May 4, 2012

Dowling-Limestone: A Rivalry Reborn

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

The match-up between Dowling faceoff man Louis Riley (above) and Limestone's Jake Ternosky -- the Conference Carolinas Player of the Year -- will be one of the many 'games within the game' on display when the Lions and Saints square off in the North-South Sportsmanship Cup on Sunday on Long Island. "I'm probably looking forward to that the most," said Dowling head coach Tim Boyle of the FOGO clash.

You knew that Dowling needed to win Sunday's game against Limestone in order to end any possible debate over where the NCAA Division II Wild Card would be headed. You might have known that the Saints want this game in order to make sure they are ready for the NCAA tournament, as opposed to last year when they were railroaded by Adelphi in the semifinals at home.

What you may not have known about Sunday's matinee on Long Island is the Limestone-Dowling tilt is also a rivalry game.

Huh?

That's right. The winner of Sunday's contest will receive the North-South Sportsmanship Cup, a trophy game started in 1996 when then-coaches Mike Cerino (Limestone) and Tony Caiazza (Dowling) decided to spark up an inter-regional clash.

"It's been sitting up here in the trophy case, and it's sitting on my desk right now," said Tim Boyle, Dowling's current head coach, talking about the cup. "We've shined it up and now we have a home-and-home with Limestone this year and next, so hopefully we can keep this tradition intact. We'd like to see it gain some momentum."

While the trophy lends some gravitas to this rivalry, it has been an on-again, off-again affair for the past 16 years. The cup is residing in Oakdale, N.Y., because the Lions won the last match-up, which occurred back in 2006 with 13-7 triumph. There was a three-year stint from 2004-06 where the two teams met, which was preceded by a three-year dry spell from 2001-03. The initial run lasted from 1996-00.

The reason why the rivalry is back is mostly due to the two coaches making it work. Because the previous eight meetings were in South Carolina, often Myrtle Beach, Boyle wanted to add a little geographic diversity.

"I was adamant about having this game in New York," Boyle said. "I just felt that before we went back down there to play, it was important for this game to be played up here and J.B. agreed, and that was great. That wasn't thought of that in the past."

As much as J.B Clarke, the Limestone head coach, might have been lured to Long Island in a quest for the Sportsmanship Cup, finding a high-end game to sharpen his troops before the tourney was the primary aim.

"With Le Moyne and Mercyhurst deciding not to play us, I put out the feelers and Dowling jumped on it immediately," Clarke said. "We're lucky the date worked out because it's difficult for us to find a game this late in the year. We're trying to play as good a schedule as we possibly can, and Dowling certainly fits the bill."

Facing the Lions at the end of the season has worked out perfectly for Clarke and the Saints. They were not only tested thre times in potential South region elimination games, but now they face one of the top teams in the country with a lot to gain and very little at stake.

"We lose to Pfeiffer in one of those games or lose to Catawba, and we're on the outside looking in," Clarke said. "Having to play in those stressful situations hardens you and prepares you to play at that level. Dowling plays those games a lot more frequently than we do right now. We're just a little liberal arts school in South Carolina, and to go up and play a team like that, it's a tall order."

The game aside, the trip to New York could act as a logistical dry run for Limestone, especially if things play out as expected and the Saints are sent to Le Moyne for the NCAA semifinals. The Limestone players are used to busing – they had a 10-hour ride to Tampa and a nine-hour ride to Baltimore to face Merrimack – so adapting to flights is something new. Flying into Syracuse will be a little bit less stressful than the two-day, LaGuardia/Kennedy switcheroo they are facing this weekend, but at least they'll get the gist of it.

Dowling is approaching the game from a different tack. With Mercyhurst the presumptive Central region winner, Dowling is atop the Wild Card charts, and might even grab it with a loss to Limestone. But a loss would take the decision out of the Lions' hands and place it into the hands of the selection committee – something Boyle does not want to happen, especially after what happened to Le Moyne last year.

"The scenario for the regional bids is pretty clear, but the at-large is still cloudy," he said. "We can clear things up if we beat Limestone. If we don't, things are going to be based on how the NE-10 tournament ends up. The way we're approaching things at Dowling is we need to win. And it's not just because of that. It's our senior day and the last home game of the year."

That last part can't be understated. Boyle talks about how important this senior class has been in the growth of his program and is excited about the prospect of them ending their career with a chance to win a national championship. That's why he had to rein them in last year when they found out that Limestone was coming to the Island.

"When my schedule came out, I had the entire senior class come in here and get all excited about it," Boyle said. "I said, 'Guys, we've got 12 games before that and some very big ones. I understand the excitement for it, but you've got make sure you do your job and let that game be what it is supposed to be.'"

The seniors have certainly held up their end of the bargain so far. Now they have a chance to add a little hardware along with a postseason bid. And there might even be a little program dignity, as well. In the previous eight meetings, Limestone owns a 6-2 advantage and the Saints also have two national championships to the Lions' none. Now the Dowling program feels it's their turn.

That's why they call it a rivalry.


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