Syracuse University tight end David Stevens (Short Hills, Sr.) has a chance to end his career on a high note in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx on Saturday, when the Orangemen take on West Virginia at 3:15 p.m.
The Mountaineers are a 4-point favorite in a game that matches Big East refugees with identical 7-5 records.
Stevens, a Millburn High graduate, starts as part of an offense that lines up two men at tight end. He missed the Orangemen’s first game of the season against Northwestern due to an injury, but has been in the lineup since then, catching 10 passes for 107 yards, with a long gain of 21 yards.
Stevens played both ways at Millburn under Carmen Guarino and earned first team All-County and All-Conference accolades, as well as a spot in the Governor’s Bowl New Jersey vs. New York All-Star Classic.
Syracuse originally envisioned Stevens as a linebacker, but he moved to offense during the 2009 season, after redshirting during the 2008 campaign. He got his first taste of game action during the 2010 season, primarily on special teams.
Last season, as a redshirt junior, Stevens became more of a cog in the Syracuse offense, catching 19 passes for 167 yards and scoring his lone collegiate touchdown, which came against West Virginia.
Syracuse got off to a shaky start this season, falling to 2-4 after a 23-15 loss to Rutgers on Oct. 13 in Piscataway. Each of those losses came to a bowl-bound squad, sandwiched around a 14-13 win over a Pitt team, also now prepping for a bowl game, which would later take top-ranked Notre Dame to overtime before losing.
The Orangemen won five of their last six games, scoring no fewer than 30 points in the victories. The loss came, again, to a bowl-bound team in Cincinnati, 35-24.
The Pinstripe Bowl participants didn’t meet this year, as West Virginia began its new affiliation in the Big 12 Conference. Syracuse did, however, win their two previous showdowns, 49-23, in 2011 and, 19-14, in 2010. That latter victory snapped a string of eight straight West Virginia victories stretching back to 2002. They faced no common opponents this season.
The Mountaineers got off to a quick start this season, streaking to a 5-0 record after a 48-45 victory over Texas in Austin. That began to turn to ash, however, as they went on a five-game losing streak, including two losses by one point each, one of which went into overtime. West Virginia then got back on track with two victories to end the season.
West Virginia features a high-powered offense led by quarterback Geno Smith. The Mountaineers have twice exceeded the 60-point threshold this season, and came close in a 59-10 victory over Kansas to end the regular season.
The Mountaineers defense, though, is often porous. They’ve allowed 30 or more points in seven of their 12 outings, including a 63-point deluge that they were able to stave off in a 70-63 win over Baylor on Sept. 29.
Stevens is looking forward to a contest that will keep the guys who move the chains busy.
"It's going to be a new game," said Stevens. "It's going to be high scoring. It's going to be high powered. They have a great team. It's not going to be the same game as the previous games."
Stevens, a son of Charles and Jennifer Stevens, has already earned a dual undergraduate degree in forensic science and sociology, and is now pursuing a master’s degree in forensics.
The Pinstripe Bowl will be telecast on ESPN. Tickets are still available at the Yankee Stadium box office.
A trio of offensive linemen with local histories is also busy preparing for bowl games, although they are unlikely to see game action. Matt Tansey (Berkeley Heights, Sr.) is on the roster of Notre Dame, which will try to capture the national championship when they take on Alabama in Miami on Jan. 7. Tansey, who was a standout at Gov. Livingston High, is mired deep on the Fighting Irish depth chart and has not taken the field yet this season.
Paul Thompson (Madison, Soph.) dons no. 73 for Mississippi State, which has a date with Northwestern on New Year’s Day in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. Hugh Ahern (Maplewood, Soph.) will also be on the sidelines for Rutgers, which will face Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. on Friday. Neither Thompson nor Ahern has played a down yet this season.
Ken Rubenstein (South Orange, Sr.) came alive in the final minute of last Wednesday's 66-62 road victory by Montclair State over Immaculata. The 6-1 guard pulled off a crucial steal with just under two minutes left in the game, which led to a Montclair basket that put them on top for good in this seesaw battle. On the Red Hawks' next possession, Rubenstein got two points on a layup on which he was fouled, leading to a 3-point play upon his converting the free throw. He salted the victory for Montclair (4-6) in the waning seconds of the game, when he sank two more freebies. He finished with 11 points on 3-for-6 shooting from the floor and 5-for-5 at the foul line.
Yvon Raymond (Maplewood, Sr.) was responsible for just over a third of St. Peter's offensive output in Saturday's 54-49 loss to Loyola of Chicago in Jersey City. He poured in 17 points, connecting on seven of 12 field goal attempts and three of seven free throws. His stat line also featured seven rebounds, four steals and three assists. The Peacocks (5-6) preceded that with an 80-67 win at home on Wednesday over LIU. Raymond contributed 14 points, on 5-for-11 shooting from the floor and 4-for-6 from the stripe. He also got credit for five rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
Army treated itself to a pre-Christmas present in the form of Division 3 Rosemont, which went down lamblike, 90-48, to the Black Knights in West Point, N.Y. on Saturday. That presented Kevin Ferguson (Berkeley Heights, Fr.) an opportunity for meaningful minutes. The 6-10 center out of Gov. Livingston High spent 12 minutes on the floor, where he chipped in three points, four rebounds and two blocks. Army is now 6-5.
Khalil Brown (South Orange, Soph.) got his first start for Monmouth in Saturday's 83-56 loss at home to Villanova. The 6-9 forward played 30 minutes and displayed a good shot selection, hitting three of six field goal attempts for six points. Two rebounds fell into his clutches as the Hawks dropped to 5-7.
Andy Charles (West Orange, Jr.) worked out his fifth double-double of the season in Centenary's 68-62 loss to Rutgers-Camden on Saturday in Camden. The Montclair High grad netted 11 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the floor and 1-for-2 from the foul line. He also brought down 12 caroms and pulled off two steals. The Cyclones are spinning to a 4-6 record.
Kevin Udo (West Orange, Jr.) pulled down a team-high 12 rebounds as Bloomfield defeated Caldwell, 89-81, last Wednesday in a road game. He also scored four points, knocking down two of five field goal attempts. The Deacons hit the holiday with a 6-5 mark.
Columbia was edged, 70-69, by Elon at home on Saturday. Starting forward Alex Rosenberg (Short Hills, Soph.) scored eight points for the Lions (5-7), making three of nine attempts from the floor, as well as both his free throws.
Jeramie Barletta (Madison, Sr.) came off the bench to pump 14 points through the net as Drew routed Manhattanville, 80-50, in Madison last Thursday. She nailed six of nine field goal attempts, including two of five from the doorstep of Shanghai Jazz. She also managed a team-high three steals. Drew broke for Christmas with a 3-7 record.
Alyssa Polimeni (Berkeley Heights, Fr.) prospered at the foul line as Ursinus defeated Immaculata, 66-52, last Wednesday on the road. She finished the game with 10 points, seven of which came unmolested from 11 such attempts. She also sank one of two heaves to complete her scoring. She also had four rebounds and three assists as the Bears improved to 6-4.