By Matt Noonan
Three local teams will be competing this weekend in the first round of the NCAA Division 2 and 3 tournaments, and below are game previews and predictions.
NCAA Div. 2 Tournament
American International College at West Chester University: The Yellow Jackets, who captured the Northeast-10 Conference crown last weekend with a victory over Stonehill College will look to keep their momentum going against an impressive Rams unit. AIC, which returns to the tournament for the first time since 2008, enters their first round contest with a seven-game winning streak. AIC is headed by junior quarterback Kevin Arduino, who led the NE-10 with 20 rushing scores, while passing for 13 touchdowns.
WCU, who’ll be tomorrow’s host, won 9 of 10 contests this season. Their only loss came against Bloomsburg, the second seed in the region, which will face the winner of this matchup.
Keep an eye on WCU’s running back Rondell White, a senior tailback that rushed for 1,683 yards and 19 touchdowns. Also, don’t overlook quarterback Sean McCartney, who concluded the regular season with 24 touchdowns and 2,483 passing yards.
Prediction: AIC 24, WCU 22 – Stopping Arduino won’t be an easy task. He’s guided the Yellow Jackets to some impressive conference wins this season and will certainly look to beat the Rams with both his legs, as well as his arm. The Rams offense will certainly challenge the Yellow Jackets defense, especially with their ground game, but AIC should pull this out with possibly a late touchdown or defensive stop.
NCAA Div. 3 Tournament:
Endicott College at Rowan University: Both teams earned a spot in the tournament following conference championship wins as the Gulls topped Salve Regina last weekend, while the Profs defeated TCNJ.
Against the Seahawks, the Gulls defense held their opponent to 325 total yards of offense, while quarterback Drew Frenette completed 14 of 30 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns. Spencer Walsh rushed for 118 yard on 37 carries. Look for both players to step up in this contest, especially Walsh, who will assist with opening up his team’s passing game.
Rowan is averaging 21 points per game, and as a team, they’ve rushed for 1,600 yards and held their opponents to 1,096 total rushing yards. Withler Marcelin leads the unit with 1,174 yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns (nine touchdowns on the ground). Defensively, keep an eye on Chris Alvarez, who’s recorded 14 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks in 10 games.
Prediction: Endicott 28, Rowan 27 – Both teams can run the ball, but the biggest question will be who can stop it? Obviously Endicott’s defense will look to repeat their performance from a week ago where they stopped one of the better New England offenses, while Rowan will look to their offense, which registered four touchdowns against TCNJ. Similar to AIC-WCU, look for a big defensive stop to shift the momentum to the eventual winner.
Framingham State at Ithaca College: For the second straight season, the Rams are headed back to the postseason after capturing the inaugural MASCAC crown. Yet, their run toward a championship won’t be easy, as they’ll face the winner of the Empire-8.
FSU is led by running back Melikke Van Alstyne, who recently eclipsed the 6,000-yard mark against Worcester State. He also registered three scores against the Lancers, too.
Van Alstyne considers this week’s opponent a mix of Endicott and Westfield State; two teams Framingham State defeated this year.
“I’d say (they’re) like Endicott, but tough like Westfield,” said the senior halfback. “They’re definitely a big and physical team, so we’ve got to bring our A-game.”
Tom Kelley, who is in his seventh year on the sidelines, know his team will need to play its best football of the season in order to advance to the second round.
“We have a lot of guys who remember (losing to in the tournament last year), they remember that feeling,” said Kelley. “The one thing we learned was that we can stand up to the rest of the country and that we can play with the NJAC teams and Empire-8, so we’re going to find that out this week.
“Ithaca is a very good football team. They don’t score a lot, but they don’t give up a lot. They’re very consistent, they don’t make a lot of mistakes, and they have a very good special teams, a very good defense and a very good offense, but our kids (feel) that we can play (with these teams), so we just to play our best game and see what happens.”
As Kelley mentioned, the Bombers defense finished first in their conference in points allowed (151), while their offense ranked seventh in points (220).
Prediction: FSU 21, Ithaca College 14 – This has the possibility of being an upset, especially if the Rams can get their running game going against an impressive defense. FSU’s defense stepped up down the stretch, especially against Bridgewater State. Their win against the Bears maybe their signature victory of the season, so look for a low scoring affair and possibly a late Van Alstyne touchdown to seal the win.