December 20, 2009

Around the Nation looks back at 2009

Observed at the speed of life, 2009 might have seemed like another blur with the same ending.

But in the same way players watch video of Saturday's games to pick up details beyond the final score that they missed in fast motion, Around the Nation rewinds a season that was so much more than a fifth consecutive UW-Whitewater vs. Mount Union Stagg Bowl.

So while reviewing the 1,200 or so games between the Thursday night kickoffs at Mass. Maritime, Manchester and involving Anderson on Sept. 3 won't reveal miracles like in 2007 or all-time NCAA records like in 2008, a closer look is still warranted. And what ATN has found is that the hundreds of thousands of fans who attended games at 238 schools involving about 18,000 players enjoyed this season as much as any other.

This look back at 2009 is the first of two installments.
Stagg Bowl Weekend: Great games, plays, statistics, players and coaches
Early January: Great teams, best of the Stagg Bowl, our awards, revisiting preseason predictions, photos of the year and miscellaneous memorables

The memorable games

Remember the great regular-season finishes
In 238 nine- and 10-game seasons, there are bound to be a mix of nail biters and blowouts. We'd have a hard time listing every great finish here -- Ryan Tipps's mid-Atlantic column after Week 3 featured six alone -- but here are some of our favorites:

St. John's perfected the finish in 2009, and it was largely responsible for the No. 4 national ranking heading into the playoffs and their top spot in one of the four playoff brackets. The Johnnies scored with four minutes left then holding off UW River-Falls' shots from midfield to preserve a 28-24 Week 1 (Sept. 5) win, but it was hardly their best work. UW-Eau Claire drove to the St. John's 9-yard line in Week 2 (Sept. 12), but its last two passes fell incomplete in a 35-27 loss.

Russell Gliadon kicked a 49-yard field goal (check out the kick, celebration and Johnnies fans storming the field on YouTube) to beat rival Bethel, 16-14. And just for good measure, against their other rival, St. Thomas, the Johnnies let a 14-0 fourth-quarter lead become a 17-14 overtime deficit before Kellen Blaser's 8-yard run capped another classic victory over the Tommies.

Maine Maritime's Tyler Angell only completed four passes in the NEFC championship game against Curry, but his 36-yarder to Alex Coulombe as time ran out propelled the Mariners into the playoffs, finishing a furious 48-42 win. The Colonels, who had tied the game at 42 with 42 seconds left on Zach Cavanaugh's 6-yard run, came out on the wrong end of an amazing finish for the second time in the season. Widener stopped Curry from the 1 on the final play of the game to preserve a 22-17 win in Week 2.

Bethel also came out on the bad end of a good finish twice. Before the loss at St. John's, Wheaton's Sean Norris scrambled around and connected with Justin Zeller on a 5-yard TD pass on the last play of the game for a 29-26 win.

Concordia (Ill.) beat Concordia (Wis.) for the first time since 1987 in the midst of an 8-2 season that was perhaps 2009's biggest surprise. And after surviving a potential game-winning field goal in the first OT (it went off the left upright), the Cougars went for two and got it in the second overtime for the clincher.

Emory & Henry trailed 28-7 at the start of the fourth quarter against North Carolina Wesleyan, but scored on a 3-yard Caleb Jennings run with 1:09 left to go ahead 29-28. The four-play, 50-yard drive looked to be a game-winner, but the Battling Bishops went 64 yards on eight plays in 45 seconds to regain the lead, 34-29, on a Bo Jordan to Devonta Atkins 4-yard strike. NCWC's conversion was no good, but it led with 17 seconds left. Not to be outdone, the Wasps covered 48 yards in 11 seconds, with Drew Piscopo finding Anthony Sims for the 36-34 win with one second left.

The USA South was the home for great finishes, where every team but champion North Carolina Wesleyan was involved in at least one overtime game. There were seven overall, including four conference contests, and Christopher Newport, Shenandoah, Ferrum and Methodist each did it twice.

Remember that what you see isn't necessarily what you get
At Occidental on Oct. 10, Redlands and quarterback Dan Selway took over on their own 2-yard line in a tied game with 1:45. Selway led a methodical 98-yard drive, capping it with a 13-yard game-winning touchdown run. Except that a penalty nullified the run, Redlands missed a field goal, and Occidental, which trailed 24-10 in the fourth quarter, went on to win 27-24 in overtime.

The Bulldogs' experience became source material for the Oct. 15 ATN, There's life after losses. Occidental went on to finish 7-2, with losses to West Coast playoff participants Linfield and Cal Lutheran.

Looked like just another UW-Whitewater vs. Mount Union Stagg Bowl ... until, as Pat Coleman wrote on D3football.com front page on Stagg Bowl Eve, "the Roanoke Valley [became] the center of the snowstorm socking in the Eastern seaboard."

Suddenly Purple Bowl V had the potential to stand out not from just the previous Warhawks-Purple Raiders games, but every other game played in Division III in 2009. Added Coleman: "The snow is falling in Salem and not expected to slack off until mid-day Saturday. So when the teams take the field, Mount Union camouflaged in its all-white uniforms and the Warhawks in all black, they'll be trying to find the end zone. Literally."

But the kickoff in Salem was moved from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to give stadium workers time to clear the FieldTurf, and to give team buses and fans more time to arrive safely. ESPN switched networks, while D3football.com staff braved the snow to drive in from Philadelphia and the D.C. area to bring the game to the kinda-sorta faithful who wanted to follow the game from in front of the fireplace.

Remember the great regular-season games
Some games are just great finishes. Others are great games throughout. And still others go on so long that there's practically another game's worth of overtimes played.

In Plymouth State's season opener at Division II St. Anselm, it took five overtimes to settle the score, one short of the Division III mark from last year's six-OT St. Thomas-St. Olaf thriller. Worse for the Panthers, they took an early 14-0 advantage and gave up a score with 39 seconds left to tie the game at 23 heading to OT. Then things got crazy.

The Panthers and Hawks traded touchdowns in the first overtime, and both kickers missed the PATs. Then in the third overtime, the teams traded touchdowns again, only to stop each other's two-point conversion tries. In the fifth extra frame, Plymouth State missed a field goal attempt before giving up the winning score.

There's video of it all here.

Remarkably, they bounced back to win their next six in an 8-3 season.

Of the season's 44 overtime games, Plymouth State's was the only one to go five OTs. Thirty games were decided in the first overtime, 10 more took two, and three -- Christopher Newport's 27-21 win over Salisbury on Sept. 19, Elmhurst's 36-34 win against Millikin and Averett's 34-28 triumph over Ferrum, both on Nov. 7 -- went three overtimes.

Remember the excitement of the playoff push
Because Division III teams are playing for conference championships, the accompanying automatic bids, at-large spots and playoff home games (but not seeding, apparently), there is often extra subtext when two highly successful teams meet.

When Albright and Lebanon Valley met in Week 11, their MAC title hopes had been dashed because of losses to Delaware Valley, but the winner would finish 9-1 and be a near shoo-in for an at-large playoff spot. The Flying Dutchmen, pursuing the first playoff bid in program history, took a 23-0 lead well into the third quarter before the Lions stormed back on the shoulders of second-string quarterback Patrick Subers, who'd stepped for injured Tanner Kelly.

Subers' nine-yard pass to Nate Romig tied the score at 30 with 2:54 left, and Lebanon Valley got kicker Brittany Ryan in range, but she missed a 25-yard field goal. After trading touchdowns in two overtimes, Lebanon Valley went for two, although it is not a requirement until the third overtime. Caleb Fick's incomplete pass sent Albright to a 44-43 victory, and the following week, to the playoffs.

The Lions, with both Kelly and Subers at the controls, went up to Alfred and won, 35-25, in the first round. Then they became one of the great stories on the '09 postseason by avenging a 45-16 Week 10 loss at Delaware Valley with a 27-3 win there, a 53-point swing. All made possible by Subers' 362-yard, five-TD performance against Leb Val in the season's most exciting playoff-push game.

Remember the great playoff games
It would be a lie to say 2009 featured an epic postseason, after the score in the 16 first-round games averaged 42.6-22.3 and the eight second-round games averaged 41.1-13.4. But there were three games in the first two rounds that reminded Division III fans why anything other than a playoff format is foolish:

Illinois Wesleyan trailed Wabash, 28-21, in the fourth quarter, but tied the game with 6:20 remaining and forced overtime. After trading touchdowns in the first overtime, the Titans' P.J. Cummings intercepted the Little Giants' Matt Hudson for the first time in the game. Wabash appeared ready to force a third OT, before seniors Kraig Ladd and Jack Scalucci hooked up on a 30-yard, game-winning TD pass on fourth-and-15.

In the monster "West" bracket, the game of the first round pitted sixth-ranked Central against No. 7 Mary Hardin-Baylor. But the Dutch fell behind the visitors from Texas, 35-14, in the third quarter before going on a tear over the last 20 minutes. In the final five minutes, Central got the ball back on a fumble after it appeared to run out of chances and converted two fourth downs of at least seven yards. Nate Snead's 5-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Leuschen with 28 seconds left closed UMHB's lead to 42-40. But Snead, who completed 16 passes for 278 yards and four TDs on the day, could only find himself on the conversion pass that would've tied the game. The Crusaders' Brett Parker batted the pass back to Snead, who caught it but couldn't get in. Central recovered the first of two onside kick attempts, but was offsides, and the second was unsuccessful.

The game of the 2009 postseason took place in Crestview Hills, Ky., where after upsetting 10-0 Hampden-Sydney in the first round, Johns Hopkins had 11-0 Thomas More down, 21-3, at the half. Saints quarterback Taylor Stellman capped a remarkable comeback with a five-play, 80-yard drive and a 23-yard TD pass to Jeff Brinck with 51 seconds remaining. A failed two-point conversion left the score 29-28, and the Blue Jays took over on their own 30. It took seven plays to cross midfield, but an 11-yard Hewitt Tomlin-to-Andrew Kase pass on fourth-and-10 put Johns Hopkins on the Thomas More 40 with five seconds left. Eschewing a 57-yard field goal attempt, the Blue Jays ran a play, and the Saints were flagged for being offsides. With a 52-yard kick still being too risky, Tomlin completed a nine-yard out to Tucker Michaels, who got out of bounds with one second left. That set up a 43-yard field goal attempt that Alex Lachman drilled, saying in the postgame, "I was sprinting in the other direction when it went through." Long snapper Reid Vanderlinden said he knew the kick was good from its sound, and Blue Jays coach Jim Margraff said it would have been good from 50. He also noted that the kick scenario was the last thing his team practiced on Thanksgiving morning, though ATN would find it hard to believe the Blue Jays practiced the "gain 14 yards in four seconds" part of the equation.

Remember the playoff parity
For all the predictability exhibited by a fifth consecutive Mount Union/UW-Whitewater Stagg Bowl, the playoffs in Division III are never so cut-and-dried in the early rounds. In the 16 first-round playoff games, seven home teams lost. In the absence of seeds, teams presumed to be favored were an overtime score at Illinois Wesleyan from going .500 out of the gate, and the losers (No. 4 St. John's, No. 6 Central, No. 8 Monmouth, No. 9 Case Western Reserve, No. 18 Hampden-Sydney, Alfred and Huntingdon) came in with a combined records of 66-3 and were highly ranked by D3football.com pollsters.

As the playoffs progressed, only Thomas More and Delaware Valley, both in the second round, were upset at home. In the quarterfinals and semifinals, home teams were 6-0.

The cream rises to the top in a tournament format, and 2009 was a convincing case for that. Yet the parity in Division III is still there if you zoom out from The Big Two.

Remember why we love rivalry games
With Ithaca and Cortland State out of the playoff running, and DePauw with its SCAC automatic bid in hand, rivalry week wasn't nearly as crazy this year as it was last year. But that doesn't mean rivalry games were any less meaningful.

In the Monon Bell Game in Week 11, Wabash needed to beat DePauw to earn a playoff bid, while the Tigers had already clinched the SCAC and were playing to spoil their rivals' hopes. Spurred on by gutsy fourth-down call late, the Little Giants won 32-19, earned a playoff spot, and regained the edge in the series, which now stands at 54-53-9.

And if you're into the sentimental tales from the trenches, check out WabashStories.com's retelling of Matt Hudson's "I will not fail you, Coach" moment. Rehashing it in short wouldn't be right.

Amherst finished a perfect season by scoring 23 unanswered points in knocking off archrival Williams, 26-21. The Ephs had prevented a Lord Jeffs perfect season seven times before (Amherst handed Williams its only loss four times), but for the first time since 1984, they went 8-0.

Hampden-Sydney came to Ashland this year needing to beat rival Randolph-Macon to clinch an undefeated regular season, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference title and accompanying playoff berth. Oh, and a measure of revenge for last season's 31-21 upset that cost the Tigers the automatic bid.

H-SC's Steven Fogleman returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to give the Tigers a lead and a 34-27 win against the archrival Yellow Jackets. Hampden-Sydney held the ball for just 17:32 in the win, which marked the third season in a row that the H-SC/R-MC winner has represented the ODAC in the playoffs.

Since it isn't played in Week 11, sometimes it isn't grouped among Division III's great rivalry games, but Coast Guard and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy played a classic this season. Coast Guard's Steve Arguelles caught an 18-yard TD pass with 1:29 left to force overtime, but following a Bears missed field goal in the second OT, USMMA's Karl Heimbrock sealed the Secretaries Cup victory with a 3-yard run.

One last reason to love rivalry games. They produce some of the best attendance figures each season, which show us how appreciated these games are. Of the 30 biggest crowds in 2009, seven showed up to rivalry games:

1. St. Thomas at St. John's: 12,903
2. Bethel at St. John's: 10,567
3. Cortland State at Ithaca: 9,700
9. Wabash at DePauw: 8,070
10. Amherst at Williams: 7,822
25. Rochester at St. John Fisher: 5,461
28. Hampden-Sydney at Randolph-Macon: 5,183

Remember the great crowds
The overall attendance champions are same as they ever were, with St. John's drawing 49,259 for six home games, four of which were in the top single-game crowds of the year. The Johnnies' games against St. Thomas, Bethel, St. Olaf (9,101) and UW-Eau Claire (8,679) were only broken up by UW-Whitewater's homecoming crowd of 9,157 against UW-Platteville and the Cortaca Jug game.

By total attendance, UW-Whitewater (10 home games), Mount Union (9), Hampden-Sydney (6) and Mississippi College (6) rounded out the top five, while McDaniel came in a surprising ninth and Grove City 20th. Up-and-comer Trine ranked 15th. With just three home games and 500 fans reported, Morrisville State came in last.

Sorted by average, the Johnnies' 8,208 was far better than the Nos. 2 and 3 average crowd at Hampden-Sydney (4,765) and Emory & Henry (4,714). Mississippi College, UW-Whitewater, Concordia-Moorhead, Wabash and Baldwin-Wallace were the only other schools to average more than 4,000 a game.

By stadium capacity, Hampden-Sydney rules, with its 190% crowds spreading far beyond the available seats. First-year Castleton State drew crowds 173% the size of capacity in its four games, followed by Coe at 170%. Twenty schools in all averaged crowds that were standing room only, while Bethel (99.5%) came closest to filling every seat.

Remember the great upsets
Massey Ratings, here are this season's least likely results:

1. Moravian 20, Ursinus 19, Oct. 31
2. Howard Payne 38, Mississippi College 24, Oct. 31
3. Millikin 19, Illinois Wesleyan 13, Oct. 10

Howard Payne's win caused a ripple when it took place, but in the case of Millikin, that upset only looked more confusing the further eventual CCIW champion IWU went. A look at the stats shows it was just one of those games for the Titans: IWU outgained Millikin 415-158, had 27 first downs to Millikin's eight, and held the ball for more than 34 minutes. A blocked punt, an interception in the end zone and a 73-yard interception return helped the Big Blue overcome those numbers.

The memorable plays and performances

Remember impactful drives and plays
Mount Union's Kurt Rocco had a stuff-legends-are-made-of finish at Capital, which put the Purple Raiders in a rare fourth-quarter hole on a 15-play, 91-yard drive to go up 21-14 with 11:51 left. Rocco led a nine-play, 80-yard drive to tie the game, capped with a 36-yard TD pass to tight end Kyle Miller, and led a second scoring drive in the final eight minutes to preserve Mount Union's unbeaten streak.

The Purple Raiders began the season with questions at quarterback, but grew so comfortable with Rocco at the helm that a hit he took from Wesley strong safety from Aaron Benson in the semifinals knocked him out the game and nearly got the Purple Raiders knocked out of the postseason. But after not being able to generate much offense with freshman Neal Seaman in the second and third quarters, Cecil Shorts moved from wide receiver to quarterback, and ran 18 times for 98 yards and two touchdowns in the second half, mostly on read options. That turned a 10-7 fourth-quarter lead into a 24-7 final margin that kept Mount Union on its Stagg Bowl course.

Remember the great rushing performances
Five backs had games of 300 yards or more, 39 went over 1,000 yards and 41 averaged at least 100 rushing yards a game. Against that backdrop, Jim Bower's 153-yard, three-touchdown day for Maine Maritime against Coast Guard was just another day in Division III. After all, Bower led the nation in rushing average, at 160 yards a game for the Mariners' triple-option offense.

But Bower was just one of four Maine Maritime backs who went over 100 yards behind Travis Berube, Mike Secord, Dan Weamer, Andrew McCann and Mike Durrell on Oct. 31. The Mariners rolled up a Division III-record 730 rushing yards, at 11.6 per carry, in a 76-49 win against the Bears.

Remember the great passing performances
St. Norbert's Rob Berger and North Central's Aaron Fanthorpe each had 100 percent completions in a game, going 12-for-12 with three TD passes against Knox and North Park, respectively. Alma's Mackenzie McGrady passed for 567 yards (against UW-River Falls) and Carthage's Evan Jones for 562 (against North Central), each on 84 attempts. Kalamazoo's Brandon Luczak completed 56 passes against Hope. And Gettysburg's Matt Flynn (against Ursinus) and MacMurray's Garrett Starkey (against Crown) each had seven touchdown passes in a game.

Perhaps the best passing game of the season came Nov. 14 by Linfield's Aaron Boehme. 24 of 29 for 374 yards and five TDs is both efficient and prolific. But with one interception, he wasn't perfect; the best mistake-free game goes to Franklin & Marshall sophomore John Harrison, who was 24 of 32 for 369 yards and five touchdowns against Catholic on Sept. 12.

Remember the great team defensive performances
In Illinois Wesleyan's 49-0 CCIW-clinching victory over North Park, the Vikings ran 45 plays against the Titans' defense and lost 6 yards.

The best defensive performance of the playoffs game when Wesley limited Johns Hopkins to just 136 yards in a 12-0 quarterfinal victory played in a driving rain.

Thirty-nine times this season a team held its opponent to zero or negative rushing yardage, topped by St. Olaf causing 79 yards of losses to Pacific Lutheran on 17 running plays in a 46-7 road win on Sept. 12.

Remember the great individual defensive performances
Wabash's Addrian Frederick nearly single-handedly kept the Little Giants in the game against Wittenberg, especially as first-string quarterback Matt Hudson was out. Frederick's four interceptions weren't enough, as the Tigers won 10-7 and went on to claim the NCAC title. Curry linebacker Scott Driscoll and Guilford's Jordan Nelson also had four-interception games.

Thirteen players had four or more sacks in a game, including Wittenberg's Eddie Vallery with four of his 15 against Wash. U. and Mount Union's Lambert Budzinski with four in a playoff win over Albright.

Of the 23 individual 20-tackle-or-more games this season, Baldwin-Wallace linebacker Ryan Kish might have had the most impressive one, with 18 of his 21 tackles against Capital on Nov. 14 solo.

Remember the gaudiest individual statistics

Only one of our 238 teams wins the Stagg Bowl each season, but some Division III players reach the top in terms of achievements:

Hanover sophomore wide receiver Daniel Passafiume set an NCAA all-divisions single-game record with 25 catches in a 42-28 Week 11 loss to Franklin. Passafiume finished with 153 yards and two touchdowns, but more notable, his effort surpasses the mark of 24 set by receiver Jerry Rice (Missisippi Valley State, FCS, 1984) and Chas Gessner (Rhode Island, FCS, 2002).

Passafiume's day overshadowed Mike Zwiefel's 20-catch, 330-yard, three-touchdown game for Dubuque against Simpson, Earl Peoples' 20-295-2 day for Randolph-Macon against Frostburg State and Shorts' 13-297-2 day for Mount Union against Heidelberg.

Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Cory Sartorelli rushed for six touchdowns in a 52-45 win against Hope on Sept. 19.

Brockport State needed every bit of Cevon Carver's kick return yardage in a 45-44 win against Western Connecticut State on Oct. 24, as his two return TDs, including one of 90 yards, helped provide the edge.

Remember the longest kicks

Of the hundreds of field goals kicked in Division III in 2009, just 11 were from 50 yards or longer. Carthage's Tyler Funk hit from 52 against North Park on Nov. 7 and again against Wheaton the following week. Ohio Northern's Jake Heaphy hit from 50 against Marietta and 49 against Capital. But the longest kick by 5 yards this season was Mike Van Wagner's 57-yarder for Sul Ross State midway through the third quarter on Nov. 14 against Mary Hardin-Baylor. And the best part is he's primarily the punter.

Remember the peculiar statistics
Football produces "I've never seen that before" moments at a greater clip than we can keep track of, but here are a handful of oddities you might have missed:

In the 1,200 games this season, only eight times did a team run more than 100 plays, led by Alma's 106 against UW-River Falls. But strangely, Huntingdon did it three times, and Maryville did it once -- against Huntingdon. The Scots ran 104 plays against the Hawks, who ran 102 against Westminster (Mo.) and 100 each against Louisiana College and Millsaps. Middlebury, who ran 99 plays against Amherst on Oct. 11, scored just 10 points.

Defiance gave up 10 sacks against Adrian on Sept. 12, then sacked Anderson quarterbacks 10 times on Oct. 24.

Remember to go for it on fourth down
In its 10-1 season, Central had to convert in key situations quite a few times. The Dutch set the tone for the season early when they scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in a 22-21 win against UW-Stevens Point on Sept. 12, then came back the next week and stuffed Dubuque twice on fourth-and-goal in a 41-27 win.

Remember the games that produced the most bang for the buck
Crown's Adam Hayes connected with Robert Yang on a 31-yard touchdown pass with 13.3 seconds remaining to break a 63-all tie, giving the Purple Storm a 69-63 Dome Day victory over Eureka on Nov. 7. But what might have been better is that our own Pat Coleman was in attendance and was so blown away that he didn't realize until the next game was scoreless at halftime that most bang and least bang games were taking place back to back.

Also, remarkably, Crown had been on the losing end of the season's second-highest-scoring game the Saturday before, falling 68-62 to MacMurray.

Carthage outgained North Central 581-571 in a 63-48 loss on Oct. 17. The Red Devils weren't balanced, rushing for just 19 yards while quarterback Evan Jones passed a Division III single-game-high 84 times. The Cardinals, meanwhile, had two 100-yard rushers and a 100-yard receiver in the game.

Remember the games that produced the least bang for the buck
Coleman was at the 3-0 Dome Day game, and DePauw's victory by that score was weather-influenced. But ATN's favorite least-bang game actually finished with a flourish.

Westfield State led Coast Guard, 5-0, when the Bears got one final chance with the ball. And they made it stand up, as Jesse Karr tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Casey Paris with 32.9 seconds left on the way to an 8-5 win.

The top three:
1. Minnesota-Morris 3, Macalester 0, Oct. 30
2. DePauw 3, Sewanee 0, Sept. 26
3. Muhlenberg 7, Moravian 0, Nov. 14

Remember the mathmetician's view
According to the 1,172 Division III games included in the Massey Ratings, home teams won 52.8 percent of the time (down from 54.3 in '08) and the team with the better winning percentage or larger cumulative margin going in won about 70 percent. The average score was still about 33-16.

Remember the biggest blowouts
We don't want to encourage these, but sometimes the scores are simply eye-popping. North Central's 83-7 win over North Park on Oct. 10 came a week after Salisbury beat Newport News Apprentice, 77-0.

And UW-Whitewater laid a licking on Lakeland in the first round of the playoffs, 70-7.

Remember how we did against those guys?

ATN knows it's practically a full-time hobby trying to follow your own team, much less all 238 teams in the 27 conferences D3football.com follows. So it's ATN's job to familiarize you with the unfamiliar FCS, D-II and NAIA teams on our schedule. Here's how Division III did against out-of-classification competition in 2009:

vs. Division I, FCS (2-6 in 2009)
Division III teams didn't do well against I-AAs this year, non-scholarship or not. But that's probably how it should be. Carthage beating Valparaiso, 40-24, is probably the high point in these matchups.

vs. Division II (7-12 in 2009)
Both UW-Stevens Point and UW-La Crosse each beat Missouri Science & Tech, while Wesley (North Greenville and Lake Erie) beat two D2s. But overall, D2s did what they were supposed to against D-IIIs.

vs. NAIA (30-14 in 2009)
Spurred on by a 12-3 Week 2, Division III had its fourth consecutive really good year against NAIA competition. Division III went 23-8 in 2006, 21-9 in 2007 and 28-13 in 2008 against NAIA teams, but the comparisons aren't always apples-to-apples. The fact that Division III is non-scholarship and NAIA awards scholarships makes each side take pride in beating one another, the reality is that 24 scholarships (the NAIA limit) isn't enough to field a football team full of scholarship players. And because Division III has nearly 240 schools and NAIA less than 100, the range of competition isn't necessarily the same. In any case, the numbers are there for your perusal, but it's not entirely certain that they mean much.

The memorable players and coaches

Remember to thank your linemen
Augustana tackle Blaine Westemeyer became the first lineman from either side of the ball to take home the Gagliardi Trophy. Westemeyer, who flew in from practice in Mexico for the Tazon De Estrellas all-star game to accept Division III's highest honor, was highly praised by Coach Jim Barnes:

"Blaine is clearly the greatest player I have been associated with or coached. I have never seen a player who so clearly dominates his position. In addition, he is by far the most humble ‘achiever' I have ever been associated with in sports

Frank Rossi blogged and Pat Coleman sat down with the winner for a video interview
here.

Westemeyer, along with Hardin-Simmons receiver ZaVious Robinson, also earned one of 15 $18,000 post-graduate scholarships given to players in all divisions by the National Football Foundation and the Campbell Trophy folks.

Remember the players who didn't take home the Gagliardi Trophy
After Shorts rescued Mount Union to knock out Wesley, Wolverines coach Mike Drass shared this praise:

"He's an All-American," Drass added. "He didn't have a lot of catches today, I don't think, but come gut-check time, he put his team on his back and took them to the Stagg Bowl. I take my hat off to him. To me, that's the best football player in Division III. I don't think you look at it any other way. That's how good I think that kid is."

Remember the fixtures
ATN thought Mount Union defensive end Joseph Millings would be getting praised in this spot for playing his 61st and 62nd games of his career, which would be an all-divisions, all-time record. But after Game No. 60 against Albright -- Millings played two games in 2005, was granted an injury redshirt, played three 15-game seasons and the first 13 of '09 -- Millings was a late scratch before the Wesley game for reasons the Purple Raiders never specified, and he did not play in the Stagg Bowl either.

Remember to the extraordinary seasons
We named our All-Region teams Dec. 10 and our All-American teams are revealed for the first time during the Stagg Bowl pregame show.

Our Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year in each region:
East: Tanner Kelly, QB, Albright; Kyle Gesswein, LB, Delaware Valley; E.J. Mills, Amherst.
North: Cecil Shorts, WR, Mount Union; Eddie Vallery, DE, Wittenberg; Joe Fincham, Wittenberg.
South: Spud Dick, QB, DePauw; Chris Mayes, DE, Wesley; Jim Margraff, Johns Hopkins.
West: Levell Coppage, RB, UW-Whitewater; Marcus Ball, DE, UW-Stout; Joe Smith, Linfield.

Remember the great coaching performances
For a third season, Liberty Mutual is passing out a coach of the year award, alongside the coaches' association's choice and ours. For the Liberty Mutual, a fan vote and a College Football Hall of Fame-backed panel settled two traditional finalists -- St. John's John Gagliardi and Case Western Reserve's Greg Debeljak -- and three we hadn't seen get this kind of recognition before -- Coe's Steve Staker, Franklin & Marshall's John Troxell and Susquehanna's Steve Briggs.

A case can always be made for all five finalists, whether the Kohawks' flip from 4-6 to 10-2 is the most impressive, or the Johnnies' success in close games. Coe beat St. John's in the playoffs, for whatever that's worth. Case Western Reserve and Suquehanna, which won the Liberty League after announcing plans to leave for the Centennial alongside Franklin and Marshall, were each bounced in the first round.

Remember the Division III players who might represent us in pro football
Buoyed by torchbearer London Fletcher, a 1999 John Carroll graduate still going strong at linebacker for the Washington Redskins, and his former Blue Streak teammates Josh McDaniels, who coached the Broncos into playoff contention, and Nick Caserio, who atop the Patriots' front office, Division III's presence is strong in the NFL.

Wesleyan graduates Bill Belichick ('75) and Eric Mangini ('94) coached the Patriots and Browns, while Springfield's Steve Spagnuolo ('82) led the Rams. On the field, Colts WR Pierre Garcon (Mount Union '07) scored the winning touchdown on Monday night football, Bills running back Fred Jackson (Coe ‘01) rushed for 163 yards in a game and Wheaton's Andy Studebaker, Ohio Northern's Jason Trusnik and Jerheme Urban of Trinity (Texas) were among those still making a living in the NFL.

So who will join them?

As of now, there's isn't overwhelming buzz for any Division III player, but that doesn't mean one won't get drafted or several won't sign free-agent deals after the draft. Buzz doesn't really begin to build until the spring.

On NFLDraftScout.com, we've seen Rowan's Andrew Yezzi, William Paterson's Jared Burke, Mount Union's Judd Lutz and Greensboro's Brick Crowder listed in the top 150 or so linebackers, for instance. There are profiles on the site in the top 100 QBs for Hampden-Sydney's Corey Sedlar and Albright's Tanner Kelly.

This probably means an area scout has specifically taken a look at these Division III players, probably during a game, and there could be many more. It doesn't mean they have a shot at the NFL necessarily, although the players who sign free-agent deals or catch on with smaller leagues will probably be mentioned at some point.

Coming in Part 2 in early January: Greatest team improvements and falls from grace, best of the Stagg Bowl, our awards, revisiting preseason predictions, photos of the year and miscellaneous memorables.

Contributing: D3football.com front-page staff and readers, via Post Patterns

React, share feedback and suggest items for Part 2 on The Around the Nation thread.

Contact Keith McMillan at Keith@D3football.com.
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