By Sam Partridge
CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
Old Dominion jumped out to a 25-0 lead capped by a 35-yard pass from Thomas DeMarco to Nick Mayers with 9:24 left in the second quarter. However, much like their revolutionary New England brethren, the Minutemen regrouped and launched a counterattack with a 26-0 run that gave them the momentum and the upper hand late in the 3rd quarter. The run was sparked by two Kellen Pagel touchdown passes, the second with 38 seconds left in the 2nd quarter to cut the lead to 25-12 at halftime. After another Pagel TD pass to start the half, Jonathan Hernandez punched another in from 8 yards out that gave UMass a 26-25 lead with 5:30 left in the 3rd.
After another defensive stop from the Minutemen, it appeared the game was in danger of getting away from Old Dominion with DeMarco going down with an apparent leg injury, but the defense got a stop and the game turned again as Jakwail Bailey blocked a punt for a safety and a 27-26 Monarch lead.
From there, it was all ODU as Heinicke threw TD passes from 38 and 56 yards to quickly push the advantage to 41-26. The teams each added another score for the final tally of 48-33.
Delaware at Maine
Just when you thought it was safe to take an early fall trip to the north woods of Maine, a group of Black Bears spoils the weekend. Delaware fans, as well as yours truly, figured recent trends would continue and they would see a Blue Hen win along with some foliage, but Jack Cosgrove and his charges had other ideas. Coming off a bye week, Maine was well-prepared for KC Keeler's team and bounced back from a 17-14 3rd quarter deficit for a 31-17 win. The victory served notice that Maine is a player in the CAA race this year and helped vault the Black Bears into the top 25.
Delaware, which came in 10-3 all-time in Orono, struggled offensively throughout, but held a 10-7 lead at halftime. After trading long touchdown drives in the 3rd quarter, the Blue Hens still led 17-14, but it was all Maine from there. The tide seemed to turn on the final play of the 3rd and first play of the 4th. First, Derek Session hauled in a 56-yard strike from Warren Smith and then Pushawn Brown wasted no time finding paydirt from 18 yards out to give the Black Bears the lead.
After trading punts, Delaware looked to rally but Tim Donnelly, starting only his third game, made a critical mistake and was intercepted in field goal territory by Vinson Givans. The young Hens seemed shaken by the turnover and Brown burst through for 70 yards on the first play of Maine's ensuing drive. Only a couple of plays later, it was 28-17 on Brown's third touchdown of the afternoon. It was all over but the shouting at that point, but the Bears punctuated the win with another interception of Donnelly followed by another field goal to close the scoring in the 31-17 win.
Maine, whose only loss this season came by six points to Big East opponent Pittsburgh, improved to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the CAA. Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove picked up his 100th career victory in his 19th season at Maine.
Delaware, which dropped to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in league play.
Brown ran 23 times for 193 yards and three touchdowns for Maine, while Smith finished 18 of 27 for 264 yards and a touchdown.
Donnelly, who had thrown just one interception through the first four weeks, was 24 or 45 for 163 yards and a touchdown but the four interceptions were critical to the result. Pierce ran 24 times for 120 yards, surpassing the 100-yard mark for the fourth time this season and moving into 10th place on the all-time UD rushing list with 2,146 yards.
“We played a very good team that out-executed us.,” said Blue Hen head coach K.C. Keeler. “I thought Jack (Cosgrove) put together a good game plan and attacked our secondary. It was pretty obvious that was what they were to going to try to exploit, and it worked for them..Maine is a good football team and dramatically improved from last year, and I thought that going in. When Maine got the momentum, they seized and rode it. We gave up some big plays, and our turnovers gave them more opportunities.”
As for eight ranked teams in the CAA? “League has changed a little this year. Pretty much wide open games every week. As well-coached a league as you’re going to find in the nation.”
William & Mary at Villanova
The players may change but when Andy Talley and Jimmye Laycock go head-to-head, e games always seem to be close. W&M and Villanova renewed their rivalry on the Main Line on Saturday and e Tribe came away with a solid CAA road win in a typical nailbiter. The stat sheet tilted heavily to the College but a couple of mistakes in the punting game allowed the Wildcats short fields for some easy points that kept the game close. W&M also helped to keep things tight by keeping the ball on the ground 49 times, thereby shortening the game and the number of possessions.
Senior All-American running back Jonathan Grimes rushed for 137 yards with two touchdowns, and the William and Mary defense allowed just 80 yards in the second half as the No. 11/10 Tribe earned a 20-16 victory at Villanova on Saturday afternoon. The victory was the 89th conference win for head coach Jimmye Laycock, which ties for the third most triumphs in league history with former Delaware head coach Tubby Raymond.
In addition to holding Villanova (1-4, 0-2) to just 80 yards in the second half, the Tribe (3-2, 1-1) outgained the Wildcats 344-200. W&M also held VU to just 10 first downs and controlled the time of possession by more than 10 minutes (35:25-24:35).
Senior wide receiver D.J. Mangas totaled five catches for 67 yards, while senior tight end Alex Gottlieb hauled in four catches for 81 yards – including a 30-yard reception on a fourth-and-one in the third quarter.
After Villanova took an early 3-0 advantage, the Tribe went to work on a drive that would set the tone for the day. After Grimes gave the Tribe good field position at their 47, he carried seven times for 31 yards. Jimmye Laycock sent a message by going for it on 4th down and Grimes punched it in from the 1 for the 7-3 lead.
VU reclaimed the lead, 10-7, on a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Culicerto to Dorian Wells with 11:44 left in the second quarter. The quick four-play, 57-yard drive lasted just 1:40.
Again, the Tribe answered right back, going 75 yards in 10 plays, with Graham hitting on all four pass attempts before Grimes sliced through the Villanova defense for a 22-yard touchdown run with 5:49 left in the 2nd quarter.
It looked like that would be the score at the half, but Graham had a pass tipped and the Wildcats came up with the interception just outside the red zone. However, the William & Mary defense stiffened and held Villanova to a field goal that would put the halftime margin at 14-13.
After holding the Tribe to a three-and-out on the opening possession of the second half, Villanova took over at W&M’s 10-yard line when sophomore punter Drake Kuhn was unable to get a punt away. Although W&M kept VU out of the end zone, a 25-yard field goal by Hamilton gave the Wildcats a 16-14 advantage.
The College responded with a 34-yard field goal by Kuhn on its next possession to take a 17-16 edge. The nine-play, 53-yard drive was highlighted by a 25-yard completion from Graham to Gottlieb. After forcing a punt, the Tribe got the ball back with 6:40 remaining and embarked on a 15-play, 72-yard drive that included a pair of 4th down conversions. The second was accomplished with a gutsy play-action call from Graham to TE Gottlieb for 30 yards. The Tribe faced another 4th-and-1 from the Villanova 6 but Laycock wasn't willing to roll the dice again and settled for a 23-yard FG from Kuhn.
Two possessions later, that four point lead looked threatened as Villanova drove deep into William & Mary territory and had a 3rd and short inside the Tribe's 25 yard line. However, the Tribe defense stiffened again and held firm on 3rd down before BJ Webb made the play of the game, leaping high to grab an interception as Culicerto tried to loft a touch pass over him down near the goal line.
The College still needed to convert a couple of first downs but Grimes converted one more 4th and 1 and the Tribe was able to take a victory back to Williamsburg.
Andy Talley remarked in the CA coaches call that the goal for the game was to play hard, keep things close and have a chance to win at the end. He got all of that from his team, but Culicerto and company just weren’t able to make enough plays to pull out the victory.
For Jimmye Laycock, it was a game where both teams played hard and the Tribe wasn’t particularly fancy in getting the win. He was certainly pleased with the defensive effort in the 2nd half, especially the execution in short yardage situations. According to the Tribe’s coach, they’re still trying to find a groove offensively, but he’s slowly opening the playbook for Graham as he sees his confidence rising. The lack of reps in practice is all that’s holding him back.
Richmond at JMU
As I mentioned last week, it's always tough to know how a team will respond to the loss of a starting QB. After the suspension of signal-caller Justin Thorpe, the Dukes figured to have a battle on their hands with Richmond, but instead delivered a statement performance in a 31-7 win at Bridgeforth Stadium. Mickey Matthews rode his stable of running backs and his usual stout defense to throttle the Spiders on both sides of the ball.
Richmond had won three straight games at Bridgeforth Stadium and after a blocked punt, took an early 7-0 run after a one-yard TD run from Kendall Gaskins that quieted the Homecoming crowd of 25,742. The home faithful wouldn’t be disappointed for long, however, as the JMU running game quickly took control and the Dukes leveled the score at 7-7 early in the 2nd quarter. Once backup QB Jace Edwards scored on a 20-yard run, the Dukes were up 14-7 and rolling. The JMU defense, on the way to seven sacks for the game, kept control of things as the score stayed 14-7 heading to halftime.
JMU put the game away for all intents and purposes early in the 2nd half. The Spiders attempted a fake punt, but Vidal Nelson intercepted the punter’s pass and the Dukes only needed six plays to capitalize, punctuated by Jordan Anderson’s 45 yard run to make it 21-7. Anderson went 49 yards for the next score and the rout was on. A final field goal bumped the margin to 31-7.
The statistical dominance was striking as Edwards, in his first start, was merely 5-12 for 34. However, when the running game provides 297 yards on 54 carries and controls the tempo of the contest, it takes a lot of pressure of the signal-caller.
On the flip side, Richmond’s offense was held in check with Corp going merely 16-31 for 130 yards, all-CAA receiver Tre Gray held to 38 yards receiving and Kendall Gaskins on 22 on the ground. It was a suffocating defensive effort against an explosive offense that served notice to the rest of the league.
With bookend defeats over in-state rivals William & Mary and Richmond to move to 4-1 and 2-0 in the CAA, the Dukes have shown themselves as the team to beat early in the CAA campaign. On the other side, the win over Duke is a long way in the rear-view mirror for the Spiders and they have a lot of questions to answer as they sit at 3-2.
Towson at Maryland
At first glance, the 28-3 final score looks like Towson stepped up in class and got dominated by an FBS foe. However, nothing could be further from the truth as the Tigers gave the Terps everything they could handle for a good chunk of the game and arguably outplayed Maryland for the most part.
Playing in front of the largest crowd in Towson football history, the Tigers gave the 35,573 at Byrd Stadium plenty to be nervous about in an hard-fought first half.
The Terrapins wasted very little time jumping ahead after taking the opening kickoff. Behind a couple of runs from Davin Meggett and an untimely rough-the-passer penalty, the Terps moved into position for D.J. Abrams to take it in from 15 yards out. With less than two minutes gone, it was 7-0 Maryland.
After a Towson punt, Maryland moved back into scoring position but a blocked field goal attempt kept things at 7-0. On the next possession, the Tigers defense came up big again and stopped the Terps on a 4th and two from the Towson 29.
The Tiger offense went to work from there and began arguably the most critical stretch of the game. Quickly moving down the field, Towson had a first-and-goal at the Terps 2-yard line. However, they were thrown for a loss on third and goal from the one and settled for a 23-yard field goal.
After forcing a Maryland punt, Towson took over again on its own 2-yard line with seven minutes left in the half. On a drive that included a little bit of everything, including chop block and personal foul penalties on the Tigers, Towson still managed to move the ball and got inside the red zone with under a minute left in the half. QB Peter Athens, subbing for injured starter Grant Enders, completed a pass to the seven-yard line, but with the Tigers out of timeouts, they weren’t able to stop the clock and a rushed field goal attempt from 24 yards was missed as time expired. It was a disappointing way to close a half that saw Towson outgain their in-state foes 225 yards to 111 while controlling the clock for 21:30.
Early in the 3rd quarter, the missed opportunities would come back to haunt the Tigers as they started to make critical mistakes. On the second play of the 3rd quarter, Athens was intercepted and Maryland scored eight plays later for a 14-3 lead.
Another interception would stop a drive at the Maryland 33 and the Terps took control of the game early in the 4th quarter as Danny O’Brien threw a touchdown pass to Kevin Dorsey for a 21-3 lead. The unraveling was complete as Towson fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Maryland punched it in again for the final margin of 28-3.
The four turnovers in the second half were a drastic change for a team that had only turned it over three times in their first three outings. The miscues combined with the lost opportunities for points in the first half more than outweighed the Tigers large majority in time of possession (35:39-24:21).
“I want to give Towson credit,” said Maryland Coach Randy Edsall. “Rob [Ambrose] had his guys ready to play and came out with a lot of new wrinkles in the first half that we didn't see, which I knew that he was going to do. They are going to do very well in the Colonial Athletic Association.”
“We made too many mistakes and we left too many points on the field,” said Towson Coach Rob Ambrose. “When you have so many missed opportunities, it’s very difficult to beat a quality opponent. However, if there was any doubt that we can play with anyone, it’s gone. Last year, if someone said we had a chance to win this game, lots of people would have thought they were nuts. We have come a long way.”
Holy Cross at UNH
Guess what? UNH can score. This is not exactly news at it has largely been the case since Chip Kelly was roaming southeastern New Hampshire,. The question, as usual, is can they stop someone when they need to? We certainly didn't get the answer in this game as the Cats beat Holy Cross in their 3rd straight shootout. Only when Kevin Decker hit Justin Mello with a 60-yard TD pass with 1:10 remaining could the home team put away the Crusaders.
The game probably should not have been this close, but a UNH fumble near the Holy Cross goalline as well as another turnover as the Wildcats tried to salt away the game in the 4th quarter, kept the deficit within a workable margin for the Crusaders.
The UNH offense was more balanced this week as the running game got involved and coach McDonnell was pleased with Decker’s performance except for a couple of mistakes midway through the second half when the quarterback “tried to push the envelope a little bit”. Decker finished 23-31 for 352 yards passing. Mello had just two catches, but totaled 107 yards. Mickey Mangieri had 102 yards and a touchdown on six catches for New Hampshire.
Holy Cross has a tremendously talented signal-caller in Ryan Taggart and he gave the UNH defense fits all day on his way to throwing for 412 yards on 40 of 57 passing. He also carried the ball for 55 yards and two touchdowns while running a one man show for the group from Worcester, MA.
In the CAA coaches call, Sean McDonnell was sparing with his compliments for his defense, but acknowledged that they were slowly improving, with fewer missed tackles and assignments. Complimented the execution of opposing quarterbacks but mentioned that lack of consistent pressure probably was a large part of that. As frequent contributor Peter Colby remarked, “Boy, UNH is deep at wide receiver. Maybe they should make some of them into cornerbacks.”
Possibly the most interesting note to come out of this game was the absence of star freshman wide receiver RJ Harris. Conflicting reports surfaced about the reason for the absence, but UNH didn’t seem to miss a beat offensively.
James Madison 2-0 4-1
Maine 1-0 3-1
New Hampshire 1-0 3-1
Towson 1-0 3-1
Old Dominion 1-1 4-1
Delaware 1-1 3-2
William & Mary 1-1 3-2
Massachusetts 1-1 2-2
Rhode Island 0-1 1-3
Richmond 0-2 3-2
Villanova 0-2 1-4
CAA Football Offensive Player of the Week - Pushaun Brown, RB, Maine
Brown maintained his 100-yard/game average by garnering 193 yards on 23 carries against the Hens. Brown also scored three times in his sixth-straight 100-yard rushing game against an FCS opponent. The 193-yard game for Brown ranks as the highest single-game rushing total this season in CAA Football.
CAA Football Defensive Player of the Week - Pat Williams, LB, James Madison
Williams recorded a team-high eight total tackles for a defense which limited the Spiders, averaging nearly 380 yards on offense coming in, to -12 yards rushing and just 118 total yards. JMU's defense forced two turnovers and sacked Richmond quarterback Aaron Corp seven times for a loss of 47 yards in the game.
CAA Football Special Teams Player of the Week - Jakwail Bailey, WR, Old Dominion
The freshman wide receiver blocked a Massachusetts punt with just over two minutes left in the third quarter resulting in a safety and giving the Monarchs a 27-26 lead they never relinquished. Old Dominion tacked on 21 more points for the 48-33 victory. On the year ODU has blocked five kicks in its five games.
CAA Football Rookie of the Week - Taylor Heinicke, QB, Old Dominion
Heinicke was pressed into action Saturday after starter Thomas DeMarco came out with an injury, and did not disappoint. The true freshman Atlanta, Ga., native completed 8-of-11 pass attempts for 119 yards and two scores while also carrying the ball five times for 24 yards on the ground.
MY TOP 25 THIS WEEK
1: North Dakota State Bison
2: Montana State Bobcats
3: Northern Iowa Panthers
4: Wofford Terriers
5: Georgia Southern Eagles
6: James Madison Dukes
7: New Hampshire Wildcats
8: Montana Grizzlies
9: Lehigh Mountain Hawks
10: Towson Tigers
11: Appalachian State Mountaineers
12: Indiana State Sycamores
13: Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens
14: Sam Houston State Bearkats
15: Old Dominion Monarchs
16: William & Mary Tribe
17: Jacksonville State Gamecocks
18: Maine Black Bears
19: Liberty Flames
20: Richmond Spiders
21: McNeese State Cowboys
22: Furman Paladins
23: Norfolk State Spartans
24: Holy Cross Crusaders
25: Eastern Washington Eagles
The poll results this week had 8 CAA teams in the top 25. This has never happened before for any conference and is quite an accomplishment and yet another example of the depth of the league. This will have to change as the teams knock each other off in CAA play but it's impressive nonetheless.
As for my poll, I’ve got to admit, once I got near the bottom of the Top 20, I was having a hard time finding teams that deserve to be ranked. There simply aren’t enough teams with quality wins and decent records, so it feels like guessing a little bit. Liberty is 2-3 but they gave JMU and Lehigh (two top 10 teams) everything they could handle in 3 point losses. Holy Cross is 2-2 but went toe-to-toe against UNH on the road so I couldn’t drop them from the rankings. Lastly, the defending national champs are 1-4 but have played a brutal schedule and are only a handful of plays from 4-1. Since I couldn’t find anyone else to put in the #25 slot, why not the Eagles?
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
Central Connecticut State at UMass
It's Band Day at McGuirk Stadium! But seriously, with five CAA games for the first time this season, it's hard to get too jazzed up for a non-conference NEC matchup involving the school that won't be with us in the CAA for much longer. No offense UMass fans, just being honest. CCSU has shown itself to be dangerous in giving JMU a handful in Week 2, but I think the Minutemen will find a way to get a win here. The duet of Pagel and Hernandez will be music to UMass fans' ears. On that note,
Men of McGuirk 31 Nutmeg Devils 17
Old Dominion at Rhode Island
As I mentioned earlier, Old Dominion has proven already that they are comfortable playing at this level. The challenge, as coach Bobby Wilder mentioned in this week's CAA conference call, is to maintain their intensity for the full 60 minutes, with the inability to do so the main reason for the scoring runs the Monarchs opponents have put up the last couple of weeks. Old Dominion will also most likely be without starting quarterback Thomas Dimarco who went down with a possible stress fracture that week in addition to a high ankle sprain. However, backup Taylor Heinicke showed plenty of poise and command of the Monarch offense and the team has shown they belong in the top half of the CAA in their first year. Rhode Island is 1-3, but all three losses have been on the road and they’ve had leads in every game, so they should be dangerous back in Kingston. Jeff Probst and the Rams will look to protect their home turf, but I think the Monarchs will leave the Ocean State with a close victory.
Old Dominion 24 URI 19
Villanova at New Hampshire
Andy Talley sounded a little resigned on the CAA coaches call this week when he talked about his team. He was worried that after a 1-4 start, it would become increasingly hard to get his young team to focus on how hard they need to play to learn how to win in the CAA. Villanova is clearly struggling for an identity after graduating Matt Szczur and Chris Whitney and although they kept it close against William & Mary, they still don't have enough playmakers to threaten most CAA teams on the road. On the other side, New Hampshire is rolling offensively and should be able to continue to put up points against the Wildcats D. I see little chance of an upset as the home team stays unbeaten in the league.
UNH 31 Villanova 20
Richmond at Towson
Coach Rob Ambrose wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a 7:30 start, but Towson is looking to break their home attendance mark this year and they expect a big home crowd under the lights on Saturday night. Ambrose is looking forward to the atmosphere: “As an alum, I am just so proud to be a Towson Tiger when I see and hear all those students be so involved in our games. The pride that is developing across the student landscape is a marvel to watch. Our students change the energy level of a game with their passion and excitement. When one goes off to war, having someone behind you, believing in you, makes a world of difference in your focus. Our players flat out LOVE our students.”
Both teams are coming off losses by more than three touchdowns, but the Tigers should still be carrying confidence coming into this one, and they’ll get an additional boost with the return of quarterback Grant Enders. Towson made plays and belonged on the field with Maryland while Richmond got run off the turf at Bridgeforth against JMU. The Spiders have been struggling defensively since blowing much of a late lead against VMI in week 3 and will face another challenge on the road at Unitas Stadium. It begs the question of what impact the late coaching change is having on this team as the season progresses. The pressure will fall on seniors Aaron Corp and Tre Gray to show some leadership and carry this team to a victory. Unfortunately for the Spiders, I think Towson has a little something special going and will put the visitors back down to .500.
Towson 27 Richmond 21
Maine at JMU
Coach Jack Cosgrove made a comment this week that Maine needs the CAA a lot more than the CAA needs Maine. That point is debatable, but I’m sure there are plenty of others in the conference pulling for the coach and his squad this week.
Fresh off a great home win at Delaware, the Black Bears reward is a trip on the road to one of the toughest destinations in the CAA, Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, VA. JMU is waiting for Coach Cosgrove and his team with open arms, a bruising running game and a punishing defense. However, the Bears are bringing plenty of toughness with them, personified by running back Pushawn Brown, one of the breakout stars of the young season. Brown, the CAA offensive player of the week after his 193 yard effort against Delaware, has combined with QB Warren Smith to form a balanced offense for the squad from Orono. The Maine defense has proven to be a solid unit as well, exemplified by holding the Delaware offense to just 288 yards of offense and 17 points last week.
However, the Dukes seem to be rolling right now, having just dominated two top 10 opponents and clearly looking like the team to beat at this point. Coach Mickey Matthews sounded wary of Maine this week and a little wary of his backup quarterback, so I think Maine will give JMU a tougher game than Richmond did last week. They'll try to force Jace Edwards to beat them by throwing the ball, but given that JMU has only thrown 16 passes in the last two games against quality teams, it will be a challenge for Maine's defense to slow down the run, but it's the only route to a win. I doubt Edwards will have to do much, but it should be enough for the Dukes to hold off a stern challenge from the Black Bears.
Dukes 27 Black Bears 23
GAME OF THE WEEK
William & Mary at Delaware
Last year's co-champions meet up for a 6:00 PM start at Delaware Stadium on Saturday evening. Both teams are 1-1 in the CAA and 3-2 overall so it might not seem like the game of the week compared to JMU/Maine, but given the teams, the expectations and what's at stake, this is a critical game that will likely shape the rest of the season for both teams. The Blue Hens hold a 20-15 advantage in the series, but the Tribe has won the last three, including a 17-16 thriller last year in Williamsburg.
Both sides are scuffling a little bit and looking for answers in different areas as they head into a game where the winner should emerge feeling a whole lot better. Maine exposed some issues with the Delaware secondary and forced Tim Donnelly into four interceptions as the Blue Hens look for an identity on both sides of the ball. The Tribe is built on defense and running the ball with Jonathan Grimes, but the quarterback position has been a struggle for most of the season. Just when it looked like Michael Graham was starting to stabilize the position in the win over Villanova, coach Jimmye Laycock announced that he will miss this week's game with an undisclosed illness. For a team averaging just less than 15 points, it's a big blow just when progress was starting to be made.
Prior to that news, I thought the Tribe would have a chance to pull out a close win, but if William & Mary's replacement at QB can't take advantage of Delaware's secondary, I'm not sure the Tribe can put enough points on the board. Laycock will run Grimes left, right and center but Mike Paulus will have to make some plays to get a win. Even though he struggled last week, I expect Tim Donnelly to be the best quarterback on the field and that will make the difference given both teams solid running games. I'll be in the building and hopefully blogging live in what should be a Delaware victory on Homecoming.
Blue Hens 23 Tribe 16
As usual, thanks to everyone who chips in with comments and helpful insights. Any input from folks who are attending CAA games is always welcome. I’ll be at William & Mary and Delaware on Saturday night. Starting next week, recaps will come on Tuesdays with picks on Friday mornings.
Any comments, questions, etc. are always welcome at CAAToday@yahoo.com
Enjoy the weekend!