Changes in the elite are emerging

Oct. 3, 2004

By David Coulson, Senior Columnist,
Special to from

As a youngster, I used to watch reruns of Star Trek every day after school. And I always wondered what it would be like to have Scotty's transporter in my house.

Just think about how cool it would be to quickly beam yourself from one place to another.

I could have used that device on Saturday to keep track of some great matchups in I-AA football -- matchups that will have obvious repercussions on the NCAA playoffs in the next month and a half.

I would have started my journey by beaming to Tubby Raymond Field for the Delaware-Maine showdown in the Atlantic 10. As it was, I had to settle for watching the No. 4 Blue Hens and No. 8 Black Bears play a instant classic on my trusty, though less flashy VCR.

This was a game that many thought would be a defensive struggle, but instead the two teams combined for 81 points and 954 yards of total offense.

Delaware, which had showed almost no offensive consistency this season, jumped to a 20-0 lead early in the second quarter and had beaten its best scoring output of the season by the middle of the second period with a 27-7 advantage.

Maine, which usually likes to control the ball on the ground behind big, senior tailback Marcus Williams, was forced to almost completely abandon its rushing attack and came charging back behind the arm of sophomore quarterback Ron Whitcomb.

Whitcomb completed 22-of-40 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns, two of the scoring aerials to Christian Pereira (nine catches for 143 yards).

When Whitcomb connected with Pereira on a 10-yard scoring strike early in the fourth quarter, the Black Bears pulled within 37-35 and Mike Mellow's 21-yard field goal finally gave Maine the lead with 7:12 to play, 38-37.

But Saturday was the day that Delaware quarterback Sonny Riccio finally arrived. Much was expected when Riccio transferred last spring from Missouri to fill the void left by the graduation loss of I-AA.Org offensive player of the year Andy Hall.

Riccio struggled in his first three games as a Blue Hen, games that included a loss to New Hampshire and two unimpressive wins over Towson and Division II West Chester.

But Riccio hit 33-of-51 passes for 415 yards and a 28-yard touchdown and added a 12-yard scoring run against Maine. And he led Delaware on a clutch drive that resulted in a last-minute, game-winning touchdown.

As soon as the gun sounded in Newark, Del., I would have been ready to say: "Scotty, beam me to Carbondale, Ill. for the Southern Illinois-Northern Iowa showdown."

It looked for a half like it would be another week for the curse of the first when No. 1 Southern Illinois suffered a pair of first-half turnovers and quickly fell behind 20-0.

No. 15 Northern Iowa still led 26-14 by halftime and 33-24 early in the fourth quarter, but Southern Illinois persevered and struck twice in the next two minutes.

Saluki quarterback Joel Sambursky fired a 61-yard TD bomb to Quorey Payne, the second time that pair had hooked up on the day and an Alexis Moreland interception and 40-yard return gave SIU the ball at the seven. Arkee Whitlock smashed over from the two and the Salukis had their first lead of the day, 38-33, with 11:13 to play.

UNI got three points closer on a field goal before one of the biggest plays of the day occurred with six minutes left. Southern Illinois took advantage of a 42-yard Zach Kettlekamp punt to the Panther one to set up a safety that gave the Salukis a four-point lead.

Unable to play for a game-tying field goal, freshman backup quarterback Eric Sanders -- replacing Tom Petrie, who left with a shoulder injury -- moved the Panthers 60 yards to the 20 in the final seconds. But safety Marlon Heaston picked off a Sanders pass at the Saluki two to end the game.

There still would have been time for Scotty to get me from the cornfields of Illinois to Philadelphia for the kickoff of the Villanova-New Hampshire game. But alas, in reality I missed still another unconventional, A-10 barnburner.

No. 12 New Hampshire had already knocked off then-top-ranked Delaware and I-A Rutgers on the road, so we probably shouldn't have been that surprised when the Wildcats overcame another strong homefield advantage.

But what was surprising was how freshman quarterback Ricky Santos shredded one of I-AA's best defenses, hitting 38-of-55 passes for 538 yards and six touchdowns in the 51-40 win, setting single-game school records for yardage and TDs.

David Ball had 11 catches for a school-record 284 yards and three touchdowns for New Hampshire. Villanova's Marvin Burroughs, who has been playing musical quarterbacks with last year's starter Joe Casamento, had a career-high with 382 yards, completing 38-of-52 passes for three TDs. But it wasn't enough to keep up with Santos and UNH, who piled up 643 yards of total offense.

Even Scotty's transporter couldn't have helped me make it to still another interesting A-10 game as William & Mary continued to solidify its league and national credentials with a 38-35 overtime victory at home against No. 16 Northeastern.

Quarterback Lang Campbell had another big day for the Tribe, completing 22-of-36 passes for 378 yards and a touchdown.

Shawn Brady's three-yard pass to Quintin Mitchell with 42 seconds left sent the game to overtime. Brady was 18-of-33 for 301 yards and three scores.

But Greg Kuehn's 28-yard field goal won it for the Tribe in the extra period.

Unfamiliar Territory
What a difference a year has made for McNeese State. Last season at this time, the Cowboys were the top-ranked team in I-AA. Now coach Tommy Tate and McNeese must be wondering if they will win another game this season.

"We're going through some struggles right now," Tate admitted earlier this week. "We've got some things we've got to fix."

The problems have been things like offense and defense.

"We're not finishing drives," Tate explained. "We're not creating good field position with turnovers. We're trying to work out some kinks before we get to conference."

For some reason, McNeese had hung around in the polls, taking up the No. 23 position last week. But things didn't get any better for the Cowboys -- who were ranked in the preseason top-10 -- on Saturday. Playing at home against a talented and mature Southern Utah squad, McNeese lost 56-14 to fall to 2-3 on the season.

It was the second crushing defeat in usually secure Lake Charles, La. this year for McNeese, which was beaten 51-17 last month by Southeast Louisiana.

And it doesn't get much easier the rest of the way for the Cowboys. They open Southland play in two weeks at No. 14 Northwestern State.

Cinderella's Agony
The glass slipper that Colgate wore all the way to a I-AA championship game berth last year appears to have developed some serious cracks in 2004.

The No. 11 Red Raiders came up short again on Saturday, losing 31-28 to Yale to fall to 2-2.

Quarterback Chris Brown is finding wide receiver Luke Graham with regularity, but teams have been ganging up on 2003 Payton Award winner Jamaal Branch, though he did rush for 130 yards on 30 carries Saturday.

Another factor is defense. Colgate's defense hasn't been the same since that 40-0 loss to Delaware last December.

Who's The Boss?
It's getting hard to figure out a favorite in the MEAC this season.

Preseason favorite North Carolina A&T lost again on Saturday to one of the league's bottom feeders, Norfolk State, 27-14.

And unbeaten No. 17 Hampton cast some doubts on its ranking with a 28-23 defeat at the hands of previously winless Delaware State.

Bethune-Cookman hadn't been terribly impressive before its 51-21 handling of Morgan State, but the Wildcats may be putting themselves in line for a third straight NCAA bid with a 3-1 start.

Another team to watch in the MEAC could be South Carolina State. The Bulldogs improved to 3-1 with a 30-13 thrashing of Tennessee State.

The only loss for South Carolina State was a 24-22 decision against No. 9 Wofford that occurred when the Bulldogs missed a two-point conversion late.