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#24 New Jersey bests Willy Pat Pioneers in comeback, 21-13
Wayne, NJ - The New Jersey Athletic Conference contest between #24 College of New Jersey (5-1, 3-0) and William Paterson (2-4, 0-3) started out sloppily for both teams as the two generally ran series of three plays and out for the first 22 minutes of the game with both struggling to get near a first down marker. Guest Game Analyst Eric Koreivo pointed out that the two teams played the first half as if it was their opening game of the season. He came to pick up a few pointers watching his second cousin, OT Robert Keyes of TCNJ, play before heading home to play the same position in his Pee Wee game for the Lenape Valley Patriots this evening. PK Ricky Krautman ended the futility with 7:09 remaining in the first half when he lifted a 31-yard FG through the uprights to break the stalemate, 3-0. The Lions could not get their PK Matt Dalessio, winning kicker of three previous TCNJ victories, even within FG range. With 2:10 left before the half, Krautman drilled his second from 41 yards to take a 6-0 WPU lead. On a WPU historical note, WR Karim Moon who leads D-III in kick-off return yardage, snared his 138th reception for the Pioneers for a school record.
At halftime, the Wayne Hills High School Marching Band entertained while Pioneer fans in the men's room were excited about the play of Willy Pat's team who came into this game on a 3-game losing streak. They started the season with an upset win over the Wilkes Colonels before walloping Kings Point, 41-12. Losses to FDU-Florham, Cortland State, and Western Connecticut has sent them reeling since.
RB Dan Dornacker produced a lot of Lion offense in the second half and started things off with a kickoff return to the 32. He made a leaping catch of a 24-yard pass from QB Chris James down the left sideline to about the WPU 20. QB James took it in from the one, and Dalessio did his thing to take a 7-6 TCNJ lead. TCNJ defense sent Willy Pat 8 yards back on their initial drive before punting and took over from their own 37. A 20-yard pass from James to Mike Thormann got the Lions to the 12. RB Chase Misiura came around from his flanker position on the right and swept all the way around left end for a two-yard score to extend the Lion lead, 14-6. Right before the third period ended, Krautman who doubles as the Pioneers punter, bobbled the snap and scrambled to try to pick up a first down, but he was stopped short and TCNJ took over at WPU's 45.
New Jersey's ensuing drive came close but to no avail as James's pass to RB Mike Yetka went right overh his hands in back of the end zone before a run on a fake FG was stopped short to give Paterson the ball back at their own 20. The teams exchanged punts and then another when Lion P Jeff Struble's low line drive kick got some wind behind it and sailed 73 yards before Lion coverage downed the ball on the one-foot line. WPU's next punt from their own eight gave the Lions good field position on Paterson's 43. TCNJ took advantage driving to WPU's six where James started right, reverse-rolled to his left and threw to TE Chris Opdyke for another score to increase the lead, 21-6. DB Andrew Larkin picked off Dan Lamego's pass to take the ball back on the Lions' 30, but the offense gained only seven yards before going into punt formation. This time, Struble's low trajectory was blocked by Joel Rivera and scooped up by DB Isaac Abankwa who raced into the end zone for a quick Willy Pat score. On the extra point, a certain WPU guard was not paying attention, so 5-11, 185-lb WR Bruce Katkowski raced on to the field to fill in at the empty guard spot. He got barreled backwards, but his effort was enough to put the ball over the crossbar. With 2:19 remaining, the Pioneers were in hailing distance, 21-13. WPU's onsides kick was cleanly pounced upon by TCNJ's Thormann. WPU had no timeouts remaining, and TCNJ proceeded to run the clock down to :07 before turning the ball back over on downs. Lamego's desperate pass attempt was intercepted by Larkin for his second theft of the game, and The College of New Jersey took their fifth in a row overall and third conference win of the season against no losses.
Ranked at #24, we'll see if they gain any more ground in the D-III polls. We went down to catch up with Robert, and the rest of the family including his Dad Phil and grandfather Richard Graper, for the happy recap. We don't have a weekend to see the Lions play again during the regular season, but we'll keep our eyes opened for the Lions when they possibly take a crack at post-season play. The family's not looking forward to the November 3 game in Buffalo. They have cold, wet memories of a cold, wet game in Cortland last season.
Willy Pat journeys to Buffalo State (2-4, 1-3) next weekend. To meet the criteria for an automatic play-off spot, the NJAC had to expand outside the state in recent years for teams such as Buffalo, Cortland, and Western Connecticut. Membership gives each a crack at an automatic tourney bid as well. TCNJ returns home next Saturday to host Western Connecticut (3-3,1-2). The week after looms big if they beat WCSU. If Cortland State (5-1, 4-0) defeats Montclair State next week, the Lions and SUNY-Cortland could be in a battle of conference unbeatens for the possible automatic play-off bid. CollegeFootballFan.com stays in Jersey as well as we head down I-287 on Thursday to see #2 or #3 South Florida visit Rutgers. Can the Scarlet Knights continue to scramble the Top Ten of the College Bowl Division? We'll be there!
Extra Points: It was the first time we'd been back to a game at WPU in at least fifteen years. We struggled to find Wightmann Stadium on campus until we gave in and asked directions. We ended up parking by the Rec Center because the main lot was completely full for Homecoming. We found our seats several minutes into the first half, but watched the opening kick-off as we approached the stadium.
On a beautiful, sunny, crisp day, we got to see the improvements to all the athletic facilities since we'd been there last. Wightmann has Pro Turf and the school replaced the old, wooden bleachers we remembered on the home side, but there are now no bleachers on the visitors' side. GGA Alex Koreivo pointed out that there were fewer ads at the WPU Field than there are at her High School, Lenape Valley. Her friend, Keith, who came with us, plays on the JV squad for LV. A WPU frosh, LB Jim Hamill, played for Lenape last season and plays on the starting kick-off team for the Pioneers.
In the early '90s, we saw WPU play several times as we were acquaintances of their head coach at the time, Jerry Gallagher, who is now a successful head coach at Montville (NJ) HS.