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Pitt State and Valdosta State will battle for the D-II crown Saturday

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  • Pitt State and Valdosta State will battle for the D-II crown Saturday

    Dec. 7, 2004

    By Brad Dopke

    Special to from College Sports Report

    I cannot help but think of electricity needs in Florence, Alabama this weekend when the D-II football championship takes place. 220, 221, whatever it takes to keep that scoreboard going at Braly Stadium. It will get quite a workout when Pitt State and Valdosta State both take the field to see who will be crowned kings of the Division.


    Losing to Albany State in the season-opener wasn't the most pleasant of starts for the Gulf South champions, but hindsight is indeed 20/20. Valdosta got its revenge over Albany for the right to host West Chester in the semifinal. That's when quarterback Fabian Walker went to work for the Blazers offense. Walker was flat out brilliant in leading VSU to a 31-7 halftime edge before cruising to a 45-21 win. He threw for 221 yards on the day, and was near perfect in directing Chris Hatcher's short passing game, finishing 24 of 28 passing with a pair of touchdowns.

    Indeed, Valdosta's success can be directly attributed to the work of coach Hatcher. A former Harlon Hill winner at VSU himself, Hatcher's offense relies more on spreading the field and utilizing the accuracy of his quarterback and quickness of his receivers rather than pure strength and speed. Still, balance remains vital to the Blazers effectiveness on offense, as proven by Vincent Brown's 120 yards and two touchdowns rushing in the semifinal win.

    Although you may not see VSU among the Division leaders in defense doesn't mean that the Blazers are by any means weak on that side of the ball. In fact, the Blazers defense has forced 34 turnovers on the year against some fearsome offenses. Meanwhile, playoff opponents have averaged just 19 points per game.


    PSU appears to be an offensive juggernaut that cannot be stopped. Not even North Dakota's stifling defense could shut down the Pitt State attack as the Gorillas took to the air to down the Sioux and advance to the final, 31-19. Once again it was Germaine Race and Neil Philpot leading the Gorilla charge. Race rushed for 158 yards and a score while Philpot threw for three scores. Even the PSU defense got into it, stopping UND at vital times and giving its offense an opening to push up a lead that the Sioux couldn't chase.

    What can I say about the Gorilla machine except that it has been flat out amazing! Seriously, I don't know where to begin in describing it. PSU leads the Division in scoring with a whopping average of 57 points per game. That includes scoring 70 or better in five of its games. With an amazing average of 614 yards of offense per game, no team comes even close to matching the Gorillas output. It leads the Division in rushing with a 368-yard average, and is nothing to sneeze at passing the ball with a 246-yard average there, as well.

    On defense, the exploits are more difficult to come by, but a picture does begin to emerge. Solid against the run in allowing an average of just over 100 yards per game, PSU was up on so many teams early that its bulk of the work came against the pass. Although sophomore lineman Ryan Meredith is a player to watch on the Gorilla defense, it is a team effort, especially in the backfield where it has amassed 23 interceptions.


    Perhaps PSU quarterback Neil Philpot is motivated from being left off Harlon Hill lists, but regardless of the matter, he's performed fantastic in the playoffs. However, like most teams, the Gorillas are at their best when they find balance. Hidden in PSU's explosiveness are the efforts of running back Germaine Race. Race is appropriately named as the running back averages over nine yards a carry. If PSU is to unleash the passing attack effectively against Valdosta, they'll need to get Race's ground game established early on.

    If balance is a priority for Pitt State, it is an absolute must for Valdosta. Walker has done an amazing job of directing coach Hatcher's possession pass attack, getting the ball to his receivers quickly and let them do the damage with yards after the catch. However, either Vincent Brown or Tyran Robinson need to step up with the run to keep Meredith and the Pitt State defense honest.

    Expect plenty of points for I don't see either defense having the capability of shutting down the offenses that will be taking the field. Getting off to a good start will be crucial for both clubs as either team is capable of exploding out to a big lead. Which means that Valdosta State placekicker Will Rhody (20 of 21 on the season in field goals) might become a huge factor in making sure the Blazers get on the board.

    Pitt State proved its metal by recovering from a poor overall performance in a quarterfinal win over Northwest Missouri by putting together an effective attack in defeating North Dakota. Also, Valdosta State needs a near perfect game to win. For the Blazers to get off to a good start, Walker must come out sharp with his passing early on. Both teams have been good at protecting the ball, keeping turnovers to a minimum. But that can change in a heartbeat in big games like this.

    Right now I stand at 18-4 in playoff predictions, so I should know what I'm talking about, right? Well, not so fast with that one. Pitt State is the pretty pick, but there is something about a well-coached ball club like Valdosta to throw a wrench into the works. Which team puts pressure on the other will have control of the game and the best shot at taking the title. Right now I see Pitt State having more potential for such control to win a tough, high-scoring affair, 40-36.


    Although the Harlon Hill list of finalists is out and the winner to be announced prior to the championship game, there are some players left off of the list that I feel should be recognized. Division I-A isn't the only place where freshmen made a huge impact. If Adrian Peterson is hyped for the Heisman, why can't Chadron State's Danny Woodhead be a finalist for the Harlon Hill?

    Yes, Woodhead was blessed to be the main cog behind a very physical and veteran offensive line at CSC, but the much heralded recruit lived up to his publicity by leading the Division in rushing, scoring and in all-purpose yards. Somehow freshman of the year does not live up to the true impact Woodhead had for Brad Smith's Eagles.

    Gannon quarterback Darmel Whitfield may not have been the prettiest of passing quarterbacks but the skilled senior was basically the only offense the Knights had in their rookie year in the GLIAC. Whitfield took 623 snaps on the season and was quite adept at getting the Knights offense moving, as evidenced by his 322 yard average of total offense per game.

    Effective quarterbacks show solid leadership, and that relates directly to minimizing mistakes, such as turnovers. It also means they must understand and operate their offense to its fullest. Both Neil Philpot and Fabian Walker should top this list. Philpot added balance to the Gorilla offense that pushed an already lethal Pitt State to heights reserved for the ages; while Walker directed a concise passing game to a point where the Blazers operated without a hitch. They limited their mistakes, not allowing opponents to gain any edge against their respective teams. Quarterbacks like Washburn's Tyler Schuerman and Concordia-St. Paul's James McNear also showed that ability this year.

    On defense it begins with Tuskegee's Jordan Brumbaugh, a defensive lineman that played well against the very best. Brumbaugh led a tough Tiger defense with 14 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. If not for an annual Thanksgiving hookup with I-AA Alabama State, we would have been seeing more of his exploits in the postseason. Still, don't take that out on the kid, scheduling is not his fault!

    Staying the SIAC, there is little doubt that the bulk of Albany State's success came directly from the play of its defense. Star of that defense was Walter Curry. Active as a linebacker, rover, safety, whatever you want to call it, Curry was all over the field making big plays for the Rams. He finished his year with eleven sacks and 22 tackles for loss for a defensive backfield that was flat out stellar.

    Another defender that saw his team step up to title contention was Adam McGurk of Adams State. Like Albany State, ASC's success depended almost entirely on its defense, and McGurk was a catalyst of a fantastic one at ASC. He finished with 126 tackles on the season and forced five fumbles this year for the Grizzlies.

    Rounding out my list is Texas A&M-Kingsville linebacker Curtis Tyler. Everybody in the Lone Star knows how tough both he and fellow linebacker DeAundre Fillmore made the Javelinas defense this year. Not only did Tyler notch 17 tackles for loss on the season, but he also forced four fumbles.

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    Tulane falls, 45-21, despite 376 yards from Lester Ricard
    by DJRamFan
    Heavyweights, Saginaw Valley State (6-0) and Grand Valley State (6-0) face off in a crucial contest

    Oct. 14, 2005

    By Brad Dopke

    Special to from College Sports Report


    Well, it won't be high noon at the O.K. Corral, but the Saturday night gathering at Lubbers Stadium just might go down in history. That is when the pair of heavyweights, Saginaw Valley State (6-0) and Grand Valley State (6-0) face off in a crucial contest to see who gets to sit in the GLIAC driver's seat.

    Saginaw enters the fray ranked fourth in the most recent AFCA coach's poll while Grand Valley continues to hold onto the top spot.

    Although both teams field sizzling offenses that average over 900 yards of offense combined, it is defense that most likely will rule the day.

    John DiGiorgio continues to spearhead the Saginaw defense, as the senior linebacker has amassed 69 tackles (40 solo) on the season to date. SVSU has also gotten steady play from its defensive linemen, with Danny Fodrocy and Josh Miller combining for 18 tackles for loss thus far as well.

    On offense, look for a pair of quarterbacks to continue mistake-free leadership for both clubs. Although still a junior, GVSU's Cullen Finnerty is not new to big games, and has the added benefit of getting to hand off to Toledo transfer Astin Martin. On the flipside, sophomore Chris Dougherty leads SVSU, and has tossed eleven touchdowns to just one interception on the year.

    Prediction: SVSU has been knocking off better opposition steadily and comfortably. GVSU has yet to show that it is deserving of its top national ranking. Look for Saginaw to prove the AFCA poll wrong and post a 24-21 win.


    That isn't the only showdown in the GLIAC, as Michigan Tech starts Saturday's play with a visit to powerful Northwood. Tech is coming off a tough loss to Wayne State (MI) while Northwood has rattled off six straight wins since a season-opening 9-7 loss to Saginaw Valley State.

    Daryl Graham has emerged as the main threat for Michigan Tech as the sophomore running back has rushed for 727 yards and eight touchdowns on the season. That tally is especially impressive when combined with junior Lee Marana's 718 yards and seven scores.

    Northwood is equally impressive in running the ball, for the Timberwolves average just under 300 yards per game on the ground.

    Prediction: As good as Tech is at running the ball, it is going to have its hands full against Northwood's stout defense. Northwood gives up less than a hundred yards on the ground, which will prove to be the difference,...
    -10-15-2005, 10:13 AM
  • DJRamFan
    Tony Haynes: Wolfpack Needs Time On Its Side At Wake
    by DJRamFan
    NC State and Wake Forest clash Saturday in Winston-Salem.

    Oct. 21, 2005

    Tony Haynes Archive

    By Tony Haynes

    Raleigh, N.C. - Although the philosophy was adopted at a time before the forward pass became popular in football, the old adage of "the team that runs the ball best and also stops the run will win most of the time" still holds true. That brings us to the challenge that awaits NC State (2-3, 1-3) this weekend. Coming off a game in which it could neither stop the run nor get anything going with its own ground game, the Wolfpack now travels to Winston-Salem for a 3:30 meeting with Wake Forest (2-5, 1-3). These are the "run until their tongues" hang out Demon Deacons, a team that averages 205 yards per game to lead the ACC.

    The top running back in the ACC is Wake's Chris Barclay, a highly underrated senior who is threatening to become the first player in the 53-year history of the ACC to lead the league in rushing during the regular season for the third straight year. Averaging 5.5 yards per carry, Barclay takes advantage of a quirky, unusual offense that deceives and frustrates defensive linemen and linebackers. It is, to say the least, a very `running back friendly' attack. If that wasn't true, then Micah Andrews - also of Wake Forest - wouldn't be the second leading rusher in the league.

    It all adds up to an offense that keeps opposing defenses on the field for an average of 32:12 per game, a figure that ranks second to only Georgia Tech in the ACC.

    Given the choice between a three-hour and 45 minute root canal or a three-hour and 45 minute game against Wake Forest, many ACC defensive coordinators might say "pass the Novocain please!"

    But unlike Wake, NC State has not been able to keep its offense on the field enough lately, a fact that has caused a major deficit in several areas.

    Among other things, the Wolfpack defense has tallied an average of 10 more minutes of playing time than the offense over the last three games. Also during that three-game span, the Pack offense has averaged just 60 plays compared to 78 by its opponents. Certainly, NC State's anemic third down conversion rate (29 percent) has something to do with those numbers.

    Those who feel compelled to assign blame during times like these usually take the easy way out and point the finger at the quarterback. No, Jay Davis wasn't at his best in last week's 31-10 defeat to Clemson, but he certainly wasn't alone. The offense as a whole misfired in all directions during a time when the Tigers were building a fairly comfortable 28-10 advantage in the first half.

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    -10-21-2005, 03:49 PM
  • DJRamFan
    D-II Notebook: Week 4
    by DJRamFan
    Sept. 16, 2005

    By Brad Dopke

    Special to from College Sports Report

    As odd as it seems, we are going to see a few games sprinkled about D-II that will have huge impact on the playoffs. True, this is only the fourth week of football for the Division, but already a few teams find themselves in a win or else scenario when it comes to post-season hopes.


    It's been a while since a rep from the WVIAC made an appearance in the postseason, but that is looking to change this year. Monte Cater has his Shepherd Rams playing awesome football right now, and with wins over Virginia State (24-6), Shippensburg (34-32) and Slippery Rock (24-7), Shepherd could easily find itself in the midst of a playoff run.

    However, first things first, as Glenville State will be awaiting the undefeated Rams this Saturday. Glenville's only loss to date was a one-point decision to Millersville in the second week. Seeing at how top heavy the PSAC is, it seems that Glenville's only hopes for the post-season is by running the table in the WVIAC.

    There is another game in the Northeast region with huge playoff bearing implications when Bentley visits Merrimack on Saturday night. Like Glenville, Bentley will have to win out and capture the Northeast Ten title if it is to see any play in the post-season. However, the Falcons have tasted tough competition in the conference with a 33-24 win over Southern Connecticut.

    Merrimack was lucky to slip past an improved Bryant club in overtime, 41-40. Still, the Warriors have an awesome weapon in receiver Elfren Quiles, who leads the Division in receptions per game with 20 for 307 yards in just two games.

    Northeast Leaders: East Stroudsburg leads the Division in passing with a whopping average of 422 yards per game. Meanwhile, Edinboro has done it with defense, holding opponents to just 59 yards rushing in two games. Ironically, offense topped defense, as ESU defeated Edinboro 23-21 earlier this year.


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  • DJRamFan
    Saturday's Storyline: It's No. 1 Offense Against No. 1 Defense At Ohio Stadium
    by DJRamFan
    MSU's explosive offense prepares to face an Ohio State team that leads the Big Ten in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense.

    Oct. 14, 2005

    COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The way Ohio State offensive guard Rob Sims sees it, the Buckeyes' two losses don't take away from the fact that they belong among the top teams in the country.

    "Both of the losses we had this year were both squarely on us, just not doing our job," Sims said earlier this week. "The other teams were very good and they played very well but, I'll still say it, I think we're the best team in the country. We just shot ourselves in the foot two games."

    Ohio State's fans are wondering when the Buckeyes will run out of ammunition -- or feet.

    Next up for the wounded and 15th-ranked Buckeyes (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) is No. 16 Michigan State (4-1, 1-1).

    It couldn't get much simpler: the Big Ten's best defense against its most prolific offense, in a game that neither team can afford to lose it wants to keep alive slim hopes of a conference title.

    "It's a big game for us, but we're trying not to make it too big," Spartans wide receiver Matt Trannon said. "We gotta go down there and take care of business if we expect to continue in the race for the Big Ten championship."

    The Spartans, led by quarterback Drew Stanton and a stable of tailbacks, are averaging 45.4 points a game. They put 44 points on Notre Dame in a three-point overtime win. A week after scoring 61 points against Illinois in the first Big Ten road game, they sustained their only loss, a 34-31 setback against Michigan, also in overtime.

    "Having a good passing game opens up your running game," Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk said of the Spartans' attack. "They have three great tailbacks. They can keep bringing 'em in, keeping them fresh. Their offensive line does a great job of getting out and doing things to open up the running game. When you have running backs like theirs, that's what makes them a good team. They can pass and run."

    Stanton leads the Big Ten in passing yards, averaging just under 300 a game, and tops the league in pass efficiency. He has so many potential targets that it's difficult to focus on one.

    "The beauty of this offense is you can't key on any one receiver," said Stanton, who may be called upon to run more to free up the passing lanes. "That's kind of by design."

    The Spartans have had a bye week to recover from that devastating loss to Michigan. Ohio State is still trying to overcome the lingering effects of last week's 17-10 loss at Penn State.

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    -10-15-2005, 10:10 AM
  • DJRamFan
    Changes Multiply With D-II Football Set To Start
    by DJRamFan
    By Brad Dopke

    Those in BCS circles would have you believe that the college football season kicks off in Washington, D.C., on August 28 when Southern Cal and Virginia Tech hook up. However, purists know that many Division II teams will be kicking off the Thursday prior to the big boys.

    Still, the real story before the start of the season is in the happenings off the field. Not only will D-II continue its push toward regionalization by increasing the number of playoff participants from 16 to 24, but there is also interest in some regions to reduce the maximum allowed scholarship equivalencies from 36 to a number as low as 24 per year. Any change in equivalencies could come as early as the 2005 NCAA Convention.

    As scholarship money is limited at the Division II level, it just may provide the impetus for more schools to step up to Division I. Gone are North and South Dakota State from the NCC to join Cal-Davis and Northern Colorado in Division I, with Winston-Salem State making public its desire to move up as well. Also missing from the D-II landscape is one time power New Haven, which decided to drop the sport for financial reasons.

    At a time when financial support for football is getting more difficult to come by, a push to reduce overall costs for the sport may have the numbers to get scholarship reductions pushed past the powerbrokers that vetoed such a fate just a few years back. Now back to the field of play. Members of the four regions have been set, and each region is allotted six playoff participants. Truly surprising was that the Championships Committee decided to remove one of the Division's most powerful conferences (the GLIAC) from the Northeast Region to an already difficult Northwest Region. That means the PSAC, WVIAC and non-scholarship Northeast Ten already come out as big winners. Part I takes a look at the Northeast and Southeast regions.


    With regionalization establishing the PSAC as a leader in Division II, the conference comes loaded with quality and growing teams. Things should really be hot in the West Division where Shippensburg returns a good chunk from what was a successful title contender. This year the Raiders would like to topple Lou Tepper's Edinboro Scots from their title perch. Still, Shipps will have its hands full as Indiana looks to be in the title chase. With six picks in the Northeast Region, expect two of these three teams to make it to the playoffs.

    In the PSAC East things may not be as torrid on the national scene, but both Bloomsburg and West Chester will field quality teams that should be in the hunt for the divisional title. Right behind both contenders will be East Stroudsburg. Although Mansfield may lack the overall punch necessary to top them all, the Mountaineers may have the nation's best performer in running back Earnest "Poohbear" McNeal....
    -08-26-2004, 01:20 PM