Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Looking Back on 2016 (and Looking Ahead to 2017)

The 2016 Hobart College Statesmen gave us one of the more memorable seasons in recent years. While it certainly didn't last as long as the 2012 and 2014 playoff runs, there were arguably many more memorable and exciting moments this season that Statesmen fans won't forget for some time.

The "Cardiac Kids," as WEOS FM's Ted Baker called them, had several close wins and saw the Hobart offense break multiple school records in the passing game. Players like JR WR Brandon Shed and JR QB Shane Sweeney got on the national radar with outstanding statistical and other performances as well.

While SR OL Nick Testani will be missed, the majority of the Statesmen OL will be back in 2017. SO OL John Deveney had a solid year at LT as did SO OL Jack Koch (who btw had one of the best in-game pictures I've seen in a while with this one):


Sweeney earned the LL OPOTY award for his 3,436 passing and 36 TD year. Shed (1,284 RYDs & 17 TDs), SR WR Jack Pfohl (705 RYDs & 9 TDs) and Testani all earned 1st team All-LL awards for their contributions this season. JR TE Zach Withers and Deveney earned 2nd team All-LL awards and SO RB Tynard Barfield, SR RB Brad Burns, and JR OL Alex Helm earned Honorable Mention status.

The Hobart defense gave up more points than they have in prior years, but they also always seemed to come up with big plays down the stretch in a "bend, but don't break" type of fashion. Several young Statesmen made a name for themselves defensively which bodes well for the future. FY LB Jedh Downey finished seventh in the LL with 86 total tackles and linemen such as SO DTs AJ McFarlane and Sean Moore had excellent seasons.

Hobart saw SR DE James Hedger and SR OLB Marcus Jemison earn 1st team All-LL awards for their efforts. SR FS Matt Cragg, JR DB Tommy D'Antonio and JR LB Almamy Conde earned 2nd team All-LL awards. McFarlane and Downey joined SR DB Todd Collier as All-LL Honorable Mention players.

JR PK Rio Schmidt earned a share of the LL STPOTY award. Schmidt had an outstanding season punting for the Statesmen, averaging a league best 41.2 YPP. 29 of his 44 punts were either inside the opposition's 20 yard line (14), called for fair catch or touchbacks and finished in the Top 25 nationally in this category.

Not surprisingly, HC Mike Cragg and staff earned the CSOTY award from the league based on their 6-1 mark and head-to-head victory over Co-Champions, Saint Lawrence (9-1, 6-1).

While there were exciting games every weekend of the 2016 season, for me the turning point of the year was Hobart's coming back to win the WPI game. That drive that culminated with the 18 yard TD catch by SR WR Jack Pfohl with three seconds left was simply amazing.

That may have even eclipsed the GEICO College Football Play of the Year - a 57 yard TD catch and run by Pfohl to win the USMMA game with 19 seconds left - but not by much. The WPI win felt more meaningful to me because it kept the Statesmen's LL title hopes alive and made the following week's match up (and ultimately a win) against SLU that much more significant.

You can see the GEICO POTY here.

As an aside, this was the second year in a row a Hobart player won the award. Last year, SR RB Brad Burns won it for his hurdling 36 yard TD run against Endicott.

Speaking of the Gulls, rumor has it that they and an Empire 8 squad will be on the Statesmen's 2017 schedule. The HWS Athletics site currently shows only seven games due to the departures of WPI, USMMA and Springfield from the LL (they'll join the NEWMAC, an existing New England-based, but new FB conference next season). While a nine game season would be ok, the Statesmen are on the hunt for a 10th game / new series going forward. More on that in future posts.

Looking ahead, Hobart will likely be the favorite to retain the LL title again in 2017. Unfortunately without an additional team joining the LL, Hobart and others could end up in playoff limbo starting in 2018 given the likelihood the NCAA won't provide a "Pool B" (or at large berth to teams in conferences without sufficient representation, i.e., < 7 teams and/or independent programs) and the number of Pool C (at large) berths will also be limited due to more conferences gaining access via the Pool A (aka automatic qualifier or AQ). The good news is the 2017 team will be "grandfathered" in, so the LL Championship team will make the 2017 field as a Pool A bid in spite of the fact they would be below the required number of teams in their conference to gain access via an AQ. More on this in future posts as well.

What we also know about 2017 is Hobart should return about 7-8 starters on offense based on who played in the 11 games this season with several others in the WR corps and other positions like OL and RB with significant in-game experience.

Defensively the Statesmen will have openings at DE, OLB and FS but otherwise should return the majority (7) of the starting defense from 2016.

On special teams JR PK Will McCool or someone else will need to take over the majority of the kicking duties given the graduation of SR PK Sean Kirshe. Perhaps Schmidt will get some looks in this area (he did have one KO for 54 yards this season), otherwise the Statesmen coaches will have to bring in a FY or transfer player to take over these jobs. Hobart struggled on FGs (3-7) and PATs (39-46) this year, so this should be a priority to improve on over the offseason.

SR WR Sean Cunningham will need to be replaced as far as punt return duties are concerned also (his 501 RYDs & 4TD production will be missed too). Kickoffs were handled well by FY WR Isaiah Hill and FY RB Brian Haeffner this season and they will likely get looks to do more of the same in 2017 pending preseason camp competition.

Overall the future looks bright for Hobart who should end the 2016 season ranked in the Top 25 (D3football.com and the AFCA usually release their final standings just after the Stagg Bowl) and potentially ranked in the 2017 preseason Top 25 based on who's coming back.

Make sure you tune into D3football.com's webcast before kickoff of the Stagg Bowl on Friday, December 16th to see if players like Sweeney and Shed make their All-American teams (I have a feeling at least one, if not both of them will).

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Statesmen Acquit Themselves Well Against the Champs, But Fall 38-21

The Hobart College Statesmen's 2016 campaign ended Saturday at Boswell Field after a 38-21 loss to the defending National Champions, #7 Mount Union. The Purple Raiders took an early 14-0 lead on a couple of long drives, but Hobart battled back to eventually tie the game, 21-21, with just over 5 minutes left in the third quarter.

Instead of a normal blog / newspaper style post recapping the game, I'll just provide the link to our season finale of In The HuddLLe where we break down the game in detail with WEOS FM's Ted Baker, the voice of the Hobart Statesmen.

A link to our show can be found here.

In other news, a concern I had with the 2017 schedule seems to be not as much of an issue, as I found out the Statesmen have nine games on the calendar (instead of the seven currently up on the HWSAthletics.com website). I'll have more on that soon.

Thanks for a great season. I'll post a season recap and look ahead after the holiday. All the best for you and your families, friends and loved ones this Thanksgiving week.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

NCAA Playoffs Rd 1 - Mount Union Game Preview

The #19 Hobart College Statesmen will host the #7 University of Mount Union Purple Raiders this Saturday in a first round playoff match up at Boswell Field. The Raiders (9-1) finished second in the Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) after being upset, 31-28, by John Carroll University (JCU) last Saturday.

Given Mount Union's 9-1 season, plus the fact they are the defending National Champions, the Raiders qualified for one of the six "Pool C" or at large bids to the tournament. This is the first time the Raiders have gone on the road in the playoffs (other than going to Salem for the Stagg Bowl) since 1996. In fact the last time Mount Union lost a regular season game was all the way back in 2005. The last time they lost two games in the same year was 1994 and the last time they lost two in a row was 1988.

The Statesmen actually do have a 2-1 series edge, having beaten the Raiders twice in the early 1970's. Hobart lost to Mount Union by a score of 42-7 in the second round of the NCAA Playoffs back in 2008. That team had Cecil Shorts III as a member of it, who ironically is now the teammate to former Hobart OL Ali Marpet '15 on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL.

Scouting the Purple Raiders

As in prior seasons, Mount Union has some fairly gaudy stats on both sides of the ball. They average 515.9 YPG, 49.2 PPG while allowing only 9.7 PPG. They are very balanced in terms of passing vs. rushing offensively, but unlike prior years are more inexperienced at QB.

The Raiders have played five different QBs this season but it appears as though #9 FY QB Dom Davis should be the starter for this Saturday's game. Davis hails from Akron (and attended the same HS as LeBron James) and he showed some FY inexperience against a blitz-heavy JCU team that sacked him seven times and forced four turnovers. In spite of these issues, JCU needed a final drive plus some luck to break Mount Union's 112 regular season game winning streak.

Davis has passed for 1,349 yards and 15 TDs while also rushing for 184 yards and four TDs as well. #1 SR RB Bradley Mitchell leads the Raiders with 1,198 rushing yards and 15 TDs. Mitchell runs behind an experienced and big OL that's led by #52 SR OL Mitch Doraty, #75 JR OL Matt Frichet and #56 SR OL Brooks Jenkins.

Mount Union's receiving corps is led by #14 SR WR Tim Kennedy. He has 42 catches for 487 yards and five TDs. Hobart will need to study the JCU film closely as their defensive secondary limited Kennedy to two catches for 17 yards last weekend. #21 JR WR Jared Ruth is another receiving threat, adding 351 yards and three scores.

Defensively Mount Union is led by #34 SR LB Charlie Dear with 59 tackles, including 8.5 TFL and four sacks. #4 SO LB Danny Robinson isn't far behind with 57 tackles, 5.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks. Although not very big on the DL, #32 JR DL Elijah Berry has been tough to block, tallying 6.5 sacks and nine TFLs, including a forced fumble. The 3-3-5 defense they run has given Hobart difficulties in the past, but that was back when the Statesmen were a run-first team. We'll see how they fare against it Saturday, but it means that other WRs and TEs will need to get open and make intermediate catches from time to time.

The kicking game is headed up by #19 JR PK Alex Louthan who's made 62-63 PATs while adding nine of 14 in FGs with a long of 44 yards. #30 SO PK Adam Snyder is the punter and averages 39.2 YPP. #5 SO RB Jawanza Evans-Morris handles return duties and has averaged 24.8 yards there. The FL native occasionally spells Mitchell, and is the second leading rusher on the team with 472 rushing yards and five TDs.

Game notes posted by Mount Union can be found here.

Keys to the Game:

1. Turnovers - Hobart can ill afford to spot an elite program like the Raiders with any points due to turnovers. On the flip side, the JCU game showed Davis can get rattled and put the ball on the ground or be intercepted (he was picked off and fumbled twice, one of the latter being returned for a TD), something the Statesmen defense must create and capitalize on as much as possible.

2. Win the LOS & Slow Down the Run - Both teams boast big, athletic OLs. Hobart's DL will need to find ways to create pressure with their front four while allowing playmakers like SR OLB Marcus Jemison to have the opportunity to create havoc in the Mount Union backfield. The Statesmen rush defense will be tested early on in the game. If they can hold up, we've got a ball game. JCU held the Raiders to 2.6 YPC on Saturday. A similar effort by the Statesmen would go a long way in this one. On offense the Hobart OL will need to keep JR QB Shane Sweeney up right and not running for his life against the extremely quick DL and LBs the Raiders will send after him. Mount Union's pass defense isn't elite, they allow over 185 YPG via the air which bodes well for the Statesmen - if the OL can give Sweeney time.

3. Weather the Storm - The Statesmen will need to not get overwhelmed if Mount Union gets off to a fast start and they can't get too overconfident if they don't. JCU led for most of the first half, then trailed for a good part of the second. Like the "Cardiac Kids" however they found ways to hang in the game and battle back to win it late on TD pass with 39 seconds left. If Hobart can keep it close, they'll have a chance late also. Mount Union has outscored their opponents 130-7 in the third quarter so halftime adjustments and not falling behind badly here will also be crucial for the Statesmen.

Final Thoughts:

No one from D3football.com or otherwise will pick the Statesmen to win this game. I've seen some odds / "models" that say Mount Union has a 97% chance of winning and will by about 30 points. This Raiders team may not be as experienced as prior versions (e.g., only six players Saturday were in the Stagg Bowl last December) but it's still an excellent and talented squad with one of the best coaching staffs at any level of CFB. While they'll carry a smaller, playoff sized roster to Geneva, Mount Union will be deeper than Hobart at most, if not every position, which could mean fresher legs for them later on in the game. Weather could play a role also as the forecast is for rain and wind in the afternoon, but hopefully not until afterwards.

I am hoping the Statesmen can play their best game of the season and catch some breaks (not likely given how the officials treat them at home, but you never know). As I said on ITH last Sunday, this isn't good draw for Hobart, but they'd have to play Mount Union at some point regardless. The one X factor is how the Raiders will feel being a road team in the playoffs in unfamiliar surroundings, especially with a younger, less experienced roster?

The X factor for Hobart is that the "Boz" has been good to the Statesmen in NCAA RD 1 home games. While it's true that Hobart hasn't faced the likes of a Mount Union in RD1, the Statesmen are 7-1 on their home field in these opening round games (Hobart also won an ECAC game at home back in 2003 with a 34-18 win over Norwich). Of course the one first round loss was to an OAC team, John Carroll, back in 2002. The Statesmen haven't lost at home in the playoffs since 2013, in the second round to Saint John Fisher.

We will see how it goes Saturday. Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Hobart Draws Mount Union for Playoffs

The NCAA Selection Committee apparently viewed the defending National Champions Mount Union (9-1) as the fourth rated team in the North and the fact that the second ranked East team was only 322 miles away, they paired Hobart (9-1) with the Raiders.

This is not a surprise for some as the Committee has often paired the LL champions with the what has historically been the most dominant team in D3 history. At least this year, Mount Union will have to go on the road and the Statesmen get to host the Champs.

Below is the link to our ITH broadcast which includes interviews with Jack McKieran, the Committee Chair, HC Mike Cragg and a special guest alumnus who appeared on the show.

You can access that show here.

Thanks for reading (and listening). Will have more on the Mount Union match up later this week.

Go Bart!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hobart Gets Back to NCAAs, Defeats Rochester 56-27 on Senior Day

The Hobart College Statesmen clinched a share of the Liberty League Championship with a commanding 56-27 defeat of oldest rival, Rochester, Saturday in Geneva. Their head-to-head victory over Saint Lawrence (9-1, 6-1), who defeated WPI (6-4, 3-4), 28-21 on a late punt return for TD, gave them the LL Pool A (aka Automatic Qualifier) bid.

Hobart (9-1, 6-1) opened a 19-0 lead and looked great in every area save for maybe special teams to open the game. SR RB Brad Burns, SO RB Tynard Barfield each had a rushing TD and JR WR Brandon Shed added a 10 yard TD reception. 

Rochester (1-8, 0-7) got on the board after Luke Szumski made a leaping TD catch to cut the Statesmen's lead to 19-7. Rochester finally got on the board after Luke Szumski made a leaping touchdown catch to cut the Statesmen's lead to 19-7. A Hobart turnover would give the Yellow Jackets a chance to make it a game, but the Statesmen defense held and Rochester missed a field goal. SR FB Sean Bright and SR WR Jack Pfohl would add two more touchdowns on Senior Day. Although there was under two minutes to go, the Hobart defense forced a Rochester punt and allowed JR QB Shane Sweeney to find Shed for a 41 yard TD. The reception would break the all-time career mark and was Sweeney's 50th career touchdown pass as well.

Hobart took a 40-7 halftime lead and would start mixing in the reserves to start the third quarter. Rochester would capitalize, scoring 27 unanswered points, including two touchdowns by SR WR Kyle Allegrini. The Statesmen wouldn't need much time to respond, however, as on the third play of their ensuing drive Barfield broke off a 47 yard TD run to get Hobart back on track.

JR RB Joe Letizia would run in a short touchdown and FY DE Adrian Connell would force a safety to give the Statesmen a 56-27 Centennial Cup, and more importantly, a Liberty League Championship win! 

Sweeney led Hobart with 256 passing yards and three scores. The Statesmen defense was led by JR LB Almamy Conde and FY LB Jedh Downey with six tackles each. Rochester was led by backup QB Josh Brown with 136 passing yards and two touchdowns. LB Kevin Leblanc led all tacklers with a game high 10 stops. 

The Statesmen will learn of their first round playoff opponent Sunday night at 6 pm on NCAA.com. We will do a NCAA D3 Mock Selection show Saturday night at 11 PM at www.inthehuddlle.com. Our Sunday show will reveal Hobart's first round playoff opponent and our interview with the Head of the Selection Committee, Jack McKieran, so tune in!

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Week 11 - Rochester / Centennial Cup Game Preview

The #21/22 Hobart College Statesmen can clinch the Liberty League (LL) Championship with a win over their oldest rival, the University of Rochester Yellow Jackets, Saturday on Senior Day in Geneva, NY.

Hobart (8-1, 5-1) leads the all-time series 53-48-7. Rochester (1-7, 0-6) is struggling through a difficult season with a limited roster. To their credit, the Yellow Jackets defense has improved since giving up 70 points to Springfield (5-4, 4-2) back in Week 7. They lost a shoot out, 37-34, to WPI (6-3, 3-3) last weekend at home which had to sting (pun intended).

Last season the Statesmen defeated UofR 42-20 in a game that saw JR QB Shane Sweeney set a school record with six passing TDs. Hobart dominated TOP by a 40-20 margin and basically emptied the bench. The biggest difference from last year's game is that #2 JR QB Dan Bronson did not play due to an injury. His FY when he was named the LL ROTY, the Yellow Jackets only lost to Hobart by a score of 28-23.

Scouting the Jackets

The Rochester offense is all about Bronson. He is third in the LL averaging 95.4 YPG rushing so Hobart tacklers will need to play their assignments and do a better job tackling than they did against Sean Richardson from SLU. Bronson can throw well too and has passed for 1,523 yards (124-228) with 12 TDs compared to only three INTs. Bronson's favorite targets are #3 SR WR Kyle Allegrini and #11 SO WR Shawn Silleman.They have combined for 639 yards and five TDs.

If Bronson isn't calling his own number, he will hand it off to #9 SO RB Emanuel Calmar. He's rushed for 233 yards and five TDs.

On defense the Yellow Jackets are led by the trio of #23 JR CB Ricky Sparks (57 tackles and two INTs), #51 SO LB Ricky Simcic (53 tackles) and #33 SR LB David Wolff (50 tackles).

Keys to the Game:

1. Just Win - Rochester is not a very good football team. They are average on offense and give up the most PPG on defense in the LL (43.3). Their kicking game stinks, ranking last in PATs (20-26), FGs (0-4) and KO coverage (29.8 YPR). Bronson keeps them competitive offensively and somehow he's survived playing behind an OL that has given up the most sacks (23) in the LL. The Statesmen can probably find holes in a passing defense that allows 179 YPG and has given up 15 TDs. If Hobart wanted to improve their rushing statistics, the 317.6 YPG allowed by Rochester would be one way to accomplish that. Ultimately the Statesmen will still need to play their "A" game because a team like Rochester is dangerous in that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain with a win.

2. Standing Tall - The Hobart OL did a great job Saturday in Canton and has gotten better with each week. The Yellow Jackets DL is small and has only produced six sacks this season. The Statesmen's ability to keep Sweeney up right will go a long way in Hobart locking in their latest LL title.

3. Thank You Seniors - A group of 15 Hobart SRs will play their final regular season home game Saturday. These young men have a 37-6 career record to date and will have helped the Statesmen earn three LL titles and playoff berths with a win this weekend. These young men include:

#11 CB Todd Collier
#15 OLB Mike Harper
#19 WR Sean Cunningham
#20 FS Matt Cragg (C)
#26 OLB Marcus Jemison (C)
#29 LB Austin Gallegos
#35 RB Bradley Burns
#36 FB Sean Bright
#46 PK Sean Kirshe
#59 DT Jake Russell
#60 OL Justin DiJiulio
#61 DE James Hedger (C)
#63 OL Nick Testani (C)
#71 OL Patrick O'Connell III (C)
#83 WR Jack Pfohl

Congratulations and thanks to these outstanding young men and student athletes.

Prediction:

I predicted a 35-20 victory on ITH last Sunday and I'll stick with that. I could see the Yellow Jackets score less than that but hopefully most of the scores will come later in the game as Hobart puts in the reserves and prepares to see who they'll play in the NCAAs.

I'll have more on Sunday's playoff selection as we'll have on the Chair of the Selection Committee on ITH for the ninth consecutive year (so make sure you tune in!).

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Statesmen Crack Top 25 Again, Podcast Appearances & More

The Hobart College Statesmen are back in the Top 25, coming in at 22 in the latest D3Football.com poll.

A link to the Top 25 poll can be found here.

There was a lot of coverage for the Saints-Statesmen game both on our In The HuddLLe podcast and on the ATN one as well. Pat Coleman and Frank Rossi discuss the game at the 29 minute mark of ATN and JR QB Shane Sweeney comes on at the 42 minute mark.

Frank Rossi also had post game interviews with SR DE James Hedger, JR WR Brandon Shed, JR QB Shane Sweeney and HC Mike Cragg on ITH. Our ATL segment also features the exciting highlights from WEOS FM's Ted Baker.

Frank predicts Hobart (8-1, 5-1) will end up ranked second in the next NCAA East Regional Rankings based on their strength of schedule. He also predicts SLU (8-1, 5-1) won't make the final playoff field. Frank will host a D3 Playoff Selection Show on Saturday night live around 11 PM ET.

Finally, a special tip of the cap to Ithaca HC Mike Welch who went 5-0 at home in his final season for the Bombers. We wish him the best in Week 11 and his retirement.

I'll have more on the Week 11 Rochester match up later this week.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!