by Daniel Fappiano
In front of almost 5,000 fans and alumni, the Central Connecticut State University Blue Devils knocked off the Penn Quakers 42-21 to win their 2017 Homecoming game. The win marked the second time in three years that CCSU took home the Homecoming victory.
The Blue Devils win was spearheaded by their efforts in the run game, on both sides of the ball. Central’s offense was able to run the ball at will whereas their defense was able to limit Penn’s rushing attack. Overall, CCSU outgained Penn 294 to 119 on the ground.
For the offense, it was the Cameron Nash show again as the senior rushed 23 times for 119 yards and a touchdown. Nash has now rushed for over 100 yards for three straight games. His 119-yard performance is his second highest of the season and comes one week after Nash ran for 157 yards against Sacred Heart.
The Blue Devils’ star running back has proven to be one of the best in the country, currently sitting first in the Northeast Conference and 13th in the entire FCS with 539 yards rushing.
While Nash continues his breakout season, he remains humble, giving most of the credit to his teammates around him. “Those five guys up front and those guys on the perimeter, we get rolling and guys trusting one another, realizing that we need everyone to make a successful play. That’s what we did today; we trusted one another,” Nash said.
Nash may be the best rusher in the NEC, but CCSU offensive coordinator Ryan McCarthy has found ways to get his other running backs involved. Against Penn, four different players scored on the ground. Outside of Nash, the best performance came from sophomore Drew Jean-Guillaume who rushed 10 times for 76 yards and a score. Jean-Guillaume has scored at least one touchdown the past three games, and was named co-NEC Offensive Payer of the Week following the win over Penn.
Receiver Courtney Rush ran for an eight yard score whereas quarterback Jake Dolegala had an 11 yard scamper of his own to round out the four rushing touchdowns for the Blue Devils.
As a passer, Dolegala had one of his better games of the season. He completed 19 of 24 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown pass went to Jean-Gillaume, which gave the rusher back-to-back two touchdown games.
Dolegala was consistent on his reads and rarely missed his receivers. His 19 completions marked a season high for the junior as Dolegala gone three straight games without an interception.
Central Connecticut’s offense is on the rise as they now sit third in the NEC with 28.7 points per game. Nash and company will look to continue their momentum as they re-enter conference play.
The Blue Devils’ run offense was impressive, but it was their run defense that stole the show against the Quakers.
Going into the matchup, Penn’s run offense was ranked 17th in the Football Championship Subdivision, averaging 233 yards per game. Much of that production came in the form of Karekin Brooks, who had 457 rushing yards, good for 12th in the FCS.
Central Connecticut was able to hold Brooks to just 86 yards on 13 rushes as well as the entire Penn offense to just 119 yards on 25 carries. CCSU was able to swallow up running lanes all game and rarely allowed big gains outside of a 22-yard Brooks run.
While the run defense gets credit for shutting down one of the best rushing attacks in the country, it was the pass defense that made the noise. One week after forcing five turnovers against Sacred Heart, Central’s defense picked off three passes against Penn. Two came against senior Will Fischer-Colbrie with one coming against sophomore Nick Robinson.
The highlight of the bunch was senior Najee Brown’s 79 yard interception return for a touchdown. Brown was able to jump a Fischer-Colbrie pass and run down the sideline for the score. The pick six marks the fourth defensive touchdowns for the Blue Devils this season, giving them the most in all of the FCS.
“It was definitely one of our goals going into the season,” Brown said about the defensive touchdowns. “If we get a fumble, we try to return it, and we work on it every day at practice, to come out here and do it in the game is important.”
CCSU’s defense has forced at least one turnover in every game but one this season. They continue to look improved and have been one of the strengths of the team. If the Blue Devils want to have a shot at the NEC title, the defense must continue to thrive.
With the victory, Central Connecticut is now on their first three game win streak since 2010. Head Coach Pete Rossomando sees the clear difference between this year’s team and CCSU’s teams of the past. “We’re a veteran team, we’ve been around, all these guys have been here. We built the offense around this group of offensive lineman,” Rossomando said. “We’re young but we’re physical, we’re big, they’re smart, they listen, they’re coachable; I know I work with them every single day. Love them, love the way they play the game, love the way they approach the game, they’re never afraid to come out with a challenge.”
More than just the box score, for seniors this was their last Homecoming game. Nash knew how important this game was and how great it is to have had the opportunity to play for Central. “It means a lot, coming from West Virginia to come here, the opportunity that they gave me, I truly believe that that was the best decision of my life, becoming a Blue Devil and just making the most of it.”
Rossomando also saw the importance of getting a Homecoming win, not just for the team but for the school. “Great for our seniors, great for our fans, our alums, we got a lot of alumni here today, a lot of great guys that played in the 70s, the 60s, the 80s, you know it’s great to get them a win, and for Dr. Toro. She had a brutal few weeks with her relatives in Puerto Rico and for her to come home and entertain at a game like this against an Ivy League school, I think it says some great stuff about what we’re doing and what she’s doing and all we can do together.”
The Blue Devils will try to continue their momentum as they re-enter conference play against Wagner, looking to remain atop the NEC standings.