Bulldogs face tough test
Bryant will host the defending champs
SMITHFIELD — Bryant football coach James Perry often looks back at his team’s 31-14 road loss last Oct. 21 to reigning Northeast Conference champion Central Connecticut.
The defeat was the nadir of Perry’s short reign in Smithfield as the loss dropped the 2017 Bulldogs to 2-5 and 0-2 in NEC play. Perry looks back at that contest because it was the turning point of Bryant’s season. After that game, the Bulldogs had their best week of practice and proceeded to win their final four games of the campaign.
“I look back at that game all the time because we came out of that game 0-2 in the conference and then we came out and just had a great week,” Perry said prior to Thursday’s practice at the Conaty Indoor Athletic Center. “That week really said a lot about the kids because Tuesdays and Wednesdays are really challenging around here. I often look back at that game and how the kids didn’t feel sorry for themselves and showed all the traits you want to have in football players.”
Tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Beirne Stadium, the defending champions make the short trip from New Britain, Conn. to play a game that will go a long way in deciding which team from the NEC will earn automatic entry into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs next month. Central Connecticut (3-3, 1-0 NEC) started the conference campaign with a 56-35 victory over Robert Morris last week.
The Blue Devils will bring a punishing running game to Smithfield, as Drew Jean-Guillaume (13 carries for 157 yards and three touchdowns) and Aaron Dawson (10 carries for 102 yards) helped produce 358 rushing yards against the Pioneers.
Perry knows his defensive line, which is led by captains Kevin Lazo and Dillon Guthro and Tomas Wright, and linebackers Tom Costigan and Jesse Nemerowicz, will be under pressure.
“They’re really physical,” Perry said. “Their offensive line is excellent and they run the ball really well. I think it will be their strength against our strength where they’re going to try and run the football. We take a lot of pride in being physical, too.”
Bryant (4-1, 2-0 NEC) delivered its best defensive performance of the season in last week’s 21-20 road win over Duquesne. Wright had three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss, while Costigan chipped in with two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Robert Brown also returned a fumble 46 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter.
For a veteran defense that had allowed at least 27 points in the first four games, Saturday’s win could be a turning point.
“On defense, we have a group of guys who handle adversity well,” Perry said. “They made huge plays. The big thing is that’s not the pinnacle of what we can be defensively. We’re getting better today than we were yesterday. We played a hell of a game, but hopefully we can play even better on Saturday.”
The Bulldogs were held under 300 yards of total offense for the first time this season by the Dukes, but redshirt senior quarterback Price Wilson was an efficient 16-of-27 for 197 yards and a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions. Wilson completed passes to 10 players, including senior Tom Kennedy, who was making his first appearance of the season after suffering a left knee injury in late August.
Bryant’s running game, which was so effective in September, produced a paltry 101 yards on 45 carries. The Blue Devils, who lost to FBS foe Ball State 42-6 to start the season, are allowing opposing quarterbacks to throw for 230 yards a contest, while also allowing 145.7 yards a game. The Blue Devils have given up 27 points a contest.
CCSU’s defense is led by senior Tymir Hatton, who has produced a team-high 30 tackles and five tackles for loss. Another player the Bulldogs will have to focus on is former St. Raphael All-Stater Trevante Jones, who has quickly developed into one of the Blue Devils’ top players.
After making just his five tackles as a freshman last season, Jones already has 28 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks as a starting outside linebacker.
“I don’t know how he ended up there, but he’s a very good player,” Perry said. “I’m sure he’ll be motivated to play.”
A victory over the Blue Devils would move the Bulldogs into pole position in the race to win the NEC. Four teams enter the weekend undefeated, as Sacred Heart is 1-0 going into its final bye and talented Saint Francis gets ready to play its first conference game Saturday at Wagner (0-1 NEC). In the only other conference clash, 0-1 Duquesne hosts 0-1 Robert Morris in a battle for western Pennsylvania supremacy.
“I think the good thing for me is I know watching us we’re getting better every day,” Perry said. “Where do we stack up with the league champs? It’s going to be fun finding out. I do know we’re getting better all the time.”
Bryant quarterback Price Wilson (14, above) and the 4-1 Bulldogs face defending NEC champion Central Connecticut tomorrow at Beirne Stadium at 1. Former St. Raphael standout Trevante Jones (5, below) is one of CCSU’s top defensive players.