Bloomsburg - again - stands in West Chester's way

Posted: November 29, 2013

SOMETIMES, there's that one opponent that seems to keep getting in the way.

For West Chester, more often than not, it has been Bloomsburg. Whether it has been in the PSAC East or beyond.

In this century, they've played 15 times. Bloomsburg has won 10, including eight of nine at home. Five have been by seven points or fewer.

"I think they're a nemesis for a lot of people," West Chester coach Bill Zwaan said. "We've played them in so many big games. We've certainly beaten them down here a bunch. But up there it's been tougher. Yet almost every single one was right there where we had a chance and didn't pull it off.

"Missed field goals, last-second [plays]. A lot of different things have happened over the years. I think if that was happening at home, too, maybe we'd look at it differently."

The Golden Rams (11-1) will get another chance tomorrow in the second round of the Division II playoffs, when they make that familiar 2 1/2-hour trip to Columbia County. The Huskies (10-1) won at West Chester 3 weeks ago, 31-28, which is the reason they got an opening bye while the Rams had to host American International (a 38-7 win).

The Rams - who are in the tournament for the first time in 5 years and can set a program season record with another win - haven't made it past the second round since their national-semifinal run in 2004. They lost at Bloomsburg in 2006 (21-20) and '08 (28-21). In '06, they'd already lost at Bloomsburg by three. In '08 they'd won up there a month earlier, by three. It's mostly been that kind of series.

"To be honest, I don't think [the history] factors in," Zwaan said. "When we play, they've always been good and we've been good. We're looking at it as we're playing a really good team. At this point they all are. I think I'd rather be playing a team we know. It makes it easier to prepare.

"For this group [of seniors], it's the only team we haven't beaten [West Chester's last win was in 2009]. We've beaten everyone else in the East, and teams in the West. We've had opportunities. The first game, our guys didn't play the way they feel that they can. And [Bloomsburg] took it to us, to a certain extent. They want to make up for that, kind of save face. This is the one they'll remember."

Rowan advances

In Division III, Rowan (9-2) travels to second-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor (11-0) in Belton, Texas. It's a team the Profs have never faced. They advanced with a 24-0 home win over Endicott College, their first playoff win since 2006. That was also the last year they won one on the road.

At their level, the Profs are usually good for one or two seriously long bus rides each season. This time, they'll be getting on a plane. The last time that happened was the 2004 semifinals, when they went to Linfield (McMinnville, Ore.) and lost, 52-0.

"It's obviously different," Profs coach Jay Accorsi said. "The flight is actually shorter than some of our bus trips. But you're dealing with some kids who've never flown before, who maybe have some anxiety. You're making sure they have picture IDs, or if they don't have a license, then birth certificates. So there's issues.

"But the NCAA has made it a better experience. Getting to Linfield was a nightmare. We would've had a better shot if we [played] on the airport runway. I said if we ever did that again, I'd never go. But now you charter right in, the hotel's convenient . . . Now, the biggest thing is choosing the menu. The kids were thinking barbecue. I like that, but I'm thinking spaghetti and chicken. Little carb load and protein. I might sneak off for some brisket."

The Profs, who had to go away from their spread offense after a midseason injury to quarterback Paul Hammersma, have lived off defense and the running game.

"We've had to win close games, games we needed just to get into the playoffs, and our kids know that," Accorsi said. "We want to get to the fourth quarter with a chance. Last year [first-round loss], we were kind of happy to be in. I think the concept now is, let's fight for some bigger and better things."