Penn State’s final drive spoils Rutgers Big 1G debut, 13-10
The Birthplace of College Football, NJ – In a hard fought game in front of a record crowd of 53,744 at High Point Solutions Stadium between Penn State (3-0, 1-0), freshly off NCAA sanctions for Jerry Sandusky’s crimes, and Rutgers in its historical Big Ten Conference debut, Penn State RB Bill Belton scored on a five-yard TD run to cap a last effort, 80-yard drive to spoil the RU inauguration, 13-10. Both defenses held running games in check throughout the duration of the game as PSU totaled 64 yards and Rutgers 102. Penn State stopped five Rutgers’ drives with INTs and allowed the Knights only three first downs in the second half which they entered trailing 10-0. Rutgers kept the pressure on QB Christian Hackenberg, but his poise and resilience down the stretch made the difference in the final score.
The Knights scored first on a 14-yard scramble by QB Gary Nova (15 of 30, 192 yard and 5 INTs) early in the second. Kyle Frederico booted a 32-yard FG with 12 seconds remaining in the second to finish the first half scoring for both squads.
Penn State finally got on the board late in the third with a 32-yard FG by Sam Ficken. An early 39-yard attempt in the first period was blocked by RU’s Kemoko Turay. Ficken added another from 25 yards early in the fourth to close the score to 10-6. Penn State’s final drive for the winning score was sparked when Freshman WR Eugene Lewis caught a pass between two Rutgers defenders and raced 53 yards to the RU 27. From my end zone seat in section 115 with RU fan and Guest Game Analyst (GGA) Frank Scarpa, it looked as if Lewis could have gotten more yards possibly for a touchdown had he been able to run parallel along the sideline instead of stepping out. On a third and two at the 19, Hackenberg fired a pass to TE Jesse James that sent PSU fans into a celebration for what appeared to be the game-winning score, but a holding call sent PSU back to the 29 instead. On the very next play, Hackenberg converted the third and 12 into a first down connecting with Lewis again to get to the Rutgers six. Two plays later, Belton charged into the end zone to give the Lions a hard-fought victory in front of a raucous Rutgers crowd. It was a spirited game and a true fight to the finish for an exciting football game.
Penn State returns to Beaver Stadium next Saturday to host UMass (0-3) before five straight Big Ten games. We will not see them play again until November 8 when they host the Maryland Terrapins. RU (2-1, 0-1) travels to Annapolis to meet Navy (2-1) in the Mids’ first game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium this season for a 3:30 pm kickoff, and we will be there for that one, too.
Extra points: Guest Game Analyst and tailgate hosts Frank and Patty Rafferty, parents of Rutgers LB Nick Rafferty, saved us a spot at a nearby house to park at a convenient location within walking distance to High Point Solutions Stadium. We plan to park there for future games at The Birthplace.
Frank Scarpa’s season seats were luckily surrounded by a mix of Penn State and RU fans. Things were basically amicable and mixed groups of friends from both schools seemed to be common. It was great to be surrounded by numerous PSU supporters, mostly native Jerseyites who were also Penn State Proud.
Many prime Rutgers recruits were in attendance down along the sideline during the game. They had to like what they saw with the lively crowd and the hard-fought game with a traditional power in the East. The outcome should not discourage any serious RU recruits. As a matter of fact, they probably noted some positions where the Knights need shoring up in the next few years. On the other hand, if they were teetering between PSU and RU, the result could benefit the Lions as will who just got back their full complement of scholarships to award next season since the NCAA sanctions were removed this past week. PSU HC James Franklin’s greatest attribute is supposedly his ability to recruit, so some of those players may be swayed to Dear Old White and Blue rather than to the Scarlet Knights.
I was disappointed in the Penn State play calling where most calls went to the outside. I can’t figure out why they are having such a tough time developing the run game. They have the experienced backs and the O-line, though short on experience, are pretty solid up front. I’m sure that is where Franklin’s focus will be on his next recruiting class, but coaching and not just recruiting has to be utilized to make the kids they have better.
On the Rutgers side execution seems to be a problem at QB, but the play calling is definitely better with Ralph Friedgen, former Maryland HC, calling the plays. Franklin was on Friedgen’s staff when they were all fired by Maryland a few years back. I think he will be a difference maker for the Knights in the near future.
Fordham Rams blast Rhode Island Rams, 57-7
The Bronx, NY – With the 8 pm kickoff scheduled at Rutgers, CFF.com looked to take advantage of an open afternoon to catch a second game close by. We settled on the opportunity to see a game played at Fordham’s Jack Coffey Field for the first time starting with a 1 pm kickoff in their Homecoming game against the Rams of the University of Rhode Island (0-2). Well, we can at least check off Jack Coffey Field as another venue visited. Fordham has a beautiful campus surrounded by an urban neighborhood close to the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens. No. 19 Fordham (2-1) started the preseason ranked as high as No. 10 in the FCS, but a 50-7 spanking by Villanova of the Colonial Athletic Conference the week before exposed the Rams. Well this Saturday, it was Fordham’s turn to do the spanking, or maybe we should say dominant head-butting. Sitting in a steady rain that started in the second period and looking forward to our main event of the evening, GGA Frank Scarpa and I had seen enough by the end of Q3 as Fordham was crushing the hapless Rams from Rhode Island, 47-0. URI, under new HC Jim Fleming utilized a lot of inexperienced, young players against a team of veteran performers on a team expected to win the Patriot League championship. Fleming has a lot of work cut out for him to turn this program around based on what we saw Saturday.
The visiting Rams looked like they may make a game of it right at the start. CB Myles Holmes made a diving, acrobatic interception in front of QB Mike Nebich’s intended receiver to put Rhody at the FU 21. A pass from RS freshman Mack Lowrie, a Boston College transfer, gave URI a first and goal on the two, Fordham held and Dylan Smith came in to kick a FG, but his 19-yard attempt clanked down off the left upright, and that was the last of the URI scoring threats until very late in the game as Fordham reeled off the next 47 points. And it was a slow start as Frank noted that the first quarter alone took an entire hour. We wanted to be sure we got some tailgating time in down at Rutgers. Numerous penalties on several Fordham drives, incomplete passes, and a few injuries prolonged the first period. Freshman RB Chase Edmonds scored the first two Fordham TDs by the end of Q1 for a 14-0 lead. At the end of the game, he set a Fordham freshman rushing record with 231 yards and four TDs. Nebrich, a QB on several FCS preseason watch lists completed 22 of 38 passes for 331 yards and a TD, and you know what? We weren’t impressed by him. His own mistakes and the level of competition told us that the Rams of the Patriot League might not have a walk in the park to the conference title and a playoff spot after all. WR Tebucky Jones snagged six passes for 124 yards and a TD while All American WR Sam Ajala, caught five for 114 yards. It wasn’t a pretty game. Rhode Island was mistake-prone and lifeless. Lowrie, the QB, winds up and throws in slow motion, ripe for the pickings though he does have velocity on his passes. His runs on broken plays were the best aspect of his game (13 of 29, 127 yards, 2 INTs, 48 yards rushing). Rhody’s Lyle McCombs ran for 98 yards on 22 carries.
We came away knowing that Fleming, former defensive coordinator at Central Florida the past few years, has his work cut out for him in Rhode Island. The program’s been a challenge for a number of years. We hope we’ll see some improvements as we remember some good days of Rhode Island football back on the 80s when they had some high-powered offenses that made the 1AA playoffs. It would be fun to see Rhode Island competitive again and playing in some significant CAA games.
Fordham (2-1) has been involved in three straight 50-point games to start this season. In addition to URI and Villanova, they defeated St. Francis of PA, 52-23 in the opener. They travel to Manhattan next Saturday to play Columbia of the Ivy League (all Ivy teams open next weekend) in their annual Liberty Cup game. URI hosts Albany in its first CAA game of the season.
The College of New Jersey outlasts FDU-Florham, 17-13
Madison, NJ – In an opening D3 game for the Fairleigh Dickinson University Red Devils (0-1) marred by many mistakes and sloppy plays by both teams with inept play-calling, neither team impressed and both struggled to generate much offense in the TCNJ Lions (1-1) 17-13 win on a comfortable Friday night in front of 1,614 fans including CFF.com and St. Laurie. FDU outgained TCNJ in total yards 223 to 215. Respectively, the teams were penalized for 138 and 68. It was a bore of a game though the Devils scored early. It was tough game to enjoy as neither team looked sharp in early season play.
FDU QB Tyler Maurer threw a nine-yard TD in the first period to Malik Pressley and teamed up together for a second score late in the fourth on a 33-yard pass to tally all the points for the host team who has a record of 29-112 since the new millennium. WE are always optimistic to see the Devils have one break out season. This won’t be it. TCNJ’s Colin Cazzetta’s FG from 29 cut the Devils’ margin to finish the first half trailing 7-3. In the final period, Frank Fuccello’s 5-yard run and Khani Glover’s two-yard run gave the Lions a 17-3 lead. Surprisingly, the Devils found the drive to score again with 1:59 left. These two teams will struggle for the rest of the season. St Laurie’s analysis was that the College of New Jersey has enhanced its academic reputation over the years, so the quality of the football program has begun to tail off. I never think one has to do with the other. If a D3 program can get the right chemistry of a versatile coaching staff that can build a team with the skills its team has and student athletes who will work and play hard for success, a school you can have a successful program.
FDU has a chance next week to win and extract revenge from a year ago when the visit Misercordia College in Dallas, PA. The Cougars (0-2) have been outscored in its first two games, 96-7. TCNJ goes in the opposite direction as it will host defending D3 National Champ and No. 1 ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater (2-0). The Warhawks have won their first two games by a combined margin of 115-20. TCNJ has a lot of football to learn between now and Saturday. Good luck to both the Devils and to the Lions this weekend!
Extra points: Stopped at the Red Dog Lounge in Convent Station for drinks and bar food before heading to the game. We met a fellow Boonton High school grad whose grand daughter is on the FDU cheerleading squad. We remembered teachers we both had in common who taught at BHS for many years and shared some laughs.
In line for tickets, we met FDU girls from Zeta sorority who our daughter Alex belongs to at The University of South Carolina. They were nice enough to have their pictures taken with us at St. Laurie’s insistence who she could send them down to Alex whose Gamecocks defeated Georgia this weekend, 38-35.