By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
Amundsen had spent several years preparing for the trek and those previous expeditions to Antarctica and through northern Canada had provided invaluable experience in both planning and execution. The Norwegian was also in a race against his British rival, Robert Scott. Scott, however, despite being an officer in the British Navy, was undone by comparatively weak preparation and poor planning both in terms of the chosen route to the Pole as well as the strategy for getting there.
In the end, both competitors were driven by a single-minded focus to be first, and by extension to prove they were the best at their chosen endeavor. Not surprisingly, the difference was ultimately, leadership and quality decision-making that limited mistakes. Frankly, that sounds a lot like what it takes to win a national championship. At this point, as we look towards this weekend's semifinals, we're left with four quality teams. The one that emerges as D-I national champion on January 7th in Frisco, Texas will be the team that has the best strategy and leadership, combined with single-minded focus on winning.
Given the historical comparison, it's fitting that the two most successful programs in FCS history will be traveling a long way from home on their quest to be first. Georgia Southern heads to the frozen tundra of Fargo, ND while the Montana Grizzlies head south to take on Sam Houston State. Both teams have historically had great success winning playoff games at home but will have to prove their mettle amidst hostile surroundings. There's no better proving ground to show toughness and preparation.
As for the CAA, all their teams were turned back short of the ultimate goal, due to either poor leadership, injuries suffered along the way or simply being bested by superior opposition. That doesn't mean there weren't accomplishments along the way or lessons learned that will play off in future seasons. The well-led teams will build on the experiences of this season while the others will often be doomed to repeat them.
For now, though, let's look back at some of the best moments of the 2011 CAA season with...
THE CAA TODAY TOP 10 PLAYS OF THE YEAR:
Honorable Mention - Cameron Starke's field goal from 40 yards for James Madison to beat Liberty; William & Mary's Jonathan Grimes two touchdowns against New Hampshire; Terrance West's whole season at Towson; Old Dominion's Thomas DeMarco unfortunately getting hurt against UMass allowing Taylor Heinicke to step in at quarterback.
10. Brent Caprio's 2-yard TD pass to Nolan Kearney - Richmond and William & Mary were two teams heading nowhere the last Saturday of the season, but the Oldest Rivalry in the South usually ends up being entertaining and this one was no different. The Spiders took the lead with 4:35 left but the sophomore Caprio drove the Tribe down the field and found Kearney for the winning score with 2 seconds left in a 25-23 win.
9. Eriq Lewis' Interceptions - Old Dominion went into the their last regular season game with an 8-2 record, but a poor non-conference schedule meant that an 8-3 finish would put them in danger of missing the playoffs. They trailed William & Mary 31-28 before a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The Tribe had the ball twice in the closing minutes, both times in Monarch territory, but defensive back Eriq Lewis' two interceptions, first at the ODU 23 then at the ODU 8 in the closing seconds, sealed the win for the Monarchs and their first trip to the D-I playoffs.
8. Stephen Barnette's acrobatic touchdown catch against Old Dominion - One of the great catches of the year in a largely forgettable season for the Spiders tied the game at 28 in the fourth quarter of what would ultimately be a 42-28 loss. (There's a bonus catch from Barnette as well)
7. Travis Hawkins 86-yard kickoff return (Delaware vs. Towson) - Towson was nursing a 16-14 lead when Hawkins shocked the home crowd with a stunning kickoff return that gave the Blue Hens momentum. Delaware's return game was largely the difference in the 35-30 victory that kept the Tigers from an undefeated CAA record and a seed in the D-I playoffs.
6. Maine's blocked PAT against Richmond - Two minutes into the 4th quarter, Richmond lined up for an extra point and a 23-7 lead. When Maine blocked the kick and Jerron McMillian took it the other way for two points, the score was 22-9, Maine took a little momentum and the comeback was on that ultimately led to a 23-22 win. (Play comes at 2:30 minute mark. Enjoy the commentary)
5. DJ. Soven's 27-yard field goal to beat Richmond - In a game where Richmond quarterback set an FCS record by going 31-34 passing and Richmond never punted, the Tigers still pulled out a win on the game's final play. (1:40 mark)
4. Troy Russell 60 yard fumble return vs. UMass - Maine was coming off a loss against Towson and had New Hampshire to close the season so the game with Massachusetts was huge. However, the Minutemen were holding a 21-13 lead and had the ball in Maine territory before quarterback Ray Pendagast was hit and fumbled and Russell returned it 60 yards for the score. The Black Bears still trailed but rode the momentum to a 32-21 win that locked up a playoff berth.
3. Starke's 35-yard game-winner against Eastern Kentucky - James Madison trailed most of the day in the first-round D-I playoff game against the Colonels but after coming back from a 17-7 deficit to tie the score, a time-consuming drive that consumed almost six minutes led to the kick that put the Dukes into the second round.
2. Maine going for two and the win in OT against JMU - In a game that would have an early impact on the CAA season, the Black Bears and Dukes went to overtime in Harrisonburg tied at 17. JMU scored first and Maine answered to cut the lead to 24-23. Coach Jack Cosgrove rolled the dice and went for two and Chris Treister scored on a phenomenal helicopter effort at the goalline. One of two one-point road wins that helped define the Maine season.
1. Enders game-winning almost Hail Mary against ODU - When Towson and Old Dominion met in week seven, it was two upstarts teams going head to head trying to prove themselves. In a back-and-forth game, the Monarchs led 35-24 with less than four minutes to play. But after scoring and getting the ball back, Towson trailed 35-32 and faced fourth-and-29 at their own 37. Quarterback Grant Enders rolled out and threw downfield to wideout Tom Ryan who made the catch in traffic, broke free and went 67 yards for the winning score that ultimately decided the CAA title.
Check in next week for the Top 10 games of the CAA season. As always, any comments, questions, thoughts are welcome at CAAToday@yahoo.com.