Friday, September 01, 2006

The Friday Tailgate

Welcome back to another season of the Friday Tailgate. We'll get you ready for the opening weekend of the 24th season of Centennial Conference football. There is action at six venues this weekend, including three matchups with members of the Middle Atlantic Conference and one each with the New Jersey Athletic Conference, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and the Liberty League.

Juniata at Dickinson
The Red Devils used to be known for a punishing ground game that wore down opponents. A more balanced attack over the past two seasons as led to record passing yards in both 2004 and 2005. QB Matt Torchia led the CC in pass efficiency and total offense last season and returns to run the show. "There's no question passing and running the football go together like peanut butter and jelly," Torchia said. "And how well you can do that depends on the guys up front. We have the kind of people up there who should give us a balanced offense this season." OG Kevin Mentrikoski is the leader of the interior line. Defensively, the Devils return all 11 starters, led by All-CC DB Andrew Ackley. He led the Conference with seven picks last season and has 15 for his career. "I think we're equally strong against the run or pass," said Ackley of Dickinson's defense. "We try to stop a team's running game so they'll be forced to pass. That doesn't put the focus on any one player and it balances out our defense." LB Eric Dube was outstanding in the first half of 2005 before an injury sent him to the sidelines. The Eagles will join the Centennial as an associate football member in 2007.

Gettysburg at Lebanon Valley
Another Centennial-MAC matchup sends the Bullets to Annville to take on coach Barry Streeter's alma mater. The Orange and Blue holds a 29-3-1 series advantage. RB Tom Sturges was the CC's leading rusher last season with over 1,000 yards and returns to lead the ground attack. RB Dusty Green and WR Spencer Davidson are good targets for whomever is the quarterback. LB Harold Barton is the headliner of a defense that allowed just 70 points in the six Conference games in 2005. PK Josh Huson has a strong leg and made a 48-yard FG last season. The Flying Dutchmen were 2-8 a year ago and return a potent pass-and-catch combo in QB Dan Kelly and WR Adam Brossman.

Rochester at Johns Hopkins
After winning a share of three straight Centennial titles from 2002-04, the Blue Jays went solo in 2005 and are the coaches' preseason favorite to repeat this fall. WR Anthony Triplin has had a long, strange trip in his first two seasons at Homewood, but showed what he could do with 77 catches last season on his way to Offensive Player of the Year honors in the Conference. "I grew up and got my priorities straight," said Triplin, 22, a sociology major with a business minor. "I finally realized that in the grand scheme of things, football's not first. It's education, academics, family. Football is very, very high on my list, but it's not number one." All-CC OG Paul Markowski is the leader of the line in front of either Shane Kibbe or Adam Waddell at quarterback. The defensive front is one of the best in the region with Brian Cook, Anthony Woodard and Alan Cody. Matt Hagel is a playmaker at strong safety. This is the earliest season opener in Hopkins history.

Bridgewater at McDaniel
The Green Terror faces the biggest challenge on opening weekend as it tangles with the 13th ranked Eagles, who finished 10-2 a year ago. QB Brad Baer missed almost the entire 2005 season after suffering an injury against Bridgewater in lastr fall's opener. He is back and will see time in a new formation with Brett Gibson. "It gives us another look," Baer said. "Another quarterback in the backfield throws something else out there for the defense. Even if we don't use it, it's something they have to look at in practice. I think it adds a lot to the offense." "We believe we had become too predictable in terms of personnel formations," coach Tim Keating said. "We've worked hard this summer to break our tendencies, to break our personnel groups. No one's ever seen us in this formation, so now they've got to make adjustments already."" WR Chris Martin is primed for a big year as a receiver and a return specialist. DB Drew Abbamonte is one of the top secondary men in the Conference.

TCNJ at Muhlenberg
The Mules open their 2006 season under the lights against The College of New Jersey. The Muhlenberg defense has been one of the best in Division III in recent years, but now it may be one of the youngest, as DT Chris Musselman is the lone senior in the unit. “It does make me feel kind of old,” he said with a laugh. “But I’m excited at the same time. I can honestly say that I’m pretty confident in our defense. We’re progressing well for having so many young players without much varsity experience.” LB Dustin Good is the team's leading returning tackler. Three members of the secondary all earned letters in 2005 - on offense. Undersized Eric Santagato is the starter at QB. John DeLuca led the team in rushing last season, while Stephan Montalto is an All-Centennial TE. Keep an eye on Matt Johnson, who was pressed into service at QB last season but has a new role in 2006 - H-back. ''He's just a really good athlete, with good size and great instincts,'' Donnelly said of the 6-2, 213-pound Johnson. ''He's big enough to be a tight end, athletic enough to be a tailback, and obviously he can catch the ball.''

Susquehanna at Ursinus
Is this the year that the Bears break through? "I think we’re going to be at the top. For real. I really do," the Bears’ senior defensive end Rob Gibson said. There is optimism in the Ursinus camp as UC gets ready for its opener with the Crusaders. "We feel (the bulked-up line) can protect the quarterback and run the football. I think the line is really going to help us, said head coach Peter Gallagher." Ted Wallingford replaces All-CC quarterback Vince Gallagher. Injuries have hit early with RB David Ashworth and WR Brandon Evans banged up. LB Brian Hrynczyszyn is the leader of the defense, while Gibson is the anchor of the line. DB Matt Duppel headlines the secondary.

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