The football team (5–1, 3–1) hosts No. 25 St. John Fisher College (5–1, 2–1) in a pivotal game for its postseason chances at 1 p.m. Saturday at Butterfield Stadium.
The 800-pound gorilla in the room
Excluding Cortaca, Every year, Bomber fans everywhere have this is the game circled on their calendars circle the date that they play St. John Fisher. St. John Fisher gave the Bombers their first-ever Empire 8 conference loss back in 2004. The Cardinals and Bombers have played each other 11 times since the Empire 8 began sponsoring football in 2002. The last time the Bombers defeated Fisher was 2005.
The Bombers had chances to win the last two times the teams faced each other. In 2011, kicker Andrew Rogowski ’12 had a potential go-ahead field goal blocked by then-sophomore defensive back Ryan Seymour late in the fourth quarter. Seymour blocked another Rogowski kick in overtime, which sealed the win for Fisher. Last season,the Bombers rallied from a 14–0 deficit to take a fourth quarter lead but couldn’t stop then-junior Cody Miller, who scored the game-winning touchdown on a 36-yard run with 4:11 left.
Like the South Hill squad, Fisher is a run-first team. The Cardinals run the spread-option offense led by senior quarterback Tyler Fenti along with Miller and senior Ryan Kramer in the backfield. Fenti has completed more than 67 percent of his passes this season, and he’s the team’s second-leading rusher with 237 yards. Kramer is a flex player, having been running back, wide receiver and quarterback in his career. Miller is averaging 5 yards a carry this year and last year rushed for 214 yards and three touchdowns against the Bombers.
The Cardinals lead the conference in scoring, averaging about 35 points per game, while the Bombers are last, averaging about 21 points per game. Despite this contrast, the Bombers lead the Empire 8 conference in time of possession, averaging more than 34 minutes per game, while Fisher is second with 32 minutes. Both teams will try to be as methodical as possible on offense, which will drive the scoring down.
The Bombers may have some difficulty establishing the run as senior running back Rakim Jones and freshman Tene Samuto are both out because of injury. The Blue and Gold called up freshman Evan Skea from the junior varsity squad to fill-in. Offensive coordinator Ryan Heasley spoke highly of Skea’s ability but said he was not certain if Skea will play Saturday.
Junior Tommy Pedula should return and handle most of the carries after missing the last two games with an injury.
Working against the 3-3-5
Fisher is the only team in the conference to play a 3–3–5 on defense. This formation is composed of three defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. The secondary comprises two cornerbacks, two safeties and a free safety. It is a defense perfectly suited to counter the spread offense. In this case, the Bombers match up well because they do not spread the field that often.
The South Hill squad relies on different formations to confuse and reveal the opponent’s defense. It will be a chess match on offense, as offensive coordinator Ryan Heasley said he will look for different formations and motions to help junior quarterback Tom Dempsey read the 3–3–5 easier.
“Just like any defense, you like to attack the bubbles,” Heasley said. “For what we do offensively, we try to attack those bubbles and use some things in our arsenal to be able to do a lot of checks with all the motions and shifts we do. They have to adjust to the different things we do as well. It’s a change-up in between being able to run something quickly and attack the structure we see in front of us.”
When running the ball, the Bombers need to attack the backside of Fisher’s formation. The Cardinals will look to overload one side of the field by shifting a linebacker to one side as well as walking a safety up to the line of scrimmage in order to create a numerical advantage on one side of the formation. The Bombers can find success trying to attack the opposite side of the Fisher defense with less defenders.
The Bombers will rely on both zone and man-blocking schemes to attack the bubbles in the Cardinals’ defensive line. If the Bombers do this enough times and are successful, then they will force Fisher to walk another safety up to the line of scrimmage. That would leave three Cardinal defenders in coverage, which would allow Dempsey to find a receiver in man-to-man coverage.
Staying in the hunt
Because either the Bombers or Cardinals will suffer their second conference loss of the season, Alfred University has a chance to get back into conference contention when it hosts Frostburg State University on Saturday. A win could possibly propel the Saxons into a tie for second place in the conference.
No. 24 Salisbury University got the inside edge on the conference title with a win last week against Fisher, but Hartwick is a tricky away-game opponent after a hard-fought victory — just ask the Bombers. The Sea Gulls should have no problems, but the Hawks’ run defense is third in the conference and can make things difficult for Salisbury’s option offense to work. The Hawks can score quickly, which could bolster any chances of an upset, potentially busting the Empire 8 conference race wide open.