The Ithaca College football team takes on Morrisville State College at 1 p.m. Oct. 24 as it travels to Morrisville, New York.
“Is this your first rodeo, partner?”
The Bombers will saddle up against the Mustangs for the first ever showdown between the two squads. Morrisville joined the Empire 8 conference this fall, leaving the New Jersey Athletic Conference. Entering this weekend, the college has never faced Morrisville as a member of the Empire 8, nor as a nonconference opponent.
The Mustangs are coming off their third win of the season where they were able to hold off the Hartwick College Hawks’ second-half rally for a 31–28 nail-biter of a win. Morrisville has already tied the program’s record of wins since graduating to Division III football at three wins.
The Bombers are heading into the matchup after losing on their home turf for just the fourth time in 19 home games 27–17 to SUNY Brockport.
The performance of the Bombers’ offense through six games this season can be best summarized using one phrase: when one switch is on, the other switch is off. In other words, when the passing game is on point, the running game seems to flounder, or vice versa.
However, this was not the case this past weekend against Brockport. Junior quarterback Wolfgang Shafer completed 16 of 28 passes for 139 yards, three interceptions and zero touchdowns. As for the ground game, the team could only squeeze out 50 rushing yards on 1.4 yards per carry, even though sophomore Tristan Brown scampered for two touchdowns.
The key for the offense to establish a more consistent rhythm lies within the play of the offensive line. The offensive line has served up 14 of the 16 sacks by opposing defenses in the college’s two losses this season, including six to the Brockport Golden Eagles in last weekend’s loss.
The more alarming stat is the fact that the offensive line has allowed 16 sacks through six games in 2015. In 2014, the offensive line did not allow 16 sacks until the team played through eight games.
It has been proven that when Shafer is given the time in the pocket to throw, such as during the Hartwick game when he was only sacked once, the junior has been able to step up and make the throws to allow the passing game flourish.
As for Morrisville’s offense, they feature one of the most talented running backs. Cristian Pena averages 98.3 rushing yards per game, which is only second behind Brockport’s Dan Andrews.
Injury Bug Continues to Spread
For the second time so far this season, Shafer has lost his top receiving threat due to injury. First it was Brian Balsamo who went down with an injury earlier in the season, and now it is senior tight end Kyle Hastings who also went down with a knee injury last weekend. Balsamo has yet to return from his injury, and head coach Mike Welch said Hastings will be out this weekend against Morrisville.
Senior tight end Michael Lopez will see his first playing time this season as he gets the start at tight end against the Mustangs. Both Lopez and Hastings are similar when it comes to size and stature, as they are listed at 6’3” and 6’4” as well as 235 and 237 pounds, respectively. However, it will be quite difficult to replace Hastings’ red zone threat capabilities, as he was among the team leaders in touchdown receptions with five before hurting his knee.
Other injuries on the offensive side of the ball for the Bombers include senior offensive linemen Scott Anderson and Owen Watrous as well as sophomore offensive lineman Geoff Bell. All three have been seen walking around practice with boots on one of their legs. Welch said Anderson will play this Saturday. Bell might be a question mark as he has practiced sparingly throughout the week. Watrous has not suited up at all this week, so he is more than likely unavailable to play this weekend. Regardless, the health of the offensive line is crucial due to the fact that, as I mentioned previously, their performance has been wavy thus far.
Run the Table
The loss to Brockport dropped the college into a four-way tie for fourth place in the Empire 8 with a conference record even at 2–2. These next four remaining games are imperative in the Bombers’ quest for a third-straight Empire 8 title and a NCAA Tournament bid. After Morrisville, the college will face three teams all ahead of them in the standings. The opposing teams are St. John Fisher, Buffalo State and SUNY Cortland. In order for the Blue and Gold to bring home the Empire 8 crown and earn a spot in the playoffs, they will more than likely need to sweep their remaining schedule or, at the very least, take three-out-of-four — with the loss either coming against St. John Fisher or Buffalo State. However, no matter what, defeating SUNY Cortland in the Cortaca Jug Game at the conclusion of the regular season will be the ultimate challenge for the sake of strength of schedule.