Lewisburg, PA (November 7) – Bucknell PK Derek Maurer (Piscataway, NJ) booted a 44-yard FG to salvage the Bison’s possession in OT to provide a 27-24 lead over Fordham. With momentum still building on their previous possession to tie the game 24-all in regulation, the Rams scored on a 10-yard TD pass from QB Pete Maetzold to WR Tebucky Jones on their initial possession to win the game and clinch at least a tie for the Patriot League title, 30-24. Based on their head-to-head win over Bucknell, the Rams (9-1, 5-0) locked up the automatic Patriot League bid to the FCS playoffs that will start on November 29. It was well-played, hard-fought game to the end despite both squads starting back-up quarterbacks for injured starters in front of a national TV audience and a disappointing crowd of only 3,815. This game was delayed too many times by CSTV commercial time-outs, a roaring fire near the concession stand, and an injured referee. For collegefootballfan.com, it was the first of two non-FBS games in central Pennsylvania this weekend, our first game ever at Christy Mathewson Memorial Stadium, and our 125th venue attended over all (now 50 FBS stadiums, 50 other division stadiums, and 25 neutral sites).
Bison free safety Lou Taglionetti put a stop to the initial Fordham drive of the game with a pick in the end zone, but the highlight of the first period was the smoke pouring out over the field from behind the concession stand in the open end of the stadium. Flames shot out from behind the food wagon where workers continued to serve customers as the trailer looked as if it might catch fire at any moment. Many fans sitting near me were shocked and concerned that no one evacuated the stand as the white, thick smoke poured out over the playing field to halt the game for several minutes. Fire trucks showed up and the fire from the vessel somewhere behind the stand came under control. When the smoke cleared, the Rams weren’t deterred. Their drive continued and Chase Edmonds, second leading FCS rusher in the nation, scored from the one to for a 7-0 Fordham lead.
Early in the second on fourth and eleven at the Fordham 30, Bucknell QB Trey Lauletta filling in for injured starter R.J. Nitti, threw a 17-yard pass to Will Carter (7 catches, 120 yards, 1 TD) for a first down at the 13. From there, Lauletta (13 for 26 for 191 yards and three TDs) threw a pass to his big TE Jack Hartman (Pinelands HS, Little Egg Harbor Twp., NJ) who hauled it in in the end zone for a tying score. Fordham started from their 25 after the ensuing kickoff to eventually set up a 25-yard FG by Michael Maranado to regain the lead for Fordham, 10-7. Maurer matched Fordham’s three with a 31-yarder on Bucknell’s next series to even the score again. A Bucknell punt netted ten yards to give the Rams possession on their 20. Eighty yards later, Maetzold (24 of 34, 2 INTs, 285 yards, 2 TDs) fired over the middle to his TE Dan Light for a 20-yard TD pass to give the visitors a 17-10 lead before the half.
Great game thus far though the stadium was disappointingly less than half full for a game of this magnitude to be played at Bucknell in along time. Just as well, when I looked around the stadium, I couldn’t have imagined where on this small, tight campus a lot more people could have parked. But again, there didn’t seem to be that many students in attendance for a school of 3,500. Almost as many Fordham fans were in attendance as there were local Bison fans and students – for a championship no less. Through my binoculars, in the press box across the way I could see Vern Lundquist and Randy Cross doing their half time spiel for the CSTV audience. I’ve attended enough Navy games in Annapolis to understand how much this network can prolong a college football game. Fans sitting nearby reminded me. “Get him off the field!” (The guy in the red vest.) “Let’s go! What’s taking so long?” Unofficially I counted at least 16 TV timeouts and all lasted at least four to five minutes. When a team calls a time-out, they’re generally limited to 30 seconds. The emphasis is no longer about football strategies, but marketing strategies. Even after impromptu breaks in the action, i.e. injuries, they extend the stoppage with a TV timeout! That’s over an hour of wasted time and momentum deflation. We understand TV’s about making money for these football programs, but charge more for less commercial time if there such a demand out there. This game lasted over three and a half hours. It’s getting out of hand. It takes away from how the game should be played. The NCAA should consider ways to balance the game action with the commercialization to make money to reduce the downtime during a game. Of course, there’s nothing much more television has to offer to fill in the hours lost if football did this. Like the overage of the number of college bowl games, ESPN is desperate to fill air time.
In the third period, a Maranado FG attempt went wide right for Fordham. During Bucknell’s subsequent possession on a critical fourth and two, they cleverly drew FU off sides. QB Lauletta was under center and quickly stood up and dropped back without the ball. The rest of the offense remained set. Fordham fans were ticked off. “Cheaters!” They yelled. The officials convened and confirmed the penalty. It looked like the right call. With so many plays now run from the shotgun, HC Joe Susan’s staff figured a way to get the defense to jump. You rarely see it work conventionally any more. The strategy paid off. The Bison drove to the two where Lauletta sprinted right and fired to TE Pat Kelly running a sprint out pattern to the right sideline to even the score, 17-17.
Midway through the fourth, Bucknell sacked Maetzold who fumbled and DE Doug Whitlock (Red Bank Catholic, NJ) recovered at the Ram 17. An impromptu celebration by a BU defender running off the field sent the Referee flying to the ground in pain. As the Bucknell medical staff attended to Referee Michael Sechrist, the officiating crew gathered to discuss how to handle the game going forward if he couldn’t recover quickly. However, Sechrist got up, brushed himself off and got back to work. We sometimes don’t realize the risks these officials are exposed to with big, quick bodies flying around on the field. Great job to come back! The turnover resulted in a 25-yard over the shoulder TD catch by Will Carter in the far corner of the end zone for Bucknell’s first lead with 3:15 remaining in the game, 24-17. Despite the lead change, Big Mo showed up on Fordham’s side. Three consecutive plays: a 16-yard completion to Jones, a 28-yard run by Edmonds (21 carries for 103 yards and two TDs) , and a 27-yard completion to Sam Ajala put Fordham on the four, and Edmonds took it over to knot the score, 24-24, with 2:05 left in the game. The score stood as time expired and the outcome in OT determined that Fordham will play in this year’s FCS tournament. Bucknell is a long shot to get an at-large bid. The Patriot League has never had two teams invited to participate during the same year.
Bucknell will travel to Holy Cross next weekend before hosting Colgate in their season finale the following week. Fordham will host Georgetown next to try to finish their first season ever undefeated in the Patriot League and to sit alone on top for sole possession of first place. They will finish their regular season a week later against Army at West Point. After that, they will await their paring in the FCS playoff. Their one loss this season was to No. 7 Villanova (8-2), 50-7.
CFF.com spent Friday evening in State College, but not to see Penn State play. Our game number 475 is next.
Huntingdon, Pennsylvania (November 8) – Moravian DB Chris McGrath (Flanders, NJ; Mt. Olive HS) picked off two fourth quarter passes. His first resulted in a 15-yard scoring strike from Mike Hayes (14 of 25 for 192 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) to WR Jalen Snyder-Scipio to take a 27-21 lead as the Greyhound extra point failed. His second occurred with 1:07 left at the Moravian 39 to thwart the final Juniata scoring drive. Moravian (5-4, 4-4) defeated the Eagles (4-5, 3-5) on Senior Day at Knox Stadium on the Juniata campus. For CFF.com, it was the first time in 35 years we’d seen Juniata, the Alma Mater, play at home. At the game, I met with a fun group of Moravian parents tailgating with whom I had various ties with around New Jersey. Two happened to be Chris McGrath’s parents, Mike and Maureen. His father Mike’s sister is Patty Rafferty who made the red No. 119 jersey that adorns to cover of my book, Tales from the Tailgate, at their U Name It Sporting Goods store here in Byram Twp. Patty is very proud of having made my jersey.
Juniata opened the game with a 61-yard scoring drive capped by QB Walt Udinski’s first of three six yard scoring runs. After the PAT by Kevin Bonalle, I realized with great pleasure that there would be no TV timeouts during this game. Real football! The teams trotted out on the field right away to tee it up and kick off within a minute or so. Tremendous! No one was seen wearing a red vest or red hat or red gloves along the sideline to abruptly stop the clock to interrupt plays for prolonged periods of time. Moravian started their series from their 22. Lining up to punt, P Jimmy McCarthy spotted a big seam in the Juniata return team and ran over the right tackle hole for 24 yards and a first down at the 49 to continue the Greyhound drive. It paid off as Chris Negron carried the ball over from the one to tie it up, 7-7. JC drove 59 yards in retaliation with Udinski’s second six-yard score retaking the lead for the Eagles. The JC quarterback led all rusher this day with 112 yards on 21 carries for three TDs while completing 28 of 42 passes for 257 yards, but committed three turnovers on INTs.
Early in the second, Hayes emulated Udinski’ strategy and scrambled up the middle for a seven-yard scoring run. The point after a failed and JC maintained the lead, 14-13. Juniata’s next drive came to a halt as Noah Miller forced a fumble and Tim McCabe recovered at the Eagle’s 32. Negron (23 carries for 77 yards and 2 TDs) scored again from the one, and McCarthy ran it in for the two-point conversion to give the Greyhounds a 21-14 lead going into halftime.
It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday for football and to be back on College Hill overlooking Knox Stadium. There, I did my bi-weekly radio interview by phone with Pete Spadora on his show “Spadora on Sports” on 1130 AM WNER in Watertown, NY. This week, we talked about Division 2 and 3 football as opposed to our usual commentaries about the FBS game. We spoke about players over the years I’d seen at the level make it to the NFL including LB Mike Reichenbach of East Stroudsburg who went on to play for the Eagles; the late, great LB Sam Mills of Montclair State who went on to a stellar career for the Saints and Panthers; and WR Pierre Garcon of Mount Union who we saw play in a D-3 championship game against Wisconsin-Whitewater who now plays for the Redskins. Pete mentioned Andre Reed of the Buffalo Bills from Kutztown State who had an illustrious career in the pros. It prompted me to mention that I was currently looking out over Knox Stadium, named after Chuck Knox, Juniata Class of 1954, former OT and assistant coach for Juniata who went on to become a Pro Football Hall of Famer. As Head Coach for the Bills, Rams, and Seahawks during his 19-year pro career, he received NFL Coach of the Year Honors four times. I remembered later back in 1976 when Juniata hosted the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a powerful Division 2 program we defeated, their star LB Jim Haslett eventually was drafted and played for the Bills in the NFL and eventually went on to become HC of the New Orleans Saints. He’s now the defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins. D-2 and D-3 players have to be more focused in academics than their FBS brothers as they normally take fully loaded semester of courses in anticipation of going on to something other than pro football after earning a degree. However, once in a while, a few develop their football prowess more than expected during their collegiate careers and catch the eyes of NFL Scouts. It isn’t often, but you never know who you may see playing at D-2 and D-3 levels that could make it into pro football.
Early in the third, Moravian completed a long pass to TE Andrew Racobaldo but he coughed up the football and DB Chuck Sweigert recovered at the 22 to end a potential Greyhound scoring threat. Two series later, JC drove 72 yards for Udinski’s third six from the six and the score remained tied at 21-even going into the final period of play. Before McGrath’s first INT, Juniata stopped a Moravian scoring drive with a pick in the end zone by DB Nick Stubbs. But, McGrath took it back to set up the winning score before he sealed the game for a 27-21 Moravian win. For their efforts in the victory, McGrath and Jimmy McCarthy, Punter and DB, were named the Centennial Conference Defensive and Special Teams Players of the Week for their performances on Saturday.
For me it turned out to be a great weekend of “small school” football seeing two games that went down to the wire between two teams playing to win. Several of the Moravian parents I met told me that they truly enjoyed watching their sons play D-3 football. However, they also stated that despite their sons’ participation, the play of the FBS schools with players involved in crimes and scandals is really starting to turn them off. I couldn’t agree more. With the FBS now totally driven by money from television and the desire to be the de facto minor league of pro football, it’s so refreshing and so much better enjoying seeing student athletes at this lower level playing for the love of the game and the chance to play college football before settling into lifetime careers in professions other than professional sports.
Juniata finishes their season next week against archrival Susquehanna. Moravian hosts their traditional, long-time rival, nearby Muhlenberg, as well. A win for the Greyhounds may possibly land them a bid for an ECAC D-3 bowl post-season bowl game with a record of 6-4. Last season, Juniata received such a bid after finishing 7-3. They fell to Albright in that ECAC bowl game, 45-34. Next week, CFF.com will head to Annapolis to see the Mids (4-5) play a critical game for bowl eligibility as they host a surprising first -year FBS school, Georgia Southern. The Eagles, who run the same triple-option attack as does Navy, comes in with a record of 8-2, 6-0 putting them in first place of the Sunbelt conference. They ride an 11-game winning streak with only early season losses to NC State by one point and to a good Georgia Tech team by only four. Navy has to take at least two of their last three among GSU, South Alabama, and Army to get an invitation to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.