Natural bowl, pines and a large crowd
Photo by Neil Coleman, D3sports.com
By Keith McMillan
COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. -- Now that, boys and girls, was a weekend of football.
Sure, you’re already salivating over the playoff possibilities that can be affected by Week 10 games, but – quick, catch! – images of Week 9 won’t soon be forgotten. Still, there’s a lot to get to in Around the Nation this week, so we’ll be moving quickly from item to item. It’ll take more than 62 seconds, but I promise to hustle the entire way.
With last week’s incredible slate of games, it may not have seemed like a bright idea, but the brothers Coleman and I traveled to St. John’s for the game with rival St. Thomas. But there’s really never a bad time to see a game at what is oft described as the best game-day atmosphere in Division III. And the Johnnies and Tommies went ahead and obliged us with an unexpectedly exciting game to boot.
For those of you latched on to a certain team each Saturday or would otherwise never get a chance to travel to Collegeville, let me briefly take you on that trip.
About an hour’s drive northwest of the Twin Cities, past countless lakes but not quite in the middle of nowhere lies the frequently described St. John’s campus (see Sports Illustrated, The Sweet Season, etc.)
After parking, and seeing a busload of UST fans unload, our walk into the gym building, the Donald McNeely Spectrum, is interrupted by a table full of red and white Johnnies game-day T-shirts. Fans walk through the building, as Johnnies with only their bottom-half pads on trade leisurely tosses of the football on the other side of the glass in the field house.
Outside the building, end-zone seating, a.k.a. the student section (both rare in Division III) is straight ahead. (I meant to go sit in there for a few series. I even contemplated wearing a St. Thomas T-shirt while doing so to gauge the reaction.)
To the right is a concrete grandstand that certainly isn’t the division’s biggest, but it’s packed with red-clad fans long before kickoff.
Trees make up the backdrop on the visitors sideline and the scoreboard end/far end zone, although we seem to have missed peak foliage by a week or two. The trees are a dull orange, but still give Clemens Stadium a cozy feel.
A steep slope turns the far end zone side into a bowl, and fans find scattered places to sit on the hill. Where permitted, fans are 4-5 deep around the field, as they might be at a Wabash/DePauw or Randolph-Macon/Hampden-Sydney rivalry game.
The turf is still vivid and new, and the video-board-less scoreboard stands out as well. But the physical isn’t quite what makes the place come alive.
Atop the grandstand, an open bookstore and row of food offerings give Clemens the feel of a big-time concourse. Fans of all ages mill about, as posters for other Johnnies sports are given away and and details about J-Club and alumni events are announced.
Atop the bowl is a parking area, and tucked in a corner where you can peek between the trees for a skybox-type view of the field is the SJU tailgate. The Stiftungsfestivities (so named after the tailgate’s specialty burger) have their own Web site (beat that, Stone Station!), a page on JohnnieFootball.com and have been featured by Rich Mies, the MIAC’s College Sporting News columnist.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, D3sports.com
As we’ve come to experience at stops across the country, folks are better introduced by their message board names, and they are too kind. I could barely finish a conversation before being pulled away to meet another of the Johnnies’ famous message-board supporters.
Truthfully, the best game day atmosphere is different for different people. Some of you would simply rather be wherever your favorite team is playing.
St. John’s has been written about ad nauseam, and I’m not sure my official endorsement will add much to that. But I can’t imagine what game day at St. John’s lacks. Sure, there’s no video board or light standards, but this is one of the few places where a night game might actually be a step in the wrong direction.
Put it this way. If you ever have to come to Minnesota on business, trek off the beaten path on a cross-country drive or “accidentally” miss your connecting flight on a Northwest layover, get here for a game. Whatever excuse you can come up with. You won’t regret it.
We here in Division III are lucky to call college football’s all-time winningest coach our own, so another good reason to get up to St. John’s was to spend a few minutes with John Gagliardi, at the house he built, while he’s still active. This is his 59th season.
His quick wit made him a hit among the media at the 2000 and 2003 Stagg Bowls, and as Pat and I sat in his office on Saturday after his 10th consecutive win against St. Thomas, John -- he doesn’t like to be called coach -- showed us he still has it.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3sports.com
In a candid, maybe 15-minute conversation that ranged from his early dealings with St. John’s monks to fellow coaches Larry Kehres, Sonny Lubick and Joe Paterno, among the observations he shared:
His thoughts on close games: “It’s nice to make great rallies, but I’d like ‘em all to be blowouts.”
His reaction to on odd play following a safety and free kick: “Every time I think I’ve seen everything, I know I haven’t.”
That’s why I’d hate to retire,” he said. “Then all you’d have is the memories. Who would come talk to me if I was retired? I’d have nothing to look forward to.”
On what coach Larry Kehres has done at Mount Union, winning nine titles since 1993 and having his team ranked No. 1 again: “That’s better than John Wooden.”
He said his biggest fear over the years? “An all-losing season. I don’t think I could survive that. I can hardly survive one or two losses.”
His take on why coaching was easier earlier in his career: “I didn’t know what I didn’t know then.”
Gagliardi also put the coaching profession in perspective.
“The only way I could survive,” he said, “I can only think of one game at a time. By Tuesday of the next week, I’ve already forgotten last week,” he said. “After two weeks, I don’t even remember it.”
Even though some memories over the course of 55 years at St. John’s run together, Gagliardi isn’t saying he doesn’t hold anything dear. He compared the grind of coaching to a reporter’s writing or a doctor’s operating
“You can write a masterpiece,” he said. “A hell of a lot of good it does you when you have to do it again.”
He told of a surgeon friend who can’t stop to appreciate an operation that went well. The doctor only feels relief. The next patient won’t be comforted by the news that the last operation went well.
That’s how John says he feels after wins. First relief, then a building expectation to go out and do it again.
For the 9-0 Johnnies to guarantee a playoff berth and wrap the MIAC championship, they’ll need to win in Week 11 at Bethel. Gagliardi and his charges had two weeks to prepare to get revenge on the Royals, who stunned the Johnnies 28-13 last season.
There’s no telling how many of Gagliardi’s anecdotes and remarks are new, but they’re new to Around the Nation. The man can spin a yarn, and if you looked in the hall outside his office after the game, he can stop traffic.
Though many waited patiently for their chance to talk with John, at one point, in came Brian Weber, fresh off an 11-catch, 169-yard receiving day. He introduced his brother, a high school cornerback interested in coming to St. John’s, and two friends.
“We need a corner, you saw that today,” Gagliardi joked. St. Thomas passed for 334 yards in the 51-34 Johnnies win.
The victory was his 452nd, extending his record, and his 428th as coach of St. John’s.
If, for some reason you know little about Gagliardi’s history and his program of ‘Winning with Nos’, learn more on the St. John’s Web site.
Books have been written about the man, as in more than one, so I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. But it is refreshing to be in his presence, calling him John, shooting the breeze with him after his team gave up 453 yards of offense. He paces the sidelines during the game, but wasn’t agonizing after it.
Gagliardi’s been around a while, but he’s not worn down. The only time we got a sense of his age is when he mentioned a typewriter to a St. Cloud Times reporter.
We ran into John once more on our way out, after we’d spent some time doing the less glamorous D3football.com work: Updating the front page of the site back in the press box, digesting the nation’s scores. He made sure we took the short way out of the building to the parking lot, chatting some more along the way.
For certain, he’s taught many a man many a lesson. I think what I get most from him is a reminder that it’s OK to think outside the box, so to speak, and forge ahead with what you believe will work. And if for some reason it doesn’t, keeping a positive attitude will get you through to the next day.
Dome sweet Dome
The Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, better known as the UMAC, might be unfamiliar to Division III fans across the country, partly because we here at D3football.com recognize conference schools as independents. (With reclassifying provisional NCAA members and a non-NCAA team in the conference, we believe that’s appropriate).
If you’ve hardly heard of the conference, then you likely know little about its annual Dome Day, in which UMAC teams play the corresponding team in the opposite division (5th place vs. 5th, 4th vs. 4th, etc.) during a day-long affair at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. Five games, the first kicking off at 8 a.m. and the last ending around 11:30 p.m., highlighted last Friday’s action.
From afar, I’d often wondered if Dome Day was one of those things that seemed cooler in theory than it was when put into action. For starters, there were bound to be about 60,000 empty seats, even with a good-sized Division III crowd in the building.
It actually seemed like a pretty good fit for the event, even feeling a bit cozy in the cavernous dome, with its “sea of blue (seats) and Teflon skies,” as photographer Ryan Coleman described it. The reverb meant each UMAC fan’s scream could be heard, and the crack of helmets and tweet of whistles wafted into the upper end of the lower deck. (The upper deck wasn’t in use.) The UMAC announcer’s voice bellowed across the building, while contemporary Christian rock blared during timeouts.
There were plenty of seats to choose from, but fans could get close to the action. The big scoreboard flashed the day’s UMAC scores and leaders, which was pretty cool since the building has been home to World Series Game 7’s, a Final Four and hosted a Vikings-Eagles game on Sunday.
The games were mostly high-scoring, and the action was great from the moment I walked in. I blogged about the day’s games on The Daily Dose, and D3sports.com shot hundreds of photos for DomeDayPhotos.com. UMAC fans can purchase reprints, and even those with casual interest should check out the galleries just to see what they experience was like. Division III football in an NFL venue is definitely worth checking out.
There were a couple of the best finishes I’ve seen. Crown scored and converted a two-point conversion with 42 seconds left only to have Blackburn come back with the winning with 9 seconds left. In the nightcap, Rockford got in position for a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation but had it blocked, then scored first in OT and had the PAT blocked, opening the door for Northwestern (Minn.) to take the conference title. More details are on the Dose thread linked above.
Friday marked the last 10-team Dome Day for the forseeable future. The UMAC’s Blackburn, Principia and Westminster (Mo.) will be joining the folding Illini-Badger’s Greenville, Eureka and MacMurray in the SLIAC. Huntingdon and LaGrange will round out the conference for football only.
Rockford and Maranatha Baptist leave the UMAC next season for the Northern Athletics Conference. Wisconsin Lutheran from the MIAA and Lakeland, Aurora, Benedictine, Concordia (Wis.) and Concordia (Ill.) from the IBFC join them.
Neither conference will get a playoff bid for at least two seasons, while the IBFC AQ is lost next year.
The UMAC adds St. Scholastica, so Dome Day will continue next season with three games. Crown, Minnesota-Morris, Northwestern (Minn.), Martin Luther behind in the UMAC, along with Trinity Bible, make up the UMAC six.
One of the best parts of my Dome Day experience was watching the teams who were wrapping up their seasons. Martin Luther beat Westminster 51-36, and it was all smiles afterward, especially when the team made its way over to the near sideline to shake hands with parents. Being the end of the line (and me remembering that feeling), that’s one of the times you don’t want to rush into the locker room. It’s cool to linger, hug family, give high fives to friends. This isn’t baseball, you can’t join the local softball league to approximate the game later. Once you’re done with tackle football, that’s pretty much it.
So it was definitely cool to see a super-excited coach (who I can only assume was Martin Luther’s Doug Lange) high five players, hug people in the stands and let out joyous whoop after joyous whoop.
The UMAC’s talent wasn’t quite on par with what’s in most other conferences across the country. The speed is there and the effort is there, and some of the offensive schemes reflect other Division III teams are running. But the size difference is obvious, especially along the lines, and the defenses weren’t as effective.
Told of our Friday adventure, some MIAC fans at the Stiftungsfestivities thumbed their noses at the UMAC. We get it, it’s not the national championship-caliber play they’re used to. But UMAC players and coaches quite evidently love the game as much as the rest of us, if not more. And if we’re all about playing for the love, and representing for the little guy when compared to Division I, don’t we also have to extend those courtesies to our smaller and perhaps less-talented brethren?
Liberty Mutual coach of the year award
Last week, ATN briefly mentioned how Liberty Mutual has extended its coach of the year award to Division III this season. Fan voting accounts for 20% of the final decision, with voting open until Nov. 27.
The current leaders are Millsaps’ Mike DuBose, RPI’s Joe King, Geneva’s Geno DeMarco, St. John’s’ Gagliardi and Case Western Reserve’s Greg Debeljak, the only one new to the top five this week.
Fan voting is what it is, but it’s almost comical at this stage. Millsaps fans could argue that both of the Majors’ losses were games they should have won, while DuBose was probably one of last year’s top coaches in taking the team to 7-4 from 2-7. King surged to second from fourth last week while Gagliardi switched spots with him.
Debeljak, whose Spartans are 8-0 and in line for a playoff spot after a 5-5 season, is probably the most deserving coach on the board. At least if your philosophy on coach of the year awards is like mine: Who did the most with the least, or who far exceeded expectations.
Sure, Gagliardi and Kehres are doing great jobs, but their teams are also loaded. Plus, those guys need another coaching award like they need a holding penalty on third-and-short.
Beyond Debeljak, No. 14 Eric Hamilton of The College of New Jersey (7-1 and leading the NJAC after a 4-6 season), No. 16 Mike Carr of Hartwick (6-2 with two victories over Empire 8 powers after a 4-6 year) and No. 25 Sherman Wood of Salisbury (8-1 after a 5-5 regular season in ‘06) are probably the most deserving coaches currently in the rankings.
Worthy candidates indeed. But as of today, here are the three who would get my support, and deserve consideration for yours:
Pedro Arruza, Randolph-Macon: Took a team coming off consecutive 2-8 seasons and ranked below No. 200 in Kickoff ’07 and has them 7-1, in position for an ODAC title and playoff bid.
Norm Eash, Illinois Wesleyan: Though the toughest work is still ahead, the Titans are 6-2 and in the CCIW hunt. Three consecutive 3-7 seasons preceded this year.
Albright’s John Marzka: The first-year coach of the Lions has a team that was 2-8 last season at 7-1 and in control of their own destiny in the MAC title race.
If you’re voting for the coach of your 2-6 alma mater, trust me, you’re doing him no favors. No one wants to stand in front of their peers and be congratulated for that kind of record. So knock it off and look around at some of the dozens of coaches who are in the midst of phenomenal seasons.
Poll Positions/My 26-35
Thoughts of a D3football.com voter, and a list of schools on the brink of the top 25:
When there are five games matching top 25 teams, as there were in Week 9, a poll shakeup the following Sunday is assured. And with that many losses by good teams guaranteed, not to mention the usual spate of upsets, it’s also going to be a difficult week to be a voter.
The implications of then-No. 3 UW-Whitewater’s 41-14 beating of then-No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor are being discussed in depth on The Daily Dose, and if you haven’t yet commented, feel free. The Crusaders dropped to No. 6, still highest of any team with a loss to a Division III opponent, and must now turn their focus toward clinching the American Southwest title and automatic bid this Saturday against 5-4 East Texas Baptist. The non-conference loss at Whitewater probably didn’t cost the Crusaders much at all, since as the No. 3 team in the regional rankings they’re likely to get a home playoff game if they finish with wins against the Tigers and Howard Payne, and other South Region contenders have regular-season losses to lesser teams than the Warhawks. Only Washington and Jefferson and Muhlenberg look positioned to definitely host at this point.
The difficulty of doing the job shows in what our pollsters missed this week:
Alfred dropped from No. 11 to 19 after a 41-22 defeat against Hobart on Saturday. RPI barely got past WPI and moved up to No. 20, which is fine except RPI beat Hobart 35-31. So by one comparative score alone, voters like myself should have shifted RPI ahead of Alfred even though they struggled this week.
I still can’t figure out why No. 15 TCNJ is ranked ahead of No. 16 Muhlenberg when the Mules beat the Lions 15-0 on opening weekend. A stronger schedule means something, but head-to-head always trumps that, no?
One of my favorite score strings of the year is 9-0 Curry over 2-7 Western New England 48-3, then WNEC over 6-2 Hartwick 48-21, then Hartwick over 7-1 St. John Fisher 31-28. So even if you don’t believe this proves Curry is better than SJF, there’s still a huge disparity in vote-points.
No. 8 St. John Fisher is at 460, with Curry at 7 and Hartwick at 3.
Without revealing who sneaked into the lower end of my ballot, here are teams I was considering but did not vote for this week: Albright, Waynesburg, Case Western Reserve and St. Norbert.
With nine regular-season weeks in the books and two to go, only two teams have laid claim to the 22 available automatic qualifiers (When you see the term AQ around here, it means automatic qualifier, the NCAA's term for what we fans call an automatic bid).
Some conference situations have been distilled into a formality (like the American Southwest) or a title clash (like the Old Dominion).
And then there’s the Liberty League, where not only are half of the teams still in line for the title, but they spend the next two weeks playing each other to sort it out. Here’s how things break down:
RPI 5-0, 7-0 vs. Rochester, at Union; earlier 35-31 win at Hobart
Union 5-0, 5-2 vs. Hobart, vs. RPI; earlier 13-7 win at Rochester
Hobart 4-1, 6-2 at Union, at Rochester; earlier 35-31 loss to RPI
Rochester 4-1, 5-3 wins at RPI, vs. Hobart; earlier 13-7 loss vs. Union.
Union broadcaster Frank Rossi best explains it this way:
Union and RPI win this weekend: Union-RPI game determines Pool A, Hobart out of Pool C consideration
Union wins, RPI loses this weekend: Union-RPI game determines Pool A, and Hobart out of Pool C consideration
Union loses, RPI wins this weekend: Union-RPI game determines Pool A and Hobart is out of Pool C consideration ONLY if Rochester beats Hobart. Otherwise, RPI wins Pool A slot and Hobart remains in Pool C consideration
Union and RPI lose this weekend: Final weekend's games determine winner whereby the following results will have the listed ramifications:
1. Union and Hobart win -- Hobart wins Pool A, RPI a questionable Pool C candidate;
2. Union and Rochester win -- Union wins Pool A, Hobart out of Pool C contention;
3. RPI and Hobart win -- RPI wins Pool A, Hobart in Pool C consideration; or
4. RPI and Rochester win -- Rochester wins Pool A, Hobart out of Pool C consideration and RPI a questionable Pool C candidate.
RPI wins any 3-way, 1-loss tiebreaker.
Rossi’s extended analysis is two posts up from the bottom of this Post Patterns page.
Here’s the deal in the other 21 AQ conferences:
ASC: Mary Hardin-Baylor has a two-game lead and can clinch by beating East Texas Baptist Saturday.
CC: Muhlenberg (6-0, 8-0) can clinch by beating Ursinus (5-1, 7-1) Saturday. The Bears stay alive with a win, though they have a conference loss and Dickinson (4-2, 6-2) in Week 11.
CCIW: Three-way tie among Wheaton, Illinois Wesleyan and North Central still possible. The latter two play in Week 10, the former two in Week 11.
E8: Three-way tie among Alfred, St. John Fisher and Hartwick still possible. Alfred (4-0, 7-1) finishes at Ithaca and at SJF (4-1, 7-1). Hartwick (3-1, 6-2) has beaten St. John Fisher and lost to Alfred, and finishes against Springfield and Utica.
HCAC: Franklin (5-0, 7-1) can clinch Saturday against Defiance (4-1, 5-3), but a Yellow Jackets win makes a three-way tie possible. The Grizzlies defeated Mount St. Joseph (5-1, 7-1) but the Yellow Jackets did not.
IBFC: Concordia (Wis.) can clinch with a win at Benedictine Saturday. With a Benedictine win, and an Aurora win at Lakeland, a four-way tie is possible.
IIAC: Central at Wartburg will decide the AQ and title in Week 11.
MIAA: Hope (5-0, 5-3) can clinch by beating Olivet (4-1, 4-4) Saturday. An Olivet win opens the door to a possible three-way tie with Alma (4-1, 4-4), which lost to Hope but beat Olivet.
MIAC: St. John’s at Bethel will decide the AQ and title in Week 11.
MAC: Co-leaders Albright and Widener (each 5-0) play in Week 10, but Albright must also play 4-1 Delaware Valley and Widener must also play Wilkes.
MWC: St. Norbert has clinched.
NCAC: Wabash has clinched.
NEFC: Curry will face Coast Guard in Week 11 conference title game
NJAC: TCNJ (5-0, 7-1) leads Cortland State (5-1, 6-2) and can clinch Saturday with a win at Buffalo State.
OAC: Mount Union has clinched.
ODAC: Randolph-Macon/Hampden-Sydney winner in Week 11 takes AQ
PAC: Washington & Jefferson can clinch Saturday at Thomas More
SCIAC: Cal Lutheran (4-0, 4-3) is in the driver’s seat in three-way tie possibilities, due to the Rose Bowl tiebreaker. Redlands (3-1, 6-1) and Occidental (4-1, 6-1) are still alive.
SCAC: Trinity (Texas) must beat both Centre (home) and Austin (away) to clinch. Millsaps can still win the title by winning its last SCAC game that counts in the standings, against Colorado College, combined with a Trinity loss.
USAC: North Carolina Wesleyan, Christopher Newport and Ferrum are each alive, but due to the Panthers’ early-season OT loss against Maryville, a three-way unbreakable tie is impossible. Ferrum and N.C. Wesleyan control their own destiny and meet head-to-head this week.
WIAC: UW-Whitewater can clinch Saturday against UW-Stout.
Other things around the Web that might be of interest:
This week’s Around the Nation podcast is available on The Daily Dose and iTunes.
Pat Coleman wrote more about our visit to Collegeville and with John Gagliardi in his latest CSTV column. Gagliardi turns 81 today.
We had a little fun with our friends from Stone Station earlier in the column, but they brought Division III some major publicity when they visited with SIoncampus . (We’ll give them a shout even though we were described there as “internet message boards”) You can also read the interesting way Bridgewaterfootball.com made the feature happen.
If you haven’t seen our photo galleries, use the left-hand rail on the front page to check them out. Photographers across the country are doing a really nice job with games, and they aren’t all between top 25 teams. You can get a feel for what the game is like elsewhere across the nation, and if it’s your game they shot, reprints are available. I know I would’ve loved some high-quality pictures of myself in action.
Around the Nation is largely interactive, and since its inception has made reader feedback a part of the column. We keep a running board on Post Patterns (under general football) to discuss issues raised in the column, and we'll share feedback and answer questions there, as well as in the column occasionally. Send all correspondence to email@example.com, or use our feedback form.
Topic of the Week
Start rounding up your year-in-review suggestions. Biggest surprise. Best player, most bang for the buck, biggest surprise, best/worst play or coaching decision. Make a category up! If you need help finding a way to categorize your suggestion, glance back at last season's 3-part column from January. The plan this year is to release the first installment by the Stagg Bowl.
Call for video
Around the Nation is always looking for video of anything Division III football-related. That means we'd like to get our hands on documentaries, local cable broadcasts and re-airs, links to archived broadcasts and coaches' tapes.
This is especially important to us around playoff time. Please let us know if you have access to footage, by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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