When Joe Sabol was the Norwich University football coach back in the 1960s, he once described his quarterback Jay Cottone “as having more confidence in his little finger than a whole football team.”
The newest Norwich quarterback, Matt Dunn, possesses that type of confidence.
“He has been in pressure situations. It’s like ‘been there, done that,’” Norwich coach Mark Murnyack said.
And has Dunn ever done it. The Cadets are 4-0 and he has amassed 312.5 yards through the air per game by completing 100 of his 166 throws.
“He wants the ball in his hands. It’s borderline cockiness. It’s a fine line,” Murnyack said.
Dunn and the Cadets will need all of that confidence and savvy Saturday when they go against what might be the best Division III 1-3 team to ever take a football field. The Springfield College Pride’s four opponents have a combined record of 10-1 and the one loss is to a Division I (FCS) program — Western New England’s defeat at the hands of Stetson University.
Dunn comes from a quarterback family. Matt’s father Stephen was an outstanding quarterback at Rockland High in Massachusetts. His uncle Christopher also was a standout at the same school. Christopher’s son Christian is playing QB for Marshfield in Massachusetts as a senior.
In fact, on the eve of the game in which Matt and Norwich defeated St. Lawrence this year, Christian led Marshfield to an incredible comeback victory over Dennis-Yarmouth after Marshfield had trailed by 35 points.
A small-world item: Castleton University quarterback Jacob McCarthy, Matt Dunn’s adversary last week, led Dennis-Yarmouth to the Massachusetts Division V Super Bowl victory in 2017.
“The roles are reversed. If you had told people in the preseason that these two teams would be 4-0 and 1-3, they would probably have thought it would be the other way around,” Murnyack said of the Springfield game.
Murnyack knows that this is a classic case of records lying: The Pride is no ordinary 1-3 team.
Springfield has made its living overland in recent years with one of the top rushing teams in the nation. It has boasted a bevy of hard-charging backs behind a big, talented line.
This year, the Pride has been passing more and running less.
Again, Murnyack says, the numbers belie what Springfield wants to be. The Norwich coach expects a steady diet of the running game from Springfield, as was the case in past years.
Murnyack believes Springfield’s attack has been tilted toward the pass only out of necessity; that they have gotten down early and have been forced into throwing the ball.
He thinks the Pride will try to move the chains and eat up the clock by running in an effort to keep Norwich’s big-play offense off the field.
The centerpiece of the Cadets’ big-play attack is Manni Romero, a dynamic receiver who can make difficult catches and finish the play with big yardage after the reception.
Romero has 24 catches and Trevor Chase has 27 of them, but Dunn has a deep stable of receivers and will spread the ball around just as he did last week in the victory over Castleton.
It is a league game. Norwich is 1-0 in the NEWMAC and Springfield 0-1.
The Cadets are ranked No. 8 in the New England Division III Football Poll, but they are not the highest ranked Vermont team in that poll. Middlebury College, 3-0, is ranked No. 5.
The Panthers are at 3-0 Amherst on Saturday where kickoff is set for 2 p.m., two hours after the Cadets kick off in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The New England Division III Football Poll: 1. WPI 4-0; 2. Western Connecticut 4-0; 3. Endicott 3-1; 4. UMass Dartmouth 4-0; 5. Middlebury 3-0; 6. Western New England 3-1; 7. Amherst 3-0; 8. Norwich 4-0; 9. Wesleyan 3-0; 10. Massachusetts Maritime 3-0.
The battle of unbeaten NESCAC teams in Amherst could come down to the kicking game and if it does, Middlebury has a weapon.
Carter Massengill made all three of his field goal attempts — the longest of 33 yards — in last week’s 32-27 win over Trinity. He has a big leg — three of his six kickoffs were touchbacks.
D3football.com ranked the 27 NCAA Division III conferences this week. The NESCAC, of which Middlebury is a member, is not included because the league does not allow its football teams to schedule games outside of the conference, leaving no basis for comparison.
The ECFC, which includes Castleton, is ranked No. 27 — dead last. The ECFC’s record this season against teams from other conferences is 2-23.
The NEWMAC, helped by Norwich’s 4-0 mark, is ranked No. 18. NEWMAC teams are 12-10 outside the league.
QUICK KICKS: The University of New Hampshire hosts 2-3 Elon on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. It is UNH’s homecoming game and the 2-2 Wildcats are gunning for their third straight win. ... Dartmouth took a 2-0 record into Friday night’s game at Penn. ... This is Castleton’s bye week. The 0-4 Spartans are back in action on Oct. 12 when they host 0-3 Gallaudet in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference opener. Gallaudet also has a bye this week.