Raising The Stakes: It's Rivalry Week In The CAA

Rivalry Week stands as one of the pillars of college football’s identity. Other sports have rivalries, sure, but a rivalry shapes the history of the programs involved in a college-football feud. 

Winning on Rivalry Week can salvage a team’s entire season.  

“When your season hasn’t gone on as you hoped, you try to turn to the opportunity to play against your rival for some hardware, bragging rights,” said William & Mary coach Mike London, who will coach in his first Capital Cup on the Tribe’s sideline – but won’t be participating in the rivalry for the first time.

A season-preserving rivalry victory can double as a springboard into the next year, too. UAlbany embarks on the 2019 edition of the Empire Clash against Stony Brook with a berth in the FCS Playoffs in reach.

The Great Danes hosted the Seawolves a season ago under much different circumstances, coming in winless in the Colonial Athletic Association. Ethan Stark’s field goal as time expired elevated UAlbany to a 25-23 win – the first of six in the program’s last eight against CAA competition. 

“It was the defining reason why we were able to recover from last season,” UAlbany coach Greg Gattuso said. “When you can win a big game at the end of the year … it gave us something to build off of into the offseason.”

Indeed, rivalries are about regional bragging rights; about university pride; they are building blocks for the future; and they are reason to give out some pretty sweet trophies. The contests set for Week 13 of the 2019 CAA season speak to the magic of college football’s Rivalry Week. 

The Capital Cup

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Also known as the “South’s Oldest Rivalry,” the series between Richmond and William & Mary isn’t technically the oldest. The first installment of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, Auburn and Georgia, took place years prior in 1892. 

Since first facing off in 1898, however, the Spiders and Tribe have played more games than any other rivals in college football save for the Ivy League series that shaped the game’s early years – Harvard vs. Yale and Princeton vs. Yale – and “The Rivalry,” Lafayette and Lehigh.  

The 130th installment of Richmond-William & Mary, played for the Capital Cup, marks the 15th involving London in some capacity. He was a remember of the Spiders football team from 1979-1982, a stretch in which William & Mary won 3-of-4. The Tribe made it 5-of-6 with wins in 1989 and 1990, London’s first two years as a Richmond assistant coach. 

He joined Jimmye Laycock’s staff in 1991, however, and William & Mary won every meeting with London on staff through 1994, as well as the next three. London enters the 2019 installment with six consecutive wins, coaching the Spiders to victories in 2008 and 2009. 

Although London’s been away for a decade, the Capital Cup’s in a state similar to when he left. Richmond won the 2008 and 2009 editions by six combined points, including an overtime finale preceding the Spiders’ run to the 2008 national championship. 

Richmond comes into 2019 with back-to-back wins by seven and four points. 

Battle For The Brice-Cowell Musket

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One of the most unique and arguably coolest rivalry trophy in college football goes to the winner when Maine and New Hampshire meet. 

The Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket is presumably the only sporting event that awards the winner with a Revolutionary War-inspired trophy. 

For much of the 20th century, the Black Bears and Wildcats played in mid-October, not unlike the Red River Rivalry or Third Saturday in October from the FBS. But in 1999, the Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket typically fell on the traditional Rivalry Week slot of late November. 

The past two installments kicked off the season, which Maine coach Nick Charlton said most of the people involved didn’t like. 

A Week 1 contest means late-summer warmth and sunshine; playing in November comes both with the implications befitting a rivalry – as is the case this year, with Maine needing a win to bolster is playoff case – and the kind of weather that has defined its history. 

“Any time you play up there at the end of the year, you know it’s going to be cold; a couple snowy games, I remember were a lot of fun,” said New Hampshire interim coach Ricky Santos. 

Count longtime New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell among the advocates for playing the Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket in November. 

While Coach Mac will not be on the sidelines for the 109th edition, Santos puts his own unbeaten record on the line. The Wildcats went undefeated in the Battle during his legendary quarterback career, which included a 19-13, overtime win in Santos’ Walter Payton Award-winning 2006 campaign.  

Santos cited the wins of 2013 and 2014 when he was an assistant on McDonnell’s staff as two of his favorite moments – and in 2013, the Wildcats doubled-up with a win in Orono during the FCS Playoffs. 

Although the 2000s have gone mostly New Hampshire’s way, Maine won a 35-7 decision last year to snap an eight-game losing streak. 

Battle Of The Blue

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As a longtime fixture in the Battle of the Blue – the annual rivalry game pitting Delaware against Villanova – surely Wildcats coach Mark Ferrante has some memories of past installments that stand out. 

“Oh gosh, Where would you like me to start?” he chuckled. “There’ve been so many crazy games between us and Delaware over the years. You’ve got to remember, I’ve been here since 1987. With coach [Tubby] Raymond and coach [Andy] Talley, that rivalry has been established long before me becoming a head coach.” 

Two coaching legends shaped the identity of a rivalry with a history that’s mostly recent, but with roots planted deep in the sport’s history. 

The Battle of the Blue dates back even further than the Capital Cup, the programs first playing in 1895. It didn’t become an annual tradition until 1964, however, when it was played up until Villanova’s program went on a hiatus. 

Raymond built a national powerhouse at the Div. II level, and an immediate contender upon Delaware’s move to Div. I-AA. The Fightin’ Blue Hens’ first flirtations with a Div. I championship coincided with a Villanova’s football hiatus. 

Talley was hired to restart the program in 1985, and in his fourth season, the Battle for the Blue returned in much the same way it went out. Two of the final three installments before the brief break were decided by one point; in 1988, Delaware escaped with a 10-7 win. 

The subsequent decades included plenty more thrilling finishes and much success for both sides, with each program winning a national championship in the 31 years of the Battle for the Blue’s second life. 

In the 2010 season, a Villanova overtime win very nearly began a series of events resulting in a Battle for the Blue doubling as the national title. 

“If we’d have handled our business out at Eastern Washington in the semis, it would have been us and Delaware in the championship,” Ferrante said. 

Villanova’s 2010 win marked the end of a five-game winning streak, ended in 2011 when Delaware won at the neutral site of Talen Energy Stadium. That same venue played host to one of the most remarkable finishes in the series history. 

In 2013, Villanova claimed the second in an ongoing, seven-game winning streak by recovering an onside kick that set up a game-winning field goal. 

“Typical Villanova Delaware game,” Talley said in his postgame press conference. Hang on until the end and anything can happen.”

Empire Clash

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Every rivalry has an origin. The Capital Cup, Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket and Battle of the Blue all began in an era predating the forward pass and even the leather helmet, which also happened to be the formative years of those programs. 

As college football’s grown in recent decades, new programs carve out their own unique legacies. Two such examples play on CAA Rivalry Week: UAlbany and Stony Brook. 

“Both programs are building college football – we’re real short-lived at the scholarship level relative to some of the other programs,” said Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore. 

Stony Brook didn’t have varsity football until 1983, originating as a Div. III program. Its growth from there has been rapid, however, beginning a jump to Div. II in 1996 and the move to Div. I just three years after that. 

During those transitive years of the latter 1990s, Stony Brook played its first game against UAlbany. The Great Danes were, themselves, in the middle of a transition from Div. III to Div. II. 

UAlbany began varsity football 10 years before Stony Brook, playing at the non-scholarship Div. III level for more than two decades. During that time, Bob Ford cultivated the program from humble origins with players that included one Chuck Priore. 

Ford’s legendary career accomplishments include the first and still only FCS Playoffs appearance in program history. 

In 2011, UAlbany won the Northeast Conference championship – a league the Great Danes once shared with Stony Brook. The Empire Clash, or Battle for the Apple, began in earnest there, but fell dormant for a few years when Stony Brook moved to the Big South. 

The 2011 season marked a fitting prelude to its return, with the two meeting in the respective first playoff games for both programs. 

With UAlbany joining the CAA in 2013, the seeds were planted to sprout an apple of a rivalry.  

“It’s evolved. Both schools have worked real hard at making it a rivalry not just on the football field, but across other sports,” Priore said.

It may not have roots in the Gilded Age, but the Empire Clash has all the necessary ingredients for a bonafide rivalry: shared history. Close in proximity. Memorable and closely contested games. 

All it needed was a trophy – and in 2015, one of the steps the athletic departments took to solidifying the series was the introduction of the Golden Apple, a trophy that rivals the Brice-Cowell Musket as one of the sport’s more unique pieces of hardware. 

The 2019 installment has the prospects of being one of those classic rivalry games for the ages, with UAlbany likely needing a win to make the Playoffs. Stony Brook, playing at home and honoring its seniors, can play the spoiler. 

“Our kids take it strongly that it’s an important game,” Priore said. “It’s something think I should continue, and will be great at some point.”

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