For area teams other than Howard and Maryland, it was a very long weekend
By John Feinstein,
Saturday was a good day for two local college football teams: Howard and Maryland.
The Bison upped their record to 3-1 with a 56-9 win over Savannah State, a team that has been outscored, 240-42, in four games this season.
Maryland had the good fortune to have the week off.
Virginia, Virginia Tech, Navy and Georgetown weren’t nearly as lucky.
Each suffered what can only be described as an embarrassing loss — all on home fields, as the stadium formerly named for Jack Kent Cooke has been a home-away-from-home for the Hokies in recent years. Only the Hoyas had an excuse: They had to play their third-string quarterback — albeit one who had led a game-winning drive on the road a week ago.
For everyone else it was a completely lost weekend.
Virginia Tech, after struggling all day, finally seemed to gain control of its game against Cincinnati when it took a 24-20 lead with under two minutes to play. But the Hokies somehow allowed Cincinnati wide receiver Damon Julien to get behind their entire defense to haul in a 39-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left. That botched defensive play snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in front of a crowd that — at best — half-filled the cavernous stadium by the beltway. At least the postgame traffic wasn’t nearly as bad as it is after Redskins games.
Then there was Virginia, which began the year with high hopes after a surprising 8-5 season a year ago under then second-year Coach Mike London. The Cavaliers started 2-0 with wins against Richmond and Penn State.
Now the Cavaliers are 2-3, the latest loss to Louisiana Tech at Scott Stadium. Virginia led 24-10 before allowing the Bulldogs to score 34 straight points.
They finally rallied in the fourth quarter but it was too little, too late, against a team from the Western Athletic Conference — a conference so vaunted it won’t be playing football after this season.
As for Navy, the Midshipmen are 1-3 and their only victory is against Virginia Military Institute — which doesn’t fare very well playing in the Football Championship Subdivision, much less against Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Midshipmen have been outscored 96-17 in their three losses after a 12-0 whitewash to San Jose State in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
This from a team that, two years ago, humiliated Notre Dame in the Meadowlands en route to an eighth straight bowl appearance.
Now the Mids have a quarterback who can’t seem to hold on to the football either on land or by air (perhaps he’d do better on the high seas), having turned it over nine times. The Mids, who have often picked up more than 200 yards of offense in a single quarter, had 144 yards for the game and were shut out for the first time in six years.
Georgetown managed to score against Brown, but not nearly enough, going down, 37-10, in its homecoming game. Quarterback Isaiah Kempf, still recovering from a concussion, spent the afternoon on the sidelines with a headset on. The Hoyas, who had a superb turnaround season a year ago, going 8-3 and finishing second in the Patriot League, need Kempf with his helmet back on if they are going to compete for the league title again. They begin conference play Saturday at Fordham, which almost upset defending league champion Lehigh on the road this past Saturday.
As for the area’s FBS teams, their immediate futures appear murky at best.
The best news for Virginia should be its schedule the next three weeks: at Duke, Maryland at home and at Wake Forest. Duke is improved — it beat Wake for the first time this century on Saturday — but it is still Duke. Maryland has two wins over bad teams; a loss to a mediocre team and a loss to a very good team. Wake Forest? Well, it lost to Duke at home. Enough said. The Cavaliers could easily win all three games.
Maryland’s next five games are all winnable: reeling Wake Forest at home this coming weekend; the trip to Virginia; a mediocre North Carolina State team at home; an equally mediocre Boston College team on the road; and then Georgia Tech at home. The Yellow Jackets are 2-3 after a humiliating 49-28 loss to Middle Tennessee State.
Virginia Tech’s schedule is about as daunting as an ACC schedule can be — how daunting, after all, can an ACC schedule be? The Hokies play at North Carolina, get a breather at home against Duke and then go back on the road to Clemson and Miami before returning to Lane Stadium to play Florida State. That’s a Thursday night game that looked like a key to Virginia Tech’s season in August. It won’t be quite so key if the Hokies are 4-4 when they take the field that night.
Navy actually has the best chance to salvage its season for two reasons: a win over Air Force on the road this week would put the Mids on course to take back the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which Air Force has won the last two seasons. As bad as Navy has looked, Air Force hasn’t looked very good, either. Army is 0-4, including an awful 23-3 loss to Stony Brook on Saturday. Navy’s schedule after the Air Force game is lighter than air, so a victory in Colorado Springs could (no pun intended) right the ship.
As of this moment it appears that the local team with the best chance for a special season is Howard. Coach Gary “Flea” Harrell has turned the Bison in the right direction since returning to his alma mater last season. Six of Howard’s last seven games are against conference opponents and the Bison are 2-0 in conference play. The last time Howard won the MEAC title was 1993, when Jay Walker was the quarterback and a diminutive wide receiver who was nicknamed “Flea,” was his No. 1 receiver.
A conference title is a long way from happening at Howard. Then again, at least for the moment, it is a good deal closer than at any of the other area schools. Especially after this past weekend.