NEC Preview: Week 10

Somerset, NJ -- Only three weeks of Northeast Conference play remain and the race is heating up just in time for Halloween. Tonight's (Fri. Oct. 31st) Wagner - Sacred Heart game is on TV --- MSG-Plus or FCS-Atlantic -- starting at 7 p.m.

This Week's Games

  • Monmouth and Albany put their undefeated conference records on the line at UA's Alumni Field in a Saturday afternoon affair that could go a long way in determining the league's champion. (more)
  • The Hawks and Great Danes must beware, however, as Sacred Heart sits only one game back of the two. The 7-and-1 Pioneers hope to creep closer on Halloween Night when they host Wagner in front of a live NEC-TV audience that will be watching on MSG-Plus or FCS-Atlantic. (more)
  • Robert Morris hosts Central Connecticut State on Saturday at Joe Walton Stadium with each side looking for its third league victory. (more)
  • With Saint Francis (PA) idle, Duquesne plays the lone non-league game of the week when it visits Bryant. (more)

Wagner (3-5, 1-3 NEC) at Sacred Heart (7-1, 3-1 NEC)
Location: Fairfield, CT (Campus Field)
Kickoff: Friday at 7:00 pm on NEC-TV (MSG-Plus and FCS-Atlantic)

The 7-and-1 Pioneers bring the NEC's top-ranked scoring offense (32.1 ppg) and stingiest scoring defense (20.8 ppg) before a special NEC-TV Halloween Night audience when they host league rival Wagner at Campus Field.

Following a narrow home defeat to NEC preseason favorite Albany, Sacred Heart easily rediscovered its rhythm in a 29-17 victory over Duquesne. Sophomore quarterback Dale Fink (Swansea, IL/Althoff Catholic), who was an efficient 27-of-34 passing for 268 yards and two touchdowns, rallied the Pioneers for 29 unanswered points to erase a 17-0 deficit and the defense kept the Dukes off the scoreboard for the game's final 41:20. Fink and reliable receiver Steve Tedesco (Misison Viejo, CA/Trabuco Hills) have developed a chemistry that has helped put up a league-high 257 points thus far. Fink, who leads the NEC in touchdown passes for the second consecutive year, has thrown seven of his 19 scoring strikes to the junior target. Meanwhile, his defense has come away with 23 takeaways, nine more than any other NEC team, and has a knack for clamping down in the red zone. The league's top red zone defense surrenders more than 350 yards per game, but has prevented its opponent from reaching the end zone in 16 of 31 opportunities inside the 20.

The Seahawks have found pay dirt only 18 times this year and have not been able to establish any type of rhythm, due in part to a host of injuries. With running backs Shane Smith (Susquehanna, PA/Milford Academy) and Prince Young (Neptune, NJ/Brick Memorial) returning to the field in each of the past two weeks, things are setting up for a possible strong finish for Walt Hameline's Seahawks. Wagner can make huge gains on Friday by finding a way to pressure Fink, something SHU's signal caller has experienced very little of this season. The Pioneers had prevented Fink from being sacked for the season's first 31 quarters until Duquesne finally got to him twice last week. The match-up between Wagner senior defensive end Robert Brown (Rome, NY/Rome Free Academy), a 2007 AP Third Team All-American, and SHU left tackle Ryan Arroyo (Florence, NJ/Florence Twp.) should be a real treat for viewers.

Monmouth (5-3, 4-0 NEC) at Albany (5-3, 4-0)
Location: Albany, NY (Alumni Field)
Kickoff: Saturday at 1:00 pm

The defending Northeast Conference champions and the team it unseated meet at Albany's Alumni Field in crucial league matchup that showcases two of the nation's top five rushers. The Great Danes and tailback David McCarty (Gansevoort, NY/LaSalle Institute), the nation's fifth-leading rusher, are perfect thus far in their NEC title defense. Owning an identical 4-and-0 conference record, Monmouth and Division I FCS rushing leader Dave Sinisi (Cedar Grove, NJ/Cedar Grove) have rebounded from last year's uncharacteristic 3-and-3 NEC showing and are on the hunt for their second league crown in three seasons. Albany took the most-recent meeting last season at Kessler Field, 21-3, for its first win over the Hawks since 2002. The winner of the series' 11th installment would be one additional victory away from clinching at least a share of the conference title, but neither veteran coach is likely to let his team get ahead of itself.

Albany's Bob Ford, who trails only Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden for wins amongst active Division I head coaches, notched his 230th career victory with last week's 27-3 triumph over Saint Francis (PA), the Great Danes' tenth straight over a NEC member. McCarty continued his blistering pace, eclipsing the 100-yard rushing mark for the 13th time in 14 starts and scored a touchdown for the 16th consecutive contest. Meanwhile, the Great Danes did a tremendous job in limiting the opposition's rushing attack as they have done all season. Holding Saint Francis' (PA) ground game to 68 yards, Albany has seen three opponents fall short of 100 yards this season. With preseason all-NEC selection Tom Pandolf (Holbrook, NY/Sachem) on the interior and rookie Eddie Delaney (Holtsville, NY/Sachem East) on the end, Albany's defensive front continues to be amongst the league's most-productive. Delaney, one of the league's more remarkable stories as he plays without a left hand and wears an insulin pump to control diabetes, and his mates will go up against a strong Hawks' offensive line that features preseason all-league picks junior Shawn Wright (Fort Washington, MD/DeMatha) and senior Nick LoCastro (Wenonah, NJ/Gateway Regional). The two have helped pave the way for Walter Payton Award Candidate Dave Sinisi, who averages 161.9 yard rushing per contest.

Central Connecticut State (5-3, 2-2 NEC) at Robert Morris (3-5, 2-2 NEC)
Location: Moon Township, PA (Joe Walton Stadium)
Kickoff: Saturday at 1:00 pm

The Colonials return home to Joe Walton Stadium for the first time in three weeks after a 35-3 victory at Wagner. Meanwhile, Central Connecticut State hopes the Steel City is more welcoming than the Jersey Shore was last week. Looking to pull even with Monmouth in the NEC standings, the Blue Devils ran for 254 yards, but saw the Hawks rush for 287 yards. Chewing up yardage on the ground has never been a problem for CCSU under third-year head coach Jeff McInerney who has seen his team eclipse the 250-yard rushing mark 19 times in 30 games. This season, however, the Blue Devils have had some trouble stuffing the run, allowing more than 160 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry.

The last time Robert Morris played in front of a home crowd, sophomore tailback Myles Russ (Boca Raton, FL/West Boca) ran 37 times for 246 yards, the sixth-highest total recorded in the single-game history of NEC play. Russ wasn't nearly as productive last week at Wagner, but the Colonials' defense made up for it with six takeaways and a touchdown. The Blue Devils, however, have turned the ball over a league-low seven times to rank second in turnover margin. Handling the ball with care and for a majority of the game have been two reasons why Central Connecticut State is on pace for its fifth consecutive winning season. The NEC's top-ranked team in time of possession, the Blue Devils feature the nation's sixth-leading rusher in junior tailback James Mallory (Buffalo, NY/Kenmore West).

Duquesne (2-5) at Bryant (4-4)
Location: Smithfield, RI (Bulldog Stadium)
Kickoff: Saturday at 12:00 noon

In the midst of its transition into full-fledged NEC membership, Bryant has been more than competitive in its first season primarily facing Division I FCS opponents. Duquesne does not have to look much further than Bryant's 20-7 home victory over Robert Morris to realize that it faces a tough opponent when it invades Bulldog Stadium on Saturday. Under head coach Marty Fine, the Bulldogs have beaten two FCS programs this season, but are coming off a 42-7 defeat at nationally-ranked Massachusetts. Meanwhile, head coach Jerry Schmitt's Dukes, currently in their first season as a NEC football member, have dropped four in a row following impressive wins over Saint Francis (PA) and 2007 Gridiron Classic champion Dayton.

Duquesne can strike quickly and frequently with sophomore quarterback Connor Dixon (South Park, PA/South Park) and his slew of talented receivers, three of which rank amongst the conference's top five in yardage. Dixon, the NEC's top-ranked quarterback (234.7 ypg), will look to exploit Bryant's pass defense, which surrenders 264.6 yards per contest. The Bulldogs have shown a tendency to give up yardage, but take away the ball. Marty Fine's team has forced 25 turnovers already this season. When Bryant has the ball, Duquesne can expect a balanced attack. Running backs Jerrell Smith and Lindsey Gamble, who share carries, have combined for 1,351 yards and nine touchdowns, while quarterback Jay Graber has completed at least 10 passes to five different receivers. Duquesne features a balance of playmakers of its own on the defensive side. Dukes' sophomore linebacker Nathan Totino (Pittsburgh, PA/Seton-LaSalle) is the nation's second-leading tackler (14.4/g) while defensive end Mykol Garinder (Cleveland, OH/Benedictine) and cornerback Aaron Strader (Pittsburgh, PA/Westinghouse) are two talented veterans.

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