SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – November 25, 2006 – Senior All-American running back Mark Robinson (Bath, N.Y.) rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns to lead the St. John Fisher College football team to a 27-21 victory over Springfield College this afternoon at SC's Benedum Field in a second round NCAA Division III East Region playoff game.
As a result, St. John Fisher, ranked 16th in the nation according to d3football.com, is now 11-1 on the season, while Springfield (ranked 15th in the same poll) suffers just its second loss and ends its season at 10-2. The 11 victories are the most in SJF history (the 2004 team had 10). St. John Fisher and Springfield were Empire 8 Conference co-champions, each finishing 5-1 in league play. Springfield had beaten St. John Fisher in the regular season, 55-38, in Pittsford, New York on October 21, a game that featured no punts by either team.
With the win, the Cardinals, seeded #3 in the East, will now advance to the third round. Paul Vosburgh’s squad will host 4th-seeded Rowan, a last-minute 21-14 victor over #1-seeded Wilkes earlier today, next Saturday (Dec. 2).
Today’s game featured the 2006 Empire 8 Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year. While SC junior QB Chris Sharpe (Derry, N.H.)certainly held the upper hand in the first meeting (280 yards, 7 TD’s rushing), this time around it was SJF senior linebacker Gene Lang (Baldwinsville, N.Y.) and his defensive mates who in large part made the difference. Lang finished with a team-leading 11 tackles, including one tackle-for-loss, and one forced fumble. Springfield, averaging 388.7 yards rushing per game entering the game, and ranked #1 in the country in Division III by over 100 yards per game, was held to a season-low 220 yards on the ground. The previous season-low for the Pride as a team was 241 yards in its only other loss at Ithaca on Oct. 28.
The game today began eerily similar to the last time these two teams met. Springfield won the toss (the 12th time in 12 games this year), and proceeded to march 73 yards on 15 plays, eliminating 8:22 from the clock. On the first play from scrimmage, Sharpe ran for 28 yards for what turned out to be his longest run from scrimmage during the entire game. Sharpe later ran it in on a 4th-and-goal from the four yard line. Following an extra point by freshman Chris Bush (Creek, N.Y.), Springfield led, 7-0, with 6:38 remaining.
The Cardinals, however, wasted very little time in tying it up at 7-all. After the return kickoff set up SJF at its own 32-yard line, junior QB Rob Kramer (Oneida, N.Y.), rated #3 in the nation in passing efficiency, found junior WR Sean Nowicki (Alden, N.Y.) right down the middle for a 47-yard bomb to the Springfield 21. Just two plays later, Robinson broke one from 16 yards out to score. Sophomore Chris Pierri (Fairport, N.Y.) booted home the extra point, and the score was tied with 4:42 left in the first.
In the next several possessions, St. John Fisher fumbled twice and Springfield once, but neither team could take advantage. Springfield had the best chance, but a fumble on a second-and-goal at the SJF 6 was recovered by senior DL Greg Pyszczynski (West Seneca, N.Y.) at the SJF 1.
Springfield then forced a punt, which was returned 19 yards by senior FS Lucas Maciarello (Stillwater, N.Y.) to the SJF 21. It then took SC five plays to score, a four-yard run by sophomore fullback Andrew Jackson (Pennsville, N.J.), with 8:15 left in the second quarter. The kick by Bush made it 14-7, Springfield.
Fisher then began what proved to be an important drive that would ultimately tie the score, but it wasn’t easy. Kramer had marched SJF to the Springfield 13. But a rush for no gain, an incompletion, a holding penalty, and a false start set SJF back to the 28-yard line, forcing a fourth-and-20. Both head coaches later referred to what happened next as the play of the day. After a scramble, Kramer found junior WR Corey Jackson (East Aurora, N.Y.) for a 26-yard gain at the two, setting up a first-and-goal from that spot. Then Kramer, on play-action, dumped a short pass over the middle to sophomore tight end Matt Kelly (Rochester, N.Y.). The drive took 11 plays, 65 yards. Pierri’s kick tied it with 2:48 left in the half. It was 14-all at the intermission.
The third quarter belonged to Robinson and St. John Fisher. Nowicki began it with a 42-yard kick-off return to the SC 39. It took seven plays for SJF to score, culminated by a 10-yard run by Robinson. With 10:45 left in that period, the Cardinals had taken the lead for good.
After what looked like a promising SC drive in an attempt to tie it up, SC’s Jackson fumbled for the second time in the contest, and SJF set up shop at its own 49-yard line. The fumble was recovered by sophomore DL Dan Pollock (Fulton, N.Y.).
This time it took seven plays and 51 yards, but the result was the same, a Robinson score from one-yard out. The extra point was blocked by junior HB Derron Walker (White Plains, N.Y.), offering some potential later intrigue. SJF now led, 27-14, with 4:57 left in the third quarter.
SC did not waste too much time in making a comeback. A 9-play, 61-yard TD march featured Jackson, who ran six times for 43 of those yards, including a bullish 28-yard gain up the middle. Sharpe later scored on a 2-yard run up the middle, and with Bush’s extra point, SC closed the gap to 27-21 with 10:29 left in the game.
On the scoring play, Sharpe tied an NCAA Division III record – Most TD’s Rushing in a Single Season – with 35 for the year. He tied the mark first set by Dan Pugh of Mount Union in 2002. But Sharpe tied the record in 12 games played, while Pugh had played in 14 games. Sharpe also set an NCAA Division III record for most carries by a QB in a single season. His 25 carries today gave him 261 for the season, breaking the old mark of 242 by Juan Quesada of Elmhurst in 2001. Sharpe had broken the NCAA Division III record for most rushing yards by a QB in a season much earlier. He finished with 1,941 rushing yards on the season, also a Springfield College record by anyone (not just a QB).
From thereon, it was a case of the SJF defense holding on, while the offense was able to make enough crucial first downs to keep SC at bay. Springfield got the ball back twice, the first of which started on its own four-yard line on a downed punt. Beginning with 6:44 to play, SC was able to rush for just five yards on three plays, and was forced to punt. The next time SC got the ball back, it was at its own 13 yard line with two seconds remaining in the game. One final Sharpe pass was incomplete, and SJF ran onto the field in a joyous celebration.
As a team, Fisher had 16 first downs to SC’s 14. Fisher out-gained the Pride, 348 to 220. SJF’s average gain per play was 6.3 yards to 3.6 for SC. Of the first 22 minutes of action, SC possessed it for 17. But in the end, the difference in time of possession was only 32:41 to 27:19 in favor of SC.
Springfield was ranked #1 in the nation entering the game in turnover ration (+2.1 pg). But in this game, both teams lost it twice on fumbles. There were no interceptions.
Robinson rushed it 24 times for 120 yards and 3 TD’s. Junior RB James Reile (Herkimer, N.Y.) was next in line for SJF with 19 yards rushing on five carries. Kramer was 11-of-19 for 178 yards passing and one TD. Jackson was the leading SJF receiver with 58 yards on four receptions. Sophomore WR Tim Marion (Warwick, N.Y.) had three catches for 37 yards. Nowicki had one reception for 47 yards on his team’s opening play.
For Springfield, Jackson led with 120 yards rushing and 1 TD on 23 carries. Sharpe had 69 yards rushing (the 2nd-lowest total for the season for the nation’s leading rusher (170.2 ypg entering the game)). Walker had 20 yards rushing on four carries. Sharpe finished 0-for-3 on the day in passing.
Defensively, for St. John Fisher, Lang led with his 11 tackles. He was followed by junior LB Steve Flagler (Oneida, N.Y.) with nine. For SC, sophomore OLB Tom Caporale (Closter, N.J.) and senior ILB and captain Andrew Madigan (New Britain, Conn.) led the Pride with 10 tackles each. Maciarello had seven.