NEC Preview: Week 5

Somerset, NJ -- A week before they open their conference slates, the defending league champion Albany Great Danes and NEC runner-up Central Connecticut State head to the First State for one more non-conference match. Fresh off its NEC triumph over Saint Francis (PA), Duquesne stays home to take on defending Gridiron Classic champion Dayton.

The NEC itinerary:

  • Duquesne continues its three-game homestand when Atlantic 10 foe Dayton visits Rooney Field Saturday afternoon. (more)
  • The Albany Great Danes visit No. 12 Delaware for their third meeting with a nationally-ranked top-20 team this season. (more)
  • The Central Connecticut State Blue Devils ride the momentum of their Harmony Classic victory North Carolina Central into a quarrel with defending MEAC champion Delaware State. (more)
  • Robert Morris hosts Monmouth in the lone conference game on this week's docket. (more)
  • Wagner welcomes Bryant to Grymes Hill in what will be a league game come 2012. (more)
  • Sacred Heart, 3-0 for the first time in six years, looks for a fourth straight win when its visits Marist. (more)
  • Saint Francis (PA) looks to rebound from their loss to the Dukes out at Morehead State, also a PFL member. (more)

Dayton (3-0) at Duquesne (1-1)
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Rooney Field)
Kickoff: Saturday at 1:00 pm

Duquesne has an opportunity to do at home what its cross-town NEC rival Robert Morris couldn't do on the road last week. Fresh off their first-ever Northeast Conference victory, a 21-7 home victory over Saint Francis (PA), the first-year NEC member Dukes host defending Pioneer League champion Dayton at Rooney Field.

Dayton capitalized off of four interceptions and tremendous field position throughout to defeat RMU, 31-14. With an average drive start only four yards shy of midfield, the Flyers saw four different individuals score each of their four touchdowns. Senior defensive back Matt Smyth, the PFL Defensive Player of the Week, was responsible for two of UD's four picks, returning the first one 36 yards for the game's first score.

Although not up to the caliber of his season-opening record performance at Bucknell (429 yards, 6 TDs), Duquesne sophomore signal caller Connor Dixon (South Park, PA/South Park) threw for three scores and 211 yards in leading the Dukes past the Flash.

Duquesne's quarterback will likely have unwanted company in the backfield at some point on Saturday. Dayton defensive tackle Sean Heenan and end Scott Vossler have 7.5 sacks between them this season and both rank in the nation's top-four.

Dixon received help last week from junior running back Cleodis Williams (Carlisle, PA/Carlisle) and his 129-yard day (5.6 ypc), but freshman linebacker Chidozie Oparanozie (Pittsburgh, PA/Linsley School [WV]) was responsible for the biggest spark(s) of the game. On his way to garnering NEC Rookie of the Week honors, Oparanozie halted two potential scoring drives by making two red zone interceptions that eventually led to two second-quarter DU touchdowns.

Monmouth (1-3) at Robert Morris (1-2)
Location: Moon Township, PA (Joe Walton Stadium)
Kickoff: Saturday at 1:00 pm

Monmouth and Robert Morris kick off their Northeast Conference slates against one another for the second consecutive year, this time at Joe Walton Stadium in Moon Township, PA.

The Colonials spoiled Monmouth's home opener at Kessler Field last September when the since-graduated Michael Walser connected on a 36-yard field goal in the game's final minute. In addition to avenging last season's defeat, the Hawks hope to put tough non-conference showing behind them.

Monmouth was on the cusp of opening with victories over CAA members Rhode Island and Maine, but failed to close out either game. After uncharacteristically starting the season at 0-3 following a loss to Coastal Carolina, Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan saw his veteran squad coagulate in a 30-17 road victory at Bryant.

A positive start to the conference schedule is also a priority for RMU, which stubbed its toe in each of the last two weeks against Bucknell and Dayton following a season-opening drubbing of Morehead State.

Colonials' senior signal caller Erik Cwalinski (Jacobsburg, OH/Shadyside), who connected on two big pass plays during last season's triumph at Monmouth, must rebound from a tough outing at Dayton and return to the opening-week form that yielded 225 yards on 16-of-26 passing.

Monmouth's defense won't make that task easy for Cwalinski, who was sacked twice and intercepted four times by the Flyers. Hawks' senior defensive end Kevin Walsh (Mt. Laurel, NJ/Lenape) spent much of the Bryant victory harassing the opposing quarterback, coming up with two sacks and another five QB hurries on the way to NEC Defensive Player of the Week accolades.

Cwalinski may be without senior wide receiver Sherrod Evers (Philadelphia, PA/Mastbaum Area), his main target, due to an injury that sidelined him during the first quarter last Saturday. Still, Monmouth junior cornerback Ken Amsel (Demarest, NJ/Northern Valley) and the Hawks' secondary are not off the hook. RMU freshman James O'Quinn (Vandergrift, PA/Kiski Area) stepped up after Evers' injury to lead the Colonials' receiving corps with six catches for 137 yards.

Albany (1-2) at No. 12 Delaware (1-2)
Location: Newark, DE (Delaware Stadium)
Kickoff: Saturday at 6:00 pm

Another week of non-conference play means another nationally-ranked CAA opponent for the preseason NEC favorite Great Danes who head to No. 12 Delaware. Albany built a 17-7 lead, and later held a 24-23 advantage, at No. 7 New Hampshire last week, but the defending NEC champions wound up falling short, 32-24, to the second nationally-ranked top-10 opponent they have faced this season.

The Great Danes nearly pulled a season-opening upset of No. 10 Massachusetts, which was ranked fifth at the time, before winning at Hofstra in overtime. Closing out the non-conference portion of its schedule, which strictly featured members of the Colonial Athletic Association, Albany returns to the place where it captured a landmark victory two seasons ago. The Great Danes defeated the Blue Hens, 17-10, in 2006 as part of a string of breakthrough victories by NEC programs that resulted in both Albany and Central Connecticut State achieving the conference's first-ever top-25 national rankings.

This time around, the Great Danes have the services of preseason all-NEC tailback David McCarty (Gansevoort, NY/LaSalle Institute) and also feature an upgraded aerial attack. Albany junior quarterback Vinny Esposito (Demarest, NJ/Northern Valley) emerged as an efficient field general last season and faces the Blue Hens' a week after he recorded career-highs in passing yards (283) and total offense (305) at UNH.

While the Great Danes further elevated their program in the time since these two sides last met, the Blue Hens made another appearance in the Division I Football Championship game where they fell to Appalachian State. Delaware returns 14 members from its national runner-up showing, but it does have a new face under center. Transferring in from Ohio State, quarterback Robby Schoenhoft took over for NFL first-round draft choice Joe Flacco and has thrown for 568 yards on 50-of-87 passing through the opening three games.

Central Connecticut State (2-1) at Delaware State (1-1)
Location: Dover, DE (Alumni Stadium)
Kickoff: Saturday at 7:00 pm

Central Connecticut State hits the road again after breaking the Northeast Conference's home attendance record in an historic victory over North Carolina Central, 35-23, in the inaugural Harmony Classic. The Blue Devils and Eagles celebrated the great diversity in our culture and made for an enjoyable football game in front 8,326 people at Willow Brook Park's Veterans Stadium.

Now, CCSU attention turns to its final non-conference date before its NEC schedule begins next week against Wagner. Blue Devils' junior running back James Mallory (Buffalo, NY/Kenmore West), currently the nation's second leading rusher, leads the nation's ninth-ranked rushing attack into Delaware State, home of the defending MEAC champions.

The Blue Devils must exercise caution to avoid stirring up a Hornets' nest that has not been kind to its guests. Delaware State last played at Kent State (DI FBS), falling, 24-3, to the Golden Flash on the road before enjoying a bye this past week. Back home on Saturday, the Hornets look to make CCSU the tenth straight program to leave Dover, DE in defeat. Just as CCSU junior quarterback Aubrey Norris (Staten Island, NY/Hargrave Military) is doubly dangerous thanks to his arm and feet, Hornets' signal caller Vashon Winton can say the same. The DSU senior has runs of at least 30 yards long in each of the last two games to compliment a 32-of-51 passing clip. Norris, the most efficient passer in program history, ran seven times for 42 yards in CCSU's latest triumph and combined with junior signal caller Hunter Wanket (Rancho Santa Fe, CA/Palomar JC) for 187 yards and three TDs through the air.

Sacred Heart (3-0) at Marist (1-3)
Location: Poughkeepsie, NY (Tenney Stadium)
Time: Saturday at 1:00 pm

Three-and-0 for the first time since 2002, Sacred Heart becomes the third Northeast Conference member to take on Marist this season. The Pioneers travel to Tenney Stadium which was the scene of a dramatic victory for NEC member Wagner last Friday night. The Seahawks dominated Marist in time of possession (37:32-to-22:28) much like Sacred Heart did in its 44-24 thumping of Iona.

SHU sophomore quarterback Dale Fink (Swansea, IL/Althoff Catholic), who displayed trademark accuracy in throwing for 256 yards and three TDs on 23-of-30 passing, could cause difficulty for Marist similarly to the way Wagner's Adam Farnsworth did in completing 78 percent of his passes for more than 200 yards.

Marist had a tough time containing Wagner's ground attack, and it faces a similar challenge on Saturday with Pioneers' senior tailback Evin Jones (Pennsauken, NJ/Roman Catholic [PA]). The veteran back ran 20 times for 133 yards and one TD at Iona, his second 130-plus-yard performance this season. While Sacred Heart features a talented ballcarrier on offense, it will have to guard against one on defense. The Red Foxes' Bo Ehikoya only managed 48 yards against Wagner, but he has four touchdowns in his last two contests, both against NEC competition.

Seahawk senior interior linebacker Rich Marrone (Brooklyn, NY/Poly Prep), who forced two fumbles last time out, and sophomore teammate Brian Flumere (Milford, MA/Milford) have the task of preventing Ehikoya from repeating the performance he posted in a road come-from-behind victory at Saint Francis (PA). The Marist running back racked up 158 yards on 20 carries en route to erasing a 12-point deficit with two fourth-quarter scores.

Bryant (2-2) at Wagner (2-1)
Location: Staten Island, NY (Wagner College Stadium)
Kickoff: Saturday at 1:00 pm

Wagner is the third team to meet future fellow Northeast Conference member Bryant when it hosts the Bulldogs on Saturday with each side in search of its third win this season. Since their disappointing season-opening shocker at Stonehill, Wagner has rebounded with back-to-back wins with the latest coming in thrilling fashion at Marist.

Wagner Seahawk junior running back Shane Smith (Susquehanna, PA/Milford Academy) ran nine times for 45 yards on the game's final drive to set up a winning five-yard scoring plunge by senior Rodney Davis (Bristol, PA/Neshaminy) with 00:06 remaining on the clock. The third start was the charm for first-year starting quarterback Adam Farnsworth (North Ogden, UT/Weber), who earned the starting nod in training camp after transferring in from Iowa (DI FBS). Farnsworth completed 78 percent of his passes for 207 yards and two scores.

Bryant is 0-for-2 against the NEC thus far, but a couple bounces here or there could have flipped those results. The Bulldogs, who own wins over Southern Connecticut and Merrimack sandwiched between losses to NEC members Central Connecticut State and Monmouth, actually edged the Hawks in time of possession despite an uncharacteristic showing from junior running back Jerrell Smith in last week's 30-17 setback. Looking to rebound after being limited to only 29 yards last time out, Smith has the ability to keep opposing senior linebackers Jason Haskins (Jackson, NJ/Matawan) and Jeremy Spinks (Tampa, FL/Chamberlain), a tandem that made 19 tackles combined last week, on their toes.

With the proven talent to wreak havoc on the opposition's passing game, Wagner senior defensive end Robert Brown (Rome, NY/Rome Free Academy) will look to do what Monmouth's Kevin Walsh did to Bryant quarterback Jay Graber a week ago when he registered two sacks and five additional QB hurries.

Saint Francis (PA) (0-3) at Morehead State (1-2)
Location: Morehead, KY (Jayne Stadium)
Kickoff: Saturday at 1:00 pm

After a failure to capitalize on prime scoring opportunities resulted in a 21-7 loss to league opponent Duquesne, the Red Flash hope their three-game skid comes to a screeching halt in non-conference action at Morehead State. The Pioneer League member Eagles have already tried their luck against a Northeast Conference program this season, falling at Robert Morris on opening day. If the Red Flash are to experience a result similar to that of the Colonials, they will have to reach that end without all-NEC wide receiver Antoine Rivera (Willingboro, NJ/Willingboro). Saint Francis (PA) recently learned it must continue on without the services of the veteran receiver for the remainder of the season thanks to an injury suffered against Marist on Sept. 13.

The loss means a stiffer challenge Saint Francis (PA) junior George Little (Duquesne, PA/Duquesne), who is one of four NEC quarterbacks averaging more than 200 yards passing per game. The Red Flash still managed to move the ball in last week's setback, scoring a first-quarter touchdown for a 7-0 lead and re-entering the red zone twice during the second quarter only to suffer from two game-changing interceptions. With Rivera out, SFPA sophomore running back Calvin Williams (Cleveland, OH/Cleveland South) led the team with four receptions.

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