Built for the stretch run

More news about: Eureka
LeAnthony Reasnover has been a workhorse for the Red Devils, leading to two important victories
Photo courtesy of Traci Zeibert

By Adam Turer

Players have no control over their team’s schedule.

All they can do is go out and compete week after week. Sometimes, the schedule is a bear early, and your preseason dreams are crushed by October (see 2017 Thomas More). Other years, the schedule allows a team to build momentum and wins, while critics might point out the records of your opponents.

Most coaches will agree that the best way to prepare is to treat every game equally, as a one-week season. But reality permits some programs to plan ahead, knowing that some games on the schedule will be more challenging than others. As the stakes get higher later in the season, it helps to have your best weapons available for those critical games down the stretch.

I should have just led with the stats. Over the past two Saturdays, LeAnthony Reasnover has carried the ball 95 times for 629 yards and eight touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 11 yards. That’s 640 yards of offense and 48 points in two games. They happened to be the two games that the Eureka Red Devils most needed to win.

“It’s kind of been our plan all along. After Week 2 we got on a little bit of a roll, LeAnthony was out of the game in the 3rd quarter of a lot of games,” said Eureka coach Kurt Barth. “We knew with the back end of our schedule that he was going to have to be a big part of things. It worked out that we were able to rely on him and backload some of his carries.”

The Red Devils started the season 0-2, losing their conference opener to Northwestern (Minn.). But the schedule broke in their favor, with back-to-back matchups against MacMurray and St. Scholastica in Weeks 8 and 9. After winning both of those games, the Red Devils are a win at Martin Luther away from securing their first UMAC championship.

“I’m a little tired, but it was a great win,” said Reasnover following Saturday’s win. “I kinda knew the way our team is set up that they were going to be pounding me at the end of the season.”

Reasnover battled injuries during his first two seasons. But his strength and conditioning has improved as he has matured into an upperclassman. Now, the junior is ready to handle every carry the Red Devils call his way.

“I don’t think about how many carries I’m getting, I’m just thinking about the next one that’s coming,” he said. “[Defenders are] the ones screaming ‘he’s tired, he’s hurt.’ In the back of my head, I want them to think I’m tired because the next play I’m just gonna keeping coming at them.”

The numbers are staggering, but are not just a product of volume. At 6.6 yards per carry these past two weeks, why wouldn’t Eureka rely on its experienced running back and offensive line? The starting offensive line has played together for two seasons, with four of the five linemen starting together for the third straight year.

“We’ve been very fortunate. This O-line group has been together for three years as starters. This year we felt that we had a very solid O-line,” said Barth. “Quite honestly, the last two weeks they’ve really been able to take control of games for us. Those guys have had a lot of reps together. Coach Murphy has done a great job.”

The Red Devils hope that the rushing attack continues to propel them into the postseason. Next year, they will depart the UMAC for the NACC. By winning their biggest games late in the season, they set themselves up to go out on top.

It all starts with developing strengths--running back, offensive line--and recognizing when you’ll need to rely on them the most.

“We’ve got a great connection,” said Reasnover of his linemen. “They know what I’m going to do. We’re always on the same page.”

Other programs with back-heavy schedules have played to mixed results.

Trine opened the season 6-0, but looking at the Thunder’s opponents’ records minimized that winning streak.

Over the past two games, against Hope and Adrian, the Thunder have silenced the skeptics. Led by Lamar Carswell’s six touchdowns, Trine hung 50 points on Hope and 55 on Adrian. The Thunder still have to take care of business against Alma and Olivet, but have proven over the past two weeks that their dominant start was no fluke.

Lake Forest also cruised to an impressive 7-0 start, but against questionable competition. The Foresters close their MWC slate against Monmouth and Illinois College, two of the other top teams in the conference. The Scots made a statement against the Foresters yesterday, delivering Lake Forest its first loss in a big way, 42-7.

And just like that, a team can go from playing for an unbeaten season to having its playoff dreams dashed, all in one afternoon.

The most backloaded schedule in the country might belong to Salisbury. The Sea Gulls are in first place at 7-0 in NJAC play, tied with Wesley and one game ahead of Frostburg State. Guess who Salisbury’s next two opponents are?

It’s safe to say that we know almost nothing yet about the team ranked No. 25 in the latest poll. But we’ll find out all we need to know over the next two weeks.

The Liberty League is similar to the NJAC, in that one team’s schedule will determine the champion over the next two weeks. Union, after its Hobart win and subsequent bye week, travels to Ithaca before hosting RPI. The Dutchmen control their own destiny, and will need a strong finish to validate their impressive start to the season.

The CCC also has a late-season three-team round robin that will decide the champion. Western New England took the first step by defeating Salve Regina on Saturday. But the Golden Bears have to travel to fellow conference unbeaten Curry in Week 10. The Seahawks then host the Colonels in Week 11. We won’t know what to make of these teams’ seasons, or this new conference, until the regular season is complete.

Of course, we still have the annual Week 11 rivalries to look forward to. It’s always an added bonus when those big games also have the potential to impact the playoff race. Will Wabash spoil DePauw’s Pool C slim bubble hopes in the Monon Bell game? Will Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon still be in the mix in the muddied ODAC when they play The Game? For those teams, Week 11 is always meaningful. 

Bubbles bursting

UW-Platteville took its second loss of the season. Even with a win over UW-Whitewater, the Pioneers appear to have cost themselves a Pool C bid. UW-La Crosse, which defeated the Pioneers, also looks like it will finish outside the bubble even at 8-2. Surprisingly, the consensus best conference in D-III now finds itself in position to be a one-bid league in 2017. 

Another potential playoff team also suffered its second loss on Saturday. Westminster (Pa.) defeated Carnegie Mellon in a night game, giving the Tartans their second loss while holding Sam Benger to just 54 rushing yards on 17 carries. 

Not only is Case Western Reserve another program whose schedule is backloaded this year, but the Spartans' backloaded schedule will likely determine one of the final at-large playoff berths. The Spartans are 8-0 but have yet to face a team with a winning record. That will change, as the Spartans' final two games are against the 6-2 Titans and the 7-2 Tartans. Win out, and the Spartans will be in. But one loss could derail their PAC title and playoff hopes. CWRU does not play Washington and Jefferson, the other PAC unbeaten. It looks like the Presidents will have the tiebreaker for the automatic bid if both win out. 

On tap

Here's what to watch for on D3football.com this week.

Today-- new Top 25 poll released.

Monday--Around the Nation podcast with 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. This week, I will be re-ranking the conferences. Prepare to debate.

Friday--Quick Hits.

Saturday--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 adam.turer@d3sports.com.

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 second 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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