEC. As CAA fans, we’re disappointed to see each go, but wish them both well as they head to their chosen greener pastures.
As for the game itself, it was an old-fashioned Yankee Conference shootout fitting for the final FCS meeting of the two schools. UMass trailed 21-16 heading to the fourth quarter but QB Kellen Pagel put them ahead on an 8 yard bootleg for a 22-21 lead with 11:44 left. URI marched back down the field and seemed poised to retake the lead. However, on what would be the play of the game, Kirk Nelms picked off a Steve Probst pass and scampered 80 yards for a touchdown. When the Minutemen followed with another score as Pagel hit Talley for a 22-yard TD with 1:58 left.
It seemed like the Rams had one last gasp in them as Probst connected with Brandon Johnson-Farrell with 32 seconds left, but UMass tipped a PAT that looked headed wide anyway. The ensuing onside kick became a formality and UMass closed out their 10th straight home opening victory at McGuirk.
The UMass offense finished with great balance as Pagel was 21-32 for 259 yards and a TD along with two INT. The passing game was complimented by Jonathan Hernandez’s career-high 167 yards rushing, part of his 216 yards of total offense. The 201 yards rushing for UMass was solid production against a URI unit that had only allowed 36 to Syracuse the week before.
Nelms, in his first career start, ended up with two picks, the first time in his career. For his efforts, Nelms was named CAA Rookie of the Week.
Steve Probst threw four TDs and 279 yards for the Rams, but his efficiency was below par as he finished 14-29 and the pick-6 to Nelms ended up being the turning point of the game.
All in all, it was a fitting end for now to a series in which UMass has won the last 11 meetings and owns a 48-36-2 overall edge in a rivalry that dates back to 1903.
THE REST OF WEEK 3
The non-conference game of the week involving a CAA team was held in Lynchburg, VA as JMU and Liberty renewed what has become an entertaining interstate battle.
David Coulson has a solid recap of the game here and I see no point in trying to outdo him.
As an aside, the game-winning kick finished off a sterling day for JMU kicker Cameron Starke who was named the CAA Special Teams player of the week. The redshirt sophomore from Halifax, VA finished 3-3 on PATs and also nailed a 32-yarder earlier in the game before the one that iced the win. Starke’s teammate Dae’Quan Scott was also honored as he was named the CAA Offensive Player of the Week as he rolled up 126 yards on 29 carries to go along with 3 catches for another 22 yards.
Delaware St. at Delaware
Prior to a playoff meeting in 2007, this rivalry existed only in the hearts and minds of local football fans. There always seemed to be reasons given not to play, but it’s good to see the only 2 Division I teams in the First State go head-to-head on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the Blue Hens cruised to a 35-0 halftime lead and showed again that the Hornets have a lot of catching up to do.
Simply put, Delaware rolled up 512 yards of offense, while the defense throttled the Hornet attack to the tune of 112 yards allowed. The 400 yard difference showed that the schools are separated by more than just 45 miles.
K.C. Keeler, in his 10th season at the helm in Newark, has been looking for a credible replacement for Pat Devlin and was thrilled at the performance of Tim Donnelly, who made his first career start in what is now called the Route 1 rivalry.
"Tim (Donnelly) was off the charts, " remarked Keeler. "We know the competition is going to get a lot stiffer going forward, but at the same time our guys did everything we asked them to do this past week and prepared the way we needed them to. Now the challenge is to come out and do it again this week."
Donnelly finished 13-14 for 221 yards and two TDs while the powerful Blue Hen running game rolled up 291 yards behind the dual threats of Andrew Pierce and Walter Davis. Davis went over 100 for the first time in his career and amassed all his yards in the second half as Delaware took the 35-0 halftime edge and kept the ball on the ground to finish the 45-0 victory.
One of the nice twists that have been added to this rivalry is the MVP award for the game, named after the late Nate Beasley, who initially enrolled at Delaware State before switching to Delaware, where he became an All-American. Donnelly was selected for the award, which culminated a pretty special day for the junior QB.
The Hens (2-1) will begin defense of their 2010 Colonial Athletic Association co-title next Saturday when they host first-year league member Old Dominion at 12 noon at Delaware Stadium.
VMI at Richmond
The intrastate game between Richmond and VMI started out much the same as the Route 1 Rivalry as the Spiders rolled up a 34-0 lead in the 3rd quarter. However, unlike Delaware St., the Keydets were at least able to make things respectable with a 2nd half rally that left the final score at 34-19.
The Spiders got things started with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown as Rodney Barnes stuffed Cameron Murray kick and Ben Edwards took it from there, 34 yards to the end zone. The Keydets coughed it up on their next possession as well and Richmond took advantage of the VMI miscues to help run out to a 27-0 halftime lead.
After Richmond moved the margin to 34-0 in the 3rd quarter, the Keydets found some life as a field goal and two touchdowns cut the deficit in half. The comeback was helped by a number of big plays, including a 74-yard kickoff return a 70-yard TD pass and a 47-yard punt return. The last play gave VMI a first-and-goal at the Richmond 9 and a chance to really make things interesting. However, when faced with the biggest challenge of the day, the Spider defense stiffened and forced an incompletion from Keydet QB Kordenbrock that essentially iced the game.
Aaron Corp led the way in the passing game, finishing 12-18 for 220 yards and two touchdowns. The senior hooked up with classmate Tre Gray on both scores as Grey finished with 96 yards receiving and the two scores pushed him to 10th on Richmond's career TD list.
New Haven at William & Mary
William & Mary extended their regular-season home winning streak to 11 games with a 13-10 victory against New Haven, but certainly not in the fashion that coach Jimmye Laycock hoped for. The Tribe's offensive struggles continued as starting QB Mike Paulus was pulled at halftime after his early-season problems continued.
New Haven actually jumped out to a 3-0 lead after a blocked punt and had a chance to build on the advantage, but a fake field goal attempt failed. The Tribe knotted the score at 3-3, but the offensive production was clearly not enough for Laycock, who turned to sophomore Michael Graham to start the second half.
Graham was a modest 6-11 for 112 yards but his appearance seemed to spark the team as the Tribe quickly moved 59 yards in 10 plays and Graham finished the drive off by hitting Grimes from 11 yards for a 10-3 lead.
The College kept New Haven in the game as Drake Kuhn missed a 30-yard FG and the Chargers took advantage by marching 80 yards to tie the score at 10-10.
However, the Tribe was able to get into scoring position again and this time Kuhn converted from 28 yards with 5:28 left for a 13-10 lead. Not to be denied, New Haven marched back down the field but linebacker Jabrel Mines picked off a pass at the goal line to end the Chargers best threat for a stunning upset.
Jonathan Grimes had another stellar day for the Tribe with 128 yards on 32 carriers, as coach Laycock looked to him to carry the offensive load. The do-everything all-American spearheaded the offense with 208 total all-purpose yards.
All in all, it was a sloppy effort from a team picked in the preseason top 5 of FCS. With the special teams and offense struggling, the Tribe needed the stout effort and especially the three key interceptions from the defense to hold off the Division II Chargers. Laycock and the rest of his coaching staff will need to see some marked improvement from several areas to beat JMU at Zable this Saturday.
Maine at Albany
The Black Bears travelled to the capital city to take on the Great Danes in an intriguing non-conference matchup. Albany had beaten Maine the last two meetings but Maine jumped out to a 24-0 lead and coasted to a 31-15 final. Behind an efficient running game, the Black Bears amassed a 24-11 edge in first downs and used their offensive balance to control the game to the tune of a 38-22 time of possession advantage. Senior QB Warren Smith had a solid game, finishing 21-32 for 202 yards and two touchdowns as Maine shook off the loss to Pittsburgh and headed into their bye week at 2-1. The Black Bears resume play on October 1st as they open up their CAA schedule against Delaware.
Monmouth at Villanova
Coming off a surprising 31-10 defeat at Towson, Villanova was looking for a bounce-back win and Monmouth seemed to offer a good opportunity but the Hawks had other ideas for their visit to the Main Line.
After Monmouth grabbed an early 3-0 lead, the Wildcats jumped back in front on a 36-yard run by Austin Medley, but that was it for the Villanova offense on the day. Tristan Roberts caught a TD from Kyle Frazier inside of the 3 minute mark of the first half and the Hawks had a lead they would not relinquish.
Villanova tried to mount a comeback sparked by a fourth quarter safety, but the Hawks put things away on a Balial Sloan El 44-yard touchdown run with 1:12 to play.
The visitors threw more efficiently, ran more efficiently and controlled the time of possession against last year's FCS semifinalist. The game clearly left Andy Talley looking for answers as his team was outplayed by the NEC foe.
Hampton at Old Dominion
The Hampton Roads area of Virginia has long been known as a hotbed of football talent and given the proximity of these two schools, it should become a hotbed of an awfully good rivalry. Coming off two wins over sub-par foes Campbell and Georgia State, this was a benchmark game for Old Dominion and they prevailed against their foes from the MEAC, 45-42, in a shootout highlighted by 36 points in the 4th quarter.
Despite falling behind 14-3 in the second quarter, Old Dominion was content to stick to the run game, and quickly bounced back with two rushing TDs from Angus Harper and Colby Goodwyn as the Monarchs took a 17-14 advantage at the break.
After Harper scored again from 5 yards out less than a minute into the 3rd, Old Dominion led 24-14, but the Pirates responded with a flurry, riding two field goals and a Jeremy Jermin 42 yard fumble return to take back the lead at 27-24.
Hampton got the ball back and seemed to have assumed control of the game, but the Monarchs defense forced a punt and after the special teams unit blocked the kick, Larry Pinkard took it 5 yards for the go-ahead score. After Hampton answered back, the game turned into the Thomas DeMarco show as the ODU QB scored on runs of 16 and 7 yards to give the Monarchs a two score cushion at 45-34. Hampton scored once more but ODU held on for a 45-42 final. It was a thrilling victory for the 3-0 Monarchs and sets things up for a big one in their CAA opener at Delaware on Saturday.
WHERE THINGS STAND
My top 25 this week:
1: Northern Iowa Panthers
2: Montana Grizzlies
3: Montana State Bobcats
4: North Dakota State Bison
5: Georgia Southern Eagles
6: Appalachian State Mountaineers
7: Wofford Terriers
8: Richmond Spiders
9: New Hampshire Wildcats
10: Towson Tigers
11: James Madison Dukes
12: Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens
13: Chattanooga Mocs
14: Lehigh Mountain Hawks
15: Southern Illinois Salukis
16: Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
17: Liberty Flames
18: Old Dominion Monarchs
19: Murray State Racers
20: Jacksonville State Gamecocks
21: William & Mary Tribe
22: Maine Black Bears
23: Portland State Vikings
24: Eastern Washington Eagles
25: Indiana State Sycamores
While many of the usual suspects are still occupying slots in the FCS rankings after Week 3, there are certainly some strange developments in the new season. First and foremost, the defending national champions from Eastern Washington are 0-3 haven’t even stepped foot on the iconic red turf at the Inferno in Cheney, WA. Incredibly, their opponents in last year’s FCS playoff semifinals, the Villanova Wildcats, are sporting the same 0-3 record, but have arrived there at the expense of a much weaker schedule, most notably a week 3 loss to Monmouth. It appears that Rome wasn’t the only entity to lose it’s way after the end of Caesar (Szczur).
We’ve also seen Sacramento State beat Oregon State on the road and then lose their next two FCS games. And, in a crazy result for one of the truly downtrodden programs in recent FCS history, the Indiana State Sycamores went to Western Kentucky and put a whipping on the barely FBS Hilltoppers, thereby gaining a measure of revenge for the entire Missouri Valley conference.
Back in the CAA, after three weeks of largely non-conference play, we roll into the first big week of renewed rivalries. So far, the conference hasn’t exactly played out as expected, led by four undefeated teams, three of which are the new arrivals ODU, the soon departing UMass and everyone’s favorite Homecoming opponent Towson. Combine that with another short-timer in URI and the aforementioned defanged Wildcats from Villanova and we’ve got the makings of a strange year. At least William & Mary is offering some stability by rolling up 40 points in Jimmye Laycock’s typically productive offense. Oh, wait, that’s for three games. Confusion reigns.
There is some normalcy provided by the fourth unbeaten Richmond along with JMU, Delaware and UNH, but as we head to week 4, there are plenty of questions to be answered, except for Maine as the Black Bears have a bye.
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
Penn at Villanova – 7:00
In one of the stranger situations you’ll see, the Quakers are a visitor in their own stadium as the Wildcats will be the home team under the lights at Franklin Field on Saturday. However, it seems fitting for a game between two teams that are almost unrecognizable. The Quakers opened the season with an uncharacteristic beating at the hands of Lafayette, 37-12. Villanova, meanwhile, is 0-3 with previously unthinkable losses to both Towson and Monmouth, neither of which were ultimately close. Villanova is clearly missing the tandem of Whitney and Szczur who led the school to back-to-back FCS semifinal appearances and first title in 2009. Despite the challenges, I’ll give Andy Talley the benefit of the doubt and think that his backs-to-wall team will put out a win in this Big 5 Philly rivalry.
Wildcats 17, Red and Blue 13
Towson vs. Colgate – 7:00
The Tigers have had a couple of weeks to bask in the glory of a 2-0 start, one of the bigger surprises of the young season. While many of their CAA brethren are taking on other top 15 teams, Towson will get a relative breather at home against Colgate. While picked to win the Patriot League last season, the Red Raiders stumbled a bit and this year’s edition does not look to be play-off bound either. Towson, meanwhile, still confident off the Villanova victory, should be able to ride QB Grant Enders to an efficient victory over the squad from upstate New York.
Towson 27 Colgate 17
Fordham at Rhode Island – 1:00 ET
The Rams gave UMass a battle before falling at McGuirk stadium last weekend, but they've acquitted themselves well so far this season. In their final non-conference game, they host Fordham. The Patriot League's Rams are coming off a win over Columbia but don't figure to have enough depth to head to the Ocean State and come away with a win. URI is probably still a little disappointed from the loss across the border in Massachusetts, but they have enough to hold off the boys from the Bronx.
Rhode Island 31 Fordham 16
UMass at BC
When a team misses a 23-yard field goal to win a game at home, it's probably going to be a long season. Well, after already losing to Northwestern and Central Florida, that's just how Boston College let one get away last week against Duke. Given that this was the same Duke team that Richmond knocked off to start the season, it has to give the Minutemen hope as they head to Chestnut Hill this weekend. The Eagles are mediocre at best in most areas and UMass appears to be able to match up in this game. The Minutemen held off URI at home last weekend are carrying plenty of confidence into this game. In a way, it's the first FBS game of UMass' new life at that level. What better way to let their New England neighbors to the East know they've arrived than to knock off the boys from Boston. I think Pagel and Hernandez will provide enough offensive balance to keep the Minutemen in the game but I'm not sure the defense will do enough to pull off the upset. I want to pick the CAA rep in this game, but think the Eagles will do just enough to pull it out.
BC 24 UMass 20.
Richmond vs. New Hampshire – 3:30 PM
The Spiders and Wildcats kick off their respective CAA campaigns with a battle at Robins Stadium in Richmond. The Spiders hold a 10-9 edge in the series and the Family Weekend game will be televised on Comcast & Comcast Sports Net in New England.
Richmond stands at 3-0, the only unblemished FCS team with an FBS victory under its belt after the Spiders win at Duke. The Spiders are led by QB Aaron Corp and the former USC transfer has been solid leading an offense that's opened up a little more than recent vintages. For example, the passing game has already had 9 plays of 25+ yards compared to 11 all of last season. Senior WR Tre Gray is an inviting target and ranks in the top 15 in the nation with 103.3 yards per game.
UNH got routed by an underrated Toledo team in its opener before winning a 48-41 shootout at Lehigh in week 2. The Wildcats come off a bye week still trying to fit some pieces together. Two players expected to contribute catching passes this year, Chris Jeanott and Mickey Mangieri are done with concussions. QB Kevin Decker has shown some poise and still has Joey Orlando to throw to, but without development of a stronger running game to carry the load, Decker could face some struggles against the better defenses in the CAA.
On defense, along with an entirely new secondary, UNH is led by a new defensive coordinator, so it's not surprising that the team has been giving up points in bunches so far. UNH shut out the Spiders last year in New England, but given the changes on both sides, I expect a much different result. Corp and Co. will move the ball while the defense makes enough plays to slow UNH down.
UR 31 UNH 20.
Old Dominion at Delaware - Noon
Old Dominion is one of the pleasant surprises of the young season. Currently sitting at 3-0 after last week's win over southeastern Virginia neighbor Hampton, the Monarchs head to Delaware for an early-season measuring stick game. From the moment the Old Dominion program's return was announced, it was clear that they had no intention of building slowly in Norfolk. The goal was to be competitive right away and while the schedule has not always been as rigorous as others, the Monarchs have clearly shown that they won't be pushed around.
They are stepping up in class this week and I think it might be more than Thomas DeMarco and Co. can handle. Even though Tim Donnelly doesn't have a lot of experience under his belt, his got some talent to hand the ball off to, and I expect Kasey Keeler will have him doing a lot of that. Ii expect the Delaware running game and the Blue Hen defense to control time of possession and force the Monarchs into some mistakes. The boys from Hampton Roads will show some flashes, but their first taste of regular season CAA play will end with a disappointing bus ride back down Route 13 south to Norfolk.
Blue Hens 31 Monarchs 23
CAA TODAY GAME OF THE WEEK
JMU at William & Mary
One of the more bitter rivalries in the CAA has traditionally occupied a late date in the schedule, but will serve as the kickoff to the CAA season for both teams. Both teams were belted in FBS openers and struggled against weaker FCS foes in their first two games, but JMU put a notch in their belt with the last second win at Liberty. Mickey Matthews is hoping to build some momentum from that game as the Dukes head into back-to-back weeks against the Tribe followed by Richmond.
JMU has had solid success at Zable Stadium, including an FCS semifinal win in 2006, and must be eagerly anticipating a matchup against a William & Mary team experiencing some unusual offensive struggles. Coach Jimmye Laycock remains one of the more respected offensive minds in the game, but he is struggling to solve the issue having already benched starter Mike Paulus twice and going to third-stringer Michael Graham to start the 2nd half last week against New Haven. To sum it up, Tribe QBs have completed 42% of their passes! Yes, you read that correctly.
However, a team doesn't get voted in the top 5 without some ability and the Tribe has both a solid run game and defense. In this matchup, though, so does the opponent.
With his usual productive passing game, I might give the edge to the Tribe, but given the offensive struggles, combined with JMU's history of success against the College, I think the Dukes will head back across Virginia with a victory.
JMU 24 W&M 13
Rhode Island junior Matt Greenhalgh has been named one of 22 members of the 2011 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. One of the most prestigious off-the field honors in college football for the past 20 years, the Good Works Team award has recognized a select group of college football players committed to making a difference in their communities.
This past April, Greenhalgh donated his bone marrow to help save a life.
"This has been the most gratifying thing I have ever done," Greenhalgh said at the time. "It just makes me feel so great to know that I have been able to help save someone's life." A great reminder about the quality of so many of the young people who represent these great schools.
Thanks to Scott Meyer, Peter Colby, John Sinnett, among others.
Any comments, questions, etc. are always welcome at CAAToday@yahoo.com
Enjoy the games!