Bull­dogs face tough test

Bryant will host the de­fend­ing champs

Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By BRAN­DEN MELLO bmello@woonsock­et­call.com Fol­low Bran­den Mello on Twit­ter @Bran­den_Mello

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.”

File photo by Ernest A. Brown

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.

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