BR-27 Bloomsburg Huskies (0-1)
BR-44 California (Pa.) Vulcans (1-0)
HERO Sports D2 Football Game of the Week
Saturday, 1:00 p.m. Eastern
Adamson Stadium, California, Pa.
BLOOMSBURG LIVE AUDIO (WHLM-AM, Bloomsburg, Pa.)
SERIES HISTORY: Bloomsburg leads 14-8-2
LAST MEETING: Sept. 13, 2014; Bloomsburg 24, California 21 (OT)
When the 2015 schedule came out a few years ago (the PSAC plans out their conference schedule several years in advance), anyone who followed D2 football could sense that this Saturday’s showdown between two of the PSAC’s top teams would be significant for both sides.
Bloomsburg’s loss last week to Stonehill changed the storyline from a battle of 1-0 teams to a game where the Huskies’ season could very well be on the line, as they look to avoid their first 0-2 start in 15 years. The Huskies allowed three sacks in last week’s loss after surrendering just six all of last season.
Meanwhile, California comes off a big road win over the defending CIAA champions Virginia State. On a day where senior quarterback James Harris threw for nearly 400 yards, earning him both PSAC West Offensive Player of the Week and a spot in our HERO Sports #HighFives, Cal’s defense shut the Trojans down en route to the Vulcans’ fourth straight season opening win.
Can the Huskies recover from one of the toughest losses in the past several years? Or can the Vulcans avenge last season’s 24-21 overtime loss in Bloomsburg from last season?
We may not know the answer until 4:00 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, but we do know that Bloomsburg vs. California (Pa.) is our HERO Sports Game of the Week.
Head Coach: Paul Darragh (3rd season, 21-5)
Last Game: BR-97 Stonehill 27, Bloomsburg 10
Bloomsburg’s last 0-2 start to a season came in 2000, the same year they appeared in the national championship game. Last Saturday’s loss to Stonehill marked the first time since 2011 that the Huskies lost back-to-back games (Bloomsburg’s 2014 season ended in the Super Region 1 title game against Concord).
“We’ve played [Stonehill] the last four years and it’s never been an easy game for us,” Darragh said. “To Stonehill’s credit, they played a good game and we did not.”
The Huskies were held to 86 rushing yards against Stonehill, marking just the fifth time since 2007 that one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the PSAC was held under 100 yards. With Dai’Shon Munger gone after leaving the team for undisclosed reasons, the burden of the rushing attack falls on junior Lawrence Elliott, Jr., who led Bloomsburg with 28 rushing yards last week.
“We feel pretty good at the tailback position,” Darragh said. “We do like the depth we have.”
In addition to Elliott, junior Joe Parsnik and freshman Alex Gooden are expected to be in the tailback rotation for the Huskies.
“He’s really come on the scene and has helped us,” Darragh said of Gooden. “You need to play a few guys in order to stay healthy and keep guys fresh.”
The struggles of the running game put more pressure on quarterback Tim Kelly, who went 18-of-35 for 178 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown against Stonehill. The 35 pass attempts were the third most in Kelly’s career and the fifth time the senior signal caller has thrown at least 30 times in a game; the Huskies lost all five, including three in the postseason.
Yet, despite not putting up insane offensive numbers like other quarterbacks in the PSAC East, Kelly’s 30-7 record in his three years as a starter are the numbers that matter to Darragh.
“He’s a very well rounded quarterback,” Darragh said. “His leadership, his athletic ability and his ability to put us in the right play are invaluable.”
Defensively, the Huskies allowed 328 yards of total offense (153 rushing, 175 passing), slightly above last season’s 294.2 yards per game allowed.
“Ultimately, when we’re struggling on either side of the ball, we’ve got to be able to find a way to win the game,” Darragh said. “That’s been the standard for us.”
It will all start in the trenches, with a defensive line anchored by senior tackle Jeremiah Lowery.
“We’re going to continue to do what we do on the defensive line,” Darragh said. “We’re going to try and play a lot of guys. We lost three or four defensive linemen from last season, but the guys that are playing, including Jeremiah, have played, they just haven’t played as much. Now, they’re going to be expected to.”
The Huskies know that a loss at the start of the season won’t derail any national championship dreams (just ask The Ohio State University). But, one thing the Huskies have been through the years under Darragh and his predecessor Danny Hale is resilient.
“We’ve been good, but ultimately, we have to able to handle not having success on the field at times and not playing our best,” Darragh said. “I don’t know if you can find a more challenging followup game than [Cal], but that’s what this team has to stand up to.”
Head Coach: Mike Kellar (4th season, 24-9; 6th season overall, 38-17)
Last Game: California 35, BR-61 Virginia State 16
The Vulcans are coming off a dominating performance last Saturday at Virginia State, scoring on their very first play scrimmage on a James Harris to Kowan Scott 50 yard bomb and never looked back, defeating the Trojans 35-16 last Saturday.
“To go down there and do as well as we did is very promising and hopefully it’s a look of things to come,” Kellar said.
Scott’s game-opening touchdown pass was one of five plays of 30 or more yards for the Vulcans offense, four of which went for touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Vulcans broke in a pair of sophomore tailbacks who saw their first significant collegiate action. John Franklin III (12 carries, 53 yards, 1 TD) and Nate Goldsmith (12 carries, 45 yards) will be called upon to fill the hole left by a season-ending injury to Nick Grissom.
“They’re not guys who were projected to have as a significant role as they have right now,” Kellar said. “With Nick out, you had to find that the second guy.
Kellar liked what he saw out of Goldsmith in his first game as a Vulcan after transferring from Erie (N.Y.) Community College.
“I was impressed with his running style,” Kellar said. “He ran hard, he’s gritty and he stepped up on Kowan’s touchdown where he made a nice blitz pickup.”
Defensively, the Vulcans started two new faces at linebacker in their 4-2-5 scheme, sophomores Luke Hrapchak and Devonte Suber, with sophomore Corey Bopp and redshirt freshman Brendan Blair also seeing significant time. Hrapchak recorded two of Cal’s 12 tackles for loss against Virginia State.
“For those kids to do as nice a job as they did was good to see,” Kellar said.
The Vulcans recorded five sacks on Virginia State quarterback Tarian Ayres last week.
“I know we were putting pressure him all day,” Kellar said. “He’s so elusive, he’s able to break plays and make some plays with his feet. So to sack him that many times, it’s good that we could catch him.”
While the Vulcans still remember the painful overtime loss last season at Bloomsburg, which saw an interception on the first play of overtime lead to the game winning field goal, Kellar’s troops aren’t dwelling on the past.
“I hope they’re looking at like, ‘Okay, this is what we have to do to win the game’” rather than avenging a loss, Kellar said. “That’s not how you try and win this week.”