Match-up: On Saturday at Noon Eastern time the Hobart Statesmen (Liberty League, 10- 7-0) will host the Ithaca Bombers (Empire 8, 7-3, 6-2) in Geneva, NY in the first round of the Division-III football playoffs. Hobart enters the contest as the ninth ranked team in Division-III football according to the latest D3Football poll. Ithaca is not ranked but received 10 points in the latest poll.
Coaches: The Ithaca Bombers are led by Mike Welch who is in his 21st season as head coach. Welch has been a success ever since taking over the program and boasts a 160-66 record. In his first year as head coach he took the Bombers to the semifinals in the D3 playoffs, and his 10 wins that season are a Division-III record for a first year coach. This is Welch’s eighth trip to the playoffs.
At the helm of the Hobart Statesmen is Mike Cragg. Cragg is also in his 21st season and has a career record of 132-53. He is a two-time AFCA Coach of the Year, and this will be his 1oth year guiding the Statesmen to a playoff berth. Cragg’s teams have looked especially powerful the last three years, winning at least 10 games each season, and posting a combined record of 32-2, best in the country.
The Ithaca Bombers are led by quarterback Tom Dempsey who had an outstanding season. The senior threw for 2212 yards and 21 touchdowns, and had an impressive 67.7 completion percentage. Dempsey is not going to stray from the pocket, but he will buy time for his receivers to get open and delivers passes on target.
The Bombers use a running back by committee option and this works just fine for them. Freshman Tristan Brown showed the future looks bright for Ithaca, rushing for 613 yards on 121 carries and he scored four times. Junior Josh Oliver is listed as a wide receiver, but he moved the ball on the ground well for this team, carrying the ball 78 times for 319 yards, and he made 12 catches for 101 yards.
Dempsey has spread the ball around well, but his favorite target has been Vito Boffoli. The senior wide out made 55 catches for 533 yards and he had 5 touchdown catches. Ben Cary nabbed 43 passes for 370 yards and eight touchdowns, and Chris Bauer added 34 catches for 404 yards. The deep threat of the team is Andrew Tabbert who made 32 catches for 486 yards, a 15.2 average.
The Bombers defense is incredibly stout up the middle, with linebackers Marc Recio and Kenneth Bradley, and safeties Anthony Domenick and Noah Poskanzer leading the charge. Recio leads the team with 71 tackles and he has also broken up 5 passes and has 5 more pass defenses to his credit. Bradley is just behind with 68 tackles. The two safeties always seem to be around the ball, with Domenick making three interceptions and having 13 combined breakups and defenses, and Poskanzer intercepting two and combining for 14 breakups/defenses. Schnayder Termidor leads the team with six sacks. The Ithaca defense has 12 interceptions this season and 11 fumble recoveries to go with 18 sacks.
The Hobart Statesmen are led by their outstanding corral of running backs. While they also operate as a running back by committee, that group put up 2246 yards in 10 games. Conner Hartigan led the group with 765 yards and 9 touchdowns on 117 carries, an average of 6.4 yards per carry. Dominique Ellis rushed for 430 yards and 10 scores and Bradley Burns added 341 more yards.
Patrick Conlan is not a spectacular quarterback, but he does not need to be with this outstanding group of running backs. However, Conlan holds his own. He passed for 1600 yards and 14 TDs, but only completed 53.3 percent of his passes. He is careful with the ball, however, only being picked off six times.
No one receiver is a favorite target of Conlan’s, but Elvin Vouffrant led the team with 30 catches for 467 yards and scored three times. Mike Berkowitz is the go-to guy in the red zone, making 14 catches for 113 yards and 5 touchdowns.
On defense Jacob Stanley and Trayvon Toney led the team with 65 tackles each. Stanley added 3.5 sacks as well, and forced four fumbles. Toney had an interception and forced a fumble. Tyre Coleman led the Statesmen in sacks with 10, which is ninth in the country. Marcus Jemison added 6.5 sacks and Troy Johnson had 5.5. Overall Hobart recorded 32 sacks, which was ranked seventh most in Division-III, and they had 8 interceptions and 14 forced fumbles.
Ithaca: 344.0 yards per game. 26.6 points per game
Hobart: 395.0 yards per game, 33.3 points per game
Ithaca: 293.0 yards per game, 16.7 points allowed per game
Hobart: 247.1 yards per game, 13.9 points allowed per game
Outlook: Ithaca lost a stunner to Suny-Cortland on a trick play late, and now has to rebound against a very good Hobart team. That may be a lot to ask, but they do have the defense full of play-makers and their quarterback is extremely good. Ithaca clearly has the better quarterback in the contest, but he is facing a defense that will put pressure on him like he has not seen this year. Look for Hobart to create four Ithaca turnovers in a 38-17 Statesmen win.
Tomorrow’s Previews on the Minor League Sports Report will look at:
Wheaton vs. Benedictine
John Carroll vs. Centre
Wittenberg vs. Washington & Jefferson
Mount Union vs. Adrian
By Robert Pannier