By John Goralski
As soon as NCAA football officials announced the pairings for the Division I tournament’s opening round, Jordan Chapman’s cell phone came alive with a flurry of texts, but the former Southington High School star didn’t even have to look at the screen.
Sacred Heart University had earned the program’s first postseason bid, and Chapman’s Fordham team was scheduled to face them in the opening round.
Sacred Heart’s offense features a former classmate, Tyler Dube. The first round game was much more than just a rivalry between schools.
“As soon as we found out that we were going to be playing Sacred Heart, the text messages started going. It was immediately. There was a little bit of smack talk here and there, but it made it a lot of fun,” said Chapman. “Dube told me that it was going to be about bragging rights, and I agreed with him.”
Chapman wasn’t the only one engaging in good-natured smack talk with Dube in the days leading up to opening kick-off. Jake Rodriques, a former Southington High School captain, is a senior linebacker on Fordham’s varsity squad. Rodriques and Chapman would both be charged with stopping their former teammate.
“When we first found out that we were going to be playing Sacred Heart, Jordan and I went crazy,” said Rodriques. “We knew that we were going to be going up against Dube. He had the luxury of covering him. I never really got the chance, but it was still a lot of fun.”
All three played pivotal roles in the outcome of the game. On Saturday, Nov. 30, the three squared off in New York City on an artificial turf field tucked between the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens. It may be the first time that three former Blue Knights stepped onto a college field in the postseason for a game covered by ESPN.
It was a far way from Fontana Field, but all three admit that it’s a testament to Blue Knight football.
“It feels like years and years and years ago,” said Rodriques, the trio’s elder statesmen. “It was such a good time, and it got me where I am today. I keep up on what they’re doing, but it’s a whole different program now. Nobody I was there with is there still. I’m starting to feel like an old timer now.”
Rodriques wasted no time in setting the stage. The middle linebacker forced one fumble early and another one later in the game. He pestered the quarterback. He stopped the run, and he led the game with nine defensive tackles. Round one went to Fordham.
Dube didn’t go quietly. Trailing 24-7 in the second quarter, the former Blue Knight receiver sparked a pair of touchdown drives to close the deficit to seven points. Dube led Sacred Heart with six catches for 94 yards (15.7 yards per catch), and he out-measured all but one receiver in the game.
“It was fun to go out there, and that playoff atmosphere was like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” said Dube. “With Jake and Jordan playing, that made it even better. It’s fun to look across the field and see both of them out there. It makes you want to do better and sort of one-up each other.”
Round two went to Sacred Heart, but Dube said that it’s a credit to Southington sports.
“Connecticut isn’t known as a big football state, but we have some athletes at Southington,” he said. “We might not get the recognition that we should. Maybe it’s because we had a couple of down years, but I think we create a lot of good athletes that have the potential to play anywhere.”
The former Blue Knights were far from finished. Midway through the third quarter, Chapman stepped in between the quarterback and a Sacred Heart receiver to claim his team’s fourth turnover. He almost returned the interception for a score, but Chapman was run out of bounds deep in the Pioneers’ zone. The ensuing field goal pushed the game out of reach.
Round three went to Fordham, and the Rams held on for the 37-27 win.
“We all had great plays,” said Chapman. “Tyler made some huge plays with some huge catches and got some yards after the catch. Jake and I had some big plays. That says that Southington is churning out some pretty good players.”
It also means that Chapman and Rodriques have bragging rights when the three meet in the off-season. For now, Dube will turn his attention toward rooting for his former teammates in the next round.
“It’s probably going to come up the first couple of times that we see each other over winter break, but we’re really not like that,” said Dube. “We’re good friends, and we all played good games. I think that Fordham just played a little bit better today.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.
By John Goralski