WALTHAM, Mass. – The Bentley University Falcons have opened the 2012 season with five consecutive wins, including four against Northeast-10 Conference opponents, and own a seven-game winning streak. The University of New Haven Chargers, unbeaten in their last 12 conference games and coming off a season that saw them reach the NCAA quarterfinals, have done the same.
Something will have to give Saturday afternoon when the two clubs square off in a 1 pm NE-10 showdown at Bentley.
Currently, both are tied for first in the conference with once-beaten American International, a team that both still have to face. Bentley will be at AIC on Oct. 20 and New Haven, currently ranked fifth nationally in Division II, will close out the regular season in Springfield against the Yellow Jackets.
However, those are games for another week. This Saturday, both clubs will have their sights on keeping their perfect records intact and taking another step towards both qualifying for and earning the right to host the inaugural Northeast-10 championship game on Nov. 10.
If history is any indication, Saturday's game will be closely contested. The Falcons and Chargers have met three times since New Haven reinstated its football program prior to the 2009 season, and the average differential has been 6.3 points. Bentley won on the road in 2009, 25-18, and New Haven has taken the last two, 28-23 in 2010 in its only previous visit to Waltham and 45-38 a year ago.
Difficult starts to the fourth quarter cost the Falcons in the last two meetings. Last year, the Chargers scored two TDs in the first ten minutes of the fourth after the two clubs went into the final stanza even at 31, and in 2010, New Haven erupted for 21 points in the first five minutes to erase a 10-7 Bentley lead.
Offense gets a lot of the attention, and both of these teams have shown they can put points on the board (New Haven 44.6 a game, Bentley 29.0), but they both also excel defensively. The Chargers are third in Division II in scoring defense (11.2) and Bentley is currently eighth at 13.0. The Falcons gave up only 35 in the first nine halves this season before yielding 28 second-half points in Saturday's 10-point win at Saint Anselm Saturday after building a 24-0 lead.
In addition to points, neither gives up much in terms of yards either. Bentley is tenth in total defense (276.4) with the opposition averaging 2.3 yards per rushing attempt and completing just under half its passes. New Haven, fifth in total D (250.4), allows only 1.6 yards per carry on the ground and has yielded only six plays longer than 20 yards all season. In sharp contrast, the Falcons have gained 20 or more yards on a play 29 times this fall, including three of at least 70 yards.
The Bentley offense is directed by junior Danny Guadagnoli (Framingham/Framingham HS). He has connected on 60 percent of his passes, with an average of 17.5 yards per completion, and has thrown nine TD passes while being picked off only three times.
He has a number of weapons to call upon, including senior tailback Bobby Tarr (Byfield/Bishop Fenwick HS), who had his third career TD run of at least 75 yards in the Saint Anselm game. He's averaged 5.7 yards per carry this season, and his career norm of 6.0 is the fifth best amongst active Division II players.
Junior Lorenzo Warren (Boston/Catholic Memorial HS), with 211 yards, spells Tarr in the backfield, and Bentley's offensive arsenal also includes receivers Jeff Hill (Mansfield/Mansfield HS), Sean Cross (Duxbury/Duxbury HS) and Bill Kiley (Quincy/Boston College HS), a trio who have combined for 10 touchdowns.
The six-foot-four Hill has averaged 24.5 yards per reception with his team-leading 22 including six for touchdowns. Cross, coming off his best game as a collegian (7 for 129), has 18 for 280 and one TD, and the six-foot-three Kiley has 16 for 275 yards and three TDs.
Defensively, coach Thom Boerman's club is led by junior linebacker Blaine Hopwood (New Bedford/New Bedford HS) and safeties Don and Steve Hopkins (Waltham/Waltham HS). Hopwood tied his career-best with 13 tackles in the Saint Anselm game and is the team's leading tackler for the second straight season with 50.
Steve, the current Northeast-10 Defensive Player of the Week, had three takeaways Saturday (including the first pick 6 of his college career), and the two Hopkins twins have combined for six of Bentley's nine takeaways this season. Both have two interceptions, and Steve also has two fumble recoveries.
New Haven coach Peter Rossomondo has a decision to make this week regarding his starting quarterback and it appears he'll go with 2011 NE-10 Offensive Player of the Year Ryan Osiecki. He's missed most of the last four games due to injury, but has thrown for 77 TDs and over 8300 yards in his career.
Ronnie Nelson has done more than an admirable job filling in and was named the NE-10 Offensive Player of the Week Tuesday after throwing for six TDs in a 65-7 rout of Assumption. For the season, he's completed 73 percent of his passes with 15 scoring strikes and only one interception.
Victor Jones and Mike DeCaro are both just shy of 250 rushing yards, with Jones averaging better than eight yards per carry. Jason Thompson is the team's top receiver with 21 for 385 yards and six TDs.
Senior defensive end Tom Herd can be a force, as evidenced by his four sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception. Rover Herbens Antenor is the club's leading tackler, with 26.
BENTLEY BRIEFS: In this week's AFCA Division II national rankings, Bentley was on the brink of cracking the top 25, missing out by only four points … Last year's game featured 997 yards of total offense, including 531 by Bentley … The first quarter has been a problem for the Falcon offense with only ten points in five games … Bentley is 5-0 for the second time in Boerman's four years at the helm. The last time the team had a better start was in 2003 (10-0), and that was also the last time the Falcons had a longer win streak than the current seven (11 from 2002-03) … Last year's New Haven game was the Falcons' last loss … The Saint Anselm game marked the third time in four games this season that Bentley has held the ball for at least 35 minutes … Bentley's 289 net rushing yards against Saint Anselm was its most since 2003. Six different players had a rush of at least 12 yards against the Hawks … Tarr, with 1,871 career rushing yards, needs eight to move past Paul Reed '03 into eighth on Bentley's varsity rushing list, 69 to crack the top six and 129 to become the program's sixth 2,000-yard rusher … Kiley is 105 yards shy of 1,000 career receiving yards … The Northeast-10 Weekly Honor Roll included Cross, Guadagnoli and Hopwood … For those who can't attend, links for live stats and a video webcast will be available at www.bentleyfalcons.com.