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.
Constitution State Rivals Clash on National TV
Football will return to Campus Field this week for the first time since Nov. 12, 2011. Sacred Heart has opened the 2012 season with three road games sandwiched around a bye week, meaning Saturday’s Constitution State rivalry game will be the Pioneers’ first home contest of this fall. Coincidentally, it will be Homecoming Day at Campus Field as the last NEC team to open its home schedule will host Central Connecticut in a game that will air live on FCS Atlantic and ESPN3. CCSU, however, has historically fared well on its rival’s home field. Central has won five of seven games against Sacred Heart played at Campus Field. The Pioneers, who broke a five-game losing streak in the rivalry series by winning last year’s game in New Britain, have not defeated Central at home since 2002.
Title Hopes on Both Sides of Matchup
Two of the most-accomplished programs in Northeast Conference history will clash in New York’s Capital this Saturday. Albany and Monmouth, who each have five league titles to their credit, have both been impressive thus far this season as they search for Conference Crown No. 6. Defending NEC champion Albany won two of its three non-conference contests, including a Week 4 win at then-No. 23 Maine, and enjoyed a triumphant conference opener at Robert Morris back on Sept. 8. Meanwhile, Monmouth has played two NEC contests thus far and won both to go along with a non-league thumping of Rhode Island. Monmouth, which has won six of its last seven road games, has dropped five in a row in its series with Albany. Should the Hawks snap that streak by winning this battle of 3-1 teams, they will be the first NEC team to reach three league wins this season.
There’ll be plenty intriguing items to look for during Saturday’s showdown between Albany and Monmouth, especially the performances of two young, blossoming receivers. The host Great Danes have watched second-year receiver Cole King take off this September. After showing plenty of promise and ability as a rookie, King, the son of former NFL Draft pick Emmanuel King, has made 16 receptions for 283 yards and a league-leading four touchdowns against stiff competition thus far this September. On the Monmouth side, sophomore receiver Neal Sterling is coming off a phenomenal freshman campaign that saw him lead Monmouth in receptions (57) and yardage (677) on the way to vying for the prestigious Jerry Rice Award. Slowed by an injury that he suffered in Week 2 against URI, Sterling has made 10 catches for 106 yards this season as the 6-foot-4 target is gradually rounding back into form.
Looking for Spark on Staten Island
Wagner has a chance to put back-to-back NEC victories together this weekend when Bryant visits the recently-renamed Hameline Field. The Seahawks broke into the win column by posting a convincing road victory over Central Connecticut on national TV last week. While it all came together for Wagner in Week 4, Bryant is still searching for its elusive first victory. The good news for the Bulldogs is that they’ve historically played well against Wagner. Bryant has won three of the four all-time meetings with the Seahawks, including a 30-28 home win in 2011. Staten Island is the site of Bryant’s first-ever win over a Division I opponent. The Bulldogs stunned Wagner, 24-14, in 2008, which was the first year that Bryant played a Division I schedule as its began its transition into the Northeast Conference.
Rivalry Game Features Two Emerging Receivers
Both Sacred Heart sophomore Robert Dim and Central Connecticut junior Denzell Jones are way ahead of last year’s pace. The two receivers have become go-to targets for their respective offensive units. The 6-foot-2 Dim has a penchant for the big play and enjoyed a breakout performance against Monmouth by making six catches for 108 yards. Dim has made 12 catches for 156 yards in three games this season, having already surpassed last year’s total by seven yards. Fifty of Dim’s 149 receiving yards as a rookie came on a 50-yard touchdown catch in last year’s Constitution State rivalry game at CCSU. Meanwhile, the 6-foot-6 Jones features a combination of size and good hands that makes him an effective possession receiver for the Blue Devils. Jones, who gained 246 yards on 20 grabs in 2011, has made 18 catches for 142 yards thus far this year.
Record-Breaking Receiver vs. Capable Corner
Wagner’s defense will have the task of covering the most-accomplished receiver in Bryant history in Week 5. One week after breaking Bryant’s all-time receiving yards record, veteran Bulldog Jordan Harris will look to continue his league-leading pace. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver, who missed Bryant’s Week 3 matchup with Maine, has made 14 catches for 250 yards and an 83.3 ypg average over his first three appearances of 2012. On Saturday, however, Harris will have to contend with a dynamic cover cornerback in Wagner’s Torian Phillips. The native Staten Islander made five tackles in his 2012 debut last week at CCSU. Phillips logged an interception, forced fumble, and two pass break-ups in last year’s meeting with Bryant, but Harris also caught a 65-yard touchdown in that same contest.
99 Years in the Making
Ninety-nine years after they first met, Saint Francis (PA) and Duquesne will meet again in a Week 5 Northeast Conference matchup. Both Keystone State rivals will be looking to move to 2-0 in league play in what will be the 39th meeting all-time between the two programs and the fifth since Duquesne joined Saint Francis as a NEC member in 2008. Duquesne holds a 3-1 edge over Saint Francis since the rivalry game turned into a conference matchup four years ago. The Dukes are red-hot of late, having won their last three games following their Opening Day loss at No. 6 Old Dominion. Duquesne has won its last six NEC contests dating back to last year’s title run and will put an eight-game home win streak on the line this Saturday. Meanwhile, Saint Francis is off to a 2-2 start with its lone two losses coming on the road against Top 15 opponents.
Stepping Up to Fill a Void
Losing key players to graduation and/or injury each year is a natural part of college football. Both Duquesne and Saint Francis (PA) have experienced such losses recently, leaving noticeable voids in key spots. Fortunately for both teams, other student-athletes have stepped up and performed admirably. Duquesne lost receivers Connor Dixon and Isaac Spragg, who combined for 99 receptions and 1,452 yards in 2011, to graduation, but a Montana State transfer has become a reliable target for quarterback Sean Patterson over the first month of 2012. Gianni Carter has gained 300 yards on 22 receptions in his first four games as a Duke. Meanwhile, on the Saint Francis side, the Red Flash lost all-NEC tailback Kyle Harbridge to a season-ending injury prior to Week 1, but their running game hasn’t missed a beat. Senior Keion Wade and rookie Khairi Dickson have Saint Francis ranked sixth nationally in rush yards per game (271.2).
Sinclair-led Colonials Look to Snap Slide
Veteran quarterback Jeff Sinclair will make his home season debut for Robert Morris on Homecoming Day at Joe Walton Stadium. After missing the season’s first two games, including the home opener against NEC preseason favorite Albany, Sinclair returned to the Colonials’ starting lineup in Week 3 at Dayton. After a bye week, Sinclair and Co. will return to action against a 3-0 Lafayette team. It will be the Colonials’ first contest against a Patriot League member since visiting Bucknell in 2009.
Albany (3-1, 1-0)
Monmouth (3-1, 2-0)
Albany, NY (University Field)
Saturday at 1:00 pm
Bryant (0-4, 0-2)
Wagner (1-3, 1-1)
Staten Island, NY (Hameline Field)
Saturday at 1:00 pm
Central Conn. St. (0-4, 0-1)
Sacred Heart (0-3, 0-1)
Fairfield, CT (Campus Field)
Saturday at 12:00 pm
LIVE on FCS Atlantic & ESPN3
Duquesne (3-1, 1-0)
Saint Francis (PA) (2-2, 1-0)
Pittsburgh, PA (Rooney Field)
Saturday at 1:10 pm
Watch - Live Stats
Robert Morris (0-3)
Moon Twp., PA (Walton Stadium)
Saturday at 6:00 pm
Watch - Live Stats
*All times EST.