Road to Frisco: EWU Poses Tough Test, But NEC Champion Seahawks Have Yet to Back Down from a Challenge
After a win like the one that Wagner had last Saturday, the Seahawks could have flown all 2,600 miles to Cheney, WA without the help of a charter jet.
There is no hotter team in America right now. Riding a nine-game win streak, which includes the NEC’s first-ever FCS playoff victory, Wagner will look to continue its storybook season at Big Sky member Eastern Washington on December 1.
“I think anybody who’s still playing right now is a pretty good football team,” said 32nd-year head coach Walt Hameline in a recent Staten Island Advance story. “I said early in the season that we wanted to be playing meaningful games in November and now we’re playing in December.”
“I’m really happy for the kids, the coaches, the college and the program. It’s been a fantastic ride.”
The ride started in Boca Raton where Wagner opened the season with a 7-3 setback to FBS member Florida Atlantic. The next two stops saw the Seahawks incur two more losses. A 13-10 setback at Georgetown dropped Wagner to 0-2, and, one week later, Outer Bridge rival Monmouth thumped the Seahawks in the NEC opener.
At 0-3, however, Wagner did not put the bus in park. Instead, they kicked it into high gear.
Starting with a convincing victory over Central Connecticut in the NEC-TV Featured Game of the Week on September 22, Wagner reeled off nine wins in a row for the first time since 1981.
The team earned its first NCAA playoff berth since 1988 and posted its first postseason victory since the 1987 NCAA Division III National Championship Game.
“We’ve been working for it since the day I got on campus here,” said senior quarterback Nick Doscher of the team’s recent ride. “This year we were 0-3 and a lot of people were counting us out, but the guys in that locker-room, we never doubted ourselves, we never doubted our coaches.”
Doscher doesn’t doubt his team’s chances this week at Eastern Washington either. Sure, the Eagles hail from the mighty Big Sky Conference and have a number of players left over from their 2010 NCAA FCS National Championship Team, but the quarterback doesn’t sound intimidated in the slightest.
“I know a bunch of people tried to write us off already this week,” Doscher told The Staten Island Advance. “But we’ve shocked some people this season so that’s the plan again.”
One reason why Wagner has been able to “shock some people” this season has been the team’s propensity to take care of the football.
Wagner is plus-11 in turnover margin for the season and has given the ball away a NEC-low six times.
Doscher’s play is at the center of that stellar effort. The senior signal caller has not thrown an interception against a FCS team this season. His last interception came at Florida Atlantic in August!
In fact, Wagner has committed only one turnover during its current nine-game surge. A third-quarter fumble by Doscher in a Week 11 matchup against Holy Cross is the lone giveaway Wagner has made since Week 3 against Monmouth.
“We haven’t turned the ball over; He [Doscher] hasn’t thrown an interception so why does that happen?” said Hameline. “Obviously, he’s a great competitor and an outstanding player. He has a great understanding out there. He puts us in great situations and makes plays.”
While Doscher makes plenty of plays, Wagner’s defense does its share as well.
The Seahawks have “athletes at every level” of their defense according to Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin.
Four of those athletes earned all-NEC honors, including cornerbacks Jarrett Dieudonne and Torian Phillips. The latter, who started his collegiate career at Syracuse, was responsible for both interceptions of Colgate quarterback Gavin McCarney last week.
Both Dieudonne and Phillips will have their hands full come Saturday at The Inferno, though.
Eastern Washington’s passing attack averages 298.8 yards per game, 10th-most in FCS. Junior receiver Brandon Kaufman, who stands at 6-foot-5, is a two-time all-Big Sky first team selection who made 65 receptions for 1,270 yards and 10 touchdowns during the 2012 regular season.
Despite the tall task that lies ahead, Wagner’s focus seems to be less on just how good Eastern Washington is and more internal.
“Going into every game, we try not to think about other teams and what other people say,” said first team all-NEC running back Dominique Williams.
“Our motto is ‘Play for each other.’ We have to stick to what we do best; that is playing hard, having fun and playing for each other.”
In addition to playing for each other on Saturday, Williams and the Seahawks will play for a trip to the Elite 8.
Postgame Press Conference (Nov. 24)
Here’s a Snapshot of Twitter Shortly after Wagner’s Playoff Win
Top Pigskin Tweets
Wagner Football Fans >>>>>>>>>
Yes, the 31-20 win over Colgate was Wagner’s first playoff victory at the Division I FCS level, and this fan certainly wasn’t the lone #ProudSeahawk on Grymes Hill this past Saturday.
Rooting for his NEC brethren, this Central Connecticut defensive lineman clearly understands the meaning of #NECpride.
Who Gets Game Balls? (FCS First Round)
The 12th Man
The Wagner fans were out in full force on Saturday, accounting for a sellout crowd that ranks as the second-largest in the history of Hameline Field. There’s no question the Seahawks fed off the support.
As Staten Island Advance columnist Cormac Gordon wrote, “The numbers won’t blow you away. Ninety-one yards rushing and 95 more throwing the ball aren’t exactly Drew Brees-ian for a quarterback in this era of fast-break football. But don’t be fooled. With plenty on the line, Nick Doscher had about as good a day as you could hope for.”
When it comes to Wagner’s defense, take your pick. Anyone on the unit could make a case for a Game Ball after a showing like the one they had against Colgate. If pressed to pick one individual, we’ll go with Mike Lombardo. The linebacker made a team-high 11 tackles, including 2.0 sacks of the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year. He also forced a fumble.
Wagner’s Run Makes Headlines
Wagner thinking like spoilers in NCAA game at EWU — Staten Island Advance (Nov. 30)
Wagner College’s Nick Doscher reels in big one — Staten Island Advance (Nov. 25)
Wagner captures NEC title to clinch NCAA playoff berth – Staten Island Advance (Nov. 17)
After Storm, Wagner Quickly Regains Footing – New York Times (Nov. 9)
Wagner College football team knocking on NCAA’s door – Staten Island Advance (Nov. 8)