|Capital ran away from Wittenberg in the teams' season opener.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3sports.com
Editor’s note: Keith McMillan is getting married this week. Pat Coleman fills in below.
By Pat Coleman
BEXLEY, Ohio — It wasn’t tide-turning. It didn’t put Division III football on its ear.
But the margin of Capital’s 49-16 win against Wittenberg was surprising, to say the least.
Absolutely, Wittenberg should have played better. The Tigers also missed an extra point and a field goal. But the Crusaders made them look bad and took advantage of their mistakes.
Capital struck quickly and opened up a big second-quarter lead on its home turf, forcing Wittenberg to move away from its strength (pounding the ball on the ground) and Capital’s weakness (defense up the middle following the graduation of All-America middle linebacker Ron Swearingen). In fact, by forcing the ball downfield, Wittenberg was playing into Capital’s strength, its secondary. And the Crusaders made them pay in the third quarter, as Kyle Hausler stepped in front of a pass on fourth-and-2 from the 5-yard line and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown. That ended a 66-yard Wittenberg drive. The next possession, Wittenberg got a first down before having a pass intercepted by Zac Sewards and returned to the 3-yard line. Capital punched it in three plays later.
“We committed about every cardinal sin you can have in a big game,” said Fincham. “But I’m sure some were forced rather than self-inflicted.”
The third quarter was the nail in the coffin after a second quarter in which Capital extended its lead from 14-0 to 36-9. The key blow was Thom Hausler’s 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, coming right after Wittenberg had closed the gap to 14-3. But throughout the quarter, Wittenberg had trouble tackling, with Capital’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense keeping the Tigers’ defenders on their heels.
“There was a stretch in the second quarter where we couldn’t get our defense off the field,” said Fincham. “The pace of the game got away from us.”
“I thought we were fresher,” said Capital coach Jim Collins. “That no-huddle will wear them down. … We’ve got four good backs, we kept them all in a rotation.”
Despite the 33-point win, Capital did not dominate the stat sheet — it simply made big plays. Wittenberg actually outgained Capital on the ground (259-182 yards, 4.9 average to 4.4) and only threw for 6 fewer yards (182-176). But three interceptions and the kickoff return made the difference.
The challenge for Wittenberg now is to make sure the season doesn’t get away from them the way the second half did. A demoralizing loss right out of the gate can be bad for the psyche, and with Thomas More coming to town in two weeks probably still riding high after a Week 1 overtime win against Hanover, they can’t afford a hangover.
Kudos to Wittenberg and Capital for scheduling this game. Now Wittenberg needs to concentrate on winning out and getting the North Coast Athletic Conference automatic bid. This team has the talent to do so.
"In my heart of hearts I know we were a better team than we showed today," said Fincham. "Today's not the end of our season by a long shot."
Guess who’s No. 1?
Congratulations to the No. 1 team in the country, surviving a Week 1 test on the road after a long bus trip southwestward.
But I’m not talking about Mount Union. Remember last week Keith talked about some of the minor polls and their preseason rankings, including many rankings that won’t be updated the entire season — one more of those came to our attention this past week, that of Touchdown Illustrated.
Some of you might be familiar with Touchdown Illustrated — it’s stuffed into game programs at a number of schools, even some D-III schools. Why, I’m not sure. They seem to care little about Division III and their preseason ranking demonstrated that perfectly, naming Hampden-Sydney No. 1 in the country.
Now, no offense to Hampden-Sydney. I’ve known their head coach, Marty Favret, for a decade, since he was offensive coordinator at Catholic, but I prefer a No. 1 team in the country to have actually won a playoff game in the last few seasons.
Barring that, maybe actually having made the playoffs.
Favret, whose Tigers defeated Sewanee 35-17 in their opener in Tennessee on Saturday, was just as surprised as we were. “Touchdown Illustrated? You're kidding me. That's a little ridiculous. We have a chance to be pretty good, but we have to replace No. 1.”
That’s wide receiver Conrad Singh. Favret’s teams run a no-huddle offense, typically four wide receivers, although he’s always featured one receiver. But with Singh graduated, the Tigers’ offense doesn’t look the same.
“We're going to be different on offense than probably any team I’ve coached, where we'd have that signature 80-100 catch receiver,” said Favret. “We've grown up and have kids who've matured. We have a couple kids who are talented and we have a good tight end. We're going to spread the wealth a little more.”
Plus they still have C.W. Clemmons, a 6-2 235 tailback with a sprinter’s speed in a fullback’s body.
“You certainly have fun drawing up the game plan for a kid like that,” Favret said. “He's certainly very versatile. He's big enough to run through linebackers and fast enough to run through the secondary.
“He's not the kind of guy that we're going to give the ball 40 times a game to right now, but we might have to think about that. He's certainly a I-AA kid playing in D-III right now.”
Defense has been the weakness in previous years, but Hampden-Sydney hopes to strengthen that this season. The Tigers return 10 starters on that side of the ball and brought in a new defensive coordinator, Jon Shields, who had been a defensive position coach at Division I-AA Illinois State.
“He's bringing a more sophisticated approach to our coverages,” said Favret. “We have the opportunity to shut teams down completely and I think we showed that last week.”
Sewanee threw for just 102 yards in the loss and the defense allowed just 10 points. The final touchdown came on an interception return.
“They are going to be vastly improved, I can say that without hesitation,” Favret said.
Hampden-Sydney travels to Gettysburg this week, then plays five of its final eight at home. They travel to Bridgewater on Oct. 2, in what would presumably decide the Old Dominion Athletic Conference title. Last year, the Tigers had a 21-0 lead and appeared to have the game wrapped up after a fourth-down stop with 1:36 remaining. But a costly (and controversial) late-hit penalty last year kept a crucial drive alive for Bridgewater, helping the Eagles knock off the Tigers 31-28. But it’s too early for them to look ahead. “It's hard,” said Favret. “There's so much hype about that game. Gotta pull out all the cliches and ‘one week at a time'.
“I told them it doesn't really matter what Bridgewater does now, they could be 0-4 when we play them but it won't matter. That will still decide the league in my mind.”
Hampden-Sydney, which spent much of the season ranked in the 16-20 range, finished 9-1 and did not get an at-large bid primarily because of strength of schedule. They will be playing Johns Hopkins in late October, which should help strengthen the playoff candidacy of whomever wins.
“I wish we had played them last year,” Favret said during the offseason. “I think we needed another quality opponent to get in.”
For your own amusement, the rest of Touchdown Illustrated’s Top 10: 2. Linfield, 3. Mount Union, 4. Bridgewater, 5. Bethel, 6. St. John’s, 7. UW-La Crosse, 8. Millikin, 9. Mary Hardin-Baylor, 10. Rowan.
Program in trouble
We're going to have to keep a close eye again on Principia and hope the school can maintain its football program. The smallest school to field a Division III football program (Principia has just 545 undergraduates), the Panthers publish a roster featuring just 25 names. All 25 dressed out for the Panthers' game against Southwest Assemblies of God on Saturday, and not surprisingly, many played both ways.
Remember, this is a school that pulled its football program out of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference some years back, even though the SLIAC was basically the worst conference in Division III. Now they're in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, a collection of D-III, NAIA and other-affiliated schools that is trying to transition to Division III.
Only Christian Scientists can attend the school, limiting the talent pool available. And the school has high academic and moral standards. So while there were no major injuries in the first game, the team lost several players in the preseason.
“We had eight that should’ve been on this year’s team that we lost for various reasons,” Principia coach Mike Barthelmess said. “There was lots of stuff the guys were doing that were going against our school’s moral standards. And we probably had 17 freshmen that were working on getting in here, but for various reasons we only got about half of those.”
Barthelmess, who played football and baseball at Principia and was an assistant coach before taking over the head coaching job in 1992, says these low numbers are not all that unusual for the Panthers. “Our numbers have always averaged around 33 to 35. I’ve never coached a team of 25.”
The situation is somewhat different from what Mount Ida experienced in 2000. Coming off a successful first season (3-5 in 1999), Mount Ida had an ambitious schedule planned for its second year. But two head coaching changes in the offseason and a mass of player defections left the Mustangs also in the high 20s on the roster.
Mount Ida ended up canceling games against Wesley in Week 3 and Brockport State in Week 9 because they were worried about the players’ safety. Barthelmess doesn’t see that as an issue — yet.
“The kids that we do have are very athletic, very physical,” said Barthelmess. “I don’t think we’re putting anyone at risk out there because of their experience.
“I guess there’s a little concern on my part because we’re having to play freshmen and guys who don’t have experience more than we like to, guys playing both ways.”
This week at Trinity Bible will probably be the biggest indicator of exactly where Principia stands. Last year the Panthers had 30-some players and thrashed Trinity Bible on neutral turf 55-0. (Remember Trinity Bible is the non-Division III school that Rockford ran it up on to the tune of 105-0.) By most objective measures (i.e., the computer rankings), Trinity Bible is among the worst 5-10 college teams at any level in the nation.
“The conference is more of a christian conference. Teams are not going to try to physically beat you. They’re just trying to play as many people as they can. I don’t feel like we’re playing anyone that we have to be worried about (injuries) against them.
“If we go up there this weekend and find out we are at their level, then we may have to rethink this thing,” said Barthelmess, suggesting he might have to recommend disbanding the team at that point.
“The thing you don’t want to have happen is have their experience is one that they’re dreading. Right now they seem to be very inspired. We’re just going to take it week to week.”
Unfortunately, even though the trustees are committed to keeping a program in place, things are getting harder, not easier, at Principia. “Principia has a lot of hoops that these kids have to jump through. We’ve got high standards about drinking and premarital sex and drugs.
“And to come to this school you have to be a Christian Scientist. My eligible recruit list was 50 kids last year. This year it’s 30. They are out there and they are also here on campus, they just have to feel like it’s a right fit for them.”
What we’ve heard
Wesley safety Rocky Myers, a preseason All-American and finalist for last year’s Gagliardi Trophy, is lining up at wide receiver for the Wolverines as well. They wanted to do it last year, but an injury led the coaching staff to be cautious. … While Wesley's turf barely got down in time, Wheaton was not so lucky, and will be hosting its season opener against Gustavus Adolphus at Elmhurst. ... Wooster is razor-thin at cornerback. If either Jesse Koski or Ryan Jayne gets injured, the Scots will be in trouble. There are no lettermen backing either up. … Tom Clark started a freshman at quarterback at Catholic his first season there by the name of Kevin Ricca who ended up starting all four years and rewriting the school record books. After four years of Ricca, he started a freshman in Derek McGee, who did the same. This year, in Clark’s return to Catholic, he started freshman Greg Nejmah. … Tom Fox, the 30-something quarterback at Blackburn, is back for his senior season. Coaches tried to talk him into staying on as a coach, but he’s playing. … Chowan appears serious about rumors it is moving down to Division II after being booted from the USA South. Remember, the conference athletic directors wanted them to stay, but the school presidents voted otherwise. … At the moment, Mount Union alumnus Chris Kern is the primary backup at both strong safety and free safety on the Detroit Lions’ depth chart.
Conferences that helped themselves in Week 1
The WIAC went 4-0, with three wins against Division III competition and two wins in-region. UW-Eau Claire holding on against the defending national champions was the centerpiece of a stellar Saturday, edging out UW-Whitewater's rout of St. Norbert. UW-Platteville probably enjoyed the long ride home after blowing out Thiel, and UW-Oshkosh tamed D-III defector Upper Iowa. UIU just finished its first full recruiting offseason with scholarships, in its second year of transitioning down to Division II.
Ohio Athletic Conference teams went 6-3, but don't go overboard – that was expected. In fact, one would probably expect Wilmington to beat Mt. St. Joseph and make it 7-2. John Carroll was the lone OAC team with a bye week and will travel to Hope in a good interconference test next Saturday.
Conferences that hurt themselves in Week 1
The North Coast Athletic Conference went 1-7, with its only win against Muskingum. Oberlin, Earlham and Ohio Wesleyan had winnable games, and even some of the expected losses were still embarrassing (Denison 0, Waynesburg 64; Hiram 0, Carnegie Mellon 44).
The Centennial went 5-2 but essentially wasted a key win by McDaniel (against Bridgewater) by losing to Lebanon Valley (Gettysburg, 7-3) and Susquehanna (Ursinus, 43-19, at home against a team Ursinus beat in 2003). With the possible exception of Muhlenberg over Kings Point, all the other wins were as expected.
The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference should have gone 4-0 last week, especially the way Concordia-Moorhead rolled past crosstown rival, Division II Moorhead State. But the final 30 seconds of the game went poorly for both Carleton and St. John’s, with Carleton giving up a long touchdown pass to Lake Forest in a 16-10 loss, and St. John’s rookie quarterback Alex Kofoed slipped and fell on a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied UW-Eau Claire and capped a 23-point comeback.
Moving the Middle Atlantic Conference from the South to the East Region shouldn’t have too much effect on what we’ll see come playoff time. Although we’ve long advocated this move (in fact, our first-ever set of playoff projections under the current playoff structure had Lycoming as the top seed in the East), this will only formalize what geography often suggests — the MAC champ is usually among the seven most northeastern teams in the playoffs.
What it does do is continue the consolidation of the South Region. Whereas when we first started, the South stretched from within eyesight of the Manhattan skyline to the Pacific Ocean (the SCIAC was in the South at one point), now it merely runs from approximately Allentown to the New Mexico/Texas border.
I suppose we should consider that progress.
The name game
La Verne got its first SCIAC win in two seasons, beating Pomona-Pitzer 26-21, thanks in part to an appropriately named wide receiver. La Verne’s final TD was set up by a 55-yard pass from Brian Guerrero to David Catchings. Catchings led all receivers with 108 yards on five receptions.
Games of the Week
Willamette at No. 8 Mary Hardin-Baylor, 8:30 p.m. ET, Belton, Texas: There aren’t any games between ranked teams, but there are several intriguing ones. Willamette got a bump up the polls when voters finally got the score of the Bearcats’ win against Division II Western Oregon. Meanwhile, the voters are already showing nervousness over UMHB, nudging UW-Stevens Point up past them despite neither team playing. It’s the Fly offense against the Cru defense, a matchup which Mary Hardin-Baylor has won by two scores each time. Of course, it’s been totally irrelevant to the playoff selection and seeding process, which is just plain wrong.
Other games to watch: Western Oregon at No. 2 Linfield, Union at No. 4 Springfield, Gustavus Adolphus at No. 13 Wheaton, Illinois Wesleyan at No. 17 UW-Eau Claire, No. 18 Brockport State at Salisbury, Southern Connecticut at No. 20 Rowan, No. 22 Lycoming at King’s, McDaniel at Christopher Newport, John Carroll at Hope, Washington and Jefferson at Hanover, Whitworth at Redlands. Yeah, it’s an interesting weekend, folks.
Finally, some housekeeping items, keeping these things on your mind for when Keith returns next week:
We always need your feedback
Which four teams will play Dec. 11 for a chance to go to the Stagg Bowl? You can give us your four best teams, but don’t forget to factor in how playoff brackets might look. Rowan, Brockport and Ithaca aren’t all going to be in the final four. Send your picks to firstname.lastname@example.org or use the upgraded feedback form.
Last shot at this, I’d think, since by next week we’ll have too many games in to make it a preseason prediction.
You could take it with you
We are considering the idea of a print magazine devoted to Division III football. If you would be interested in either a preseason preview or a weekly edition, please send your name, street address and e-mail address to email@example.com, and indicate which you'd buy. We'd be glad to hear your thoughts on what a magazine should contain and look like, and why you think it would be a good or bad idea.
Around the Nation is looking for new directories, media guides, record books and other helpful tools from both conference and school SIDs. The information is used in compiling Around the Nation, and is a great help for feature stories. SIDs can also add firstname.lastname@example.org to football-only release lists or e-mail us the Web address of online guides, but please label correspondence as such in the subject line. Snail mail to Keith McMillan, 14010 Smoketown Rd., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.