|What has helped Ohio Wesleyan
to its 7-1 record this year? Senior defensive end James Huddleston
(right) will tell you it's the little things -- both in practice
and in games.
Ohio Wesleyan athletics photo
Two weeks remain in the regular season and Ohio Wesleyan is still in the hunt for a North Coast Athletic Conference championship.
The Battling Bishops aren't supposed to be 7-1 overall and in a four-way tie for first place in the conference with a 4-1 record. After all, Ohio Wesleyan won just four games a year ago and was picked to finish seventh in the NCAC preseason poll.
First-year head coach Tom Watts could have only dreamed of having such a remarkable record so late in the year. The fact that Ohio Wesleyan has defied the odds this season is really linked to a couple of factors.
"The players have bought into what we have taught them and have really pulled together as a team. They are also very coachable. We've had a great season and it's good to see this program get back on the map."
Yeah, it's definitely been awhile since the Battling Bishops have been on the map. They haven't won a conference championship since 1989 and haven't been to the playoffs since 1971.
Move one state over to Pennsylvania and another team is doing much better than expected as well. Waynesburg, a five-win team a year ago, is unbeaten through nine games and on its way to a Presidents' Athletic Conference title for the first time since 2003.
The Yellow Jackets, who haven't been to the postseason since 2003 either, already have a share of the crown with a 7-0 record in league play. And just like at Ohio Wesleyan, the team has emerged as a surprise contender because the players are unified in their quest.
"We have great team chemistry," Waynesburg head coach Rick Shepas said. "The cohesion we have among the players and the staff has been great. The guys have also put in a lot of extra time to be successful and they believe in each other."
Both programs are examples of teams that have proven the critics wrong and have shown that success is possible even when logic says it's out of reach.
Ohio Wesleyan senior defensive end James Huddleston said staying focused on the task at hand hasn't been a problem. He said the team has never looked ahead and it's always doing its best to focus on the little things.
"We take it one game at a time and we pay attention to the details with everything we do in practice and in games," Huddleston said. "We know if you stay focused and you do the little things right, everything else will take care of itself."
Huddleston said the leadership he and the other seniors have provided has been huge to the success of the Battling Bishops as well.
"I've tried to be a leader by showing guys how you have to do things to be successful. I am more of a leader by example. If players see you working hard and making plays, they are going to follow your lead."
Ohio Wesleyan lost its first game on Saturday, falling 28-0 to Wabash. The Battling Bishops lost despite a record-breaking performance by quarterback Mason Espinosa, who was 52-of-75 for 428 yards. His completion total broke the record of 47 set in 1981 and the attempts total was the second-highest in program history.
Espinosa has thrown for 2,302 yards and 13 touchdowns this year. Kevin Herman has led the rushing attack with 344 yards and one score, while Calvin Cagney and Dave Mogilnicki have combined for 87 catches and 10 touchdowns for an offense averaging 406.6 yards per game.
"We have done a very good job of running our spread offense and have been able to create wrinkles in it week to week," Watts said. "Our quarterback has provided great leadership, and we have good players around him."
The defense is giving up 318 yards per outing, and Huddleston is third on the team in tackles with 51. Tyler Sheets leads the team with 58 tackles, and Justin Segal has tallied 56 tackles.
"Our defense is much more together this year, and we are getting teams off the field a lot quicker," Hudddleston said. "Everyone is out there making plays, and we feed off the success the offense has had."
Over at Waynesburg, the Yellow Jackets have been successful on both sides of the ball en route to winning five games by four points or less.
Waynesburg's latest win was a 42-16 victory over Westminster. Carter Hill threw for a career-best 242 yards, and Bertrand Ngampa rushed for more than 100 yards for the third consecutive game, tallying 109 yards.
Hill has thrown for 668 yards and eight scores while Ngampa has churned out 739 yards and six touchdowns. Dominic Moore has racked up 635 yards and has found the end zone six times as well.
Adam Moses and Christian Jackson have caught six and four touchdown passes, respectively. The Yellow Jackets are cranking out 333.6 yards per outing.
Waynesburg is only allowing 283.4 yards per game, and Bryan Gary has led the way with 69 tackles. Matt Krause has come through with 42 tackles, and Ronnie Skinner has racked up 41 tackles. Jordan Helmick and Logan McAnany have tallied 40 tackles apiece.
"We probably have one of the best defenses I've had in my time here, and we have a lot of depth on offense and defense," Shepas said. "The big thing for us is that even though we have played in some close games this year, we have never worried about being behind. We just focus on going forward and coach for 60 minutes."
One of the most impressive things about the rise of Waynesburg is that building a contender isn't easy in the PAC. Not only must Shepas and his staff compete for recruits with other schools in the conference, but they are also vying for players in an area where there is a strong D-II presence as well.
"Schools like Lake Erie and Notre Dame College in Ohio have started football, and there is a lot of competition for players in our state," Shepas said. "There is a lot more parity in our league now, and it makes it tough to win every week. There are no easy games on our schedule."
The fate of Ohio Wesleyan and Waynesburg has yet to be decided, but it's safe to say that no matter how things play out, both teams have exceeded expectations.
And as Huddleston puts it, the success his team has enjoyed as created excitement on campus and has given the players an opportunity to feel good about what they have accomplished up to this point.
"People really didn't talk too much about football here before this season. Now we can walk around with our heads held high and fans tell us how happy they are for us," Huddleston said. "It's been a lot of fun this year, and we know if stay focused and keep working hard, we'll be there at the end with a chance to win the conference and go to the playoffs."
In the poll
Mount Union gave up points for the first time since September, but it didn't matter as the No. 1 Purple Raiders rolled to a 33-14 victory over Heidelberg in a battle for OAC supremacy.
Kevin Burke paved the way offensively, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another as Mount Union (8-0, 7-0 OAC) overcame a 7-0 deficit to move one step closer to securing at least a share of its 21st consecutive OAC title.
Heidelberg came in ranked 17th in the nation and is 18th in the poll this week.
Burke threw for 216 yards and the Purple Raiders rolled up 493 yards in all. Jasper Collins caught five passes for 81 yards. Blair Skilliter rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown
Nick Driskill, Charles Dieuseul and Ted Rosalva tallied nine tackles apiece for a defense that limited the Student Princes (7-1, 6-1) to 295 yards. Heidelberg was averaging 506.1 yards per outing.
Michael Mees threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Powell to give Heidelberg a 7-0 lead that would hold through the end of the opening quarter.
Mees threw for 173 yards, and Cartel Brooks rushed for 70 yards as Heidelberg had its 11-game win streak snapped.
Wabash kept an opponent off the scoreboard for the second consecutive week on Saturday, blanking Ohio Wesleyan 28-0. The No. 10 Little Giants (7-1, 4-1 NCAC) found themselves in a scoreless game at the half but dominated the final 30 minutes to stay in contention for the NCAC championship.
Chase Belton threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns to pace a Wabash offense that cranked out 460 yards. Houston Hodges caught four passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Hodges also made an impact on defense, tallying five tackles.
Justin Woods led the defense with 16 tackles and Denzel Wilkins came through with 13 tackles. Cody Buresh and Nate Scola racked up 11 tackles apiece. Wabash, which came into the game ranked No. 11, allowed 406 yards.
Waynesburg jumped from No. 25 to No. 22 after rolling to a 42-16 win over Westminster on Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets (9-0, 7-0) jumped in front 35-0 and never looked back as they clinched at least a share of the PAC title.
Carter Hill threw for 242 yards and four touchdowns, including three to Christian Jackson, while Bertrand Ngampa rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown. Dominic Moore added 94 yards and scored once.
Mike Lopuchosky stepped up defensively and made six tackles. The Yellow Jackets allowed only 225 yards and rolled up 498 yards.
Inside the OAC
Ohio Northern won in thrilling fashion on Saturday against Muskingum. Tate Humphrey hit Anthony Fletcher on a five-yard touchdown pass with 33 seconds to play to lift the Polar Bears to a 20-19 win.
The play came on fourth down as Ohio Northern improved to 3-5 overall and 3-4 in the conference. Humphrey was 14-of-23 for 208 yards and his touchdown pass to Fletcher was one of three scoring strikes on the day. Justin Wilson caught two of those touchdown passes and finished with 116 yards.
Carter Paul rushed for 73 yards and Steven Kenny racked up 111 tackles. Joe Powell tallied 10 tackles. The Polar Bears were out-gained 347-325.
Muskingum, which is 1-7 overall and 1-6 in the conference, was led by C.J. Snider, who threw for 205 yards on 14-of-27 passing. He threw three touchdown passes and rushed for 75 yards. He completed all three of his scoring strikes in the opening half as the Muskies took a 19-7 lead into halftime.
Baldwin Wallace still has a chance to share the OAC championship after rolling to a 66-14 win over Marietta on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets are 7-1 overall and 6-1 in the conference after handing Marietta its ninth consecutive loss dating back to last season.
Ryan O'Rourke threw four touchdown passes to highlight his 210-yard performance. He also rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown. Isaac Reed III churned out 76 rushing yards and scored a touchdown. Aaron Manders caught four passes for 85 yards and made two grabs for touchdowns.
Marietta (0-8, 0-7) was led by Tom Fulton, who threw for 223 yards and two scores. Jake Hammer and Franklin Holmes tallied 11 tackles apiece.
Baldwin Wallace finished with 466 yards and limited Marietta to 328 yards. Nine players tallied at least five tackles for the Yellow Jackets, who have won their last three games.
Inside the MIAA
Adrian secured at least a share of the MIAA championship on Saturday with a 38-7 win over Kalamazoo.
Adrian can win the title outright next Saturday when it plays Albion and punch a ticket to the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 1988.
The Bulldogs, who are 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the conference, continue to get the job done defensively as they have not allowed an opponent to score in double figures. Kalamazoo was limited to 296 yards.
Hunter Juntunen came up big for the Bulldogs, tallying 13 tackles. Curtis Rhoden racked up six tackles and picked off one pass.
Justin Hemm fueled the offense as he caught five passes for 151 yards. Hemm scored three touchdowns as well. Taylor Copacia threw for a 175 yards.
Kalamazoo, which is 3-5 overall and 0-4 in the league, was led by Aaron McGuire, who threw for 219 yards. McGuire threw his lone touchdown pass of the day to Mikael Lott in the second quarter.
Albion got all it could handle from Olivet on Saturday before escaping with a 21-15 victory to stay in the hunt for a conference championship.
Dominic Bona threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Cody Crawford with 3:59 to go in the fourth quarter to secure the thrilling win. The game-winning drive covered 93 yards and took only 10 plays to complete.
The Bulldogs (6-2, 3-1 MIAA) were led by Bona, who threw for 136 yards and two scores. Darrin Williams rushed for 138 yards and one touchdown. Brett McCarty came through with nine tackles.
Olivet owned a 15-14 lead with 3:11 to go in the third after a one-yard run by Tyre Alexander but the Comets couldn't hold the lead as they slipped to 0-8 overall and to 0-4 in the MIAA.
Alexander rushed for 55 yards and scored both touchdowns for the Comets. Tony Phillips threw for 159 yards and Nate Roberts led the defense with six tackles.
Inside the PAC
Matt Grimard broke a couple of school records for Bethany and helped the Bison earn a wild 26-13 win over Thiel behind a 20-point fourth quarter on Saturday.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Bison, who are now 2-6 overall and 2-4 in the PAC.
Grimard ran for a touchdown and threw for a score in the pivotal fourth quarter. The Bison trailed 7-6 at halftime. Grimard also ran for a touchdown in the opening half.
He finished his day completing 26 passes for 293 yards, pushing him past Bob Fromm for the completions and passing yards records. Grimard has completed 475 passes and has thrown for 5,912 yards in his career.
Eric Blinn was Grimard's favorite target in the win, catching eight passes for 182 yards. He caught one touchdown pass.
Gage Lotozo led the Bethany defense with nine tackles.
Andrew Smith threw for a touchdown and rushed for a score to pace Thiel, which is also 2-6 overall and 2-4 in the conference. Ethan Ludwig led the defense with 14 tackles.
Grove City rolled up 413 yards and limited Geneva to 181 yards as it cruised to a 26-8 win on Saturday. The Wolverines got a huge lift from Shane Kaclik, who rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Kaclik became the third back in program history to rush for than 900 yards in a season.
Brian Pell racked up 223 yards of total offense, including 177 through the air, and Anthony Ritchie caught six passes for 111 yards.
Chris Gibbs paced the defense as he came up with eight tackles. Jason Skyrm and Ryan Althausen tallied seven tackles apiece as Grove City improved to 4-4 overall and to 3-3 in the PAC.
Geneva was led by Rocco Colavecchia, who threw for 82 yards and rushed for 56 yards. Geneva slipped to 2-6 overall and to 2-4 in the conference and has never beaten Grove City since joining the PAC.
Inside the NCAC
Kenyon has come a long way since a year ago. The Lords, once the owners of a 24-game losing streak, have put themselves in a tie for first place in the NCAC with a 20-7 win over Allegheny on Saturday.
Kenyon is 5-3 overall and 4-1 in the league after Zachary Morrow turned in a stellar defensive effort with 12 tackles. He also picked off one pass.
Reed Franklin and Kolin Sullivan tallied eight tackles apiece while Luke Bissinger came up with his team-best fifth interception of the year. He had six tackles.
Brett Williams anchored the offense as he rushed for 137 yards, his fifth 100-yard game of the season. Dan Shannon threw for 167 yards and one touchdown.
Joe Dawida led the Gators as he threw for 178 yards. Bill Devlin made 14 tackles. The Gators fell to 4-4 overall and to 3-2 in the conference.
DePauw won its first ever NCAC game on Saturday behind a strong second-half performance. The Tigers scored 21 straight points in the second half to knock off Wooster 27-16.
Armani Cato scored a pair of rushing touchdowns as the Tigers improved to 2-6 overall and to 1-4 in the conference.
Cato rushed for 111 yards in the victory and Jackson Kirtley caught one touchdown pass from Drew Seaman. Seaman threw for 96 yards and Mitch Dwenger led the defense with 17 tackles.
Chase Ullman rushed for a touchdown and caught one touchdown pass for the Fighting Scots, who fell to 2-6 overall and to 1-4 in the NCAC.
DePauw finished with 353 yards in the win while Wooster churned out 452 yards.
Quick look at the Tartans and Spartans
Case Western Reserve won't be headed to the playoffs this year, but the Tartans do still have a shot at being crowned UAA champions.
The Tartans opened their title defense with a 28-15 win over Chicago in the Windy City. They are now 5-3 overall and 1-0 in the league.
Erik Olson and Billy Beecher each threw one touchdown pass, with Olson tallying 85 yards through the air on 7-of-13 passing. Beecher was 5-of-6 for 29 yards.
Manny Sicre rushed for 83 yards and scored a touchdown while Wade Self anchored the defense with 12 tackles.
Carnegie Mellon struggled offensively on Saturday and lost 15-3 to Washington University. It was the UAA opener for both teams.
The Tartans managed only 226 yards as they fell to 5-3 overall. Tim Kikta caught six passes for 56 yards and now has 706 receiving yards on the season. He is 63 yards away from the single-season record for receiving yards.
Awkawsi Brefo racked up nine tackles and Eric Rolfes finished with eight tackles.
Zack Grieves stepped up defensively for Otterbein in its 23-9 win over Capital on Saturday. Grieves racked up a career-best 12 tackles to help the Cardinals improve to 6-2 overall and to 5-2 in the OAC. Grieves leads the team with 49 tackles on the year....Ryan Hargraves was 19-of-25 for a season-high 302 yards and three touchdowns as he led Trine to a 45-28 MIAA win over Hope on Saturday. Hargraves also rushed for 26 yards and a touchdown as the Thunder improved to 5-3 overall and 3-1 in the league. Hargraves has thrown for 1,386 yards and seven touchdowns this season....Trey Wells blocked a punt and recovered a punt in the end zone for a touchdown as Thomas More crushed Saint Vincent 38-3 on Saturday. Wells tallied three tackles and has 14 tackles on the year as the Saints improved to 5-3 overall and to 5-2 in the PAC...Josh Mandel completed 13 of his 22 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns as he led Oberlin to a 38-0 win over Hiram on Saturday. The Yeomen improved to 3-5 overall and to 2-3 in the confrence. Mandel has thrown for 911 yards and seven touchdowns on the year.