NEW BRITAIN - Central Connecticut State football head coach Pete Rossomando didnâ€™t mince words - itâ€™s championship week for the Blue Devils.
It just wonâ€™t be easy.
CCSU (6-3, 4-0) will be up against its toughest opponent since it started its six-game winning streak in Duquesne (7-2, 4-0) today in a matchup that will determine the Northeast Conference football champion based on head-to-head, as well as earn the winner an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. Both are currently tied atop the NEC standings with two conference games to play.
â€śOne thing is our kids are fairly consistent,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śThey donâ€™t really change. Theyâ€™ve gone out and done the same things they did when we were 0-3.â€ť
But the Blue Devils are 0-4 in their last four meetings against the Dukes and have been outscored 141-70. The last time CCSU managed to come out with a win against Duquesne was in 2012 when it won 38-21.
For a team that has been about earning respect as much as wins, thatâ€™s a powerful incentive.
â€śI think we have to play within ourselves and play our game,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śWe canâ€™t try to do too much and get up on them a little. We have to do what weâ€™ve done well the last six weeks, which is run the football, create turnovers and play good defense.â€ť
And the Blue Devils will need to play good defense.
The Dukes own the highest-scoring offense in the league at 33.1 points per game, with CCSU right behind at 31.2. Yet what has made Duquesne so effective in its games is its ability to get ahead in the first half. The Dukes are outscoring their opponents 213-99 before halftime with 148 of those points coming in the second quarter alone.
Most of that offensive production has been a result of three players, running back A.J. Hines (131 carries, 828 yards, 8 touchdowns), receiver Nehari Crawford (49 catches, 782 yards, 11 touchdowns) and quarterback Tommy Stuart, a transfer from Boise State, making it the third Division I FBS transfer signal caller the Blue Devils will have faced in a row.
In nine games, Stuart has completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,914 yards and 23 touchdowns to just six interceptions, which leads the conference.
â€śTheyâ€™re going to want to run the football,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śWe have to stay in our gaps and not play out of position. But theyâ€™re also going to try to put some pressure on our secondary and make them leave their assignments to help in the run game.â€ť
Offensively, CCSU will be up against a Duquesne defense that ranks third overall in the NEC in terms of yards allowed, as well as being the No. 2 defense in terms of points allowed, giving up 21.8 per game.
â€śTheyâ€™re very simple in their defense, probably as simple as weâ€™ve seen,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śBut they have a lot of really good players that all run to the football. They also have good eyes to see where the ball is going and play their gaps really well.â€ť
Utilizing most a four front, the Dukes will alternate to a three-man look depending on the situation and have the athletes to do so. Linebackers Carter Henderson and Nathan Stone lead the team in tackles and sacks with 66 total tackles and 3Â˝ sacks, respectively. Defensive back Abner Roberts, meanwhile, leads the team in interceptions with four.
â€śWe have to maintain the football,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śWe have to do well on first down. We canâ€™t get into a lot of third-down situations, especially third-and-long. And part of that is finishing drives and not turning the ball over. We were able to find a way to win last week despite our turnovers. We canâ€™t have that this week.â€ť
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach