NEC Football Notebook (9/4)
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NEC Offensive Player of the Week
ANDREW SMITH, UALBANY
Sr., TB, 6-2, 225 lbs., Schenectady, NY/Guilderland
Smith was responsible for 195 yards from scrimmage during Albany’s convincing season-opening victory over Patriot League member Colgate. The versatile senior tailback ran 24 times for 174 yards and gained another 21 yards on three receptions. Averaging 7.2 yards per carry, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Smith was the key player in a Great Danes’ ground game that totaled 315 yards of offense. Nineteen of Albany’s 27 first downs came on the ground. Smith punched in a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns (2, 1) to put the game out of reach for Colgate. The tailback was effective from the start, bursting ahead for a 20-yard gain on the Great Danes’ first play from scrimmage.
NEC Defensive Player of the Week
PATRICK O’CONNOR, WAGNER
Jr, FS, 6-1, 190 lbs., Leominster, MA/Leominster
O’Connor spearheaded a defensive effort that held FBS member Florida Atlantic scoreless for three quarters and nearly carried Wagner to a road upset of the Owls. The 6-foot-1 free safety made a game-high 10 tackles (five solo, five assisted) in the Seahawks’ 7-3 setback on Friday night in Boca Raton. O’Connor, who made four tackles that limited the opponent to a three-yard gain or less, also came up with a key fumble recovery. With Wagner holding a 3-0 lead and FAU facing a 3rd-and-2 from the Seahawks’ 9-yard line on its first possession of the fourth quarter, the junior safety pounced on a ball that was jarred loose by linebacker CO Prime. The 10 tackles matched a career high for O’Connor, who was recently named a team captain.
NEC Special Teams Player of the Week
OCIEKA BAKOU, UALBANY
Sr., DT, 6-0, 250 lbs., Rochester, NY/Pittsford Sutherland
Bakou produced a pair of punt blocks that tilted the season opener in Albany’s favor. The veteran defensive tackle blocked punts on back-to-back Colgate possessions in the second quarter, turning the tide in a game that Albany initially trailed by a 10-0 margin. Both of the stuffs resulted in immediate points for the Great Danes. First, with Colgate holding a 10-7 lead and punting from its own 23, Bakou swatted a ball that wound up making its way out of the back of the end zone for a safety with 8:19 remaining in the second quarter. About five minutes later it was “déjà vu all over again,” as Bakou got his mitt on Colgate’s punt attempt allowing Kyle Jordan to scoop it up and run 19 yards for a touchdown that put Albany ahead for good. In fewer than 6:00, Bakou matched the entire punt block total of Albany’s 2011 season.
NEC Rookie of the Week
AARON BERARDINO, CENTRAL CONNECTICUT
Fr., DB, 5-11, 175 lbs., Windsor, CT/Windsor
Berardino served in multiple roles during his CCSU Blue Devils’ debut against No. 17 Stony Brook. The freshman defensive back made four unassisted stops, came up with a takeaway, and also returned a pair of kicks. With Blue Devils trailing the defending Big South champions, 21-3, and in need of a big play, the 5-foot-11 Berardino delivered. The former two-time All-State selection in Connecticut picked off a Stony Brook pass at Central’s own 30-yard line with 6:47 remaining in the second quarter. The Blue Devils went on to punch in their first touchdown of the game on the ensuing possession.
Top Performers of Week
? Drew Smith (Albany)
The senior tailback ran for a career-high 174 yards on 24 carries in the Danes’ convincing win over cross-state rival Colgate.
? Dominique Williams (Wagner)
Williams went up against a FBS defense in the opener and produced his 13th career 100-yard rushing performance (24 carries, 117 yards).
? CO Prime (Wagner)
Prime made six stops at Sun Belt Conference member FAU and also flashed his big-play ability by forcing a fumble that was recovered by Wagner.
? Patrick O’Connor (Wagner)
The leading tackler on a defense that held Florida Atlantic scoreless for more than three quarters of play.
? Rock Tate (Sacred Heart)
The veteran receiver led the Pioneers’ offense by making seven catches for 124 yards in a four-overtime setback at Morgan State.
? Justin Sexton (Sacred Heart)
Sexton came up with an interception that stopped Morgan State at midfield with the game tied at 24-24 and 49 seconds left in the fourth quarter. He also made a huge hit for a loss during a goal line the second overtime.
WEEK 1 IS IN THE BOOKS: ALBANY’S WIN OVER COLGATE, WAGNER’S EFFORT AT FAU HIGHLIGHT OPENERS
All nine NEC teams lifted the lid of their 2012 season in Week 1 and did so against stiff competition.
After Wagner opened up with a near-upset of FBS member Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt) on Friday night, five NEC teams faced Top 25 FCS programs during Saturday’s slate.
Monmouth came closest to pulling off an upset in a game that was a lot closer than the 27-17 final score indicates. The Hawks had the ball four times while down 20-17 in the fourth quarter with the chance to find the tying or go-ahead score.
While Robert Morris visited defending NCAA champion, and current National No. 2, North Dakota State, two other NEC members also opened against Top 10 opponents. Saint Francis (PA) traveled to No. 5 James Madison and Duquesne played at No. 8 Old Dominion.
Stanford Sticks: The NEC’s presence in the NFL ranks has grown by one. Former Wagner linebacker Julian Stanford, who was an all-NEC selection in 2011, survived the final cut and was named to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 53-man roster. He joins former Monmouth stars Miles Austin (Dallas Cowboys – Active) and Jose Gumbs (New Orleans Saints – IR) as NEC alumni currently with NFL teams.
Alumnus In the Spotlight: Wagner alumnus, and former all-NEC selection, Frantz Placide (Class of 2010) stepped onto a different stage when he was asked to be a speaker at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Placide, who majored in sociology with a minor in education, spoke in support of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s school choice program that allowed him to attend Archbishop Curley Notre Dame High School in Miami where he was a standout scholastically as well as athletically.
Smith Saves Best for No. 19: The 19th 100-yard rushing game of Drew Smith’s career turned out to be his best yet. Albany’s senior tailback set a single-game career high by running for 174 yards on 24 carries. The NEC Offensive Player of the Week also punched in two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
One Down, Two to Go: By the time the Blue Devils open up their conference schedule on September 22 against Wagner (a game that will air live on MSG and Fox College Sports), they will have already faced three nationally-ranked opponents. Central Connecticut opened up the 2012 season against No. 17 Stony Brook, marking the first of three consecutive games the Blue Devils will play against a National Top 25 team. Central opens its home schedule in Week 2 when No. 16 Lehigh visits New Britain. After taking on the two-time defending Patriot League champions at home, CCSU will hit the road for a Week 3 matchup against No. 14 New Hampshire.
SHU Opener Is History: Sacred Heart’s season-opening four-overtime loss at Morgan State marked the longest game in the program’s history. It was the first overtime game SHU has played since the 2007 season, a 30-23 loss at home to Duquesne. SHU is now 3-3 all-time in overtime games.
Pick Three for Duquesne’s Pass D: Duquesne rode the NEC’s stingiest pass defense to a share of the 2011 conference crown, but was unable to keep No. 8 Old Dominion’s potent pass attack at bay for all 60 minutes of Saturday’s 2012 opener. Although the Dukes gave up nearly 500 yards passing in the contest, their pass defense did produced a number of big plays. Duquesne intercepted Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who threw for 25 touchdowns and one interception last year, twice in the first half and three times on the evening. Zach Richert returned the first pick 67 yards to set up Larry McCoy’s 2-yard second quarter TD plunge. Later in the period, freshman Christian Kuntz returned the second 49 yards for a touchdown with 38 seconds left in the half to give DU a 20-10 lead.
40-for-40: Forty was not only the number of points that Albany scored in its Week 1 win over Colgate, but it is also the number of season head coach Bob Ford has been at the helm. Ford, who has long been deemed “The Architect of Albany Football,” was appointed the head coach when Albany reinstated its football program in 1970 following a 46-year absence.
They’ve Done That Before: Albany scored the go-ahead touchdown on a block punt play during its season opener against Colgate. It wasn’t the first time the Great Danes had capitalized off a punt block. In fact, it was the second time is as many games. In last year’s NCAA Division I FCS playoff tilt vs. Stony Brook (Nov. 26, 2011), Dean Mercuris stuffed a punt and Brian Parker took it in for a touchdown. In their first game since the heart-breaking playoff defeat, senior Ocieka Bakou blocked a second-quarter punt and Kyle Jordan scooped it up and took it in for six points.
Fox Trap: Bryant’s Jordan Brown averaged 5.5 yards per carry on his way to the third-highest single-season rushing total (1,815 yards) in NEC history in 2011. Thanks to a stingy Marist defense, however, Brown managed only 2.0 yards per rush attempt in the 2012 season opener. The Red Foxes limited Brown to 43 yards on 22 carries.
Ends at Seven: The Bulldogs had not incurred defeat in a home opener since 2004. Prior to their setback to Marist in Smithfield this past weekend, Bryant had won seven consecutive home openers.
Kozlowski’s First Is Best: Bryant freshman kicker Dom Kozlowski put Bryant on the score board during Saturday’s season opener, while putting himself in the program’s record book. The rookie placekicker connected on his first career field goal to pull Bryant within 7-3 with 9:08 remaining in the second quarter. The field goal was measured at 48 yards, making it the longest in the Bulldogs’ history.
Clements’ Triple-Digit Debut: Junior quarterback Andrew Clements made his first career start in Central Connecticut’s season opener at No. 17 Stony Brook. The signal caller completed 8 of 11 pass attempts, but did the most damage with his legs. Clements totaled 103 yards on 15 rush attempts and produced touchdown runs of 28 and 50 yards. He also punted once – a 48-yard kick.
Streak Snapped: Monmouth’s loss at two-time defending Patriot League champion Lehigh snapped the team’s five-game road win streak. The Hawks will have the opportunity to end a less-desirable streak when they open their home schedule in Week 2 against Rhode Island. Monmouth, which went 5-0 on the road and 0-6 at home in 2011, has lost its last eight games at the Jersey Shore.
New Role, Same Success: Monmouth wide Receiver turned cornerback Mitchell Pollard not only recorded three solo tackles in his first game on defense in Week 1, but also picked off a fourth quarter pass that led to a field goal.
Familiar Face Fills Void: With head coach Paul Gorham on medical leave, long-time assistant Mark Nofri led the Pioneers onto the field in his first game as interim head coach at Morgan State. It is Nofri’s 19th season on the SHU sidelines.
Grizzled Veteran vs. Rookie: When Wagner opened the 2012 season at FBS member Florida Atlantic, head coach Walt Hameline, beginning his 32nd season, was coaching the 330th game of his career while on the opposite sideline, Carl Pelini was coaching in his first.
Good First Step: Monmouth running back Kwabena Asante, who had never carried the ball for the Hawks in his previous 2 seasons, exploded for 94 yards on 11 carries for an 8.5 average against Lehigh in Week 1.
Saint Francis (PA) looks to win its third consecutive home opener when Bryant visits Loretto in Week 2. … Robert Morris senior placekicker Greg Langer has successfully converted eight straight field goals (as well as 12 of his last 14 overall), which is the longest such streak in school history.
? Ryan Kirchner, WR (Albany)
Senior wide receiver Ryan Kirchner moved into third all-time at UAlbany with 127 career receptions. He needs nine more to tie for second and 21 more to break Tim Bush’s record of 147.
? Jordan Harris, WR (Bryant)
Jordan Harris moved into second on Bryant’s all-time receiving yards list. He has 1,543 receiving yards in his career and is just 107 shy from tying school record holder Justin Kix.
? Jordan Brown, RB (Bryant)
Jordan Brown is just 217 yards away from becoming Bryant’s all-time rushing leader. He has racked up 3,305 yards in his career.
? Kyle Frazier, QB (Monmouth)
With his third quarter touchdown strike to Neal Sterling, Kyle Frazier is now one passing TD away from tying Bill Rankin for fourth on the program’s all-time list.
? Eric Spillane, PK (Monmouth)
Eric Spillane moved into sole possession of ninth place in all-time scoring at Monmouth with 137 points. He is just one point away from eighth.
? Jeff McInerney, Head Coach (Central Connecticut)
“We have to be more consistent on defense. We have to be physical for 60 minutes, we had some moments, but not enough of them.”
- following CCSU’s 49-17 loss at No. 17 Stony Brook
? Bob Ford, Head Coach (Albany)
“On the sideline you could just sense it. You have to break a team’s spirit. You have to break them down. And I think we did that early in the game.”
- on UAlbany’s consecutive blocked punts and the ensuing momentum shift
? Mark Nofri, Interim Head Coach (Sacred Heart)
“I thought we played really hard and I am excited about the way they hung in there when you go four overtimes in the season opener and we didn’t melt. It showed me we were in great shape and ready for the challenge. I am proud of the way we fought. It was back and forth. We just need to learn to finish.”
- following four-overtime loss at Morgan State
? Kevin Callahan, Head Coach (Monmouth)
“I felt like we had their defense on their heels. I felt like their defense was extremely tired. We had them, we knocked them off the ball, we gained four yards on the play but fumbled the ball at the end of the run.”
- on the decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Lehigh 8-yard line
WEEK 1 RECAPS
Florida Atlantic 7, Wagner 3 (Friday)
Wagner held a 3-0 halftime lead and nearly stunned FBS member Florida Atlantic in Friday night’s season opener in Boca Raton. David Lopez drilled a 30-yard field goal to open the game’s scoring with 11:13 remaining in the second quarter. Florida Atlantic’s lone score came on Graham Wilbert’s 39-yard touchdown pass 3:24 into the fourth quarter. The Owls’ scoring drive started on Wagner’s 39-yard line after the Seahawks were forced to punt from deep within their own end. Wagner running back Dominique Williams carried 24 times for 117 yards.
Albany 40, Colgate 23
Drew Smith carried 24 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns in fueling defending NEC champion Albany’s season-opening victory over Colgate. The Great Danes faced a 10-0 deficit midway through the second quarter, but scored 16 unanswered points to take a lead into the break. Albany trailed 10-9 when Kyle Jordan returned a blocked punt 19 yards for a touchdown 3:01 before halftime and the Danes led the rest of the way.
No. 16 Lehigh 27, Monmouth 17
Monmouth found itself looking for the go-ahead score for the entire fourth quarter and never found it in its season-opening setback to Lehigh. The Hawks trailed the two-time defending Patriot League champion, 21-17, heading into the final frame, but were knocking on the door midway through the quarter when they failed to convert a 4th-and-1 from Lehigh’s 7-yard line. Monmouth totaled 182 yards on the ground, 94 of which came on 11 carries from KB Asante. Lehigh’s All-American receiver Ryan Spadola made nine receptions for 111 yards.
No. 8 Old Dominion 57, Duquesne 23
Duquesne saw its 20-10 halftime lead evaporate as No. 8 Old Dominion erupted for 47 points after the break to post a 57-23 victory in the season opener for both sides. The game was played before a sellout crowd of 19,818 at S.B. Ballard Stadium in Norfolk and those in attendance were treated to a 492-yard passing performance from ODU Sophomore Taylor Heinicke. Duquesne senior signal caller Sean Patterson went 9-of-21 passing for 94 yards and a touchdown, while tailback Larry McCoy, who had rushed for at least 74 yards in his past 22 games, was limited to 49 yards on 15 carries.
Morgan State 30, Sacred Heart 27 (4OT)
It took 60 minutes and an additional four overtimes to determine a victor in Sacred Heart’s season-opening affair at Morgan State. The host Bears clinched the 30-27 victory on a 20-yard field goal by Ervin Gonzalez one possession after Sacred Heart’s go-ahead 35-yard attempt sailed wide. Sacred Heart quarterback Tim Little, who was the NEC’s leading passer in 2011, completed 24 of 50 attempts for 266 yards and two scores, but was intercepted twice. Morgan State’s Joe Rankin took one of those picks 72 yards for a second quarter touchdown.
No. 2 North Dakota State 52, Robert Morris 0
The defending national champions treated their home crowd to a shutout victory of Robert Morris. On a night when the Bison raised their championship banner, they limited the visiting Colonials to 88 yards of total offense. Quarterback Brock Jensen, who finished 16-for-23 passing for 217 yards, threw two third-quarter touchdown passes to build upon a 17-0 halftime lead. Robert Morris only managed 66 yards of pass offense. Receiver Duane Mitchell made three catches for 34 yards for the Colonials.
No. 17 Stony Brook 49, Central Connecticut 17
Stony Brook gained 301 yards through its ground game and rode it to a wire-to-wire victory over Central Connecticut. The two teams had split the last four meetings, but hadn’t met since 2007. Miguel Maysonet rushed 16 times for 172 yards and a score for the defending Big South champion Seawolves. CCSU received 103 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 15 attempts by quarterback Andrew Clements.
No. 5 James Madison 55, Saint Francis (PA) 7
James Madison used its ground attack to overpower Saint Francis (PA) on Saturday night at Bridgeforth Stadium. The Dukes gained 377 yards rushing in a game that they led 34-0 at the break. Fullback Kevin Parker put the Red Flash on the scoreboard when he hauled in a two-yard touchdown pass from John Kelly with 13:58 remaining in the fourth quarter. The 2012 season opener marked the fourth straight year during which Saint Francis opened its non-conference schedule by facing a Top 25 opponent.
Marist 35, Bryant 10
Marist was able to bottle up Walter Payton Award candidate Jordan Brown and hand Bryant a 35-10 defeat in its season opener in Smithfield. Bryant gained 295 yards in the game with Brown responsible for 43 yards on 22 carries. Bulldogs’ freshman kicker Dom Kozlowski drove home a program-record 48-yard field goal to cut Marist’s lead to 7-3 with 9:08 remaining in the second quarter before the visiting Red Foxes ran off 28 unanswered points to take control.