Northeast Conference Football is back for the 2012 season and so is The Whole Nine Yards. Released on a weekly basis, the piece chronicles nine storylines surrounding the NEC’s nine football members.
Blue Devils Looking to Bounce Back in Primetime
The first night game at the newly-renovated Arute Field will be Central Connecticut’s first this season not against a FCS top 25 team. Following a grueling three-week stretch that included dates with No. 20 Stony Brook, No. 16 Lehigh, and No. 18 New Hampshire, the Blue Devils will open their NEC slate against Wagner in a primetime affair that will air live on MSG+ and Fox College Sports (FCS) beginning at 7:00 pm. Central Connecticut has started conference play with a victory in each of the last five seasons and also holds a robust 24-6 home record under head coach Jeff McInerney. Saturday’s contest will be the first home game played under the lights during McInerney’s tenure, which began in 2006.
Top-tier Rushers Meet in Week 4
The two men combined for 3,196 rush yards in 2011. Bryant’s Jordan Brown and Duquesne’s Larry McCoy, who are each in search of a third consecutive season over 1,000 yards, comprised the two-man backfield on the 2012 Preseason All-NEC Team. While Brown, who ran for the third-highest single-season total (1,815 yards) in NEC history last year, is still looking for his first breakout game of 2012 (he has 231 yards and 1 TD in 3 games), McCoy appears on the way to a career year. The 5-foot-10 senior currently leads the NEC in rushing (344 yards and 5 TD in 3 games) after ranking third with 1,381 yards one season ago. With a 100-yard rushing performance Saturday, McCoy, who surpassed the 100-yard barrier for the 21st time in his career last week, would pass Donte Small for first place on Duquesne’s all-time list.
2011 Co-Champs Set for NEC Lidlifter in Smithfield
Duquesne will head into its Week 4 bout with Bryant on a high note. The Dukes have posted back-to-back victories over Pioneer League foes and are set to contest the first NEC game of what is their fifth season as a league member. Duquesne, which shared the conference crown with Albany in 2011, carries a five-game NEC win streak into Saturday’s game. On the other hand, Bryant will look to shake off its slow start to the season. The Bulldogs have suffered setbacks in each of the first three weeks of 2012, including a 39-28 defeat in their NEC opener at Saint Francis (PA) on Sept. 8. Bryant has won 10 of 13 games all-time played against NEC member from the state of Pennsylvania, but two of the losses have come to Duquesne.
Wagner Has Wright Man Returning Kicks
Following his Week 3 performance against Outer Bridge rival Monmouth, Wagner’s Otis Wright finds himself sitting in fourth place on the NCAA FCS National Leader Board. The sophomore speedster returned five kickoffs for a total of 189 yards last week and is averaging a NEC-high 34.7 yards per return. Wright’s 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Monmouth was the longest by a NEC player since Central Connecticut’s Josue Paul returned one 90 yards against Wagner on Oct. 30, 2010.
Will Pioneers’ Pass Attack Weather Storm at Jersey Shore?
Those in attendance when Sacred Heart visits Monmouth should keep a close eye on the game within the game. Sacred Heart’s Tim Little-led passing attack is currently atop the NEC leader board for the second season in a row. Little will be looking to rebound following an uncharacteristic 141-yard day throwing the football against Colgate in Week 3, but he will have to do so against a vaunted pass defense. Monmouth lines up two veterans at cornerback in Reggie Hildebrandt, Jr. and Elijah Phillips. Both have an interception to their credit already and the latter also forced a key fumble in Monmouth’s Week 2 rout. Combine the defensive backs’ play with a vaunted pass rush led by NEC Defensive Player of the Week Dan Sullivan and SHU will have a challenge on its hands when it arrives in West Long Branch.
Great Danes Head to Maine
One week after Maine posted a win over NEC member Bryant, Albany will look to return the favor on behalf of its NEC brethren. The defending NEC champion Great Danes will face No. 23 Maine for the fourth year in a row. Albany has won two of the last three meetings with the Black Bears, including a 3-0 decision in Orono on the opening day of 2010. Albany, which came up one score short at No. 4 Youngstown State last week, will look for its first win over a FCS Top 25 team since 2009 when it defeated then-No. 20 Maine by a 20-16 score at home.
Colonials Idle, Close out Non-League Slate in Week 5
Robert Morris is the lone NEC team not in action during Week 4. The Colonials, who dropped a tight one at Pioneer League member Dayton last week, will face Patriot League member Lafayette at Joe Walton Stadium on September 29. Robert Morris enters the bye following its best defensive effort yet this season. Led by Academic All-American defensive end Nolan Nearhoof, who is just two sacks shy of the Colonials’ all-time record, Robert Morris limited Dayton to 247 yards of total offense in Week 3.
Red-hot Flash Face Tough Test at Towson
Saint Francis (PA) has shown it can run the ball thus far this season, but Saturday’s opponent, No. 13 Towson, has shown it can stop the run. Rolling to back-to-back wins, the Red Flash have racked up a total of 796 yards rushing over the past two weeks (vs. Bryant; at Morehead State). Senior Keion Wade, the reigning NEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week, and freshman Khairi Dickson, the two-time NEC Rookie of the Week, have performed admirably for the Flash, who lost all-NEC ball carrier Kyle Harbridge at the season’s start. Meanwhile, Towson’s defense is allowing opponents to gain only 3.5 yards per carry. The Tigers allowed only a total of 525 yards, 258 of which were rushing, over its first two games against FBS member Kent State and CAA rival William & Mary.
Shore Stars Aplenty in This Matchup
Monmouth has made a habit of recruiting student-athletes from the talent-rich Shore Conference, a high school league that stretches across New Jersey’s Monmouth and Ocean counties. Reigning NEC Defensive Player of the Week Dan Sullivan and 2011 Jerry Rice Award finalist Neal Sterling chose to take their collegiate careers to Monmouth after spending their high school days at nearby Manasquan High School. Meanwhile, Sacred Heart quarterback Tim Little will enjoy a homecoming of sorts when he steps onto Kessler Field. Although Little did not compete in the Shore Conference, he is still from a Jersey Shore town. His native Egg Harbor Twp. is fewer than 50 miles south of Monmouth’s West Long branch campus.
No. 23 Maine (1-1)
Orono, ME (Alfond Stadium)
Saturday at 6:00 pm
Bryant (0-3, 0-1)
Duquesne (2-1, 0-0)
Smithfield, RI (Bulldog Stadium)
Saturday at 1:00 pm
Central Conn. St. (0-3, 0-0)
Wagner (0-3, 0-1)
New Britain, CT (Arute Field)
Saturday at 7:00 pm
LIVE on MSG+ & Fox College Sports
Monmouth (2-1, 1-0)
Sacred Heart (0-2, 0-0)
W. Long Branch, NJ (Kessler Field)
Saturday at 1:00 pm
Watch - Live Stats
Saint Francis (PA) (2-1)
#13 Towson (1-1)
Towson, MD (Unitas Stadium)
Saturday at 7:00 pm
Watch - Live Stats
*All times EST.