Defense? Wagner’s got it

Defense? Wagners got it

There might not be a hotter team in the Football Championship Subdivision right now than the Wagner Seahawks.

Wagner, winners of nine straight games en route to their first Northeast Conference championship, will take on EWU at Roos Field on Dec. 1 in the second round of the FCS playoffs. The game is scheduled to kick off at 3:05 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN3. Wagner hails from New York City, and is 9-3 overall while achieving a 7-1 conference record.

Allowing an average of just 16.3 points per game, Wagner’s defense ranks sixth in the FCS in scoring. In six of their 11 regular season games they allowed 13 points or less, including two shutouts. EWU’s defense, in contrast, allowed 13 points or less only once, when they held the Idaho Vandals to just three points in the season opener on Aug. 13.

The Seahawks’ vaunted defense is led by Mike Lombardo, a senior linebacker who totaled 11 tackles in Wagner’s 31-20 first-round victory over Colgate on Nov. 24. Lombardo is second on the Seahawks with 82 tackles and ranks first on the team in sacks and tackles for loss with 6.5 and 13, respectively.

Colgate, riding a seven-game winning streak, came into the game as the third-highest scoring offense in the FCS, averaging over 41 points per game, but was held to less than half of that in their defeat. They had scored at least 35 points in every game during the seven-game streak.

The matchup on Dec. 1 of the Eagles’ high-flying offense versus the Seahawks’ stout defense will be an example of the proverbial battle between an unstoppable force and an immovable object. During the Eagles’ current three-game winning streak, coach Beau Baldwin’s crew is averaging over 35 points per game and gaining more than 455 yards per game.

Whereas the Eagles have succeeded by utilizing skill players at wide receiver and attempting over 36 passes per game, the Seahawks rely on a ball-security offense working in tandem with their stalwart defense. Wagner is first in the FCS in turnovers lost with just six—two interceptions and four fumbles lost. Their quarterback, Nick Doscher, was top in the Northeast Conference in pass efficiency, thanks in large part to his 10-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio during the regular season.

As a team, the Seahawks attempted 243 passes and 511 rushes in the 12 games they have played this season. The Eagles, in comparison, have attempted 403 passes between quarterbacks Kyle Padron and Vernon Adams, and only rushed the ball 382 times.

Wagner’s ground attack is led by junior running back Dominique Williams. In 12 games this season for the Seahawks, Williams has rushed for 1,268 yards on 247 attempts—a 5.1 average—to go along with 12 rushing touchdowns. He is also a key contributor in the passing game, ranking third on the team with 23 receptions for 253 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Despite a less than stellar rushing attack, EWU’s offense has been carried yet again by its quarterbacks. Padron and Adams combined to throw for 3,292 yards and 24 touchdowns on the season while only tossing 10 interceptions. Padron averaged 211.1 passing yards per game and completed 57.8 percent of his passes while Adams averaged 158.6 yards per game and achieved a more respectable completion figure of 62.4 percent. Adams also provided spark to an otherwise underwhelming rushing attack, ranking third on the team with 308 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown.