September 24, 2008

Waiting over, CNU ready to climb

SALISBURY, Md. -- You’ve no doubt heard the phrase ‘a team’s greatest improvement comes between its first and second game.’

What then does a team do when it has no first or second game? 

Technically of course, Christopher Newport played its first game Saturday, but it was at Salisbury, then the nation’s eighth-ranked team playing for the third time.

“It’s uncharted ground,” said Captains coach Matt Kelchner about how to approach such a late start. His team began practice in anticipation of a Sept. 6 opener with then-No. 3 Wesley, but Tropical Storm Hanna nixed those plans.

So Kelchner counted 39 days between the first practice and Saturday’s first game. He and his staff tried everything they could think of, from pushing the team hard through game-like conditions to scaling back so as to not wear everyone out. The Captains were even able to work some of their players into a scrimmage with Fork Union Military Academy, who was originally scheduled to play Bridgewater’s JV, two days after the canceled game.

“The team probably hit the wall about a week, week and a half ago,” Kelchner said after the 38-21 loss to the Sea Gulls. 

Sometimes a player just can’t take any more practice. Scrimmaging isn’t cutting it. He needs to play and know it counts.

“It made me think of those teams who have to practice for 50 days leading up to their BCS bowl game,” Kelchner said. “We tried to go hard, go easy, scrimmage, not scrimmage. It didn’t matter.”

The Captains, who pride themselves on difficult non-conference scheduling, spent preseason camp installing their own schemes and preparing to challenge Wesley. Not being able to play the opener was a letdown. But worse, since it didn’t have any game video to trade, the Captains weren’t able to watch Salisbury’s wins against Albright and Geneva.

There are a fair share of execution-related reasons why Salisbury won, so the late start isn’t Christopher Newport’s excuse for losing. But it was clearly a factor.

Salisbury coach Sherman Wood told his team it was outplayed, that the Captains showed more intensity. But Christopher Newport’s tackling was sloppy and it wasn’t sharp against the Gulls’ double-wing option offense and 3-3-5 defense.

The Captains held the ball for 18:38 and trailed just 10-7 at the half, but Salisbury’s 10-play, 72-yard drive at the beginning of the third quarter put it up 10. Fullback Shelby Fisher’s 31-yard run set up another touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and Matthew Bookard made it 31-7 with a 51-yard intereception return 19 seconds later.

Christopher Newport junior quarterback Matt Long, who moved over from safety last season and scored the game’s first touchdown on a 13-yard run, was replaced by the more mobile Keith Gaines, who gave the Captains a spark by leading two touchdown drives, although both were on short fields.

Only St. Scholastica, a first-year program that lost 36-29 against Wisconsin Lutheran, and the 10 NESCAC teams who play eight-game seasons, started as late as Christopher Newport. But the Captains don’t plan to play catch-up for long.

“I’m glad we got a game in finally,” Kelchner said. “I see enough good things where we’re going to be a pretty good football team.”

Running back Tunde Ogun (19 carries, 89 yards) is going to be a force. The Captains won’t likely have as much trouble defensively with most teams as they did with Salisbury. Kelchner didn’t commit to either Long or Gaines after the game, and he didn’t promise he’d settle on one quarterback anytime soon, saying he’d look at the tape and do what’s best.

“We’ve got two good athletes, two good competitors,” he said. “ … If that means playing two young [quarterbacks], that’s what we’ll do. We rotate guards, tackles and tight ends, why the heck not?”

CNU plays three of its next four on the road, going to Wilkes Saturday before starting its USA South schedule at Shenandoah the following week. Having nine games is less than ideal, but then again, the Captains don’t plan to stop playing when the regular season ends Nov. 15. 

And there’s an interesting precedent for them having a game canceled by weather. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel wiped out a scheduled game against Muhlenberg. Two months later, the Captains got their visit from the Mules in the first round of the playoffs and won 24-20. Given Wesley’s standing in the South Region, it’s possible the Captains could eventually get the shot at the Wolverines that they’d craved. 

Gulls with gall

Salisbury, which moved up to No. 6 in the latest poll, is no stranger to scheduling woes. When Brockport State joined the NJAC this season, the Gulls were left with just three locked-in ACFC games. That meant seven dates to fill, but Wood saw that as an opportunity as much as it was a burden.

Four of the Sea Gulls’ first six games are on the road, with the first three against teams that won at least seven games last season with nationally-ranked St. John Fisher and ACFC rival Wesley on the schedule later. 

“When I saw it come out,” quarterback Ronnie Curley said “I thought it was a tough schedule, but I was definitely looking forward to it.”

“That’s the makeup of our team,” Wood said. “We want the exposure. We want to go up and down the East Coast. That’s what we have to do and we’re excited about it.”

Next up is Delaware Valley, which beat Wesley in Week 2. 

It can’t be good for the Aggies that the 3-0 Sea Gulls aren’t happy with any of their performances so far. Since joining Division III’s elite, Salisbury no longer aspires to just win.

“The last three weeks, we probably didn’t win well enough,” said Curley, who notes that perfection is demanded at practice. “We’ve played probably about half as good as we can play.”

First and Ten

Around the Nation spreads the field, then dinks and dunks its way through a list of thoughts that popped up concerning Weeks 3 and 4:

1. Following in the footsteps of the five Division III teams who host NFL training camps, Catholic will get a later visit from another set of Cardinals. The NFL’s Arizona team played the Redskins near D.C. last weekend and rather than going back and forth across the country before Sunday’s game at the Jets, the Cardinals are staying in the D.C suburbs until Saturday. They’ll practice in the early afternoon at CUA, before the D3 team takes its own field.

2. With the MIAC, how about we just make a list of who isn’t a contender? Seems it would be much easier that way.

3. If you’ve always wondered why it seems like we cover mostly teams from the East and Midwestern areas of the U.S. as opposed to the Far West and South, it’s because we do. For good reason. Check out the Google Map on Pat’s Football West of the Rockies post on the Daily Dose. Maybe you’ve always known that the vast majority of our teams are indeed concentrated in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Upper Midwest, or that states like Wisconsin, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania or New York alone are home to more D3 teams than the entire West Coast, but nothing drives it home like seeing it visually.

4. If John Gagliardi of St. John’s weren’t already impressive enough, here’s another feather for his cap: He coached his 589th game last week, passing Grambling legend Eddie Robinson for most in history.

5. At 3-0, Curry is already the only unbeaten team left among the 16 teams in the NEFC.

6. Guilford goes to Hampden-Sydney on Saturday for this year’s renewal of the ‘First Team to Play Defense Wins’ rivalry. So what if that’s not a real nickname? Both teams come in averaging 323 passing yards and are among the top 17 in total offense. The Tigers have won the past three games 56-49, 46-43 and 47-45.

7. The CCIW sends two of its best to play two of the MIAA’s best, as No. 7 Wheaton goes to Hope and No. 9 North Central plays at Olivet. In case you were curious, Hope and Olivet are too far apart for the DuPage County rivals to charter a Little Brass Bus together.

8. Looking forward to the first seven-overtime game in Division III. After Mass-Dartmouth and WPI set a record in Week 1 by playing five, St. Olaf and St. Thomas took their place in the record book by playing a sixth last week. In neither game, however, has the scoring gotten as out of hand as it did in last year’s Week 11, 72-70, four-overtime thriller between Hartwick and Utica.

9. Upset of the week, perhaps of the year, is Northwestern, Minn. 41, UW-River Falls 34. Although the Eagles have had more success of late than the Falcons, the UMAC is 27th of the 27 conferences rated by Kickoff ’08, while the WIAC ranked first at it has for the past several seasons. So this qualifies as a major wow. The Eagles built a 41-27 lead before UW-RF took a shot into the end zone on the final play that could have resulted in a tying score and an escape.

10. Puget Sound’s reward for a difficult 34-28 overtime thriller against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, our preseason No. 178? Oh, just the chance to host the defending national champions. UW-Whitewater flies into Tacoma on two weeks’ rest.

Poll positions

Insight on the ballot of a D3football.com top 25 voter, and the teams who are on the fringe:

The discussion that began on Post Patterns’ Top 25 thread late last week became more or less moot when several ranked teams lost in Week 3. I’d mentioned being slow to get behind St. John Fisher this season, while other voters are slow to get behind some other successful-to-date teams. I posted a little bit about the reasoning behind that there.

Willamette, a team off to a solid and slightly unexpected strong start, benefited from its Week 1 win over Concordia-Moorhead, which suddenly looked a lot more meaningful after the Cobbers beat No. 4 St. John’s 9-6. The Bearcats slid into the poll at No. 25, though their 38 points are the fewest ever for a ranked team in a D3football.com poll.

I voted for four new teams this week and still ended up with 23 of the consensus 25. All four of the ranked teams that lost (Bethel, St. John’s, Central and Ohio Northern) dropped off my ballot, although the Dutch and Polar Bears were barely on it, while the two MIAC teams fell from the top 15. Bethel picking up its second loss was particularly damaging. Redlands was the only team I had making a significant move up.

The MIAC right now seems to be a conference which will have an elite team or two at the end of the season, but it might be a while before we know who that is, making it hard to give any team top 25 status. Conference purists will look at the level of competition and wonder how it can have but one ranked team (or none in some voters’ minds). Four other conference teams are receiving votes.

This might be a time when a fact oft mentioned in ATN bears repeating: Division III’s top 25 only has room for the very elite. By comparison, the Division I-A top 25 is the best of 121 teams, essentially the top fifth. A Division III top 25 is the best of 239, almost the top tenth. So making the Division III top 25 is roughly akin to the I-A top 12.

In that vein, it makes sense for a Division III voter to keep a list of teams on the fringe, running at times to 50 teams. There’s such a thin line between being in our top 25 and hovering around it.

 My fringe (I wouldn’t get hung up on the “ranking” here, it’s more important that these teams are being watched closely): 26. Montclair State, 27. Albright, 28. St. John’s, 29. Ohio Northern, 30. Curry, 31. Concordia-Moorhead, 32. Augsburg, 33. St. Olaf, 34. Wartburg, 35. Bethel, 36. Carthage, 37. Illinois Wesleyan, 38. Central, 39. Wash U., 40. Linfield, 41. Christopher Newport.

 The first American Football Coaches’ Association poll featured a 29-11 split on first-place votes between Mount Union and UW-Whitewater and no major surprises. Ithaca and Hardin-Simmons come in much higher than in the D3football.com poll, while a pair of teams without the same winning tradition, Franklin and Case Western Reserve, come in much lower. But it’s virtually the same group of teams. You can view the board of coaches who votes in the AFCA poll here.

Five games to watch

It’s not the biggest week of games, as most of the top 25 teams are playing games they should win. But there’s still plenty to be intrigued by:

No. 16 Ithaca (3-0, 1-0 E8) at No. 11 St. John Fisher (2-1, 0-0): The road to the Empire 8 championship runs through Pittsford, N.Y., this year, as the Cardinals host Ithaca and Hartwick in consecutive weeks, and bring Springfield to town in Week 8. The Bombers are coming off a dominating 69-42 performance, at least offensively, against Hartwick.

No. 6 Salisbury (3-0) at Delaware Valley (1-1): The Aggies already slayed one ACFC top-10 giant, but the Sea Gulls are a different test. The defense must stay consistently disciplined against the option. Salisbury doesn’t feature quite the caliber of runners they did last season, but if they’re sharp, it might not matter. The Sea Gulls, at 6.94 yards per carry and 400 per game, are the nation’s best rushing offense.

No. 14 Franklin (2-0) at Trine (2-0): Now in its fifth season, and its first with a new name, Trine has a chance to get off to a better start than it ever did as Tri-State. It might also be playing its first nationally significant game after creeping up to 6-4 last season. The Grizzlies are still fairly new to the national rankings themselves, and having won their first two games by a touchdown and a field goal, a ‘statement’ win wouldn’t hurt. Franklin quarterback Chad Rupp has passed for seven TDs to five receivers in two games, and the offense has averaged 489.5 yards.

Trinity, Conn. (1-0) at Williams (1-0): Beyond the traditional rivalry games, this might be the best matchup in the NESCAC. With just one game played, it’s hard to tell. The Bantams and Ephs usually hinge their success on defense, last year’s 46-40 triple-overtime game aside. Both played well defensively last week. Williams allowed just 133 yards in a 28-0 shutout of Colby, while Trinity allowed 199 and a TD pass with less than four minutes left and a 17-0 lead against Bates.

Bethel (1-2, 0-1 MIAC) at Concordia-Moorhead (2-1, 1-0): The Royals, semifinalists last season, are already fighting for their playoff lives. The Cobbers won at St. John’s and now are among the MIAC’s hunted. Gustavus Adolphus at St. John’s and St. Olaf at Augsburg should help identify some of the MIAC’s strongest contenders.

 Also keep an eye on: Mississippi College at No. 24 Hardin-Simmons, Christopher Newport at Wilkes, Otterbein at Ohio Northern, Heidelberg at John Carroll, Guilford at Hampden-Sydney, Bridgewater at Lycoming, WPI at RPI. 

 Check Friday morning’s Daily Dose for Pat, Keith and Ryan Tipps’ primer on Week 4 games.

Who are those guys?

Tracking Division III’s performance against teams from other classifications:

Last week’s games were a smash from top (UW-Oshkosh’s late-game steal against NAIA No. 2 Ohio Dominican) to bottom (Preseason No. 237 of 239 MacMurray defeating NAIA preseason No. 79 of 92 Haskell Indian Nations University 42-26).

On this week’s slate, Adrian of the MIAA becomes the first of four Division III teams to play Lake Erie, a first-year Division II independent. The Storm, who played last season as a club team, takes on three ACFC teams later in Newport News Apprentice, Salisbury and Wesley.

 vs. Division I, FCS (None in Week 3, 3-4 in 2008)
Campbell at Carthage

 vs. Division II (0-1 in Week 3, 1-3 in 2008)
Adrian at Lake Erie
Husson at American International

 vs. NAIA (4-2 in Week 3, 19-10 in 2008)
Azusa Pacific at UW-Stevens Point
Southern Oregon at Linfield

Oh, and for the record, Martin Luther plays Trinity Bible.

Streak Watch

 MacMurray beating Haskell Indian Nations to end a 12-game losing streak and Averett defeating Guilford 31-24 to snap an 11-game skid means all seven teams that lost all of their games last year have won already this season. It also means I have to sit down and do some more research to find the longest running losing streak. Perhaps though it’s a sign of parity, or that nothing stays the same in Division III football, to see so many losing streaks fall by the wayside.

 UW-Whitewater held steady atop the win-streak leaderboard, while 57 teams, including six in the eight-team CCIW but none in the IIAC, MAC, USA South, UMAC or Northern Athletics Conference, are off to unbeaten starts.

Longest winning streak in Division III:
UW-Whitewater (15 consecutive wins, last loss at St. Cloud State, 26-16, Sept. 15, 2007; 2-0 in 2008)

 Central’s loss to Wartburg ended a 28-game regular-season win streak dating from a 17-14 loss against Coe on Sept. 17, 2005. Curry and Mount Union extended their streaks with wins.

The longest current regular-season winning streaks in Division III:
Curry (32 consecutive wins, including two NEFC title games, last loss at Maine Maritime, 28-21, Sept. 17, 2005; 3-0 in 2008)
Mount Union (25 consecutive wins, last loss vs. Ohio Northern, 21-14, Oct. 22, 2005; 2-0 in 2008)

 Central’s loss also marked its first defeat after 23 consecutive IIAC victories, dating from that same Coe defeat. Bethel had won 14 consecutive MIAC games since a 17-14 loss at Carleton in 2006, the same score of the Royals’ defeat on Saturday.

St. Norbert’s 44-18 win against Lawrence wasn’t just the Green Knights’ 27th Midwest Conference win in a row. They’re 46-1 since losing to Lake Forest in the last game of the 2002 season and 79-3 in the automatic qualifier/D3football.com era. 

Mount Union, Mary Hardin-Baylor and W&J also extended streaks. Curry counts 33 consecutive NEFC wins, though just 25 of them have been against Boyd Division opponents.

Longest conference winning streaks:
St. Norbert (27 consecutive MWC wins, last loss vs. Monmouth, 28-20, Sept. 17, 2005; 2-0 in 2008)
Curry (25 consecutive NEFC Boyd wins, not including Bogan Division or title games, last loss at Mass-Dartmouth, 18-13, Sept. 25, 2004)
UW-Whitewater (22 consecutive WIAC wins, last loss vs. UW-La Crosse, 35-10, Nov. 13, 2004; 1-0 in 2008)
Mary Hardin-Baylor (22 consecutive ASC wins, last loss at Howard Payne, 24-20, Oct. 8, 2005; 1-0 in 2008)
Mount Union (22 consecutive OAC wins, last loss vs. Ohio Northern, 21-14, Oct. 22, 2005; 1-0 in 2008)
Washington & Jefferson (19 consecutive PAC wins, last loss vs. Thiel, 38-35 in OT, Oct. 1, 2005; 1-0 in 2008)
Whitworth (13 consecutive NWC wins, last loss vs. Willamette, 40-34 in OT, Nov. 5, 2005)
Franklin (11 consecutive HCAC wins, last loss vs. Mount St. Joseph, 21-14, Oct. 14, 2006)
N.C. Wesleyan (11 consecutive USAC wins, last loss vs. Averett, 24-20, Oct. 14, 2006)
Wabash (11 consecutive NCAC wins, last loss at Wittenberg, 19-17, Oct. 14, 2006; 1-0 in 2008)

 Hiram beat Kenyon 45-39 in overtime to snap a 21-game NCAC losing streak, which was tied for second-longest on the list. Cornell moves into the No. 2 spot after its loss to rival Coe. Sewanee beat Colorado College to break a string of 13 SCAC losses dating from Nov. 2005.

The longest current conference losing streaks in Division III:
North Park (54 consecutive CCIW losses, last win vs. Elmhurst, 31-21, Oct. 7, 2000)
Cornell (22 consecutive IIAC losses, last win vs. Dubuque, 25-21, Oct. 15, 2005; 0-1 in 2008)
Lewis and Clark (21 consecutive NWC losses, last win vs. Puget Sound, 25-23, Sept. 27, 2003)
Norwich (14 consecutive E8 losses, last win vs. Hartwick, 36-26, Oct. 29, 2005)
Kalamazoo (10 consecutive MIAA losses, last win vs. Wisconsin Lutheran, 31-19, Oct. 21, 2006)

The Press Box


 Correction: The earliest version of this week's column misstated the Illinois county in which Wheaton and North Central are located. It is DuPage.

 This season, you’ll find articles of interest from outside sources linked on the front page, down the right-hand rail under the heading ‘What we’re reading.’

 Around the Nation thrives on reader feedback, and keeps 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. E-mail correspondence can be directed to Keith@D3football.com or submitted with our feedback form.

 Keith McMillan is available to discuss Division III football with print, radio and Internet journalists. To set up an appointment, e-mail Keith.

 Sports Information Directors: As always, Around the Nation appreciates help in covering your school or conference this season. For more information, contact Keith McMillan at Keith@D3football.com, or snail mail to D3football.com, 13055 Carolyn Forest Dr., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

Links to online media guides are preferred over mail. In addition, please do not add my e-mail address to your regular release lists, but instead use our news release capabilities to have your information posted on D3football.com’s front page and your team's page. For more information on how that works and how we can help each other, contact publisher Pat Coleman at info@d3football.com. Thank you.

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Ryan Tipps

Ryan is D3football.com's Senior Editor and begins as National Columnist in fall 2014. He was the Around the Mid-Atlantic Columnist from 2007 to 2011; has worked on all but one of the preseason Kickoff publications; has done game-day writing and photography and the pregame broadcast at the championship Stagg Bowl in Salem for almost a decade; and has taken photos at the Final Four for D3hoops.com. He's also on the selection staff for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award.

2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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