|Whittier's defense gave up 70 to end last season but lived to play another day.|
By Keith McMillan
For just about every defensive player, there will come a day where you'll look up at the scoreboard late in some game and shake your head in disbelief.
"We can't be this bad," you'll think to yourself. Or maybe you'll say "We can't stop anybody today!"
I remember being on the bad side of 50 points in Randolph-Macon's 1995 game against Catholic. Sure, our offense scored 50 too, so we tied, but that didn't much matter to Joe Riccio, then our head coach and defensive coordinator. We ran (or sometimes bear-crawled or shoulder-rolled) the length of the field, up and back once for each point we surrendered on what became known as Black Monday to that year's team.
Giving up 50 was bad, as you can imagine. Across Division III, we see 60s on scoreboards regularly as well. But what happens when a team gives up 70 or more points, as we've seen nine times already in this season's five weeks of play? Can a team put that game out of its mind and move on, or is it the sort of thing that lingers over a team like dark rain cloud?
We took a look at how teams fared the week after 70 points were scored on them, and what we found wasn't necessarily what one would expect.
Although Hanover was the only team to win the following week, coaches' one-game-at-a-time mantras took for several teams. Of the seven Division III teams that gave up 70 (Minnesota-Morris and Crown both did it against Trinity Bible), two lost by four or less the following week, six lost by less than two touchdowns and three gave up 24 or fewer the next week.
Running up the score is almost unilaterally discouraged in Division III, but high scores do happen. The challenge for coaches and players is to put the bad game out of their mind and start fresh the next week.
Perhaps the most impressive fresh start to date has taken place in Southern California.
Whittier was thumped 70-13 by SCIAC rival Cal Lutheran to close the curtains on last year's 1-8 season. The Poets actually went ahead 7-0 in that game before giving up 70 unanswered points.
Whittier started this season with a 34-22 home win over Colorado College, but really got right defensively Sept. 25 against Pomona-Pitzer. Though they trailed 5-0 at the half, the Poets rallied for a 9-8 win while allowing the Sagehens just 195 total yards.
Having already eclipsed its win total from last season, 2-1 Whittier travels to Occidental this week, then plays four of its final five at home. One of those home dates is a Nov. 6 rematch against CLU's Kingsmen, who are 0-3 so far.
Hanover's post-70 performance stood out as well. Strength of opponent might logically be a factor in giving up 70 or in the performance the next week. But the Panthers' two extremes came in a 72-24 loss at Bridgewater (Va.) and in a 34-31 home win against Waynesburg. The Yellow Jackets nearly beat the Eagles in last year's playoffs, following a fourth-down pass into the end zone short of winning at Bridgewater.
Prior to playing Hanover, Waynesburg had scored like mad in a 64-0 win over Denison and a 73-14 rout against Manchester.
But the Panthers hadn't turned over a new leaf completely by knocking the Yellow Jackets out of the Top 25. Mt. St. Joseph took an early lead in the Heartland Conference race with a 29-10 win in Hanover.
Sul Ross State opened the season with a 79-17 loss to Top 25 Hardin-Simmons. The Lobos, desperately trying to break what was then a 21-game losing streak, embarked on the American Southwest Conference's longest road trip, a 900-mile, 15-hour trek to Mississippi College. Sul Ross nearly brought a win back to Alpine, Texas, holding a fourth-quarter lead before falling 24-20.
Ohio Wesleyan's sobering 78-21 defeat at Olivet surely made for a solemn ride home from Michigan, but the Battling Bishops response the next week should throw Mike Hollway into the NCAC coach of the year mix. The Bishops certainly battled, leading 14-9 at Wabash before the Little Giants scored with 7:24 left to improve to 4-0.
Elsewhere, Benedictine followed a 75-7 week four loss to Lakeland by losing 24-12 to Greenville; Emory and Henry gave up 40 fewer points to Methodist in a 36-27 loss than it did in a 76-28 defeat the week before at Washington and Jefferson; Principia followed a 73-14 loss to Rockford by scoring more points than it had in any game this season during a 35-26 loss to Maranatha Baptist.
Where points are concerned, we haven't seen anything approaching Rockford's 105 from last season (though that too came against Trinity Bible, which lost 79-6 to Minnesota-Morris in week four and 74-20 to Crown in week five this season). But the many of the same teams seemed to be involved in high-scoring games. In some way, most roads to high scores led to the Heartland.
The HCAC's Manchester had the roughest week of any after giving up 70-plus. They followed the 73-14 week three loss to Waynesburg with a 49-13 loss to Olivet. The Spartans are surrendering more than 49 points per game, a shade more than their conference counterpart Franklin, which is allowing 47.8 points per outing.
And funny we should bring up Franklin. Their 63-62 loss to Olivet on Sept. 11, in which the Grizzlies scored with 37 seconds left and went for two to win, is an early nominee for shootout of the year and boldest coaching decision.
We're not quite sure if scoring 70 points or more is a trend. In 1999, six teams did it, including two on the road. In 2000 it was eight teams, six at home; in 2001 just five, three at home. In 2002, it happened eight more times, three on the road. Last year a team scored 70 or more 10 times, six at home.
In the nine times it's happened this half-season, only Manchester has suffered the indignity of being on their home field when it took place.
The second half of the season will determine whether this is a true trend. We might see more big numbers, and perhaps involving some of the same teams. Emory and Henry next plays Hampden-Sydney, last year's top scoring offense fresh off a loss at Bridgewater. After a week off, Waynesburg gets back on the field against Bethany, a 63-6 loser to Grove City on Saturday.
As Pat Coleman recently noted in his column for CSTV, someone in Division III has finished with every point total from 0 to 60, excluding one (which is impossible) and four, which would take two and only two highly improbable occurrences of the only ways to score two points, by safety or by defensive return of a PAT attempt.
We can add 61 (New Jersey scored that in a shutout of Southern Virginia), 62 and 63 (from the Olivet-Franklin game), 64 (Waynesburg), 65 (St. John Fisher), 67 (UW-Oshkosh), 68 (Mary Hardin-Baylor), 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 78 and 79 to the list. We've gone nearly 0 to 80.
That's for the math nerds out there.
And just one closing thought: It takes about 10 possessions to get 70 points, more than some teams get in a game. Two per period is eight and three each quarter is 12, although special teams and defense likely chip in when big numbers go up, and field goals are rather scarce. As neat as the numbers games are, I'll take a 14-13 nailbiter any day.
Imagine voting in a poll where you have to track 75-100 teams who start the season with winning records, having been able to see games on five Saturdays and a handful of Fridays at best.
That's the boat D3football.com voters are in. We're not necessarily asking for sympathy, but the teams aren't making it easy on us. For instance:
Bridgewater beat Shenandoah 35-13, which beat Christopher Newport 14-10, which beat Bridgewater 21-16.
We can factor in home, away and neutral sites, and we're still not sure what that tells us.
Furthermore, McDaniel beat Bridgewater but lost to Christopher Newport. After losing at Shenandoah, the Captains are unranked while Rowan, a team it lost to by one, 33-32 in Newport News, holds down the No. 11 spot.
They can't be that far apart, can they?
If you take the comparative score logic out to Wisconsin, it's easy to get twisted up. Even those who accept UW-Eau Claire being ranked behind St. John's despite beating the defending champions in Collegeville won't like to compare WIAC scores a few weeks into conference play. UWEC lost to UW-Whitewater which lost to UW-Platteville. UW-La Crosse beat UW-Stevens Point, which plays UWEC this week.
So what good is comparing all of these scores? Can we say Johns Hopkins will beat McDaniel because the Blue Jays beat Carnegie Mellon, who beat Wesley, who beat Ferrum, who took Shenandoah into overtime, and the Hornets beat CNU, which defeated McDaniel?
Probably not. But maybe by Platteville defeating Augustana, which beat Central 38-7, which beat Bethel in overtime, we can reason that the WIAC this year is stronger than the CCIW, which is stronger than the IIAC, which is stronger than the MIAC.
Who knows? You'd think having teams play out-of-conference opponents would help the pollsters.
Except for having to wake up at 8:30 a.m. and return home after midnight, the unprecendented daily double Pat and I attempted worked out pretty well. We saw and webcasted two good games in Virginia with conference championship and playoff implications.
Such a feat requires 1 p.m and 7 p.m. kickoffs within close proximity to each other. Pretty much all of the D3football.com staff has seen two games in a day before, but two have to be close enough to give us time to set up at both places too.
Sure, by the end of the day my throat ached so bad Pat could have tossed me a bottle of Chloraseptic out of the Shenandoah press box after the second game instead of a measly little Ricola, but if that's the worst complaint from the day, then I call it a success.
Anyway, here are few nuggets I picked up along the way that I thought I'd share:
During postgame at Shenandoah, Christopher Newport coach Matt Kelchner was asked if he was disappointed at the way the Division III playoffs are set up, given that his team now needs Shenandoah to lose to earn the USA South's automatic bid. (In 2002, by the way, the Hornets beat CNU but lost to Greensboro and Ferrum, and the Captains beat the Panthers in the season finale to get into the playoffs.)
Kelchner, perhaps a bit worn down from a frustrating loss in which his team kept the ball on Shenandoah's half of the field nearly all night but managed only 10 points, launched into an emphatic defense of the Division III playoff system.
"The Division III playoffs is the best possible thing you could ever be involved in," Kelchner said. "Division I needs to take note."
Kelchner called Division I-A’s Bowl Championship Series "a joke" and said that they were missing the point, as well as an opportunity for a great experience for the players. Kelchner, who spent 16 seasons at Division I-AA William and Mary, knows that playoffs are a positive at bigger schools as well. He even said he'd drawn up a playoff plan that Division I-A could use.
From here out, his Captains will have to win and hope for help.
"It's a big challenge," Kelchner said. It's easy when you win. We're going to see what kind of gentlemen we have."
Should that not work out and the Captains miss the playoffs for the first time in their history, well, "We should have won the damn game out there tonight," he said.
Meanwhile, Mike Clark was again smiling after a Bridgewater win. The Eagles have got the knack in close games, and after beating Hampden-Sydney, Mike and I were talking. I wasn't taking notes, but I hope I'm allowed to share.
Having staved off what would amount to playoff elimination by beating the Tigers, Clark said he hopes H-SC wins out and gets in. And if that happens, it could be trouble. Clark, a defensive coach, has a library of tapes on Tigers coach Marty Favret going back to his days at Catholic, and Hampden-Sydney still rolled up 465 yards of offense.
Attempting to stop the Tigers based on the two game tapes playoff teams exchange will be a tall order, Clark said.
Of the 229 Division III schools in 2004 (or 228 and Newport News), 27 remain unbeaten. Averett, Carthage, Moravian and UW-Platteville are among them; defending national champion St. John's is not.
Three hail from the NESCAC, where just two games have been played. Three also hail from the MAC (Albright, Delaware Valley and Moravian, each 4-0), and two each from the ASC (Hardin-Simmons and Mary Hardin-Baylor), CCIW (Carthage and Wheaton), Empire 8 (St. John Fisher and Springfield), NCAC (Wabash and Wooster) NWC (Linfield and Whitworth), WIAC (UW-Platteville and UW-Stout).
There are also teams like UW-La Crosse and Rowan, whose lone losses have come against opponents outside of Division III.
Of the 229 schools, 29 have yet to win a game. Of the 29, six (Bowdoin, Framingham State, Huntingdon, Husson, Plymouth State and Sul Ross State) were among eight teams that went winless last year. Puget Sound is 3-1 with three wins against SCIAC teams, snapping the 11-game losing streak it brought into the season, while Dubuque (1-3) put the brakes on a 20-game skid Sept. 11 against Blackburn.
Husson and Huntingdon, first-year programs in 2003, each came a point away from their first win on Saturday. The Braves, 35-28 losers at Salve Regina in the opener, lost 28-27 at Mount Ida when Mustangs freshman Ray MacGregor, rumored to be kicking barefoot, knocked home an extra point in the final 90 seconds. Thomas More edged the Hawks 37-36 in overtime by converting a two-point conversion.
Harder to repeat
Of last season's eight semifinalists, just three (No. 1 Mount Union, No. 2 Linfield and No. 7 Wheaton) are still unbeaten. No. 4 St. John's and No. 16 Ithaca have a single loss, while Bridgewater (Va.) and RPI have dropped two and Lycoming three.
And there’s no trophy for this, but...
Currently, Chapman (at 3-1) has the best record of Division III's 19 independents.
Two for one
Hardin-Simmons will host Sul Ross State for the second time this season on Saturday, a month to the day after the two teams' first meeting.
The Cowboys needed to fill a date after UW-Stout exercised a buyout clause to opt out of a return game in Texas. HSU went to Wisconsin last season.
As for why both games would be in Abliene, our guess is that the gate for the No. 8 Cowboys, even for a second game, might exceed whatever Sul Ross could earn.
A loss would tie Sul Ross with Plymouth State for the nation's longest losing streak at 25.
Five games to watch
> No. 15 UW-Stevens Point at No. 18 UW-Eau Claire: The Pointers, having faced No. 2 Linfield and No. 3 UW-La Crosse, get no breaks. Five of the past six between these two have been five points or fewer, even when one gets off to a hot start. Last year, UW-SP led 31-0 and held on to win by three as UW-EC scored 28 unanswered.
> No. 17 St. John Fisher at Brockport State: Just as soon as the Cardinals flew past the Golden Eagles as the hot team Upstate, the ACFC favorites get a shot at them. Brockport's schedule gets thick after this, with Ithaca, Rowan and TCNJ still looming, so they can't afford to lose many more and hold out Pool B hope.
> Bethel at No. 4 St. John's: Each team took a surprising early-season loss, and perhaps neither is as strong as in recent seasons. But both are still unbeaten in the MIAC, as is Concordia-Moorhead. The game is also in Collegeville, so we figure a big crowd will be taking this one in.
> Carthage at Augustana: We've seen Redmen rushers put up gaudy numbers for a while now, but we can't remember a 4-0 start. With six CCIW games left on the schedule, including four against opponents playing .750 ball or better, this early road test should tell us how real the Redmen are.
> Adrian at Alma: The Bulldogs are unbeaten and the Scots only loss came against NAIA Tiffin. One of these teams will start to pull away, joining Hope in the MIAA title chase.
> Also keep an eye on: Whitworth at No. 2 Linfield, Howard Payne at No. 6 Mary Hardin-Baylor, Millikin at No. 7 Wheaton, Westminster (Pa.) at No. 14 Washington & Jefferson, No.16 Ithaca at Norwich, UW-Stout at No. 24 UW-Whitewater, Johns Hopkins at Franklin and Marshall, Averett at Methodist, Moravian at Wilkes, Muhlenberg at Dickinson, Anderson at Defiance, Redlands at La Verne, Pacific Lutheran at Puget Sound.
Who are those guys?
Our weekly look at teams stepping outside of Division III for competition:
Ursinus takes on I-AA LaSalle
No. 11 Rowan plays Division II Virginia State.
Husson plays NAIA Southern Virginia, while Huntingdon faces Southwest Assemblies of God and Chapman goes up against Azusa Pacific.
Road trips of the week
Maryville (Tenn.) goes to Cleveland to play Case Western Reserve. We also don't envy Macalester's St. Paul-to-Colorado Springs trip, but someone's got to play at Colorado College. Honorable mention goes to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps leaving L.A. for Portland, home of Lewis and Clark.
Eye-opener of the week
Dickinson, UW-Platteville and Cortland State logged the best Top 25 upsets, but Muskingum gets props for a non-upset. The winless Muskies lost to then-No. 14 Baldwin-Wallace 14-7. Brandon Clum returned a fumble 62 yards for a touchdown, and Muskingum blocked two kicks and held twice inside the red zone. But the Yellow Jackets' D was too strong, allowing just 187 yards and zero points.
With Capital not even coming close to Mount Union, Baldwin-Wallace had a chance to replace the Crusaders as the OAC's No. 2 team in a lot of people's minds, which often means a top 10 vote in the poll. Instead, the Yellow Jackets laid an egg — though we won't complain about a win — and leave voters confused as to how good they might be.
Five things you should know
1. Augsburg quarterback Marcus LeVesseur rushed for four TDs and threw for two more to help the Auggies snap a string of three straight losses decided in the final two minutes (They'd trailed for just over 28 minutes combined in those games). Though Saturday was a record setting day for LeVesseur, making his second start, he's still got a long way to go before football becomes his best sport. LeVesseur is a two-time national champion wrestler at 157 pounds, 84-0 in two seasons. Seven of his wrestling teammates also play football.
2. The last time Mount Union lost consecutive games was in 1988, when Denison and Heidelberg beat the traveling Purple Raiders on back-to-back September Saturdays.
3. In the last four seasons of awarding an automatic playoff berth to the winner of its championship game, the NEFC has had four different champions: Bridgewater State (2000), Westfield State (2001), Mass-Dartmouth (2002) and Curry (2003). Currently, no one in the 14-team league is unbeaten, and only Curry (3-1) has fewer than two losses.
4. Rochester, which got its first win under the Liberty League banner by beating St. Lawrence 38-7, is a member of the University Athletic Association, along with Carnegie Mellon, Case Western, Chicago and Washington U., in other sports. They used to play both leagues’ schedules before the UCAA/Liberty League expanded beyond five teams.
5. Before losing 35-14 to Alfred on Saturday, Norwich developed a habit of coming from behind to win. The Cadets were also consistent, scoring 21, 22, 24 and 20 points in their victories.
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