/awards/all-decade/2000-team-feature

Team of the 2000s: Portraits of greatness

Blake Elliott
Blake Elliott had a starring role for one of Division III's championship teams of the decade, but was no one-year wonder.
2003 photo by Tom Dahlin

D3football.com
All-Decade Team
2000-2009

Pos. First team
QB Greg Micheli, Mount Union
RB Nate Kmic, Mount Union
RB Justin Beaver, UW-Whitewater
WR Pierre Garcon, Norwich-Mount Union
WR Blake Elliott, St. John's
TE Michael Allan, Whitworth
T J.D. Sheldon, Augustana
G Derek Blanchard, Mount Union
C Josh Knox, Hardin-Simmons
G Josh Warner, Brockport State
T Blaine Westemeyer, Augustana
Defense
DE Bryan Robinson, Wesley
DT Adam Haas, Cortland State
DT Ryan Kleppe, UW-Whitewater
DE Jeremy Hood, St. John's
LB Jerimiah Janssen, St. Norbert
LB Jerrell Freeman, Mary Hardin-Baylor
LB Jermaine Taylor, Bridgewater (Va.)
CB Pete Ittersagen, Wheaton (Ill.)
S Kyle Hausler, Capital
S Josh Kubiak, Mary Hardin-Baylor
CB Clinton Tabb, Rowan
Special teams
RET Larry Beavers, Wesley
K Jeff Schebler, UW-Whitewater
P

Alex Groh, Occidental

Click here for the full team

By Ryan Tipps
D3sports.com

“At the base of it, you need to have strong leaders and good teammates.”

“God-given ability is part of it, but then also it’s what the student-athlete does with it.”

“I think a lot of it is just pure passion for the game.”

These statements -- by former St. John’s wideout Blake Elliott, UW-Whitewater coach Lance Leipold and former St. Norbert linebacker Jerimiah Janssen, respectively -- help paint a portrait of greatness in Division III.

It’s as much internal as it is external. It takes commitment not just for a game or a season -- but for a career. As D3football.com releases its All-Decade team, the players who are honored were not just flashes in the pan, they were the players who carved out a legacy on their respective teams and who were counted on season after season to perform at the highest expectations.

“Our coaches would never put you in a position where they felt like you couldn’t do the job,” said Greg Micheli, a 2009 Mount Union graduate and Gagliardi Trophy winner who led his team to two Stagg Bowl wins. “You know what’s expected of you. They’re actually going to put more pressure on you in practice so that whatever you face in games, whatever nerves you have, all that stuff you’ve worked out before and know how to deal with.”

Division III players take the field without scholarships and, in many cases, without thousands upon thousands of fans to inspire them. Their incentive? Love of the game; camaraderie with their teammates; desire to succeed.

Only partly are stats indicative of greatness. There are also the intangibles.

“The No. 1 word that comes to my mind is commitment, because there’s so many things that a Division III player has to go through,” said Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Pete Fredenburg. “A person who is successful at Division III is truly committed to being the best person he can be and is truly committed to the team and the school he plays for.”

The D3football.com All-Decade team encompasses the years 2000-2009. To be eligible, a player had to graduate in that span or play the majority of his career then. For that reason, Mount Union’s Cecil Shorts, a junior in 2009, is listed, but Whitewater’s Levell Coppage, who was a sophomore, was not eligible. Mount Union, which won six national titles in the decade, was the most heavily represented team on the list with 13 players.

For St. John’s, Elliott, who graduated in 2003 and is one of two people honored twice on the All-Decade list thanks to special teams, said the environment in Collegeville, Minn., and playing for coach John Gagliardi cultivated his success.

Jerimiah Janssen
Jerimiah Janssen finished his St. Norbert career with 296 total tackles and 29 sacks, helping the Green Knights get to the playoffs in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
St. Norbert athletics file photo

“You have to have the talent and the work ethic to want to play,” said Elliott, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings after school but broke his leg in training camp. “At St. John’s, it was definitely a different environment ... in the fact that there really wasn’t this exterior drive from coaching and from the program to be a great player. It was really the kind of system in how John ran things and how the program was historically. There was pressure to kind of live up to how good the program has been and how good John has been as a coach.”

The Johnnies don’t cut players, so Elliott quickly found himself beside 180 guys in practice and on the sidelines. He said he was one of 22 wide receivers on the roster. The atmosphere made him self-motivate toward greatness.

“It became apparent very quickly based on the numbers and the competition for those positions that if you didn’t do A, B, C, D, E, F, all the way down the line, if you didn’t do everything that was expected of you, not only from a football perspective but from an academic perspective ... it was kind of survival of the fittest. You just weren’t going to play,” he said.

Many of the best players can be found on the best teams. Mount Union and UW-Whitewater, teams that met in the Stagg Bowl for the last half of the decade, are well represented. They benefit from seeing some of the top players compete beyond just the 10-week regular season and against some of the country’s best competition. When a player succeeds against the best, it’s hard to doubt their ability.

But most players and coaches will tell you that it never comes down to one guy or one position. Football is a team sport, and the team wins or loses as a whole.

Jerrell Freeman
Jerrell Freeman was the 2007 D3football.com Defensive Player of the Year, the second year the award was given.
Photo by Josh Bowerman, D3sports.com

Over the past 10 years, Fredenburg and his Crusaders have faced Whitewater a handful of times in both the regular season and the postseason. Each time, Whitewater has come out the victor, but UMHB has fought some close games, even against UW-W teams stacked with standout athletes such as running back and Gagliardi Trophy winner Justin Beaver.

“When you get a team like Wisconsin-Whitewater and certainly a great player like Justin Beaver, the reality is that it’s not just him,” said Fredenburg, who coached four players on the All-Decade team. “They have so many good players and have such a great scheme, you have to develop a way to just stop their offense. And obviously, with [Beaver] being the kingpin to that … you have to be fundamentally sound on defense.”

Whitewater’s coach, who has been D3football.com’s Coach of the Year each of the past four seasons, noted that some players are easier than others to adjust for. Mount Union’s first-team All-Decade wideout Pierre Garcon, who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts, was someone who Leipold and his team would key in on. But other Mount players, such as offensive lineman Derek Blanchard, or a UMHB athlete such as linebacker Jerrell Freeman were a little more difficult to make adjustments for.

“Most of the time when we see these guys, we still have to believe in what we’re doing that got us to those points,” Leipold said. “You can’t push the panic button too much. You have to have confidence.”

Especially by those who graduated years ago, the game is missed. For Elliott, it’s partly the camaraderie.

“The guys that you play with are the guys that you live with, are your best friends,” he said, “and seven years later are still my best friends.”

Greg Micheli
Greg Micheli was a two-time first-team D3football.com All-American quarterback.
Photo by David Rich, d3photography.com

Janssen, who joined the New York Jets for a year after graduating in 2002 as the most nationally honored football player in St. Norbert history, said, “I still miss it to this day. ... Former basketball players can go out there and play a pickup game, but not too many guys at my age want to go out there and put on some pads and hit each other.”

Micheli said he misses the practices because it is there where athletes spend the bulk of their time. “That’s really when you develop those relationships and become a team,” he said.

Division III’s greatest players come into the system with natural abilities and a strong foundation of intangibles. They are the players who differentiate themselves from the pack. Fredenburg said athletes such as Freeman, a linebacker who graduated in 2008, had an “incredible innate ability to find the football,” was unselfish and had a deep worth ethic.

The coach’s job is to get players in the right positions and to nurture the natural skill, he said.

“Most of it at this level is coached into guys,” Mount Union’s Micheli said. “You can get away with your athleticism carrying you when you’re in junior high and in high school. But once you get to this level, even Division III, everybody’s good. … The ones who are starting are willing to take coaching.

“If you try to get by on just your athleticism,” he said, “you’ll be a pretty average player.”

Oct. 13: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 23, Lycoming 16
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Plymouth State 29, at Framingham State 28
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at Hamilton 62, Bowdoin 27
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at Gallaudet 35, Castleton 25
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at Hobart 52, Rochester 7
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Nichols 23, at Becker 15
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Muhlenberg 34, at Thomas More 31
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at Hope 70, Finlandia 6
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King's 51, at Alvernia 7
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at Morrisville State 41, Utica 24
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at Centre 33, Trinity (Texas) 28
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at Cortland 41, Buffalo State 7
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Husson 56, at Alfred State 14
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Wittenberg 41, at Allegheny 14
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Western Connecticut 23, at Massachusetts Maritime 13
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at Amherst 35, Colby 9
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Stevenson 20, at Widener 6
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Wesleyan 44, at Bates 13
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at Case Western Reserve 37, St. Vincent 7
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at Carnegie Mellon 17, Bethany 14
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at Salisbury 17, Montclair State 15
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Maryville (Tenn.) 34, at Methodist 9
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Wabash 7, at Ohio Wesleyan 0
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Misericordia 25, at Lebanon Valley 21
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Denison 20, at DePauw 12
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at Western New England 56, Curry 21
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Randolph-Macon 45, at Shenandoah 14
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Kalamazoo 20, at Albion 19
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Brockport 52, at Alfred 0
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at Westminster (Pa.) 49, Thiel 7
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Wooster 27, at Oberlin 21
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at Washington and Lee 40, Emory and Henry 29
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at Frostburg State 56, William Paterson 0
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at Hiram 28, Kenyon 24
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Wesley 54, at Kean 6
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Trine 50, at Olivet 49
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Southern Virginia 23, at Apprentice 21
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at St. John Fisher 42, Hartwick 14
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Final - OT
MacMurray 27, at Crown 21
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at Martin Luther 28, Westminster (Mo.) 12
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at Macalester 47, Lawrence 21
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Ithaca 24, at Union 0
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at Marietta 63, Wilmington 21
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at Coast Guard 15, Maine Maritime 0
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Mount Union 77, at Capital 3
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at Trinity (Conn.) 38, Tufts 24
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Franklin 42, at Mount St. Joseph 34
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Manchester 21, at Bluffton 17
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John Carroll 49, at Ohio Northern 17
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at Hanover 48, Defiance 7
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at Baldwin Wallace 44, Muskingum 7
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at Grove City 28, Waynesburg 3
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Merchant Marine 17, at Springfield 14
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Middlebury 21, at Williams 10
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at Huntingdon 52, Brevard 17
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Hampden-Sydney 42, at Bridgewater 21
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at SUNY-Maritime 35, Dean 7
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Endicott 66, at University of New England 38
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at Washington and Jefferson 50, Geneva 43
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Berry 35, at Hendrix 14
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at Texas Lutheran 28, East Texas Baptist 21
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Augustana 41, at North Park 7
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Louisiana College 35, at McMurry 23
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at Washington U. 17, Wheaton (Ill.) 10
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Wartburg 31, at Coe 19
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Eureka 44, at Concordia-Chicago 14
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Carleton 36, at Augsburg 34
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Rockford 37, at Lakeland 20
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Gustavus Adolphus 42, at Hamline 14
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at St. John's 40, St. Thomas 20
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Final
Concordia (Wis.) 23, at Aurora 20
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at Benedictine 40, Wisconsin Lutheran 31
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at Loras 44, Nebraska Wesleyan 20
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St. Norbert 21, at Chicago 20
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Bethel 35, at St. Olaf 7
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at Luther 41, Buena Vista 26
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Millikin 32, at Carthage 29
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Knox 28, at Grinnell 7
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at Central 17, Simpson 16
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at Ripon 49, Beloit 14
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at UW-River Falls 21, UW-Stout 19
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Monmouth 45, at Illinois College 13
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at Illinois Wesleyan 44, Elmhurst 28
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UW-Whitewater 45, at UW-Eau Claire 0
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Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Sul Ross State 27
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Austin 34, at Millsaps 23
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at Lake Forest 42, Cornell 0
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at UW-Oshkosh 31, UW-Platteville 10
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at Bridgewater State 44, Mass-Dartmouth 28
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at Whitworth 55, Pacific Lutheran 13
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Final
Pacific 23, at Puget Sound 22
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George Fox 28, at Willamette 6
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at Linfield 43, Lewis and Clark 26
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at Southwestern 21, Belhaven 10
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Rowan 17, at TCNJ 14
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Adrian 28, at Alma 23
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Final
Averett 24, at N.C. Wesleyan 14
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Heidelberg 21, at Otterbein 7
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Anderson 63, at Earlham 0
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at North Central (Ill.) 59, Carroll 0
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Final
at UW-La Crosse 63, UW-Stevens Point 27
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Birmingham-Southern 13, at Sewanee 10
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at St. Scholastica 47, Greenville 13
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at Northwestern (Minn.) 20, Minnesota-Morris 17
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La Verne 42, at Whittier 23
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at Chapman 62, Occidental 0
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Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 20, at Redlands 10
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at Cal Lutheran 28, Pomona-Pitzer 24
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Oct. 14: All times Eastern
Final
LaGrange 43, at Greensboro 16
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Oct. 19: All times Eastern
8:00 PM
Martin Luther at Northwestern (Minn.)
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Oct. 13: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 23, Lycoming 16
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Final
Muhlenberg 34, at Thomas More 31
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Brockport 52, at Alfred 0
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Final
at Frostburg State 56, William Paterson 0
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Final
Wesley 54, at Kean 6
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Wittenberg 41, at Allegheny 14
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Final
Trine 50, at Olivet 49
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at Case Western Reserve 37, St. Vincent 7
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Final
Mount Union 77, at Capital 3
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Final
John Carroll 49, at Ohio Northern 17
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Final
Berry 35, at Hendrix 14
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Final
at Washington and Jefferson 50, Geneva 43
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Final
at St. John's 40, St. Thomas 20
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Final
at Washington U. 17, Wheaton (Ill.) 10
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Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 44, Elmhurst 28
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UW-Whitewater 45, at UW-Eau Claire 0
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at Hardin-Simmons 48, Sul Ross State 27
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at UW-Oshkosh 31, UW-Platteville 10
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Final
at Whitworth 55, Pacific Lutheran 13
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Final
at Linfield 43, Lewis and Clark 26
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 59, Carroll 0
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