District college football preview: W&J hosts Geneva in PAC clash
Game of the week: Geneva at Washington & Jefferson
• When: 7 p.m., Saturday
• Records: G: 5-3, 4-2; WJ: 6-2, 5-1
If its offense remains potent and its defense delivers one of its best performances of the year, Geneva can shake up the Presidents' Athletic Conference and end an eight-game losing streak to Washington & Jefferson.
The odds favor the defending conference champion Presidents, though.
W&J's hopes for a 23rd conference title hinge upon it winning Saturday and next week in a key clash against rival Waynesburg (7-2, 5-2). Geneva, which joined the PAC as a provisional member in 2007 and became a full-fledged member in 2011, last defeated the Presidents in 1983.
Even if it wins this game and next week against Westminster, Geneva cannot claim the PAC title, as it lacks the head-to-head advantage against Thomas More (7-1, 6-1), which won four straight conference championships from 2008-11.
A pair of WPIAL products pace the Golden Tornadoes' offense, which averages 34.2 points per game. Senior quarterback Zack Hayward, a Blackhawk grad, has thrown for 2,273 yards and 11 touchdowns. Senior Rocco Colaveccia, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound Shenango grad, is listed as a quarterback but makes plays from several different spots on the field. He's responsible for a single-season record 104 points and needs seven more points to become Geneva's career points leader (268).
Geneva's defense, which has allowed 29.2 points per game, must contain a balanced Presidents offense led by senior quarterback Matt Bliss (247.7 passing ypg) and senior running back Dion Wiegand (125.1 rushing ypg). W&J averages 36.9 points per game.
Two other streaks suggest how this game might end: Each of the Golden Tornadoes' five wins this season came at their home field, and W&J is 5-0 following a bye week under coach Mike Sirianni.
Saturday's other games to watch
• Slippery Rock at Seton Hill, 12:30 p.m.
To stay alone atop the PSAC West division standings and secure a spot in the conference's title game, Slippery Rock (8-1, 5-1) must keep Seton Hill (0-9, 0-6) winless. Slippery Rock, ranked No. 20 in the Division II American Football Coaches Association poll, will play either Bloomsburg or West Chester, which meet this week to determine the PSAC East champ.
• Gannon at Indiana (Pa.), 1 p.m.
Gannon (5-4, 4-2) still has a chance to finish first in the PSAC West, but the Golden Knights face an improbable scenario, as they must defeat IUP (7-2, 4-2), and Slippery Rock must lose to Seton Hill. IUP, which has won the last two meetings in this series, allows a PSAC-low 14.2 points per game, while Gannon has the second-highest offensive yards per game average (427.0) in the conference.
• Robert Morris at Central Connecticut State, noon
Robert Morris (4-4, 2-1) and Central Connecticut State (4-5, 2-1) are tied for second in the Northeast Conference. Colonials senior linebacker Mike Cook, whose 11.4 tackles-per-game average ranks fifth in the FCS, will try to contain Blue Devils junior running back Rob Holloman, who is second in the FCS in all-purpose yards (204.0 ypg). Last week in a win over Bryant, Robert Morris allowed just three points, the lowest total for an opponent since the Colonials shut out Albany in 2010.
• Duquesne at Sacred Heart, noon
Two of the NEC's more promising young offensive stars will square off. Redshirt freshman quarterback Dillon Buechel averages an NEC-high 237.4 yards of offense per game for conference-leader Duquesne (5-3, 3-1), while Sacred Heart sophomore quarterback R.J. Noel is second at 227.5 yards per game. Sacred Heart (8-2, 2-2), which has caused 32 turnovers, might create trouble for the Dukes, who have turned the ball over 19 times.
• Though the times are hard for Thiel (2-6, 2-4), freshman running back Josh Wannamaker gives the Tomcats a reason to believe in a brighter future. In last week's 30-28 win over Bethany, Wannamaker, a Derry Area alum, gained 248 yards and scored twice on 29 carries. His rushing total ranked second among single-game performance in Thiel history. He was the first Tomcat to surpass 200 yards since Dan Hess, a Kiski Area grad, finished with a Presidents' Athletic Conference-record 327 yards in 2007. Wannamaker has 118 rushes for 617 yards this season.
• Bethany sophomore wide receiver Eric Blinn, a Western Beaver alum, surpassed the Bisons' single-season receptions record with two games to spare. Blinn finished with 12 catches for 140 yards in last week's loss to Thiel. He has 74 receptions for the season, which tops the 72 made by Johnathan Foster last year. Blinn might become the team's career leader in receptions by the end of next season, as his 124 already secure him seventh all-time. Matt Cruse, who played from 2006-09, is first with 177 catches. Cruse also is the career leader in receiving yards (2,625), while Blinn ranks sixth with 1,769.
• The release of the Division II Super Region rankings has given Slippery Rock an early idea of where it could be slotted in the playoff bracket. The Rock was fifth in the initial Super Region One rankings, and they moved up to fourth this week because of their 35-17 win over California (Pa.), the PSAC West co-leader until last week's loss. The top six teams in each of the four Super Regions make the national tournament. The top two teams in each region receive byes.
Player to watch: Christian Kuntz
• School: Duquesne
• Position: Linebacker
• Height: 6-foot-2
• Weight: 210 pounds
• Class: Sophomore
• Of note: A second-year starter, Kuntz knows how to shut plays down the in backfield. The Chartiers Valley graduate is tied for fifth in the FCS in tackles for a loss (1.8 per game). He earned Northeast Conference co-Defensive Player of the Week honors for his role in shutting down the FCS rushing leader, St. Francis' Kyle Harbridge, during a 21-10 win last week, as he made six tackles, including three for a loss. Kuntz, who has team-highs in tackles (48) and sacks (5 1⁄2), finished with 38 tackles, including two for a loss, as a freshman.