|Jesse Zubik's fourth TD grab capped a 55-52 double OT thriller.
Photo courtesy W&J Athletics
Are we having fun yet?
In the span of about 15 real time minutes on Saturday afternoon, UW-Whitewater came from behind to close out UW-Oshkosh in a battle of top five teams; St. Thomas gave up what looked to be a miracle, then responded with an improbable comeback of its own to remain undefeated; and Washington and Jefferson outdueled Carnegie Mellon for a wild 55-52 double overtime win.
I was following all of this simultaneous action from a phone on my way home from Wittenberg (don't worry, I was in the passenger seat), where I saw the Tigers stay undefeated and knock DePauw from the unbeaten ranks in a 21-10 win. Week 6 delivered the kind of excitement that requires a D-III football fan to follow more than one game at a time. If you're only paying attention to your favorite team this season, you are missing out.
A few minutes later, Coe scored a go-ahead touchdown then blocked a field goal in the closing seconds to stay undefeated and hold off Central, 33-30. All told, there were 17 games on Saturday decided by three points or less. That excludes a couple of other thrillers, like Rowan and RPI each notching four-point wins over ranked opponents.
There were blocked field goals (Coe) and made game-winners (Washington and Lee, Western Connecticut), hook-and-ladders (Concordia-Moorhead), successful (Aurora) and failed (Crown) two point conversions, a 21-game winning streak snapped (Amherst, by Middlebury), a missed extra point (Cornell), and the aforementioned double-OT barnburner featuring over 100 points and 1100 yards of total offense (CMU-W&J).
The best part about all of these exciting, close games is that they matter. We're in the thick of conference play now and that missed extra point or made two point conversion could be the turning point that a program looks back on to define its season at the end of the year. Every coach will tell you that games cannot be won or lost on a single play or series. But the players will remember.
The Cobbers will look back on the improbable 89-yard hook-and-ladder that put Concordia-Moorhead in front of No. 4 St. Thomas with just 29 seconds to play. It was only the second pass completion of the game for the Cobbers, who rushed for 272 yards against the Tommies defense. But nobody who saw it will forget what happened next, as the Tommies had an improbable comeback of their own. Nick Waldvogel made a diving grab in the corner of the end zone with two seconds left, allowing the Tommies to survive. Was St. Thomas still in control of its playoff destiny, win or lose? Probably. Does this win shake up the MIAC at all? Not really. But does a comeback like that to remain undefeated affect where St. Thomas will play its games in November and December? Possibly. So instead of losing and having to win out just to secure a playoff berth, the Tommies now remain in position to run the table and host later round games in the tournament. Every play matters, some more than others.
The WIAC continues to deliver great games between great teams. I have a feeling we will look back on the 2016 WIAC as quite possibly the strongest D-III football conference we have seen in a very, very long time, maybe ever. Another top ten matchup delivered, as No. 2 UW-Whitewater rallied for a 17-14 win over No. 5 UW-Oshkosh. The Warhawks scored the go-ahead touchdown with under a minute to play. The 17,535 people on hand to watch the game set a record for largest recorded crowd in D-III football history. They were justly rewarded.
Pete Coughlin passed for seven touchdowns and rushed for another to lead the Presidents past Carnegie Mellon in two overtimes. Jesse Zubik set a school record with 17 receptions, good for 201 yards and four touchdowns. Washington and Jefferson rallied from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit for the 55-52 win.
The weather was picture perfect in Springfield, Ohio, where I saw two great defenses hold two great offenses in check. No. 16 Wittenberg recovered a fumble deep in DePauw territory late in the first half. On the first snap after the fumble, Wittenberg receiver Luke Bowling took a jet sweep handoff, then pulled up and completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Luke Landis. Two minutes later, Bowling added a touchdown reception. Wittenberg's 21-10 halftime lead held up as the final score. Wittenberg's defense buckled down when it needed to. Seven times DePauw drove into Wittenberg territory and came away with nothing, including five punts after crossing midfield. I'll have more on Wittenberg in Thursday's Around the Nation column.
|The Tigers finally won, long after dropping out of my Top 25 ballot.
Photo by Red Rocket Photography
In other parts of the country, Hurricane Matthew directly impacted conference races. Playing without injured running back and return man De'Eric Bell for the first time all season, and on one of the few grass fields remaining in college football, Guilford fell to Hampden-Sydney. The Tigers survived the mud bowl, 21-15. In sloppy conditions, the two starting quarterbacks combined to go 20 for 58 for just 322 yards.
Despite playing through the rain, Rowan quarterback Dante Pinckney was able to complete 17 of 22 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns as the Profs knocked off a ranked NJAC opponent for the second straight week. This time, Rowan took down No. 13 Salisbury. In the other Top 25 upset of the day, Ed Trimpert scored with 20 seconds left as RPI knocked off No. 22 Hobart.
It was a fun Saturday that set the bar pretty high for Week 7.
Next Saturday's slate includes several matchups of undefeateds, including Coe at Dubuque, Wittenberg at Denison, Mary Hardin-Baylor at East Texas Baptist, and Wheaton at North Central. Coincidentally, three of those four games kick off in primetime. Prepare for a late flurry of fantastic finishes.
Top 25 Review
Since we're about midway through the season, here's a peek behind the curtain. I'm sharing with you my preseason Top 25 and the ballot I just submitted this morning following Week 6 action. You'll see some minor shakeups among the top five, and some churning in the 18-25 range. In preseason, these are mostly just educated guesses. By now, I'm looking at a team's performance that particular week, but weighted by its previous 2016 performances. My biggest whiffs were clearly overrating the ODAC in the preseason. I had much higher expectations for that conference after its 2015 season. I underrated North Central and the Cardinals have continued to rise each week. I don't get stuck in my rankings, either. An impressive win will move a team ahead, even if the team above them also won. For instance, I had UW-Whitewater ranked a spot below St. Thomas last week. After yet another win over a top ten WIAC opponent, the Warhawks move up this week.
You can critique my poll if you want to, but remember that there's only one poll that really matters and it won't be released until December 17.
Here's what to watch for on D3football.com this week.
Later today-- new Top 25 poll released
Monday--Around the Nation podcast featuring Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan. Also, Play of the Week. Submit nominations today if you haven't already.
Tuesday/Wednesday--Around the Region columns
Thursday--Around the Nation column.
Friday--Quick Hits (the new, improved version of Triple Take featuring our panel's predictions and insight into the weekend's games).
Saturday--Game day. You know what Saturdays are for.
We've got great content coming at you all week, every week. Follow along and get to know D-III football beyond just your favorite team.
If you have ideas for an upcoming column or just want to talk some D-III football, get at me at @adamturer on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.