It was November of 2006 and to my surprise my wife bought me tickets to go to the UMHB vs. Wesley playoff game on December 2. The trip up was a blur, hitting the plane, cruising down to Dover, then off for a good East Coast crab dinner. My expectations were high as my buddies and I strode in to Wesley stadium for the 12:00 kickoff. The cooler weather was welcomed by my sun beaten body as I looked on hopefully from the visiting stands.
The anticipation mounted as The Cru drove down the field for their first drive but was soon unsaddled as they turned the ball over. They were never the same from that moment on.
It was a long evening of football that led to us visiting D.C. that night. Standing amongst the statues and memorials to people and events of old, I was reminded of what was really important: the life we have and the freedoms we share. I was thankful that I could travel freely and watch a game; I returned home to my family thankful for the memories I had made and the hunger for a win the next time we faced Wesley!
2002 Wabash Bachelor photo by Todd Vogel
Wittenberg and Wabash has become the game in the NCAC and the first big win for Wabash was 2002. During that week all of the JV/scout team players decided we wanted to make practice as intense and close to real as possible. Lead by Steve Smitka and John Maddox we put “Witt” on our jerseys, we even turned our W’s into the Wittenberg hook W with the aid of a little colored electrical tape. For us, this was all we could do to help our football team and to live up to the school motto Wabash Always Fights.
It started that week and lasted the whole season but the “Boom Squad” was born during Witt week 2002. The scout team would come out and try to push the starting defense by running the Wittenberg plays as well as we could. It’s easier said than done when players like Blair Hammer, Nick Fanelli, Stu Johnson, and Nate Boulais are the guys you are blocking against. The “Boom Squad” might “win” one out of every five or six plays but every time we pushed the defense they got better. Most of the time they knew the plays and were in the perfect defense to combat our offense, most of the time they would jump the snap, and most of the time they would destroy us, but if that is what it took to win championships we were on board. .
As the Wabash v. Wittenberg game was at Wittenberg that year I remember listening to the game on the radio, not being able to make the trip due to homework. Every time something big happened my body would tense up like I was taking or delivering a hit. It was amazing. It felt not only like I was there, but like I was playing every down. Every time Blair Hammer was in the backfield or chasing a QB I couldn’t help but think it was partly my doing, and I am sure that the rest of the guys felt the same way. In the end Mark Server kicked the game winning field goal and all I remember was the whole campus going crazy. It was amazing.
For those of us who didn’t necessarily get to see the field in the varsity games, playing on the “Boom Squad” and getting the opportunity to watch the guys we pushed everyday in practice was pretty awesome. For us, it kept us involved every day come wind, rain, shine, or worse. There is no greater feeling than winning a championship even if I never played a varsity down. It was an amazing experience being a part of that team even if it was just as a member of the scout team. Every dynasty starts somewhere, for Wabash in the NCAC it started in 2002, and for that team it started at the bottom with constant effort and enthusiasm from the guys who played their hearts out on scout team ... the “Boom Squad.”
I do film for the Bethel football team and have a story to share. It is from the 2007 season when we were in the West Region final game against Central in Pella, Iowa. We came in as the No. 2 seed in the region and they were the No. 1 seed. This game was such a unique game. It was played during an ice storm and it was about 25-30 degrees and there were puddles on the sidelines and ice accumulating on the field. Every person at the game was soaked to the core and freezing. It definitely played to our advantage because we were a running team and the weather we were playing in made it very difficult to throw the ball in.
One thing I remember the most was during halftime it was extended so the field could be cleared off and since everyone was soaked, players turned on the showers and were jumping in the hot showers with all their pads and gear on. The locker rooms are also right next to each other and our players were singing songs during halftime which the Central players had to be able to hear.
This was such a unique game to be a part of and something I will never forget. I stood on the sideline for the game because I couldn't film the tight view because everything was getting so wet. I ended up getting minor frostbite on my toes and there several players who also got frostbite. This is definitely one of those games you had to be at to know the extent of it but it was something I thought I would share with you guys that I thought was good and could be mentioned in ATN.
Another thing that makes this story so good is going into the playoffs we had never won a playoff game and we ended up beating Central 27-14 and going to the national semifinals and played Mount Union who we lost to and ended our season. That season was the best season we have had which makes this story very unique.
Actually, David's story recalls one of my favorite D-III memories as well. Adam Johnson, Ryan Coleman and I covered that game for D3football.com and did an NCAA.com audio broadcast. Not wanting to make the trip down and back from Minneapolis all on Saturday, we drove to Des Moines, Iowa, and stayed overnight. But by the time we got up the next morning, the promised storm was already in progress. After the game, it took us nine hours to get home, including doubling back after I-35 was closed in Minnesota because it was a sheet of ice. People from the Bethel fan bus were playing football in the middle of the road, with everyone stopped around us. It was one of the few times I've accepted a rental car company's offer of a free upgrade. The SUV came in handy.
Sitting on packed snow about six inches behind the end zone in Collegeville watching an end-of-game goal line stand between two undefeated teams for the conference championship. The air was bitter cold and you saw a haze of steam rising from the players in the box. Four plays later the crowd of 13,107 erupted in celebration.
It set a new all-time wins record for a certain head coach. It set the stage for great season that ended with great game in Salem.
...or at least that is how I remember it.
St. John's Class of 1999
Keith, I have been an avid reader since my son was recruited by Wesley in 1999. I thought you might be interested in the perspective of a parent of a D-3 player who was NOT one of the stars of his team.
My son, Ryan Woods, chose to play football as a freshman in high school (Glen Burnie, Md.) with no prior experience in pee wee league, etc. He struggled to make the team, but worked his butt off for four years in high school. In his senior year, he became a starter on the O-line, and all his hard work paid off for him, and he started his senior season. Even though, his team went 0 for the season, he had personal triumphs. He was recruited by several D-III schools in the East region, but coach Mike Drass impressed him sufficiently to go to Wesley College.
Keith, my son was not the best player on the squad. He never started during his entire college career. Nevertheless, I never missed a game (except one when I had open heart surgery), nor did my wife, home or away. I can honestly say that both he and I will cherish those games, and years, for the rest of our lives. All of the young men with whom he played, did so for the love of the game. None ever had visions of making millions after college, playing for the Ravens, Cowboys, Steelers, or whomever. Ryan and his team were fortunate enough to participate in one NCAA D-III playoff (Wesley vs. Trinity, Texas) and receive two ACFC Conference Championship rings, during his playing days.
During his career, he made many friends that he still stays in contact with. His coaches and mentors were gentlemen that taught him lessons that are today part of the fabric of his life. He received an excellent education that has permitted him to become an educator himself. He also gravitated into teaching and coaching (all at his high school alma mater). Several of his teammates and classmates are teachers and coaches, passing on the lessons learned as D-III players to the next generation of TRUE scholar-athletes.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that D-III schools are doing as advertised. They are turning out Scholar-athletes that are a credit to their schools, their country, and their community. D-III football, for the students, and for the parents, is about a love for the game, and for the character that is built in those young men that participate in the sport.
Lou Woods, very proud parent of
Ryan Woods, Wesley Class of 2004
Coming into the Bridgewater game during the Tigers 2007 ODAC Championship season, you would not have been able to say that this was the team that would win an ODAC Championship. Certainly, some of the parts of that team were in place, but the defense was learning a new scheme and there were still questions about how the new quarterback, Corey Sedlar, would work out.
The Tigers started the season by dropping their opener to Johns Hopkins, a decent team, but one against which they should probably not have lost. That was followed by a series of wins in rapid succession, including a blistering battle against Guilford that ended up 56-49 the week before hosting Bridgewater College.
Bridgewater’s previous nine games against HSC ended in their W-column, and Tiger head coach Marty Favret had yet to best this one ODAC team. As it would turn out, this particular game would be his first win over BC and it was the first real hint that the Tigers might have something special going on.
While it’s not hard to recognize one game as a turning point for a team on the way to a conference championship, it’s less often that you can identify one play as the turning point for a special season. But that was the case in this see-saw battle between two of the ODAC’s top teams.
Both teams scored on their first four possessions, and the halftime score, 24-24, reflected that success. Late in the third quarter Bridgewater took a 31-24 lead, and the Tigers were trailing by the same seven points going into the final quarter. HSC managed to close the gap, however; when Josh Simpson scored from one-yard out midway through the fourth quarter. But Sedlar’s attempt to take the lead outright with a two-point conversion run failed, leaving the score 31-30 Bridgewater. That left the Eagles with the ball, a one-point lead, and 6:15 on the clock.
Showing what they had the ability to become, HSC’s defense held at third-and-four from their own 41 when Andrew Sellers sacked Jeff Highfill. The Eagles were forced to punt.
The Tigers took over at their own 10-yard line with 2:59 on the clock. On the first play from scrimmage, Sedlar hooked up with Dudley Award-winning, All-American, wideout Drew Smith for 13 yards. His next pass found Simpson for 7 yards, and Travis Wertz hauled in a 12-yarder for a first down at the HSC 42-yard line. After a Simpson 4-yard rush, Sedlar connected with tight end Josh Baumgartner for a 21-yard gain to the BC 33.
Simpson picked up 13 yards on his next run, and hauled in a Sedlar 5-yard pass to put the ball on the BC 15. But the BC defense corralled Simpson for a 7-yard loss on the next play, leaving the Tigers with a third-and-12 from the BC 22-yard line.
Everyone in Everett Stadium knew the sure-handed Smith was going to get the ball on the ensuing play, and they were right. Smith ran an 8-yard dig to the hash on the left side of the field. It seemed as if the entire Bridgewater defensive backfield converged on the lanky receiver to keep him from gaining any additional yards. But just before the defense arrived, Smith pitched the ball to Simpson, who was bolting around the left side. Simpson caught the pitch in-stride, headed down the sideline, and never looked back as he completed the hook-and-lateral for a 14-yard touchdown. His two point conversion run stretched the lead to 38-31, and Kyle Booker ended the Eagles’ chance by picking off a Highfill pass at the HSC 37-yard line.
In reminiscing about that season, and looking over the vast array of things that went right for the Tigers, Favret’s gutsy call at that time of the game stands out. From that point on in 2007, the Tigers played like a team of destiny.
Since it’s hard enough to keep track of the 238 teams and 28 conferences we follow, ATN keeps a watchful eye on Division III’s record in out-of-classification competition:
vs. Division I, FCS (0-0 in Week 8; 2-6 in 2009)
vs. Division II (0-0 in Week 8, 6-10 in 2009)
UNC-Pembroke at Frostburg State
vs. NAIA (2-1 in Week 8; 24-11 in 2009)
Newport News at Webber International (independent)
Azusa Pacific (independent) at Trinity (Texas)
For a breakdown of this week’s national games to watch and why, see Friday morning’s Triple Take.
Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and, this week, Gordon Mann, field seven questions regarding this Saturday’s schedule, and give you three answers to each on our blog, The Daily Dose.
Readers: ATN is looking for particular feedback on best post-D3 careers and famous Division III alumni in three fields: players, coaches and those who are recognizable for other reasons (entertainers/politicians). Contribute on Post Patterns.
All season, ATN is seeking feedback on the Ten Best lists and moments to remember for the year-in-review.
Around the Nation always encourages general opinions on the column. Readers can best get a response by posting on Around the Nation's running thread on Post Patterns (under general football). Send e-mail to Keith@D3football.com or use our feedback form.
Follow Around the Nation …
1. … When the column publishes on Thursdays.
2. … Throughout the week on Twitter. This is ATN’s first season tweeting. Follow @D3Keith.
3. … Mondays, Pat Coleman and I wrap up the week that was in our podcast. Download from iTunes or listen to it in the Daily Dose’s media player.
4. … Whether ATN travels or observes from the home office, Saturday’s Gameday post on The Daily Dose is where you can find D3 staffers and fans from all over the country sharing highlights.
5. … Advance discussions raised here on Around the Nation’s Post Patterns thread, at the top of the General Football board.
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