This week's games:
- Duquesne at Robert Morris ( more)
- Meanwhile, in a game that Albany will televise on Time Warner 3, the defending league champion Great Danes host Central Connecticut State in a rematch of last season's league title game. (more)
- In other action, Monmouth looks for a third consecutive conference victory when it visits Wagner on Grymes Hill. (more)
- Off to a 5-and-0 start for the first time during head coach Paul Gorham's tenure, Sacred Heart hopes to keep rolling at Saint Francis (PA), a program that has bested the Pioneers thrice in four years. (more)
The Division I FCS battle for Steel City bragging rights now counts in the Northeast Conference standings. Duquesne and Robert Morris have met nine times since the latter founded its program in 1994, but Saturday's bout in front of a NEC-TV audience is the first following the Dukes' transition into the conference. Robert Morris can pull even in the all-time series by winning, but, more importantly, a victory would end the Colonials' four-game slide.
Since an impressive opening day victory against Morehead State, RMU has dropped three games by a combined 14 points with a 17-point defeat at Dayton being the only outlier. Even in that defeat, the Colonials outgained Dayton. Duquesne beat Dayton one week later, but the momentum was not enough to carry the Dukes past defending NEC champion Albany in their most-recent outing.
With Duquesne (302.0 ypg) and Robert Morris (249.0 ypg) owning the NEC's top two passing attacks, a lot of attention will focus in on two of the most electric arms in the conference. Duquesne sophomore Connor Dixon (South Park, PA/South Park) has thrown for 1,208 yards and a league-high 13 touchdowns, while RMU senior Erik Cwalinski (Jacobsburg, OH/Shadyside) has 1,170 yards and eight scoring strikes to his credit. Still, the winner of the Steel City Showdown may hinge on which side can run the ball effectively and prevent the other side from doing the same.
Duquesne junior Cleodis Williams (Carlisle, PA/Carlisle) and Robert Morris sophomore Myles Russ (Boca Raton, FL/West Boca) both have big performances to their credit this season. Williams ran 23 times for 129 yards in Duquesne's successful NEC opener against Saint Francis (PA), but it is Russ who has been scorching hot lately. Russ has a combined 331 yards on 41 carries over the past two outings, both against conference foes. He totaled a career-high 205 yards (8.2 ypc) against an experienced Monmouth defense, but the Hawks did not have the league's top tackler.
Duquesne sophomore linebacker Nathan Totino (Pittsburgh, PA/Seton-La Salle) has made a league-high 60 stops (15.00/g) to lead the nation. Colonials' sophomore Alex DiMichele (Pittsburgh, PA/Sto-Rox), a transfer from Temple (DI FBS), is right behind Totino, ranking second in the NEC and eighth in the country with 58 tackles (11.60/g).
Albany's Alumni Field will host a game that both sides have awaited for quite some time. The Great Danes, the only Division I (FBS or FCS) team to not open its home schedule until October, make their triumphant return in front of a home crowd that has yet to host their NEC champion team in more than 10 months. Meanwhile, Central Connecticut State has its first chance to erase the memory of last year's regular season finale, a 49-14 home loss to the Great Danes with the NEC title on the line.
The Great Danes have not played at home since they rolled past Robert Morris on November 3 of last season, two weeks prior to their title-clinching victory at Central Connecticut State. Being away from home hasn't seemed to bother Albany tailback David McCarty (Gansevoort, NY/LaSalle Institute) one bit. Facing NEC competition this past week for the first time since his 247-yard performance at CCSU more than 10 months ago, McCarty gained 230 yards on 37 carries in powering the Great Danes past Duquesne. Even some of the nation's top teams could not slow Albany's all-NEC ball carrier. McCarty ran for 125 yards at No. 13 Massachusetts before gaining 130 yards at No. 4 New Hampshire.
In addition to utilizing their defensive playmakers like defensive end Ernie Greywacz (New Canaan, CT/New Canaan) and linebacker Jeff Marino (New Britain, CT/New Britain) to neutralize the Great Danes' tailback, the Blue Devils can significantly limit McCarty's impact by keeping Albany's offense on the sidelines. Central Connecticut certainly has the running game to achieve such an end.
Ranked amongst the nation's top-10 rushing attacks for the third consecutive year, the Blue Devils' ninth-ranked, multi-faceted rushing attack can gain chunks of yardage while taking a major bite out of the clock. The conference's top team in time of possession features the nation's fifth-ranked running back in junior James Mallory (Buffalo, NY/Kenmore West). Despite having Mallory held to under 100 yards rushing for the first time all season, the Blue Devils cruised to a 35-10 victory over Wagner last week while managing 243 net rush yards. The quarterback tandem of Aubrey Norris (Staten Island, NY/Hargrave Military) and Hunter Wanket (Rancho Santa Fe, CA/Palomar JC) not only threw for three scores, but carried the ball a combined 11 times for 66 yards.
Three tough losses to open the season were not nearly enough to sink battle-tested Monmouth. Winners of three straight, including back-to-back league victories, the Hawks visit injury-plagued Wagner for the 16th installment of a series that has seen the visitor win 10 times. Injuries to their top two ball carriers have the Seahawks flying in a different direction.
Wagner has suffered back-to-back defeats, losing freshman Prince Young (Neptune, NJ/Brick Memorial) during the former and seeing junior Shane Smith (Susquehanna, PA/Milford Academy) injured in the latter. When both healthy, the two can wreak havoc on opposing defenses as evidenced by their performance against Iona when Smith ran for 174 yards and Young added 128 more. It was through execution in its ground game that Wagner rolled the Hawks on the road last season, 45-16, as 2007 NEC Offensive Player of the Year Jason Butler totaled 201 rush yards and four touchdowns.
Wagner can still find ways to move the ball with weapons like junior Lon Woods (St. Petersburg, FL/J.P. Taravella) and sophomore Tyrone Collins (Geneva, NY/Geneva), who combined to make 17 catches for 165 yards last week, but the Seahawks could benefit greatly from a strong defensive effort considering Monmouth's recent resurgence has had much to do with its offensive output. After averaging only 16 points over its first three contests, the Monmouth has scored at least 30 points in each of its past three outings.
The Hawks' junior tailback Dave Sinisi (Cedar Grove, NJ/Cedar Grove) is rounding into his all-NEC form. Setting a program record and matching the fourth-highest rushing total in conference history, Sinisi ran 32 times for 247 yards and four touchdowns in last week's 42-15 victory over Saint Francis (PA). MU senior signal caller Brett Burke (Wall, NJ/Wall), another all-conference selection from a year ago, has picked up his performance as well. In the Hawks' conference opener at Robert Morris, Burke eclipsed the 200-yard passing mark for the first time all season as his defense held an opponent under 200 yards passing.
Sacred Heart has not started a season at this pace since DeVeren Johnson, a former Oakland Raider, was setting a number of the program's receiving records during the Pioneers' undefeated 2001 campaign. Junior wide receiver Steve Tedesco (Mission Viejo, CA/Trabuco Hills) overtook Johnson's career touchdown mark in helping the Pioneers move to 5-0 last week, but SHU has a long road to travel before it can think about recapturing a NEC title that has eluded them for seven years now. Only one game into its conference slate, Sacred Heart has yet to navigate through the many road blocks that come along with league play.
Saint Francis (PA) has made a habit of getting in Sacred Heart's way during recent years. The Red Flash has had more success against Sacred Heart than they have had against any other NEC program, including beating the Pioneers in three of the last four seasons.
The Red Flash, who won at SHU last year, return home to DeGol Field for what promises to be an intriguing matchup. A victory could work wonders for the hungry Flash. Last season's win at Sacred Heart was the first of three victories over the season final four weeks for Saint Francis (PA). Quieting the Pioneers' passing attack could go a long way in helping SFPA break into the win column.
At the helm of the conference's top scoring offense (33.2 ppg), Sacred Heart sophomore quarterback Dale Fink (Swansea, IL/Althoff Catholic) has completed a league-high 102 passes for a NEC-best 68.5-percent success rate. Meanwhile, the Red Flash own the NEC's second-ranked pass defense (150.2 ypg). Sophomore linebacker Matthew Parker (Darlington, PA/Blackhawk), who has an interception and a couple pass break-ups to his credit, can successfully drop back into coverage, but his ability to get to the quarterback could prove even more valuable against the Pioneers. Sacred Heart is the only NEC team to have not allowed a sack this season.