January 7, 2013

Recalling a heck of a 2012

Chris Denton got Mount Union's season off to a running start with two punt returns for touchdowns in the opening week, and the Purple Raiders' punt return unit made itself a big part of the team's playoff success.
Photo by Dan Poel, d3photography.com

A long time ago, I gave up the idea that I could write a year in review that acknowledges every great moment that affects each and every one of you. If there’s one constant across Division III, whether it be in front of a crowd at the Spotlight on Champions banquet the night before the Stagg Bowl or in a one-on-one conversation on the side of a field where nobody else is really paying attention, we all say we wouldn’t trade our experiences for the world.

While we might not exchange for anything those moments on the field with our brothers, or in the stands with our friends, watching our sons, we certainly can share a few with one another. Each one of us lives the experience differently, and so consider this year in review just a glimpse of what it’s like for the 25,000 D-III football players at the 239 schools that participated in 2012. If you can’t find your school’s name in here, find something you can relate to. We have our differences, yet our common threads, going through it all for the love of the game, busting our humps not for the money or the spotlight, but because something inside drives us to do it.

D-III, you might not realize it, but you’ve come a long way. No longer do you need to beg for airtime or acknowledgement – your brothers carry the torch for you in the NFL on Sundays, proving there’s great non-scholarship football. Your standout moments get picked up by the biggest networks, and shared via social media for all to see.

This season was but a chapter in a larger story, but as you look back on it, here – in the form of numbers, highs and lows, still images and video – are some ways to remember it:

By the numbers

5,975

Starting positions in D-III football in any given week, counting the first 22 plus the kicker, punter and longsnapper on 239 teams.

 

100

D3football.com all-Americans, announced on our Stagg Bowl XL pregame show from Salem. It's our 14th season naming an All-American team. In those 14 seasons, we've recognized players from 202 schools.

4

Gagliardi Trophy finalists in Salem. Thomas More’s Zach Autenreib is the NCAA’s career interceptions leader. (His 32 were 11 more than the next-closest D-III player, Ursinus senior Chris Rountree.) Washington & Lee’s Luke Heinsohn ran 35 times for 192 yards and four touchdowns, and then kicked the game-winning field goal in the fourth overtime to beat Hampden-Sydney. Nate Wara quarterbacked the WIAC’s former doormat, UW-Oshkosh, to a 13-1 finish, a national semifinal and finished his career with 11,202 yards of total offense, including 2,321 rushing yards.

Scottie Williams became the first player from Elmhurst, the third from the CCIW the fifth running back and the first black player to take home the Gagliardi Trophy since it was established in 1993. It also continued the evolution of the trophy from simply giving it to the best guy on the best team, to really finding a player who exemplifies the things a D-III player should stand for: athletic prowess, academic success and community service. Williams rushed for 2,046 yards and 22 touchdowns in 12 games, leading Elmhurst to the playoffs for the first time. He finished with 5,202 rushing yards for his career, and another 718 receiving, yet the night of the trophy presentation seemed genuinely humbled by the attention and happy for the Bluejays program. His parents took in the moment, considering themselves blessed. And the next morning, Williams did the most D-III thing possible: Flew back to Elmhurst to take a final exam.

489

Career wins for John Gagliardi, who retired in November, after 60 seasons coaching, including 56 at St. John’s. The win total includes 34 playoff wins in D-III and four in NAIA and four national championships. It does not include his 42 wins from 1954-59 as the Johnnies’ ice hockey coach. There are three dozen more interesting facts about the coach who preferred to be called “John,” but you’ve heard most of those before. The hockey stat was new to me.

14,286

The attendance in Collegeville, Minn. for the annual Tommie-Johnnie game, the largest crowd of the season and biggest since the last time the rivals met at St. John’s and drew 16,421, believed to be a modern-era record. It was one of five D-III games this season that drew more than 10,000. UW-Whitewater did it twice; against UW-Oshkosh, at 12,318, and UW-River Falls, at 11,288. Hampden-Sydney reported 11,048 for its rivalry game against Randolph-Macon even with no ODAC title on the line, and Amherst drew 10,125 in the 127th edition of the oldest rivalry in D-III against Williams.

16,032

Miles traveled, approximately, by sixth-ranked Wesley. As one of the last remaining independents in D-III and a national powerhouse, the Wolverines take games whenever and wherever.

Facing Mary Hardin-Baylor twice was a boost to Wesley's travel mileage and its strength of schedule.
Photo by Andrew Zavoina, d3photography.com

In 2012, that meant trips from Dover, Del. to Texas (East Texas Baptist), Maryland (Salisbury), Louisiana (Louisiana College), California (Menlo) and Alabama (Huntingdon) in the regular season, followed by a rematch of an early-season home game at UMHB in the third round of the playoffs.The Wolverines’ season started and ended in Texas, but in between featured games in six states, plus teams from Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Massachusetts and New York coming to Delaware. It also featured five round-trips of longer than 1,700 miles, with Menlo totaling nearly 6,000, making the Wolverines the rare D-III frequent flyer. Next year Wesley is expected to play three playoff-caliber teams within 75 miles of campus, yet still have Texas, Alabama, California and North Carolina teams on the schedule.

.779

Winning percentage of Wesley’s opponents, No. 1 in the nation. Next-best was Linfield, at .708, and St. Thomas, at .700, the only three teams at .700 or higher. The best schedule faced by a non-playoff team was Buffalo State, .627 and eighth overall.

90-0

The score of Widener’s win over Wilkes on Sept. 22. The Pride had 681 yards of offense, including 214 rushing, and scored touchdowns on 12 of 15 possessions, including all seven in the second half. Chris Haupt hit Alec Wrieth with a 62-yard pass to go up 62-0 with seven minutes left in the third quarter, and a two-point conversion run failed. The Pride set a school record for points and handed Wilkes its worst loss, and it was the nation’s highest scoring output and largest margin of victory this season. But by far the most bizarre number from the game is this: Wilkes, which beat Widener 35-27 in 2011, was no struggling first-year program (fellow MAC member and startup Misericordia lost all 10 games by at least 28, and seven by 38 or more). The Colonels finished 5-5, including four wins after the 90-point loss, a credit to longtime coach Frank Sheptock. Weeks later, Widener’s season-ending 55-point loss at Mount Union gave it a taste of what a serious blowout feels like.

70-65

The score of a Sul Ross State-Texas Lutheran game on Oct. 13, featuring loads of outlandish stats, including the fact that the Bulldogs scored 35 fourth-quarter points and lost. The 135 combined points was three short of the record, set in a 70-68 Brockport State-Hartwick game in 2008. Across the D-III, teams hit the 50-point mark 186 times in 2012. They went over 60 points 59 times. They even crossed the 70-point barrier 20 times. So scoring a lot was routine. But in no place was it more par for the course than in the ASC, where shootouts for the ages were a weekly occurrence. The Lobos' 70-65 win, in which Dominique Carson accounted for eight touchdowns, might have been the apex, but yardage-wise, not even it could hold a candle to this next ASC shootout.

1,714

Yards gained by both teams in Hardin-Simmons' 86-42 win over Sul Ross State on Oct. 27. The total yardage mark was one of 23 records broken on the day. Hardin-Simmons' 914 yards was another all-divisions record. The previous records of 1,640 for all divisions (San Jose State/Nevada, 2001) and 1,430 for D-III (Eureka/Crown, 2009) fell. What's more is Sul Ross put up their 800 yards with Carson and No. 1 receiver Cordrick Mobley injured and on the sideline for this one.

200th

East Texas Baptist’s national ranking, of 239, in scoring defense. They were third in the American Southwest Conference, which during 2012 also featured a 65-58 double-overtime Hardin-Simmons win at TLU. Six of the conference's teams participated in a game in which one scored at least 68.

6.02

Yards per play in the ASC, a national best. Only four conferences even averaged five and a half yards per play (SCIAC, 5.82; MIAC, 5.66; NWC, 5.61). ASC teams also completed a national-best 60 percent of all passes, part of the reason Pat Coleman began referring to it as the “Little 12.”

736

Speaking of our site’s founder and publisher, he’s also perhaps the luckiest man in small-college football. At least if we’re judging by the ability to show up to a game and have amazing things happen. While making a four-game road trip on opening weekend, mostly because start times and geography allowed him to, he happened to be present for Eureka’s Sam Durley breaking the all-division single-game passing yardage mark. (Here’s his D3Report from the game). On top of the record, Durley needed every last yard, as his Red Devils eked out a 62-56 win against the Prairie Fire. Eureka got 13 catches in that game from Jordan Kindred, a basketball star who was playing his first game of organized football. Yeah, no matter what the level of play, that was an awesome all-around occurrence.

1 vs. 2

The ranking of Mount Union and Mary Hardin-Baylor when they met in the semifinals, the first time since 2005 that the Stagg Bowl didn’t feature the top two teams in the D3football.com poll. The game delivered, however, as Mount Union rallied from down 28-14 in the fourth quarter to go ahead 42-35 on Jake Simon’s touchdown run with five seconds left. Fans in Alliance, who aren’t used to nail-biters, stormed the field after the win, a sign of respect for the challenge the Crusaders provided.

7-6

The score of Buffalo State’s stunning non-conference win at then-defending champion UW-Whitewater on Sept. 15. In hindsight, during what was a three-loss season for the Warhawks, the Bengals’ win isn’t quite as much of a shock. But at the time, it snapped a 46-game UW-W win streak, and it happened with Buffalo State trailing 6-0 until the final minute. The Bengals converted a double-hook-and-ladder on the game-winning drive, spawning a YouTube hit. Both Around the Region and Around the Nation featured Buffalo State that week.

15-14
24-23

It was the year of the two-point conversion, and no team lived and died by it like Bethel. Their loss-turned-last-second-win against Concordia-Moorhead made it a homecoming to remember. After the Royals last-ditch play ended with a sack-strip and Cobbers return for a touchdown, Concordia-Moorhead players stormed the field during the play. That gave Bethel one more play, on which they scored the 9-yard tying touchdown, and then an untimed down on which they ran a successful two-point conversion play. Six weeks later, in the playoffs, Concordia-Chicago scored with 18 seconds left and ran a two-point play to win. It failed, Bethel moved on to the second round, and coach Lonnie Pries left the Cougars' program a few days after going for two. (Hat tip to Augsburg SID Don Stoner, who pointed out that the week before the Bethel/Concordia-Moorhead game, the Royals survived an Augsburg two-point conversion attempt with 1:46 left in a 21-20 win). See photos of the Royals-Cobbers game below.

No. 9

Lowest D3football.com poll ranking of the eight teams that advanced to the national quarterfinals. With No. 8 Cal Lutheran slated to play No. 3 Linfield in the second round if it had advanced, this was the best possible result.

Eric Rogers and Cal Lutheran were the only team in the top nine eliminated before the national semifinals.
Photo by Joe Bergman, d3phtography.com

9 of 13

Teams in the top half of the preseason poll that ended up in the playoffs: No. 2 Mount Union, No. 3 Wesley, No. 4 UMHB, No. 5 Linfield, No. 6 North Central, No. 7 Salisbury, No. 8 St. Thomas, No. 12 Cal Lutheran, No. 13 Franklin.

3 of 12

Teams in the bottom half of the preseason poll that ended up in the playoffs: No. 17 Bethel, No. 22 Hobart, No. 25 Widener.

8 of 27

Playoff-eligible teams also receiving votes in the initial poll that made the field of 32.

 

11

Teams, including Rowan, Elmhurst and Pacific Lutheran, that got no preseason votes, but made the playoffs. The three mentioned each finished in the top 25.

11

Sacks by Susquehanna against Moravian on Oct. 15, the only time one team got to the other’s quarterback that many times in 2012. Muskingum (vs. Defiance) and Mount Union (vs. Marietta) each had 10-sack games.

2,124

Yardage total in 10 games of Mount St. Joseph’s James Clay, who was the only back in the country to average more than 200 rushing yards per game. Gagliardi Trophy winner Scottie Williams also went over 2,000 rushing yards, and faced the CCIW and playoff teams along the way, in 12 games.

23

Consecutive losses for Tufts, the longest current streak, including the 15 teams who went winless in 2012. The Jumbos only play eight games a season, which makes their streak longest by calendar weeks (last win vs. Hamilton, Sept. 25, 2010) as well as games.

During the season, the seven teams surrounding Tufts for the longest skids each won a game. On Sept. 15, Thiel and Rockford broke 24- and 23-game losing streaks. Thiel’s game-winning play put it in the Play of the Week spotlight. On Oct. 6, Knox ended a 19-game losing streak. On Oct. 13, Nichols broke a 17-game run of losses. On Oct. 20, Wilmington (33 games, since Oct. 2009) and Earlham (26 games, since the beginning of  2010) ended long streaks, and on Oct. 27, Western Connecticut beat Montclair State in overtime to snap their 28-game slide.

89

Consecutive conference losses for North Park after the Vikings’ 12th consecutive 0-7 mark in CCIW play. Coach Scott Pethel was let go after going 10-60 in seven seasons. North Park’s last conference win came at Elmhurst – which is now a 10-2 playoff team featuring the Gagliardi Trophy winner – on Oct. 7, 2000.

155

Points scored by Grinnell in its nine MWC games. That’s just a shade more than the 138 Grinnell basketball player Jack Taylor scored in a November game. The Pioneers football team went 2-7 in the MWC, and 2-8 overall, scoring 16.9 points a game.

Fifth

The spot Indiapolis Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman, the 2007 D3football.com defensive player of the year with Mary Hardin-Baylor, finished in tackles in the NFL, with 145. Just a few behind, at 139, was the Redskins' London Fletcher, who probably would have been the 1999 defensive player of the year had we awarded one back then.

Photos of the year

Our friends at d3photography.com culled some of the images they are most proud of. Mouse over each one for a caption, or for an arrow to help move the slideshow back and forth:

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Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his first season writing Around the Nation after spending four seasons writing Around the Mid-Atlantic.

2014-2015 columnist: Ryan Tipps.
2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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