The No. 24–ranked Ithaca College football team — 1–0 in regular play and 0–0 in conference play — hosts the No. 16–ranked Hobart College Statesmen — 2–0 in regular play and 0–0 in conference play — in the Bombers’ home opener at 1 p.m. Sept. 19 at Butterfield Stadium.
The Bombers will raise the curtain on their home turf against a familiar foe. It was Nov. 22, 2014, when the then-No. 7 Statesmen sunk the Bombers with a 1 yard rushing touchdown with only 13 seconds left in the contest in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bombers were sent home packing after they were outscored in the second half 22–3 after leading 12–0 at halftime.
Head coach Mike Welch said there will not be a grudge match this weekend and what is in the past is in the past. Welch also said there will be two completely different teams duking it out on the gridiron, the most notable difference being at the quarterback positions.
Both squads are showcasing two quarterbacks who had no prior starting experience entering the 2015 season. The Bombers’ starting quarterback, junior Wolfgang Shafer, and the Statesmen’s quarterback, sophomore Shane Sweeney, have performed admirably to begin their first seasons at the helm.
However, both quarterbacks will face their toughest test yet. For Sweeney, this will likely be the sturdiest defense that he will have to try to decipher. Union College’s offense could only muster 4.1 yards per pass play against the Blue and Gold’s defense two weeks ago.
Likewise, Shafer will face a Hobart defense that has surrendered an average of 12 points per game to its opponents over the first two games. Shafer needs to be cautious of the Statesmen’s junior cornerback Todd Collier, who had two interceptions last weekend.
The one advantage for Shafer will be the home crowd, which will be more than amped up when they see their Bombers charge the field this Saturday. If he keeps his head on straight and uses the home crowd’s merciful cheers to his edge, Shafer should continue to see success in his second career start.
Apply the Pressure
Aside from senior linebacker Schnayder Termidor and sophomore linebacker Dan Loizos knocking down Union sophomore quarterback Dante Cioffi on a couple of occasions, the defensive front of the Bombers was not able to generate a consistent pass rush that afternoon. In fact, the squad’s vaunted defensive line of seniors Logan Murphy, Rob Barbieri and Tijah Henderson only amassed eight tackles in total, 0.5 tackles for loss and zero sacks. The defensive front needs to get after the quarterback with a higher rate of success than they did in week one in order to stymie a Hobart offense that has averaged 28.5 points per game through two games.
Both Dickinson College’s and Endicott College’s defense had some success chasing down Sweeney, as the Statesmen’s quarterback has been sacked four times through two games. Hobart enters this weekend with a veteran-heavy offensive line, but if there were to be a potential hole, it would be at the right tackle position. The Statesmen have been starting sophomore Stephen VanHoesen, a converted defensive tackle, at right tackle for the first two games. Whether it will be Murphy, Barbier or Henderson, they need to bully his way through the green offensive lineman, who more than likely is still learning the ropes at the position, and disrupt Sweeney’s rhythm and confidence.
Pick Up the Flag
Uncharacteristically, the football team committed 10 penalties for 96 yards against Union after coming off a season where it was tied with Frostburg State University for the fewest penalties in the Empire 8 Conference with 51. Welch said one of the team’s game-by-game goals is to limit the penalty yardage to 40 yards or fewer.
Welch also said there were some questionable calls that could have gone either way, but for the most part the team has owned up to its mental mistakes two weeks ago.
“There were a couple of pass interference calls [that were] close,” Welch said. “We are not going to make any excuses. They are penalties, and we have to play better and eliminate [them].”
The Bomber’s need to minimize these mistakes and not beat themselves. Hobart is also familiar with the yellow hanky, as they have been penalized 15 times for a total of 136 yards.
Bust Out the Brooms
A victory against Hobart this Saturday would mean that the Blue and Gold swept non-conference play for the season, which would loom large when selection day comes for the NCAA Tournament.
In terms of conference play, if the Bombers were to ground the Statesmen, then the football team would keep pace in an Empire 8 that features several undefeated clubs. One of which is the college’s following opponent, Alfred University.
If the football team were to defeat Hobart, and Alfred were to triumph over Buffalo State College this weekend as well, the stars would align and set up a clash between two conference rivals clawing for the Empire 8 throne 1 p.m. Sept. 26 at Butterfield Stadium.