It’s our home “advantage” living in New Jersey, The Birthplace of College Football, to have an opportunity to attend four NCAA college football games in three days – two D3 games, one FCS game, and one FBS game – all within about a one-hour drive from our home (depending on traffic, of course). We love the games at all levels when the opponents recruit on the same level and play hard against one another. At the D-3 level, you see players competing and playing for the love of the game. We pay as much attention to these guys as we do to the highest level as a tribute to players who selflessly dedicate their time and effort to play the game of football for as long as they can to enjoy the passion and glory of playing the world’s greatest sport. On three consecutive days in September with two games being played in New York and two here in Jersey, we get to attend two new venues for the first time as well as get to attend a historic game as one team makes its historic debut in its new conference.
On Thursday, September 11 at 7 pm under the Throggs Neck Bridge in New York City connecting The Bronx to Queens on the way out on to Long Island, the State University of New York Maritime Privateers (SUNY-Maritime) of the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference will host the Massachusetts Maritime Buccaneers of the Massachusetts State Athletic Conference in a Division 3 clash. Both schools share the same unique mission to educate young people to prepare for careers in shore-side maritime industry related jobs and civilian sea-going employment (merchant ships, offshore drilling and mineral resource recovery, research ships, etc.) or possibly military careers. Both teams return from 5-5 seasons, and last year the Buccaneers won up at their campus in Buzzard’s Bay on Cape Cod, 24-20. A college game doesn’t look more evenly matched in tradition and recruiting than this one. SUNY Maritime’s Reinhart Field sits on a strip of land jutting out from The Bronx at the western end of Long Island Sound. We anticipate that there will be possible memorial ceremonies on the infamous anniversary of September 11 before the game. The two squads will then face off in their seventh annual Chowder Bowl rivalry (New England White vs. Manhattan Red?). Mass Maritime is coached by Jeremy Cameron entering his tenth season as HC, and the Privateers are mentored by Clayton Kendrick-Holmes, a 1992 graduate of the Naval Academy. We expect some rough seas crashing along the shore of The Sound when the hitting starts that evening. It’s a classic, small school rivalry. We’ve passed the campus under the bridge on several occasions and look forward to finally seeing a game there, especially under the lights of New York City.
On Friday night, we’ll attend a second D-3 game not far from home in Madison, NJ where the College of New Jersey Lions will come into town to play the FDU-Florham Devils in a nonconference game. A year ago, the Lions of the New Jersey Athletic Conference finished 5-5 and the Devils, perennial cellar dwellers of the Middle Atlantic Conference, finished 1-9 overall. However, the Devils’ only win of 2013 came at the expense of the Lions, 18-12, in their season opener. The Lions should be looking for revenge, and once again they open the week before against Ursinus College. However, an obstacle looms ahead of the Lions. The following week, they will return home to host No. 1 rated Wisconsin-Whitewater, D-3 National Champions in the last four of five seasons. Could the Lions be looking ahead past the Devils for the visit by the powerful Warhawks? It will be their dilemma which could make this a competitive game once again. TCNJ Head Coach Wayne Dickens, a Rutgers grad, returns for only his second season there after coaching close to 40 years at both the college and pro level. FDU HC Brian Surace enters his fourth season leading the Devils. His brother Bob is currently Head Coach at Princeton who we will see play Brown later this season at our Big Tailgate Party at Princeton on October 18.
On Saturday, we look forward to a day/night double header. We’ll head back to the Bronx that morning and for the first time we will attend a game on the campus of Fordham University, alma mater of Vince Lombardi and the other six “Blocks of Granite”. At 1 pm, the Rams of Fordham who have eligibility once again to take the Patriot League bid to the FCS playoffs will butt horns with the Rams of Rhode Island of the powerful Colonial Athletic. However URI’s penchant for sitting at the bottom of the conference earned them the right to be Fordham’s Homecoming opponent early in the season. They finished 3-9 in 2013. Fordham finished last season 12-2 after being bounced by Towson in the second round of the FCS playoffs. Last season, Fordham soundly defeated Rhode Island, 51-26, and they do not lose any firepower, at least through the air in 2014. Senior QB Mike Nebrich returns from a stellar season with his two primary targets in twin Texans at wide receiver positions in pre-season All American Sam Ajala and the sure-handed Brian Wetzel. Nebrich completed 73.5% of his passes for 353 completions, 4,380 yards, and 35 TDs a year ago. Ajala and Wetzel both hauled in 14 receptions each for scores. Ajala totaled 1,462 yards and Wetzel captured 1,094. New URI HC Jim Fleming, stepping in as the former defensive coordinator from last year’s surprising Central Florida team, will do his best to counter with a young roster. He will start with either RS Junior QB Kolt Peavey, or possibly start one of two RS freshmen, Mack Lowrie or Luke Casey. RBs returning include Robby Delgado from an injury-shortened season and Jordan Sebastian, but Fleming may be willing to give some time to a couple of freshmen, Harold Cooper or Markey Clarke (Wayne, NJ/Depaul HS), who come in with some impressive high school pedigrees. Fleming hopes to bring some successful defensive schemes to his Rams from UCF to offset the Fordham passing game. It will be a new experience for us attending a game at Rose Hill in The Bronx and we will see a passing attack which has great potential to boost Fordham back into the FCS playoffs as a viable contender to the NCAA title.
Before we head to the Bronx, RU grad and fan Frank Scarpa and I will pack our cooler and give it to our friend and RU football parent Frank Rafferty who will set up our tailgate at our second venue that day for the night cap of our college football twin bill. At 8 pm in New Brunswick, NJ at “The Birthplace of College Football”, Rutgers University will make its debut in the Big Ten hosting one of our two favorite teams, the Penn State Nittany Lions (Navy is our other who we will see Rutgers visit the following Saturday). Frank Rafferty’s son, Nick (Byram Twp., Lenape Valley HS), who we coached together in Little League baseball, will be on the depth chart at linebacker this season as a redshirt freshman for the Scarlet Knights. We’re hoping Nick will get some special team action at least this season and hopefully this night. He’s worked hard and led the White defense in tackles this past spring’s Scarlet-White game with eight. We’re betting on Nick to make the most of his opportunity when practice starts next week in New Brunswick. However, PSU is who we’ve rooted for all these years and we’re looking forward to seeing what James Franklin will bring to the table in his first season with the Lions. The spring game indicated that there’s work to do on the front line, but Franklin’s’ staff supposedly worked out some great things with the O-line at Vanderbilt when they started to turn that SEC bottom feeder around. O-line coach Herb Hand will be mentoring RS Junior center Angelo Mangiro (Roxbury(NJ) HS), currently listed at the top of the depth chart at center for the Lions. Rutgers will be pumped to beat PSU that tonight and the Lions are hoping to get its fourth year of sanctions waived for their outstanding compliance after the scandal so they can get back into the title hunt in 2015. Electricity will certainly be in the air. It will make for an exciting atmosphere to end our three straight days of four college football games. To paraphrase ABC’s late, great college football broadcaster Chris Schenkel, “What better way to spend three straight days in September?”