NCAA Division-III Playoffs: Alfred vs. Bridgewater State
The No. 15 Alfred Saxons welcome the Bridgewater State Bears on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. The Bears were the winners of the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC), going 8-2, but winning all eight-games in the conference. Alfred won all 10 games they played this season, including going 8-0 in the Empire-8 to win their conference title.
How They Got Here:
The Alfred Saxons rolled this season, winning all 10-games they played. After defeating fellow playoff entrant Husson, 35-28, in the first game of the season, the Saxons just caught fire. Their only challenge came on October 29, when they downed Brockport 30-28. Otherwise, no other team got within 13-points after Week 1. They scored at least 30-points in all but one game, and put up a season high 61 against Hartwick on October 22.
Bridgewater State got off to a tough start when they lost their first two games of the season, then rolled to win their last eight. They lost the two games by a combined total of five-points, but proved they can win the close games as well, winning three games that were decided by less than a touchdown. Their biggest output of the season was a 37-14 victory over Massachusetts Maritime on the last weekend of the season.
Alfred 37.6 PPG, 245.5 Rushing/Game, 190.6 Passing/Game, 436.1 Yards/Game
Bridgewater State 27.4 PPG, 182.1 Rushing/Game, 213.2 Passing/Game, 395.3 Yards/Game
Alfred 19.1 PPG, 90.8 Rushing/Game, 194.7 Passing/Game, 285.5 Yards/Game
Bridgewater State 18.6 PPG, 104.6 Rushing/Game, 182.2 Passing/Game, 286.8 Yards/Game
Players to Watch
The Alfred Saxons are led by a three-headed monster of a ground game. Maleke Fuentes led the team with 793-yards rushing, followed by Tyler Johnson with 789 and Casey Bright 767. Johnson rushed for 19-touchdowns. Combined, the three ran for nearly 2,400-yards. Johnson put together a great season through the air as well, throwing for 1,906-yards and 20-touchdowns. He completed 63-percent of his passes and threw just 4-interceptions. He is one of the most dynamic players in the country. Brendan Buisch is far and above the top receiver for the Saxons, making 47-catches for 849-yards and 13-TDs. Most impressive is his 18.1 yards/catch.
A.J. LiCata led the team with 110-tackles and had 3.5-sacks. Isaiah Moak was second with 85-tackles and had 4-sacks. Charles Branwell had 7-sacks to lead the team.
Bridgewater State led the team with 1,094-yards rushing and 7-touchdowns. Malik Garrett did not have nearly as many yards rushing, but led the team with 10-rushing touchdowns. Danny Higgins is a solid but not spectacular quarterback for the Bears. He threw for 2,067-yards with 17-touchdowns, but threw 12-picks and only completed 56.4 percent of his passes. Higgins has a quality receiving corps, led by Dukens Leon who made 54-receptions for 2-touchdowns and 572-yards. Travis Bassett (47-catches, 531-yards, 4-TDs) and Jack Lavanchy (45-catches, 503-yards, 6-TDs) help to make this one of the toughest groups in the country to try to defend.
The Bears have a very active defense, led by four players, Stephen Jacobs, A.J. Pascuzzo, Charles McCarthy, and Elvis Romero. Romero was second on the team in sacks with 5 and added 46-tackles. McCarthy was third on the team in tackles with 54, first in interceptions with 3, and had 2-sacks. Jacobs led the team in tackles with 69 and had 3.5-sacks, and Pascuzzo had 63-tackles and 3-sacks. Add in Emmanuel Omere’s team-leading 8.5-sacks and it is easy to see why this is such an outstanding defense.
Both of these teams have a lot going for them, and it would not be a surprise to see either one win, especially with the kind of defenses that they put on the field. The difference in this game is going to be Johnson. Expect him to have his best game of the season and for Alfred to take command of this game in the second half. Alfred wins, 34-16.
By Robert Pannier