With two–thirds of its conference (8 of 12 teams) accounting for one-third of the top 24 of the 2009 Football Championship Subdivision preseason coaches poll, the Colonial Athletic Association embarks on its third season of football with high expectations as unquestionably the best FCS conference top to bottom.
And, why not?
In its first year of existence, the CAA placed a record-tying five teams in the 16-team 2007 FCS playoffs, while springing a few upsets over top seeds from other conferences and placing Delaware in the FCS championship game.
For an encore, the CAA broke that record, sending six teams to the 2008 FCS playoffs, while producing last season’s FCS national champion, the Richmond Spiders. There’s every reason to believe that CAA success will continue in 2009. Richmond is ranked second in the nation, heading a group of four CAA teams ranked among the top eight in the 2009 preseason FCS coaches poll.
One of those teams, #5 Villanova, and another nationally-ranked team, #19 Maine, kicked things off for the CAA in 2009 on Thursday night. In one case, the CAA impressed against a superior division. In the other, it was the opposite. However, the final results of each were along the same lines of the CAA’s first two seasons –- winning in the CAA continued, and in dramatic fashion each time.
Villanova 27, Temple 24
Seventeen days before the Philadelphia Eagles’ scheduled home opener on the same field, Villanova used a big second half to rally from deficits of 10-0 at halftime and 24-14 in the fourth quarter, to capture the inaugural Mayor’s Cup game with a 27-24 victory over Football Bowl Division opponent Temple, at Lincoln Financial field in Philadelphia, when redshirt freshman kicker Nick Yako calmly booted a 32-yard game-winner as time expired.
Ironically, Villanova’s last win against an FBS opponent was a different three-point win over Temple, 23-20, in 2003, in the first game ever played at the same stadium affectionately called The Link.
This time, the opportunistic Wildcats won the turnover battle 5-1, while their second-half comeback was sparked by signal caller, senior quarterback Chris Whitney, who rebounded from a mediocre 7-for-14 first half to complete 17 of 21 passes after halftime, to finish 24 of 35 for a career-high 278 yards. Whitney’s favorite target was a big one –- both in physical stature and in his ability to come up big on Thursday night –- 6-foot-4 senior wide receiver Brandyn Harvey, who had game-highs of 9 catches and 142 receiving yards, including a clutch 6-yard touchdown reception from Whitney with 1:24 left in the game, to tie the score, 24-24, setting the stage for Yako to be the hero… Up next for the 1-0 Cats is Lehigh at home, on September 12th.
Maine 34, St. Cloud State 27
While Villanova knocked off an FBS team on a neutral field, Maine struggled in what should have been a fairly easy season-opening tune-up at home, against feisty and inspired Division II St. Cloud State. After a St. Cloud State field goal, Maine took its first lead, 7-3, on a first quarter 80-yard kickoff return from Desmond Randall, who bounced back nicely after missing the entire 2008 season with an injury. However, the Black Bears, could not contain wide receiver Fred Williams, who set a school record with a game-high 15 catches (all but 7 of St. Could State’s 22 completions for the game) for 171 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass, putting St. Cloud State ahead, 24-20, with 8:42 left in the fourth quarter. But, what senior quarterback Mike Brusko was limited to (9-13 for 101 yards) with his arm, he did with his legs, carrying 22 times for 86 yards, as the Black Bears’ running game was in session –- that is, with sophomore tailback Derek Session, who led the way with 133 rushing yards in 22 attempts, including a 10-yard touchdown run that gave Maine a short-lived 27-24 lead with 1:59 left in regulation, before Brusko plunged into the end zone with what proved to be the game-winning score in overtime, from a yard out… the Black Bears next game is its CAA opener at Northeastern, on September 12th.
Other CAA Teams Kicking Off This Weekend
Nine other CAA teams will start their seasons this weekend. Of special note…
A pair of CAA teams will challenge the FBS and the ACC on the road on Saturday:
– #2 Richmond will play at Duke while…
– #14 William & Mary stays in state to play at Virginia.
Meanwhile, also on Saturday:
– #18 UMass will play an FBS and Big 12 opponent when it travels to Kansas State, and…
– Hofstra, whose #24 ranking following a 4-8 campaign in 2008, demonstrates the depth and quality of the CAA, will host fellow Long Island FCS rival Stony Brook.