By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today columnist
College Sporting News
With 11 teams in the CAA, there is no way to have a true round robin for a football season. However, the schedule gods have blessed CAA fans with a smaller version as the three conference leaders, Towson, Maine and New Hampshire were drawn to face each other over the last three weeks. It's a bonus for the fans and the participants, and instead of petitioning the Crown, the round robin will result in one team wearing one.
Towson at Maine
In the first game of the round-robin between Towson, Maine and New Hampshire to decide the CAA title, the Tigers made a trip up to Orono to take on the Black Bears at Alfond Stadium.
On the CAA coaches call last week, Towson's Rob Ambrose was asked about playoff talk among the program. His response was, "It probably started to show up before Delaware. But it was a very educational week for the entire program. Learned about the need to keep focus on the little things. Need to pay attention to what we do and have fun doing it. One of the best weeks of practice I’ve ever been involved in before the Maine game."
Coach Ambrose's offense jumped on the board in the first quarter the same way they’ve been doing all season, with a balanced, time-consuming drive. This one covered 66 yards in 10 plays and was finished off by the usual suspect as Terrance West took care of the last eight yards for his 19th touchdown of the season. But, Maine has been no stranger to long drives themselves this year and the home team answered with a 70 yard drive, needing nine plays to even the score at 7-7 as Smith eluded the Towson rush and scampered up the middle for a 15-yard touchdown run.
After a Towson punt, the first game-turning play happened as tailback David Hood, filling in for the injured Pushaun Brown, fumbled at the Maine ten-yard line and Towson’s Danzel White pounced on the ball as the first quarter ended. It didn’t take long for Terrance West to take advantage three plays later as he punched it in from the two for a 14-7 lead. Midway through the second quarter, Tremayne Dameron pushed the lead to 20-7 with a 19-yard touchdown run. Things got a little crazy on the conversion, however, as Maine blocked the extra point and returned it 90 yards to cut the lead to 20-9. Instead of a 14 point lead it was 11, but Towson kept it there with a little payback as they blocked a field goal before the half.
Maine took the opening kickoff of the second half and scored to make it 20-16 but Towson responded with a signature drive, moving 72 yards as their offensive line continued to control the game at the point of attack. Senior tackle Henry Glackin teamed up with sophomores Eric Pike, Charles Johnson, Randall Harris, Anthony Davis and Doug Shaw to enable the Tigers to control the line of scrimmage.
“That’s where it all starts,” says Ambrose. “Our line coach, John Donatelli and our strength coach, Jeremy Pick, have done an outstanding job working with these guys. They have taken little boys and turned them into grown men.”
Soon after, Kenton Powell intercepted a Warren Smith pass and when Enders ran it in from two yards out, it was 33-16, Towson. Maine would score a couple more touchdowns but never got within 10 the rest of the way as the Tigers added one more 10-play, 75-yard drive to make it 40-23 with under six minutes left.
Towson's dominance on the ground was striking as Dameron and West both had over 100 yards and the team rolled up over 300 on the ground. Dameron, injured most of the season, is rounding into form and West has been dominant all year, now leading the nation with 21 touchdown.
James Madison at New Hampshire
I'll let CAA Today contributor Peter Colby sum this one up:
Couldn't have asked for a better day to play football in November in New Hampshire. Clear, deep blue sky, almost no wind and temperature 55 degrees at two o'clock. Those Southern teams will be wanting to play here late in the season after seeing how nice it can be in Durham and Orono. Or not.
Despite the perfect day and a worthy opponent, I would guess there were only about 6500 in attendance. The hockey season has begun and UNH played Maine at 7PM. A lot of season ticket holders have a package deal, Football, Hockey and Basketball. Most of those will choose hockey every time. Confirmed by the sparseness of the tailgating area visible from my seat in the stands. The hard core populate the tailgating area and they weren't there.
For JMU in the first quarter it looked like they were going to run all over UNH. And run they did. But UNH adjusted starting in the second period and closed off lanes that had been open earlier.
UNH Quarterback, Kevin Decker was superb in the first half and good in the second. JMU did a good job of pressuring him all game. Roughing him up in the first half and got called for it twice. In the second half they stopped his scrambling yards as no one else so far. JMU are good tacklers. Kevin Decker took a pounding but stayed in there. Tough young man.
Third week in a row I've thought the opposing quarterback/wide receiver combination not good enough. Somewhere in here we are going to have to give the UNH secondary some credit.
Game would have been closer had JMU not taken so many penalties. JMU had a touchdown called back in the 4th quarter which would have changed the complexion of the end game and I thought Micky Mathews (JMU Coach) about to come out of his skin. He ranted and and raved and misbehaved so much that he gave grounds for being thrown out. On the other hand, he graciously came to Coach Mac at the end of the game, hat in hand, hand outstretched.
Richmond at Old Dominion
In a crazy back-and-forth game in Norfolk, VA, the Old Dominion offense was ultimately too much for the undermanned Richmond defense and pulled out a 42-28 win. Richmond played the game without four key defensive standouts as senior CB Tremayne Graham, junior S Cooper Taylor, DL Corey Jackson and sophomore DL Jacob Pierce all were sidelined with injury and it would show as the Monarchs amassed 587 yards of total offense.
ODU jumped out to a quick 11-0 lead after a Taylor Heinicke touchdown pass, two-point conversion and an added field goal but Richmond got on the board with a touchdown pass from Aaron Corp to tight end Kevin Finney and a two-pointer cut the lead to 11-8. However, Old Dominion took control from there and had a 2815 lead and the ball in the third quarter when things got interesting.
The Richmond defense was having little luck stopping the Monarchs and Heinicke had the home team moving again, facing second-and-goal from the RIchmond 15. Heinicke scrambled to avoid pressure and looked for the goal line. However, he was hit by Richmond linebacker Darius McMillan inside the five and it was recovered by Doug Howell. As the crowd watched stunned, Howell found himself behind several blockers and rumbled 96 yards for a score that put the Spiders right back into the game at 28-22. With the momentum behind them, Richmond soon scored again, this time on a leaping, one-handed, ESPN Top Ten worthy catch by wide receiver Stephen Barnette. Unfortunately, the momentum came to a halt as the extra point was missed and the freshman sensation Heinicke took over.
This Monarch team has shown itself to be resourceful and they took the lead back with a 71-yard drive that took 11 plays and took the life from the Richmond defense. The 35-28 lead would not be relinquished and Old Dominion tacked on another touchdown for the final 42-28 score.
Heinicke was tremendous again, going 34-of-47 for 373 yards and three touchdowns. Aaron Corp was 24-43 for 256 and three touchdowns of his own but came up short yet again.
William & Mary at Rhode Island
The Tribe headed to Kingston, RI last Saturday to face the host Rams in a game between teams heading in different directions. However, the surprise was that it was Rhode Island on the upswing and the Tribe the struggling squad.
The new confidence of coach Joe Trainer’s Rams was evident early as he went for it on 4th-and-one from the Tribe 41 early in the first quarter. Soon after, quarterback Bob Bentsen, one of the positive surprises of the season, hit Joe Migliarese on a 32-yard touchdown pass. The score didn’t last long, however, as Jonathan Grimes broke free on the first play of the Tribe’s drive and went 60 yards. However, the College’s struggling special teams showed up again and a missed extra point left things at 7-6.
Trainer was aggressive again on the next drive, going for it on 4th down, this time from the Tribe 6, but Bentsen’s pass was incomplete in the end zone. The gambling seemed to be infectious as Jimmye Laycock, clearly lacking confidence in his kicking game, went for it on 4th-and-one on the URI 28, but Grimes was stuffed and the teams eventually went to the half still at 7-6.
Grimes stunned the home crowd early in the third quarter when he took the ball on an innocuous 3rd-and-17 play, but he got clear and romped 87 yards for a go-ahead score to put the College up 13-7. The Senior had another tremendous game, piling up 208 yards (3rd best in school history) with the two touchdowns. If William & Mary had been a better team this year, Grimes might have been in line for some national accolades as it has been a spectacular season as he finishes up in Williamsburg.
It appeared that the tide had turned and that the Tribe would seize control of the game after recovering a URI fumble, but a rare fumble from Grimes inside the Rhode Island cost the visitors the chance to take a two-score lead and kept the Rams in striking distance. When Caprio was intercepted in URI territory on the next drive, the mistakes were adding up for William & Mary and the inability to open up a bigger lead would cost them.
Special teams have been a thorn in the Tribe’s side all season and it continued as URI blocked a Tribe punt early in the 4th quarter. The Rams converted first a 4th-and-12 from the William & Mary 30 and then Chris Mancuso scored from the 2 on a 4th-and-one play to give Rhode Island a 14-13 lead. The Tribe answered back with their most productive drive of the day, moving 64 yards in six plays for a 21-14 lead with less than eight minutes left. However, the resurgent Rams bounced right back with a 56-yard drive of their own and Bentsen tied it up, hitting Ty Bynum from 15 yards to even it up at 21 apiece with 5:26 left.
Amazingly, special teams reared its head again and Laycock was stunned to see another punt get blocked. Rhode Island didn’t do much after taking over at the W&M 26, but they did enough to get Louis Feinstein in position for a 27-yarder to take a 24-21 lead. The Tribe weren’t able to get out of their own end and the Rams ran out the clock for the win.
The game summed up the season for the Tribe as Grimes was fantastic, but the quarterback play was inconsistent, the special teams were poor and the team made enough mistakes to lose, despite outgaining URI by more than 100 yards and rushing for 236. For the Rams, they’ve now beaten Delaware and William & Mary while taking New Hampshire to the limit. With Bentsen at quarterback, they’re playing at confidence and will be a dangerous opponent for JMU this week and for Towson to close the season.
CAA Football Offensive Player of the Week and College Sporting News National All-Star - Terrance West, RB, Towson
The freshman carried the ball a season-high 21 times gaining a season-high 183 yards and three touchdowns in the 40-30 win at Maine. West, now a five-time CAA Football weekly honoree, has rushed for 100-or-more yards in five straight games for Towson and leads the country in scoring at 14 points per game with an FCS leading 21 touchdowns.
CAA Football Defensive Player of the Week and College Sporting News National All-Star - James Pitts, DB, Villanova
Pitts hauled in three interceptions in pacing Villanova's defense to six forced turnovers and a win at Massachusetts Saturday, 35-17. The CAA Football Defensive Player of the Week also garnered seven tackles and added a pass deflection to his performance. The senior's three picks marked the first Wildcat to haul in three INTs in a single-game since Orin Solomon did it against New Hampshire in 1990. On the year Pitts has a league-best five interceptions, including one for a touchdown.
CAA Football Special Teams Player of the Week - Louis Feinstein, PK/P, Rhode Island
Feinstein's only field goal of the day was enough to propel him to the CAA Football Special Teams Player of the Week honor and his team to a 24-21 win over William and Mary. Feinstein, now a two-time Special Teams winner in his career, posted the game-clinching 27-yarder with 1:39 left in the game after nailing all three of his previous PAT attempts. The senior was part of the Rams' special teams unit which blocked two punts resulting in 10 of the Rams' 17 fourth-quarter points on the day.
CAA Football Rookie of the Week - Taylor Heinicke, QB, Old Dominion
Heinicke completed 34-of-47 passes and tossed three touchdowns in helping Old Dominion to a 42-28 win over Richmond Saturday. The now three-time CAA Football Rookie of the Week accumulated a season-best 373 yards through the air against the Spiders and also rushed five times for a net total of 48 yards. The recent Jerry Rice Award Watch List addition is averaging close to 250 passing yards over his six games and has thrown 15 touchdowns to just one interception.
Towson 5-1 7-2
New Hampshire 5-1 7-2
Maine 5-1 7-2
Old Dominion 5-2 8-2
Delaware 3-3 5-4
James Madison 3-3 5-4
Massachusetts 3-3 5-4
William & Mary 2-4 4-5
Rhode Island 2-4 3-6
Villanova 1-6 2-8
Richmond 0-6 3-6
It’s a three-team race for the CAA title. Towson took the first leg of the round robin last weekend and will look to sweep UNH, Maine and ODU with a win this weekend. A win on Saturday and a win at URI to close the season will give the Tigers a home game and a good chance at a seed. Any slip-ups and they might be on the round in the first round.
Maine is in a tricky position. A win against UMass this weekend will lock up a spot, but a loss would send them to UNH next week looking possibly at three straight losses to close the season 7-4. They could still get in but it would be dicey and they’d definitely be on the road.
New Hampshire has all kinds of possibilities. Like Towson, two wins would give them the CAA title and possibly a seed but definitely a home game. Two losses and a 7-4 finish might still get them in, but Coach McDonnell doesn’t want to sweat it out.
ODU is a lock at this point, but has no way to win the title despite a likely 9-2 finish.
JMU and Delaware are both still alive but their best case is to sneak in as one of the last at-large teams at 7-4. Best to just win this week and see how things go around the rest of the country.
MY WEEK 10 TOP 25
1: North Dakota State Bison
2: Montana State Bobcats
3: Sam Houston State Bearkats
4: Georgia Southern Eagles
5: Towson Tigers
6: Northern Iowa Panthers
7: Montana Grizzlies
8: Maine Black Bears
9: New Hampshire Wildcats
10: Lehigh Mountain Hawks
11: Wofford Terriers
12: Old Dominion Monarchs
13: Furman Paladins
14: Appalachian State Mountaineers
15: Liberty Flames
16: Illinois State Sycamores
17: Harvard Crimson
18: Brown Bears
19: Central Arkansas Bears
20: Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens
21: Eastern Kentucky Colonels
22: James Madison Dukes
23: Indiana State Sycamores
24: Georgetown Hoyas
25: Stony Brook Seawolves
Not a lot of changes this week, with Towson moving up and Maine down and Furman and App State moving in opposite directions after that upset last week. Had some fun putting in Georgetown and Stony Brook at the tail end of the 25 with few attractive alternatives.
The last couple of weeks have seen the playoff picture come into focus and especially in terms of the seeds, which are fairly clear barring surprises the rest of the way. Some of the at-larges are pretty much locked up as well. The tail end of the field, in terms of auto-bids and the last couple of at-larges are still to be determined but here’s a CAA Today stab at the field:
Central Arkansas @ Illinois St.
Winner @ North Dakota State
New Hampshire @ Georgia Southern
E. Kentucky @ Liberty
Winner @ Towson
Wofford @ Lehigh
Albany @ Maine
Winner @ Montana State
Appalachian State @ Old Dominion
Norfolk St. @ Furman
Winner @ Sam Houston State
Montana @ Northern Iowa
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
Richmond at Delaware
Richmond heads to Newark, DE to face the Blue Hens looking for their first CAA win. For the Blue Hens, there’s still an outside chance for a playoff berth, but mostly they’re looking to build some momentum heading into the rivalry game with Villanova next week. The Spiders gave Old Dominion a pretty good battle last week, but that’s pretty much been the case all season, as has the ultimate result, a loss. It’s still hard to believe that this team beat an FBS squad but hasn’t been able to win a CAA game. Senior QB Aaron Corp continues to put up stellar numbers but not enough to overcome an injury-depleted defense that has struggled to stop people all season. Tempted to pick the Spiders, but hard to go against the trend.
Brawling Birds 27 Angry Arachnids 23
Rhode Island at James Madison
As discussed earlier, Rhode Island is playing with confidence right now. With recent home wins against William & Mary and Delaware, do they have enough belief to go and get a win on the road? It’s a tough task, heading down to Harrisonburg to face a Dukes team that has its back squarely against the wall. There’s a possible at-large bid to be had for Mickey Matthews but JMU needs to beat first the Rams and then UMass next week on the road. Mickey gets his starting quarterback back from suspension just in time to replace the banged-up Jace Edwards, but will it be enough to rally JMU? The Dukes played poorly last week at New Hampshire and are facing a Rhode Island team that seems to have turned a corner behind Bob Bentsen, and should come in playing pretty loose. Joe Trainer sounded worried about holding off the Dukes pass rush, but said ultimately his team’s execution not their preparation would determine the outcome. I think the Rams will threaten to win, but ultimately will lose the physical battle.
Dukes 26 Cats 20
Massachusetts at Maine
The final installment of yet another classic New England rivalry has a lot at stake as Maine tries to stay in the CAA title hunt as they host UMass in Orono. The Black Bears lost control of the top spot in the CAA after losing to Towson but can still win the league and will have a good chance at hosting at least a game in the playoffs if they can close the season with two wins. Massachusetts looked to be a tricky matchup before laying an egg against Villanova last week. This is a must win for Maine and if Pushaun Brown can return this week, I think they have too much balance for the Minutemen.
Given Brandon Hill’s performance at quarterback last week, UMass needs Steve Probst to be available and effective, but coming off an injury, that’s a question mark. Ultimately, the Black Bears need this game to force the game of the year against New Hampshire next week. Should be a good way to go out for "one of the more profoundly impactful group of seniors we're had around here," according to coach Jack Cosgrove.
Down Easters 30 Bay Staters 21
Old Dominion at William & Mary
The Tribe fan base is terrified of this game on Saturday. Ever since it was announced that Old Dominion was going to start up a football program, the folks in Williamsburg have been worried about the impact it would have. In their first ever meeting, the Tribe pulled out a narrow win in Norfolk last season that was marked by some physical play and I expect it to be a similarly aggressive game this year. Unfortunately, the Tribe is struggling in too many areas right now while the Monarchs are looking to close out the season with one more strong effort. What kind of season would the Tribe have had if they had been able to turn to a backup quarterback the quality of Taylor Heinicke? The freshman has led ODU since early in the CAA season and a win over their rivals could put the Monarchs in position for a possible home game in the second round of the playoffs.
Either way, it just seems like Bobby Wilder has too much team for the Tribe right now. I think the William & Mary seniors, led by Jonathan Grimes, will play an impassioned game, but the Tribe’s weaknesses at QB and in special teams along with some struggles against the run will ultimately allow for an ODU win.
Monarchs 34 Tribe 23
GAME OF THE WEEK
New Hampshire at Towson
It will be Senior Day on Saturday afternoon at Johnn Unitas stadium as Towson and New Hampshire face off in a critical game that will go a long way in determining the CAA championship. For those 13 Towson seniors who endured so much losing in previous seasons, all they want is a win.
“These young men represent the best there is in Towson football,” says Coach Rob Ambrose. “They have seen the worst of times and they helped to build the foundation for the best of times. They understand the value of teamwork and they are the ones who stuck with it."
Towson University will be seeking its sixth victory against a nationally-ranked team this year and closing out the most successful home seasin in school history.
The game will match the two best offensive teams in the CAA, but they go about it in different ways. Towson leads the CAA in total offense, averaging 438.9 yards per game. UNH is second, averaging 434.8 total yards per game. However, while the Tigers lead the CAA in rushing, the Wildcats are the top passing team in the CAA. With freshman phenom Terrance West leading the way, the Tigers have run for 200+ yards in eight of nine games and are averaging 238.4 per game overall. With the success of the ground game, Towson has been able to control tempo, most notably by converting an incredible 52.5% on third down, frustrating opposing defenses and keeping opposing offenses off the field. Sophomore Grant Enders has also been doing a tremendous job running the offense, being efficient with the ball (66% passing) and making big plays when needed.
The question that needs to be answered is how does a team with little success as a program deal with heightened expectations? We got a first glimpse when the Tigers lost at home to Delaware, and we'll see this weekend whether they're learned. Towson will be looking for its first victory against a New Hampshire program that is the most consistent in the CAA. The Wildcats and coach McDonnell have gone to the playoffs seven years in a row and would love nothing more than to take the CAA title and stay in Durham, NH for a home game or two. Kevin Decker continues to lead the proficient passing attack, but the Wildcats have been getting better production out of the running game. The big challenge in this game will be for the New Hampshire defense. As I mentioned last week, they have not been tested by a big-time offense in a while and here's they're facing the best one in the league.
This will be Towson's 7th game against a nationally-ranked opponent. That kind of schedule prepares a team for big late-season games and this squad looks battle hardened. With a CAA title on the line and playing the last home game of the season, I think the Tigers are ready to officially stamp the 2011 CAA season as the Year of the Tiger.
Towson 37 New Hampshire 27