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In the FCS Huddle: Inspiring Wagner met Sandy's aftermath head on

12:06 PM, Nov 7, 2012   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - It took someone else to say what Nick Doscher was thinking for the significance to hit him.

And teammate Dominique Williams provided the words during a pregame speech in the Wagner locker room last Saturday, that the Seahawks were about to play a game for something bigger than themselves.

Just five days after the Seahawks' Staten Island, N.Y., community felt the fury of Superstorm Sandy, and the Seahawks were among the more than seven million along the East Coast left in the cold and dark, they played their best game of the season and took first place in the Northeast Conference with a 30-0 victory at Albany.

In Williams' words, Wagner was playing for its school, but also its island, New York City, neighboring New Jersey and so many people facing an uphill climb in their recovery. Twenty-three people on Staten Island alone died as a result of Sandy, although none in the immediate Wagner family.

A week after Sandy roared ashore, the Seahawks were still living through the recovery. On Monday, a large group of student-athletes, including football players, went to a beach community on Staten Island to load and unload trucks with supplies and go door to door to help people with their needs.

Sobering, yet inspiring.

The storm has thrown perspective on a Wagner season in which the Seahawks have overcome three straight season-opening losses to win six straight games. They host Holy Cross in a non-conference game on Saturday and then can claim the NEC's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs with a win over Duquesne on Nov. 17.

"It kind of takes a backseat to (Sandy) to make sure everyone is OK," Doscher said. "But at the same time, I think football helped everyone out, that for that two hours we're on the field practicing you can get you mind off what's going on in the real world and just enjoy being out there with your friends and playing the game that you love to play."

Doscher is Wagner's four-year starting quarterback, but also a 25-year-old elder statesman among the players. He's a local product from Staten Island who played in the Kansas City Royals' farm system for four years out of high school and didn't join the Seahawks program until 2009, when he began his career by earning All-NEC first-team honors.

After Sandy hit last Monday, Doscher went back and forth between his home and the basically quiet, desolate Wagner campus, where the team regathered to work through the initial days of the storm's aftermath.

Classes were canceled last week after the campus had been evacuated prior to Sandy. A small amount of students who don't live in the region were allowed to remain and they were without electricity and hot water for nearly five days. Trees and power lines were downed in the campus area, but nothing like the damage along Staten Island's coastal areas.

"The most important thing," said veteran coach Walt Hameline, "was, 'Hey, how are your families, is everybody OK at home?' Once everybody's OK at home, you've got to feel for all the other people and what's going on with them. Hey, we have a situation here of no hot water and no lights, (it's) not a big deal. We have to adapt a little bit."

The Seahawks did just that.

They scrambled to organize practices, which resumed Wednesday, and made the best out of the situation. Some players didn't make it back for the Albany game, although all the starters returned in time.

"Obviously at first it was a lot of chaos just trying to get in touch with people, make sure everyone was OK," Doscher said. "Obviously, everybody had to deal with their own issues because I'm pretty sure everybody was affected by the storm.

"When we were able to practice on Wednesday, we didn't have scout teams basically. We had receivers who if we weren't using them on offense, they would have to go over to scout defense. It reminded me of high school, but that's what we had to do, we had no other choice."

On Saturday, the Seahawks channeled a week's worth of emotion into the stunning shutout. They didn't commit a turnover for the sixth straight game, Doscher passed for 253 yards and two touchdowns, including an 88-yarder to Anthony Carrington, Williams rushed for over 100 yards for the 18th time in his career and the defense, fueled by sophomore cornerback Jarrett Dieudonne's versatile play, limited Albany to 188 yards.

"We could have just went through the motions out there and got it taken to us because Albany's a great football program. No one probably would have said a word because of what we had to deal with," Doscher said. "We came together. I think that was our only option. I think everyone understood that."

And Dom Williams said it.

AROUND THE NATION

Big Sky: Quarterback Brad Sorensen and a small senior class will try to end their Southern Utah careers with an upset at first-place Northern Arizona (8-1, 6-0). The Thunderbirds (4-6, 2-4) are a dangerous but hardluck team, having beaten Montana and Eastern Washington but lost four conference games by a combined 18 points ... A win over Portland State would make Rob Ash the winningest coach in Montana State history. He is tied with Sonny Holland with 47 wins at MSU.

Big South: No. 6 Stony Brook (8-1, 5-0) will secure the Big South's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs by winning at Liberty (4-5, 3-1). Liberty, though, has won 17 straight home conference games, and a Flames upset could lead to a three-way tie for the title with those two teams and Coastal Carolina. It happened in 2010, and once again Coastal would secure the auto bid. The Chanticleers would win on the fourth tiebreaker - road conference wins. They would be 3-0 compared to Stony Brook and Liberty at 2-1 each ... Not to be overlooked in running back Miguel Maysonet's huge season for Stony Brook is quarterback Kyle Essington holding a large lead in passing efficiency in the FCS with a 194.18 rating (Harvard's Colton Chapple is second at 170.11) ... Also nationally, sophomore linebackers Tanner Burch of Gardner-Webb and Quinn Backus of Coastal Carolina rank third and ninth, respectively, in tackles per game.

CAA Football: One of only two games between ranked teams Saturday, No. 9 James Madison (7-2, 5-1) at No. 21 Villanova (6-3, 4-2) matches the conference's No. 1-ranked rushing offense (Villanova, 253.9 ypg) against the No. 1-ranked rushing defense (JMU, 116.1 ypg) ... Towson's surge toward a potential playoff coincides with the Tigers involving sophomore back Terrance West more. The 2011 Jerry Rice Award winner has scored five touchdowns and averaged 128.5 rushing yards in their two-game win streak. He has 42 touchdowns in 19 career games.

Ivy: The bullies on the block: At least either co-leading Harvard (7-1, 4-1) or Penn (4-4, 4-1), who meet Saturday in Philadelphia, will have a claim on the Ivy title for the 13th time in the last 16 seasons. The last Harvard-Penn matchup to not directly impact the league title was in 1996. Not surprisingly, Penn's Al Bagnoli and Harvard's Tim Murphy are the league's longest-tenured head coaches ... Princeton is visiting Yale for the 135th meeting in the second-oldest rivalry in college football (Lafayette-Lehigh turns 148 on Nov. 17). Yale sophomore Tyler Varga leads the FCS in all-purpose yards per game (199.8).

MEAC: Bethune-Cookman's second playoff bid in three seasons is basically a formality because the Wildcats (7-2, 6-0) only have to win at struggling Savannah State on Saturday, with a Nov. 17 game against Florida A&M as their backup opportunity. North Carolina Central (6-3, 5-1) lost the head-to-head meeting to Bethune-Cookman and a playoff berth is unlikely despite this year's turnaround under coach Henry Frazier III ... The MEAC fined and formally reprimanded Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins and for displaying unsportsmanlike conduct during the Wildcats' win against Morgan State last Saturday ... Howard (6-3) steps out of conference by visiting No. 7 Georgia Southern. Senior linebacker Keith Pough has been hobbled by a severely sprained ankle ... Due to the aftermatch of Hurricane Sandy, the New York Urban League Football Classic, pitting Hampton against Morgan State at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 17, has been moved to Morgan State that day. Kickoff will be 1 p.m. ET.

Missouri Valley: There are only three MVFC games on Saturday, but one matches the two first-place teams: No. 16 South Dakota State (7-2, 5-1) at top-ranked North Dakota State (8-1, 5-1) in the Dakota Marker Game. The winner will secure at least a share of the conference title. In every other game this season, SDSU has either scored 24 or more points or 17 or fewer points. The Jackrabbits are due for the 24 or higher, but they're facing the nation's No. 1-ranked scoring defense (10.3 ppg) ... With four interceptions in Illinois State's last three games, senior free safety Ben Ericksen leads the FCS with seven interceptions.

Northeast: Duquesne can't win the conference title, but it has a big say in the matter. The Dukes (5-4, 3-3) host second-place Albany (7-2, 5-1) on Saturday and travel to first-place Wagner (6-3, 6-1) on Nov. 17. The Dukes have lost three of their last four games, although only by a combined 12 points ... Bryant senior Jordan Brown needs 40 touches to reach 1,000 plays in his career. He's the FCS' active leader in all-purpose yards (6,525).

Ohio Valley: UT Martin (7-2, 5-1), which has won four straight games, will claim the OVC's automatic playoff bid by winning out at Tennessee Tech on Saturday and home versus Tennessee State on Nov. 17. It's a little harder path than co-leader Eastern Illinois (6-3, 5-1), which lost the head-to-head meeting against UTM and hosts Southeast Missouri State on Saturday. The Panthers then visit playoff-bound Central Arkansas on Nov. 17, playing one fewer conference game along with Tennessee State ... Jacksonville State's Alan Bonner needs 36 punt return yards to reach 1,000 in his career. The Gamecocks host Austin Peay on Saturday.

Patriot: Lehigh (9-0, 3-0) remains the FCS' only unbeaten team despite being minus-7 in turnover margin. The one team the Mountain Hawks can't afford to turn the ball over to is Patriot leader Colgate (6-3, 4-0), which is averaging 55 points in its league wins. The winner earns at least a share of the league title and will claim the automatic bid to the playoffs ... After they combined for five victories last season, the Lafayette-Fordham winner will be guaranteed a winning season. Both teams are 5-4 ... Georgetown cornerback Jeremy Moore has nine takeaways (five interceptions and four fumble recoveries).

Pioneer: Butler (8-2, 7-0) will clinch the league title by ending a seven-game losing streak to Drake (6-3, 5-1) in its season finale Saturday. If Butler loses, the Bulldogs could have a three-week wait to see if they share the title. Drake also would have to win at Jacksonville on Nov. 17 to earn a share. San Diego (5-3, 4-1) could pull into a tie as well by beating Morehead State on Saturday, Davidson on Nov. 17 and then Marist on Dec. 1 in a rescheduled ... Two PFL coaches were fired this week, Campbell's Dale Steele and Davidson's Tripp Merritt.

SoCon: Saturday's Chattanooga-Wofford is intriguing and it goes beyond both teams being tied for the conference lead in the loss column. Wofford (7-2, 5-2) has to win to basically become playoff-eligible with a seventh Division I win before it ends the regular season at FBS South Carolina. Surging Chattanooga (5-4, 4-2) can tie for the title but can't earn the conference's automatic bid because of losses to Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, and it can't get to seven D-I wins to become an at-large candidate. The Mocs can't be happy about it because Presbyterian pulled out of a scheduled non- conference game and they replaced it with a Division II opponent, Glenville State ... An Appalachian State win over Furman would allow it to tie the same Paladins program for the most SoCon championships with 12.

Southland: Like Wofford, No. 3 Sam Houston State (7-2, 5-1) probably has to earn its playoff bid on Saturday because if the Bearkats don't win at Northwestern State, they will be stuck on six Division I wins heading into a season-ending visit to Texas A&M ... Every down should be fourth down for Central Arkansas, which is converting at nearly a 85.7-percent clip (12- for-14) ... McNeese State visits new FBS member UT-San Antonio. McNeese won last year's first meeting, 24-21.

SWAC: The big game of the week is Alabama A&M (7-2, 6-2) at Jackson State (5-4, 5-2) as the three-team race with Alabama State (6-3, 6-2) winds down. There can't be a three-way tie. Having already defeated Alabama A&M, Jackson State could set itself up nicely with a win Saturday. However, the Tigers would still have to beat Alcorn State on Nov. 17 provided Alabama State beats Southern on Saturday. If Alabama State and A&M win on Saturday, ASU owns the tie-breaker, having won the head-to-head meeting.

WHAT WE KNOW, WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW

The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/88q2k7t.

Also, once again this season, In the FCS Huddle is projecting the potential FCS playoff field. The projections are a long-range look at the season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found at http://www.sportsnetwork.com/fcs/FCS_Bracket.pdf.

THE PICKS

Last Week's Record: 42-14 (.750)

Season Record: 474-153 (.756)

Saturday, Nov. 10

All Times ET

Dayton (5-5, 4-3 Pioneer) at X-Marist (3-5, 2-3), noon

X-Robert Morris (3-6, 2-4 NEC) at Sacred Heart (2-7, 1-5), noon

William & Mary (2-7, 1-5 CAA) at X-No. 4 Old Dominion (8-1, 5-1), noon

Campbell (1-8, 0-6 Pioneer) at X-Jacksonville (6-3, 4-2), noon

X-Albany (7-2, 5-1 NEC) at Duquesne (5-4, 3-3), noon

St. Francis, Pa. (3-6, 2-4 NEC) at X-Monmouth (4-4, 3-2), noon

Co-Game of the Week: X-No. 25 Harvard (7-1, 4-1 Ivy) at Penn (4-4, 4-1), noon. The most heralded Ivy League game is always Harvard-Yale, but no game has come to determine the league title more often than Harvard-Penn.

X-Princeton (4-4, 3-2 Ivy) at Yale (2-6, 1-4), noon

Southeast Missouri State (3-6, 2-4 OVC) at X-Eastern Illinois (6-3, 5-1), noon

X-Bryant (3-6, 3-4 NEC) at Central Connecticut State (2-6, 2-3), noon

Co-Game of the Week: Colgate (6-3, 4-0 Patriot) at X-No. 8 Lehigh (9-0, 3-0), 12:30 p.m. Although Lehigh hasn't lost a Patriot game since November 2009, Colgate has been the better team since the beginning of October. The winner is headed to the playoffs.

X-Cornell (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) at Columbia (2-6, 1-4), 12:30 p.m.

Bucknell (2-7, 0-4 Patriot) at X-Georgetown (4-5, 1-2), 1 p.m.

Holy Cross (1-8) at X-Wagner (6-3), 1 p.m.

X-Lafayette (5-4) at Fordham (5-4), 1 p.m.

X-Coastal Carolina (5-4, 3-1 Big South) at Presbyterian (2-7, 0-4), 1 p.m.

X-No. 9 James Madison (7-2, 5-1 CAA) at No. 21 Villanova (6-3, 4-2), 1 p.m.

X-Northern Iowa (3-6, 2-4 Missouri Valley) at South Dakota (1-8, 0-6), 1 p.m.

Hampton (2-6, 2-4 MEAC) at X-Delaware State (5-4, 4-2), 1 p.m.

Morgan State (3-6, 2-4 MEAC) at X-Norfolk State (3-7, 1-6), 1 p.m.

Murray State (4-5, 3-3 OVC) at X-No. 22 Eastern Kentucky (7-3, 5-2), 1 p.m.

South Carolina State (4-5, 3-3 MEAC) at X-North Carolina A&T (5-4, 3-3), 1:30 p.m.

X-Brown (5-3, 2-3 Ivy) at Dartmouth (5-3, 3-2), 1:30 p.m.

X-Chattanooga (5-4, 4-2 SoCon) at No. 13 Wofford (7-2, 5-2), 1:30 p.m.

X-Gardner-Webb (2-7, 1-3 Big South) at Charleston Southern (4-5, 2-2), 1:30 p.m.

X-The Citadel (5-4) at VMI (2-7), 1:30 p.m.

X-Samford (6-3, 4-3 SoCon) at Elon (3-6, 1-5), 1:30 p.m.

Butler (8-2, 7-0 Pioneer) at X-Drake (6-3, 5-1), 2 p.m.

Prairie View A&M (3-6, 3-4 SWAC) at X-Mississippi Valley State (3-6, 3-4), 2 p.m.

Howard (6-3) at X-No. 7 Georgia Southern (7-2), 2 p.m.

X-Youngstown State (5-4, 2-4 Missouri Valley) at Western Illinois (3-6, 1-5), 2 p.m.

Georgia State (1-9) at X-Maine (3-6), 2 p.m.

Davidson (1-8, 1-5 Pioneer) at X-Valparaiso (1-8, 1-5), 2 p.m.

X-No. 23 UT Martin (7-2, 5-1 OVC) at Tennessee Tech (2-7, 0-6), 2:30 p.m.

Texas Southern (2-7, 2-5 SWAC) at X-Alcorn State (3-6, 3-4), 3 p.m.

X-Arkansas-Pine Bluff (7-2, 6-1 SWAC) at Grambling State (1-8, 0-7), 3 p.m.

X-North Carolina Central (6-3, 5-1 MEAC) at Florida A&M (3-6, 3-3), 3 p.m.

Furman (3-6, 2-4 SoCon) at X-No. 12 Appalachian State (7-3, 5-2), 3:30 p.m.

X-Delaware (5-4, 2-4 CAA) at No. 20 Richmond (6-3, 4-2), 3:30 p.m.

Rhode Island (0-9, 0-6 CAA) at X-No. 17 Towson (5-4, 4-2), 3:30 p.m.

X-No. 6 Stony Brook (9-1, 5-0 Big South) at Liberty (4-5, 3-1), 3:30 p.m.

Northern Colorado (3-6, 2-4 Big Sky) at X-Weber State (1-8, 1-5), 3:30 p.m.

No. 16 South Dakota State (7-2, 5-1 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 1 North Dakota State (8-1, 5-1), 3:30 p.m.

Portland State (3-6, 2-4 Big Sky) at X-No. 2 Montana State (8-1, 5-1), 3:35 p.m.

Austin Peay (1-8, 0-6 OVC) at X-Jacksonville State (5-4, 4-3), 4 p.m.

Nicholls (1-7, 0-5 Southland) at X-Lamar (3-7, 0-5), 4 p.m.

X-No. 3 Sam Houston State (7-2, 5-1 Southland) at Northwestern State (4-5, 2-3), 4:05 p.m.

UC Davis (3-6, 2-4 Big Sky) at X-No. 5 Eastern Washington (7-2, 6-1), 4:35 p.m.

Alabama A&M (7-2, 6-2 SWAC) at X-Jackson State (5-4, 5-2), 5 p.m.

McNeese State (6-3) at X-UTSA (5-4), 5 p.m.

X-Bethune-Cookman (7-2, 6-0 MEAC) at Savannah State (1-8, 0-6), 5 p.m.

X-Alabama State (6-3, 6-2 SWAC) at Southern (3-6, 2-5), 7 p.m.

Southern Utah (4-6, 3-4 Big Sky) at X-No. 11 Northern Arizona (8-1, 6-0), 7:05 p.m.

X-Stephen F. Austin (4-5, 3-2 Southland) at Southeastern Louisiana (3-6, 3-2), 8 p.m.

Morehead State (3-6, 2-4 Pioneer) at X-San Diego (5-3, 4-1), 9 p.m.

Idaho State (1-8, 0-6 Big Sky) at X-No. 19 Cal Poly (7-2, 5-2), 9:05 p.m.

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