Chuck Bitner

Final Week of Divisional Play in the PSAC

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Wow. Week 10 already. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. The eleven game regular season of Division II football is the fastest three months of the year. This Saturday will be the final round of divisional play, and while the Eastern division race was wrapped up a week ago in the “Instant Classic” between Bloomsburg and Shippensburg, the Western division is far from settled. California, IUP and Mercyhurst are still fighting it out and the champion will host Shippensburg next Saturday for the title. Earlier this week I posted a blog outlining the scenarios for all three teams. You can find it here:

Now that we’re all up to speed, on we go to Week 10…

#15 IUP (8-1, 5-1) at Gannon (2-7, 1-5)

Both teams are coming off victories from last week as IUP won its fifth straight and Gannon picked up its second win of the season, albeit in very uninspiring fashion. The Golden Knights’ offense scored 13 points and handed 7 to Lock Haven, but the defense was able to make it hold up for a 13-7 victory. Don’t expect it to be the start of winning streak.

Gannon would love to end their season on a high note with a couple more victories, but IUP still has a chance to play for the PSAC Championship if they take care of business. A win at Gannon, combined with a Mercyhurst win over California would allow the Crimson Hawks to host the championship game against Shippensburg next Saturday. Given those circumstances, IUP should be focused and motivated when they roll into Erie. They boast the league’s second best rushing attack (291 yards per game) and the passing game has steadily improved since Mike Box asserted himself as the starting quarterback. Gannon struggles to stop the run, so expect a big day for Harvie Tuck.

Gannon’s strength is passing the football but IUP is number one in the country in total defense and scoring defense. The Golden Knights can move the ball in the air, but they’ve given up 37 sacks and 17 interceptions this season. All of the above adds up to a lopsided win for the Crimson Hawks.

IUP 38 Gannon 7

East Stroudsburg (4-4, 3-3) at Millersville (2-7, 1-5)

East Stroudsburg is coming off a win at LIU Post that saw the Warriors establish new PSAC records for total offense in a single game (828 yards) and individual total offense in a single game (Matt Soltes, 666 yards). Do you think this worries Millersville at all? I might think so. The Mauraders are last in the PSAC in total defense and 15th in scoring defense, so I’m not exactly going out on a limb by predicting another big day for Soltes and the East Stroudsburg offense.

The Warriors aren’t much better than Millersville on defense (14th out of 16 teams) but Millersville doesn’t have much of a threat rushing or throwing. Their best chance is to try to establish the running game. ESU can be vulnerable to the rush, and anything the Marauders can do to keep the ball away from the Warriors’ offense will help their efforts. Unfortunately, Millersville just hasn’t shown anywhere near enough productivity to make me think they can hang with the steadily improving Warriors.

East Stroudsburg 41 Millersville 17

Cheyney (1-8, 0-6) at #11 Shippensburg (9-0, 6-0)

Shippensburg’s destiny is already set. They will go on the road next Saturday to face the PSAC West winner for the overall conference championship. Until then, they will celebrate senior day with their last PSAC East game of the year. Although the outcome of this game will not have any impact on the divisional standings, a win is still essential for the Raiders to maintain the number 1 ranking in Super Region 1. This may have ‘trap game’ written all over it, but I don’t see it playing out that way. The aforementioned regional rankings should provide enough motivation to get the job done and the Wolves don’t have enough athletes to stand up to Shippensburg’s style of offense. If I was ‘Coach Mac’ I would challenge my team to put this game out of reach before half time so I can get my valuable playmakers off the field.

Shippensburg 56 Cheyney 7

Lock Haven (0-9, 0-6) at Slippery Rock (5-4, 4-2)

Lock Haven has come so close for the past two weeks. In back to back home games with Clarion and Gannon, The Bald Eagles were a single play away from taking victory. Alas, they are experiencing the growing pains of a young team. Who would have thought a team with a 51 game losing streak would have trouble learning how to win games? Joking aside, it is still notable progress for the Bald Eagles to be getting this close to winning. Now that they’ve been there a few times, they may be able to close the deal the next time.

I don’t expect Slippery Rock to be the team to go down to Lock Haven. After a 2-4 start, SRU has won three straight games (all in the division) including an upset at California last week. Nigel Barksdale has done a fabulous job since taking over the quarterback position (462 rushing yards, 1237 passing yards) and he is hoping to lead the Rock to a season ending five game winning streak. If the Rock has a weakness, it’s on the defensive side (particularly pass defense) but I don’t think they’ll have too many problems with a Lock Haven offense averaging 7.8 points per game.

Slippery Rock 41 Lock Haven 14

Edinboro (3-5, 2-4) at Clarion (4-5, 2-4)

This is a battle between two teams stumbling towards the finish line. Clarion is 1-3 since picking up a nice win over East Stroudsburg in late September, with the only victory being a last play miracle at winless Lock Haven. Most recently, they were manhandled by IUP 45-0. Edinboro seems to get results in bunches and since winning three straight, they’ve now lost three straight. The Fighting Scots were competitive in close losses to IUP, Mercyhurst and Slippery Rock, but they have not come up with enough offense to pull out victories.

Neither team has a lot going for it right now and this could be a “who wants it more” kind of game. I think Clarion stands a better chance of being productive on offense with their balanced attack. The Golden Eagles can run (159 yards per game) and throw (239 yards per game). Edinboro, by contrast is very one-dimensional. I think Clarion may be the more talented team, but I have more confidence in Edinboro’s staff to come up with a good game plan and have their team prepared. Plus, every time I’ve expressed confidence in Clarion, they have let me down. It will be another close game for the Fighting Scots, but I think they will be on the winning end this week.

Edinboro 28 Clarion 24

LIU Post (3-5, 2-4) at Kutztown (5-4, 3-3)

This game has been postponed until November 17, due to the impact of the storms this week in the Northeast. November 17 will be the first round of the D2 post season, but since neither team is in playoff contention, the institutions agreed to reschedule. I applaud both schools for their commitment to making this game happen, and to the NCAA for allowing the teams to extend the season by a week. It would have been easy to just cancel it and forget about it, but when you only get to play 10 or 11 games in a season, every one of them is precious. The players deserve the opportunity to play out their season and I’m glad they will get it.

West Chester (6-3, 4-2) at #14 Bloomsburg (8-1, 5-1)

West Chester players and coaches probably spent the past 12 months repressing the memory of last year’s homecoming loss to Bloomsburg. The Golden Rams blew a 35 point lead, which set a new Division II record and tied the NCAA all divisions record. Unfortunately, they may have to relive some of that day when they watch the game film of Bloomsburg’s visit to Shippensburg last week. The Huskies trailed by 28 points at halftime, but rallied to tie the game at 42 late in the fourth quarter. Shippensburg won the game in dramatic fashion with a touchdown with just five seconds remaining.

The loss was crushing for the Huskies but they are still in a solid fourth place in the regional rankings. A victory this weekend keeps them right in the thick of the playoff race. However, West Chester still has a shot at the post season too if they can win this game and get the right set of outcomes in the Western division race.

West Chester isn’t usually thought of as a rushing team but Rondell White has been among the PSAC’s best runners all season long and has amassed 1,115 yards, good for third in the conference. Of course the Golden Rams still have a potent passing game led by quarterback Mike Mattei (132-220-2,153). The balanced attack is very dangerous, but Bloomsburg’s defense has some confidence and momentum after holding Shippensburg to only 14 points in the second half and forcing four Red Raider turnovers.

Bloomsburg will counter with their punishing running game. Franklyn Quiteh leads Division II with 179 yards per game and backfield mate Eddie Mateo chips in 110 per game. The Huskies will have their hands full with the WCU defense that ranks second in the PSAC against the run, giving up only 110 yards per game. Ronell Williams leads the Rams and the PSAC with 102 total tackles. But Bloomsburg has some outside options to make the Rams respect the pass. Ryan Dickerson has stepped up in a major way with three straight games of more 100 yards receiving and five straight games with a touchdown reception. The deep threat that Dickerson and Kyle Fisher bring will help keep the Rams’ secondary busy.

The Golden Rams have what it takes to get a win at Redman Stadium but I think the Huskies will win on senior day and stay in good position for the post season.

Bloomsburg 37 West Chester 31

#22 California (7-2, 5-1) at Mercyhurst (7-2, 5-1)

I’d feel a lot better writing about and making a prediction for this game if I knew whether or not Cal quarterback Peter Lalich will be playing. Lalich has not played since the Vulcans’ October 6 victory over Clarion. Backup Cody Schroeder has played pretty well in relief, but it’s asking a lot of a redshirt freshman to come off the bench in the second half of the year and lead the team to a championship.

What complicates the quarterback issue is that the Vulcans don’t run the ball very well. They average just 132 yards per game (12th in the PSAC). They have been held under 100 yards in four of the last six games, with lowly Lock Haven and Gannon being the exceptions. The Vulcans will need productivity from the running game if Lalich is scratched from the line up for the fourth straight game.

The running game is essential because Mercyhurst has the league’s best pass defense, yielding an average of just 153 yards per game, and they’ve surrendered only 12 passing touchdowns for the season (3rd best in the PSAC). They’ve also tallied 23 quarterback sacks. It’s going to be a tough task trying to pass the ball on the Laker defense, especially if the Vulcans cannot establish a running game. There could be an opportunity though. The Lakers are giving up a decent amount on the ground.

Success for Mercyhurst will also ride on the strength of the running game. The Lakers are one of only three teams in the PSAC to average more than 200 rushing yards per game (215) and freshman Brandon Brown-Dukes has gone over 1,000 yards for the season (one of four PSAC running backs to have done so). Allen Jones II is also a major contributor with 78 yards per game. California is third in the PSAC in rush defense, but good teams have been able to move the ball on them. IUP’s Harvie Tuck and West Chester’s Rondell White both rushed for over 200 yards on the Vulcan defense. I don’t have a ton of confidence in the Mercyhurst passing game, but the Vulcans are only so-so in pass defense. If the Lakers can do enough through the air to make Cal respect the pass, I think Brown-Dukes and Jones will be able to have a good day.

It appears we won’t really know until Saturday whether or not Lalich will lace up for the contest. I know he’s a tough kid and will give it a try if at all possible, especially with the season on the line (a third loss will likely drop the Vulcans out of playoff contention). Even if he is able to play, I have to wonder how much his game will be hampered. Kutztown’s Kevin Morton tried valiantly to play on a sore knee in the Bears’ first round playoff game against Concord last year, but was unable to stay in the game. The impact was very noticeable on the deep balls. He just couldn’t get all of his leverage into it. I have no idea if Lalich’s injury is anything like what Morton’s was, I’m only mentioning it to illustrate that a bad knee can have a huge impact on a quarterback, and not just in terms of mobility. Lalich has one of the nicest deep balls I’ve seen, but if he can’t plant comfortably, he won’t be the same quarterback.

If Lalich can go, and he is healthy enough to play 60 minutes, I think Cal will pull it out something like 31-24. If he can’t, I’ll take the Lakers 28-21.

Final Thought for the week…

Please send good thoughts and feelings to the family of Lindenwood University freshman cornerback Sterling Thomas. Thomas suffered a severe spinal cord injury in last Saturday’s victory over Missouri Southern and he remains in serious condition. The team and the University are planning ways to help support the family, emotionally and financially. Spare some thoughts for Sterling and his family, and if you are able to help in any way, I encourage you do to so. Click here for more information:

If you have questions, comments, feedback, complaints, etc. feel free to leave them here on the blog or send them to me at

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Updated 11-01-2012 at 05:03 PM by Chuck Bitner

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