There was little despair or anger among Catholic University's players and staff today after the Cardinals lost, 20-16, to Western Maryland in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. The prevailing feeling was more like resignation--players and coaches took in their third first-round playoff loss in three years.
The Cardinals took a 16-3 lead into halftime, only to lose the lead in the third quarter. The explosive offense that powered Catholic to a 9-1 regular season record and the Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship wasn't able to pull through against one of the better defenses in Division III. It's the same problem the Cardinals encountered in 1997 and 1998, when they went 10-0 in the regular season only to be overpowered by a playoff opponent.
"It's frustrating, it's disappointing," said Catholic Coach Tom Clark, who is 50-10-1 in six years at the school. "But we are a group of people, as staff and as players, where we can see the big picture. . . . Life goes on."
This time the Cardinals weren't blown out, as they were last year by Lycoming, 49-14, or beaten soundly as they were two years ago by Trinity (Tex.), 44-33. But the result was the same: Catholic did not advance to the tournament quarterfinals. Western Maryland (11-0) moves on to meet Trinity next week.
Things looked good for Catholic in the first half, when it moved the ball and converted on several third-and-long situations. Western Maryland took a 3-0 lead early, but Catholic responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended on an 18-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Derek McGee to senior wide receiver Mike Hunter (Gonzaga).
The Cardinals extended their lead to 13-3 on their next drive after senior Andrew Notarfrancesco made a one-handed catch and then ran eight yards into the end zone. The extra point by place kicker Greg Stokes failed, but he added a 27-yard field goal at the end of the half.
Western Maryland cut the lead to 16-10 early in the third quarter on a six-yard touchdown pass from senior Ron Sermarini to sophomore Teron Powell. On the Green Terror's next drive, Sermarini ran 48 yards for a touchdown to put his team ahead. Brent Sandrock added a 38-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Notarfrancesco rushed for 156 yards to lead Catholic. The Cardinals, who averaged 277.1 passing yards a game during the season, managed only 153 today. Western Maryland entered the game with the ninth-ranked defense in Division III.
"They made some great adjustments at halftime," said Hunter, who had 10 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown. "They double-teamed me a lot in the second half, which took me away from the game."
* GEORGETOWN 52, LA SALLE 7: Senior Rob Belli broke school records for single-season rushing touchdowns and points, helping the Hoyas (9-2) close out the regular season with a victory over the Explorers before 2,189 at Kehoe Field. Belli's 17 rushing touchdowns surpassed the record of John Burke, who set the mark at 14 in 1974. With 108 points, Belli also eclipsed the single-season scoring mark, also set by Burke, who scored 90 points in 1974.