W&J draws Mount Union

November 17, 2013
W&J’s Dan Graziano celebrates with B.J. Monacelli after Graziano recovered a fumbled ball from Waynesburg in Saturday’s game. The next stop for the Presidents is a playoff game with defending national champion Mount Union Saturday. - Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Washington & Jefferson College’s football team had a difficult path to the NCAA Division III playoffs after a midseason loss to Bethany.

Now, the Presidents might have the hardest path to advance past the first round.

W&J, with an 8-2 record that tied Thomas More for first place in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference, was given the 32nd and final seed in the tournament and fed to defending national champion Mount Union for the first round.

Kickoff is noon Saturday.

While head coach Mike Sirianni is pleased to be in the playoffs, he questioned whether the Presidents deserved a higher seed from the NCAA.

“I guess you can’t lose to Bethany,” Sirianni said. “We’ll go down with the mentality of trying to win that game. Our kids have confidence. I just don’t know about how these seeds go.”

Mount Union has a 10-0 record and is the champion of the Ohio Athletic Conference. The Purple Raiders have won 11 national championships.

W&J played Mount Union in the 2009 playoffs and lost 55-0.

Sirianni wondered about two other two-loss teams that won their respective conferences and received home games.

Ithaca, the Empire 8 champion with an 8-2 record, and Hampden-Sydney, also 8-2 and the champion of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, each received a home game. Ithaca entertains 9-1 Framingham State, making its second appearance in the Division III playoffs; and Hampden-Sydney will host Maryville, which finished 8-2 and was tied for first in the USA South Athletic Conference.

“We’re not the 32nd best team in the playoffs,” Sirianni said. ““Not even close. I’m upset about getting such a low seed. That being said, what can you do about it.”

The Presidents wrapped up their 23rd invitation in the last 30 years with Saturday’s 38-13 victory over arch rival Waynesburg. W&J finished tied with Thomas More for first place in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference but got the bid over the Saints thanks to a 45-21 win Oct. 12.

That victory over Thomas More began a five-game winning streak and dulled a stunning, 24-19 loss to Bethany Oct. 5. The Presidents defeated Thomas More, Westminster, Saint Vincent, Geneva and Waynesburg in that run and will make their second straight appearance in the playoffs.

Last season, W&J overcame the loss of tailback Tim McNerney, who was found dead in Washington Oct. 4, to beat an undefeated Waynesburg team in the regular-season finale to earn the bid. They played a listless game against Johns Hopkins and suffered two injuries at quarterback in a 42-10 loss.

W&J enters this playoff without its starting quarterback Matt Bliss, who was knocked out for the season with a concussion in the first quarter of the Waynesburg game. Freshman Pete Coughlin, a graduate of Upper St. Clair, will get the start Saturday.

Joe Tuscano has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1980. He has covered all sports for the newspaper, including the Steelers, Pirates, Pitt football, local college football and wrestling. He has worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Jeannette News-Dispatch and North Hills Record. He graduated from Duquesne University in 1980.

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