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Muhlenberg College

Thursday, November 4, 2010

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Football to battle for first place

Mark Accomando
Mark Accomando ranks third on the team with 46 tackles and four tackles for loss.
With the calendar flipped to November, the race for the Centennial Conference football crown has finally started to clear up.

As the temperature drops and the weather turns, it’s fitting that the two teams with the top defenses in the conference will meet this weekend to break their tie for the top spot.

Fresh of its first loss of the season, CC co-leader Ursinus (7-1, 6-1) makes its second straight trip to the Lehigh Valley with first place on the line against Muhlenberg at 1 p.m. Saturday at Scotty Wood Stadium.

And with two teams that both rank in the top two in the conference in six different defensive categories, yards and points should be at a premium.

“It’s a huge game,” senior offensive lineman Mark Bigelli said. “It’s going to be very physical. We’re going to have to have a good week of practice and come out ready to play because they’re not going to let up on us with the conference championship on the line.”

Ursinus boasts the top scoring, rushing, third-down and total defense in the conference. The Mules, meanwhile, counter with the conference’s leading tackler, linebacker Patrick McDonough (83 tackles), and the top pass efficiency defense.

But the two teams don’t just control games defensively. Both Ursinus and Muhlenberg (6-2, 6-1) rank in the top 25 nationally in time of possession.
Bobby Bushong
Bobby Bushong is one of 19 Mule seniors who will be honored on Saturday.

The Mules feature a balanced attack with a 52/48 split between rushing and passing yardage. Running back Terrence Dandridge has increased his workload as the season has progressed and is the only running back in the CC averaging more than 100 yards per game. He is 112 yards shy of becoming only the second sophomore to post a 1,000-yard season in Muhlenberg history.

Ursinus, transversely, is led by the passing of quarterback Justin Decristofaro. The second-leading left-handed passer in CC history, the senior has thrown for almost 1,800 yards (223.9 per game) and 17 touchdowns, with only eight interceptions, this season.

Both the Mules (plus-7) and Bears (plus-6) sport impressive turnover margins, meaning it will be important for the offenses to hold onto the ball. And with two opportunistic defenses, and a pair of dynamic returners (Muhlenberg’s Chase Nadell and Ursinus’ Mike Rissmiller) on the field, one key mistake could mean the game.

The Mules would clinch a share of their record-tying ninth conference title simply with a win. Muhlenberg could also clinch the automatic NCAA playoff berth with a victory on Saturday and a Johns Hopkins win at Franklin & Marshall. Ursinus, on the other hand, could secure a share of the CC crown and the playoff berth with a win in Allentown.

On paper, this game appears to have the potential to be a tenacious clash between a pair of physical defenses. Add in the conference title implications, and according to Dandridge, it becomes the kind of game players dream of suiting up for.

“We’re so excited for this game,” he said. “We know what we have in front of us and what we can accomplish. We are so ready for Saturday.”

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