The Ithaca College Bombers polished off a great year in 2013. The Bombers went 9-3, 6-1 in the Empire 8 Conference and won its first NCAA tournament game since 2003 when they defeated Framingham State 20-17 last November. The win also snapped the school’s four-game losing streak in the NCAA tournament.
With that being said, the Bombers have high expectations this season in a loaded Empire 8. Ithaca is currently ranked 13th by BR, with Brockport State, Buffalo State, Alfred, Salisbury, and St. John Fisher all dotting the top 12.
The Bombers got off to a dramatic start to the 2014 season by defeating Union 21-16 with a red zone stand in the game’s final minutes. The Dutchmen converted four consecutive first downs to set up a first-and-goal from the 10 yard line. Three incomplete passes later and a deflection by Ithaca safety Noah Poskanzer sealed the opening victory.
Ithaca, which was picked to finish third in the Empire 8 coaches poll, is led by senior defensive back Sam Carney. Carney finished the year seventh in the country in punt returns (15.7 yards/return) and 11th in kickoff returns (30.1 yards/return).
Following Carney, the Bombers have three returning all-conference honorees in offensive guard Andrew Benvenuto, kicker Garrett Nicholson, and defensive tackle Joe Ricotta.
The signal caller is Senior Quarterback Tom Dempsey, who started 10 games last season for the Bombers completing 150 of his 245 attempts for 1686 yards to 14 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Dempsey will likely rely on a number of underclassman to contribute in order to win games. Freshman Running back Tristan Brown as well as Sophomore Running back Schawal Abdur-Rahmen and Sophomore Wide Receiver Andrew Tabbert were all active in the win over Union. Brown ran for 76 yards on 12 carries while Rahmen carried a game high 15. Tabbert got his 1st career touchdown and finished with four receptions for 41 yards.
While Dempsey and the rest of his teammates can rest easy with a week off after an opening game scare, the team will open up the Empire 8 conference season with a visit from BR-34 Hartwick at Butterfield Stadium.
The Bombers cannot overlook Hartwick, but if they can manage to secure a victory, the team will have a big match up with 5th ranked Alfred in New York the following week. The Saxons fell to Ithaca 17-6 last season at Butterfield Stadium.
If Ithaca were to go back-to-back as Empire 8 champions, they will earn every bit of it as the conference is ranked 1st overall by HeroSports. If past history means anything, Ithaca might be in good shape. A team has either won or co-shared the league two years running since 2009. Salisbury won the conference in 2011 and 2012, followed previous by Alfred in 2010 and 2009.
It might be a tall order, but if the Bombers can string together another successful season, central New York could find themselves back in the NCAA Tournament and hungry for more damage.