Paul Falewicz

Week 11 Thoughts, 1st Round Playoff Edition

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Victory

Assumption defeated California 40-31 last Saturday afternoon in the first round of the playoffs. It was the second time in three years that the Greyhounds won a playoff game and have advanced to the second round.

The Greyhounds caused turnovers and took advantage of short fields to win the game. The final stat line was not pretty but the final on the scoreboard was all that matters.

With the Greyhounds trailing 17-3 and California driving, Andrew Benson picked off a pass rthat swung the momentum of the game and then Assumption outscored the Vulcans the rest of the way.

"The first half had us a little concerned," Assumption head coach Bob Chesney said. "And then the interception before the half was huge."

They took advantage of short field positions as they picked off California five times in the game to secure the trip to the second round.

They will face seventh-seeded Findlay who upset second seeded Shepherd 29-17. The Oilers were thought to be out of the playoffs after they lost in the final week of the season but definitely proved that they are a playoff team.

QB Shuffle

It has been a position of strength for Assumption all season long. They have three capable quarterbacks on the roster and all three saw time in the victory over California.

Brendan Tobey started the game for the Greyhounds but was knocked out of the game after he called his own number for a touchdown in the third quarter. He had tightness in his leg after the play and did not return. Marc Monks entered the game for the extra point.

Monks then started the next series for Assumption but was not able to play long. He threw two incompletions but is still battling injury from the Stonehill game. He missed the last two games before finally see action today.

"We planned on playing all three of team today," Chesney said. "They all did a great job."

Then enter short yardage specialist Cody Williams who became the quarterback for the stretch drive of the game. He was a perfect three for three and led Assumption on a couple of scoring drives.

"When you are building something, you hope for the depth," Chesney said. "Everyone talks about the next man up. You hope it can hold true for the situation and today it did."

Chesney continued, "The guys believe in one another. It is the commitment to the team. It didn't happy today. It happens in the hard days over the winter or in the summer. Those are the key to everything. At some point, the spotlight is going to shine on you. Are you going to be revealed for the hard work you did or exposed for everything you didn’t do?"

The depth of the Assumption team was on display today. When one player goes down, there is a capable player ready to step in. That is the hallmark of championship teams.

Pressure

The offensive line of California had several of their players listed over 300 pounds and looked to be a strength of the Vulcans. But the Assumption defensive line didn't care and just plain dominated in the trenches.

Joe Bruno was the leader of the line. He finished with 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 hurries and was just in the California backfield the entire afternoon. Ray Sarkodieh was the same way. He was credited with five tackles, one sack and one hurry.

"It is their motor and ability to fight with extreme amounts of toughness," Chesney said.

It is a good sign when the defensive line is able to pressure the quarterback like the Assumption defensive did on Saturday. They will be a handful for Findlay if they repeat their performance next weekend.

Pick City

With California, up 17-3 late in the second quarter and driving, the key play of the game happened. Vulcan quarterback Michael Keir dropped back and threw the ball over the middle. The pass was tipped and "Mr. On the Spot" Andrew Benson grabbed the ball.

Benson started up the sideline and saw some daylight ahead of him. He returned the pick 71 yards deep into California territory and that was the momentum that the Greyhounds needed. They scored three plays later and were right back in the game.

"It was a little iffy in the first half," Benson said. "We picked up the momentum. We corrected everything at half and executed what we needed to do."

It was the first of five picks for Assumption and it was the difference in the game. Entering the game, Keir had thrown only six picks all season long. Assumption picked off two passes early in the third quarter and flipped flopped the deficit to a lead.

"We practice all week," Benson said. "We prepare to execute in the game. Practices are similar to what we see in the game. Coaches do a great job getting us ready for that."

Shawn Springs Jr. sealed the game with his second pick of the game and took it to the house from 39 yards out. It was a nice rebound for the secondary that was torched last week by Austin Ryan to be there to make big plays.

Penalties

It was a very tough day for the Greyhounds as they were flagged nine times in the game for 73 yards. It included several early pass interference calls that set up prolonged drives for California.

And one sequence on the first California scoring drive that saw the Greyhounds with 12 players on the field for a field goal attempt. Then they jumped offsides on the next snap but neither of the penalties hurt. It was moving the balls inches, not yards close to the goal line.

Assumption averaged 7.2 penalties per game and will definitely need to clean up that up if they are going to continue to advance in the playoffs.

Opportunistic

Because of the interceptions, the Assumption offense had several short fields to work with. It helped them as the offense struggled most of the afternoon.

Their longest scoring drive of the day was in the fourth quarter when they went 68 yards for the first of Doug Santos' two scores. Four of the scoring drives were under 30 yards. 21, 4, 21, and 27 yards resulted in three touchdowns and one field goal.

"They execute on people's mistakes," Keir said. "We can't turn over the ball over at the end of the day. We just can't turn the ball over that much."

"These are things that we talked about," Chesney said. "When the opportunity shows up, making the most out of it. We had not done that for maybe the past two weeks and for that to show up, we were excited and proud of."

Despite being outgained 422-270, it was the short fields that were the difference in the game and helped to move Assumption onto the next round.

NE-10 Improvement

For the third consecutive season, the NE-10 will be playing in the second round of the playoffs. The streak started in 2015 when Assumption defeated Bowie State and played at Slippery Rock.

It continued last year as LIU Post best Winston-Salem State and hosted Shepherd. And now Assumption makes it three in a row.

It marks the second time this has happened in the history of the league. From 2005-2007, the league had three straight years of teams playing in the second round. It was C.W. Post in 2005 that made a run to the regional championship. Merrimack advanced in 2006 and Southern Connecticut did the same in 2007.

"We knew Assumption was a good team," California coach Gary Dunn said. "They rolled their league pretty good except for last week. There is good football up here. It is very similar to the PSAC. You have to line up each week."

The difference between those trips to the current day is the quality of the teams. In 2007, teams were happy to make the playoffs but were playing each other to make the second round.

In the past three seasons, they are defeating the other conferences in the region and making a name for themselves on the national stage. The first two years included victories over the CIAA and now the PSAC.

It is a major step for the league that they are able to compete and beat the other teams in the region. The ability to host a second-round game is huge and now they need to continue to win games. Only two teams (Post in 2005 and New Haven in 2011) have played in the regional championship.

It is important that the league continues this success and become a major player in the region.

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