November 6, 2012

Mount, Wabash meet you coming and going

More news about: Mount Union | Wabash
Mount Union's Blair Skilliter plays on both sides of the ball because he "just had to whatever I could to help the team." He lines up in the running back and defensive back spots.
Mount Union athletics photo

It's not uncommon for a high school football player to see time on both sides of the ball. Most schools often don't have a choice because of roster sizes or because they have a limited number of athletes.

But at the college level where the game is faster and more physical, it is a little surprising to see, and yet, at Mount Union and Wabash, Blair Skilliter and Houston Hodges have emerged as two-way standouts.

Skilliter was a running back for the top-ranked Purple Raiders during his first three seasons, but this season, he was asked to play defensive back as well.

"At first, I was a little hesitant because I was comfortable at the running back position," Skilliter said. "But after thinking about it a little, I thought that I just had to whatever I could to help the team. I had played strong safety in high school, but it took me a while to get used to playing defense in college."

Hodges made an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball as a freshman, earning honorable mention honors in the North Coast Athletic Conference. He started nine games last season and seemed destined for even more stardom this year for the Little Giants.

He still does play defense, but now, he also gets on the field as a wide receiver. His first experience at the position wasn't the most memorable.

"I think I dropped my first pass, but I caught a touchdown on my next one, so everything worked out," Hodges said. "I knew it was possible that I would play offense this year, and when I was asked about it, I was confident I could do the job."

The demands that come with being a two-way player are not something that everyone can handle.

"You have to be very talented and you have to be in great shape," Wabash head coach Erik Raeburn said. "Conditioning plays a big part in being able to do it, and you also have to be smart because you are getting half the reps and you have to understand the offensive and defensive game plans."

Skilliter and Hodges fit that bill.

Skilliter has rushed for 336 yards and seven touchdowns for an offense that is cranking out 519.8 yards per game. He has also caught four passes for 54 yards and a score.

On defense, he has come through with 12 tackles and has broken up five passes. Skilliter has also returned four kicks for 176 yards and a touchdown.

"I put in a lot of work in the offseason, and it's nice to see it pay off. I'm having a great year," Skilliter said. "One of the toughest things about learning to play defense was getting into a backpedal, but having played offense, I can pick up on what offenses are doing, and when I'm on offense, I am a lot better at reading what the defense is doing."

Skilliter is part of a defense that is giving up just 145.1 yards per outing and has allowed more than seven points only once.

"The offense and defense feed off of each other. It's a lot of fun to be a part of both," Skilliter said. "I love the fact that I get to stay on the field a lot longer, and to be able to play both ways for a great program like Mount Union is an honor."

Hodges is part of a Wabash team that is ranked No. 25 in the nation but now out of the hunt for a NCAC championship. He has caught 13 passes for 275 yards and four touchdowns and has racked up 24 tackles while breaking up seven passes. He has picked off one pass.

Like Skilliter, Hodges also sees time on special teams. This season, he has returned 12 punts for 109 yards and 14 kicks for 314 yards.

"Learning the playbook on offense was one of the toughest things to do, but the other guys on offense did a great job of helping me out," Hodges said. "And having great players around me has made things easier for me. I don't have to play with a burden on my shoulders because I know we have a lot of guys that can make plays."

Raeburn said coaches typically don't go looking for players who can go both ways at the college level, but he did note that if someone is capable of doing it, he won't hesitate to pull the trigger on the move.

"It's not something you try to do, but if you think it can give you an edge, you try it out," Raeburn said. "We needed more depth at wide receiver and we felt that Houston would give us a spark there. He is quick and mentally tough, and we knew he could handle it."

Hodges is ultra-competitive as well, and that competitive edge is enhanced by the fact that his brother, Austin, plays on the team. Austin, a senior defensive back, has tallied 32 tackles and six interceptions on the year.

"We have always been competitive with each other," the younger Hodges said. "It's been a fun experience, and we are happy for each other that we have both been successful at Wabash."

While Hodges will have to wait for his shot at the postseason, Skilliter and his Mount Union teammates are gearing up for another run at the national title, something that has eluded the Purple Raiders over the last three years.

"You come to Mount Union to win a national championship. It's the ultimate goal for this program," Skilliter said. "Every team is going to give us our best shot, but we have handled the challenges and by focusing on what we have to do to be successful every week. We are excited about the playoffs and we are going to work hard to get another shot at the championship. It's something we want to win badly."

In the poll

The tradition continued for Mount Union on Saturday as the top-ranked Purple Raiders secured at least a share of their 21st consecutive OAC championship with a 38-7 win over Baldwin Wallace, which came into the game ranked No. 23.

The Purple Raiders got a big lift from T.J. Lattimore, who rushed 131 yards, and from a defense that limited the Yellow Jackets to 159 yards of offense.

Kevin Burke hit on 17 of his 22 passes for 2-2 yards and hooked up with Jasper Collins and Julius Moore on touchdown passes.

Blair Skilliter rushed for a pair of touchdowns in the win as the Purple Raiders (9-0, 8-0 OAC) rolled up 519 yards and held their eighth opponent to seven points or less. Hank Spencer paced the defense with a career-high 11 tackles.

Baldwin Wallace actually scored first on a 24-yard touchdown catch by Kevin Johnson in the second quarter. But it was all Mount Union after that as it wrapped up a playoff berth for the 24th time in program history.

Ryan O'Rourke threw for 160 yards for Baldwin Wallace (7-2, 6-2).

The opportunity to go the playoffs likely ended for Wabash on Saturday as it was stunned 31-16 by Oberlin at home. The Little Giants, who came in ranked 10th in the country but fell to No. 25 after the loss, were knocked out of the NCAC championship picture as well.

Chase Belton hit Sean Hildebrand on a 26-yard scoring strike to give the Little Giants an early 7-0 lead and had a 10-6 lead early in the third before the Yeomen took control.

Big plays doomed the Little Giants as Oberlin scored on four pass plays of 47 or more yards. Josh Mandel threw three of those deep touchdown passes, including a 60-yard pass to Robin Witjes that gave Oberlin the lead for good at 12-10.

Witjes also threw a touchdown pass in the win. Mandel was 22-of-40 for 353 yards. He threw a total of four touchdown passes and was picked off once.

Belton was 19-of-35 for 257 yards and two scores but he threw three interceptions. Houston Hodges caught four passes for 39 yards and a score. Patt Clegg led the Little Giants with eight tackles.

Dane Stritt led the Oberlin defense with 14 tackles.

Heidelberg recovered from its loss to Mount Union a week ago by rolling to a 31-10 win over John Carroll and keeping its hopes alive of earning at least a share of the OAC title and staying in the playoff hunt.

C.J. Powell caught 10 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown. The Student Princes (8-1, 7-1), up five spots to No. 13 this week, churned out 456 yards and limited the Blue Streaks to 296 yards.

Cartel Brooks rushed for 134 yards and scored two touchdowns and needs only 76 yards to break the single-season rushing mark at Heidelberg. Brooks has 1,345 yards on the season. Michael Mees threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns and Adam Cepik fueled the defense with 12 tackles. He also picked off one pass.

Waynesburg did not play this week and is currently ranked 18th in the poll, up four spots from last week.

The Yellow Jackets have already clinched a share of the PAC title but will need to beat Washington and Jefferson on Saturday to secure the outright title and a playoff berth. Waynesburg is 9-0 overall and 7-0 in the conference. Washington and Jefferson is 7-2 overall and 6-1 in the PAC after beating Geneva 27-17 on Saturday.

Inside the OAC

Muskingum won a game in thrilling fashion on Saturday, edging Capital 13-6 in overtime. Shane Dotson was the hero for the Muskies, scoring on an eight-yard run to secure the victory. Dotson rushed for 45 yards and the Muskies improved to 2-7 overall and to 2-6 in the OAC. Dotson also caught three passes for 34 yards.

Capital tried to send the game into double overtime, but Logan Ladd and Steve Stooksberry recovered a fumble to wipe out the Crusaders' hopes for a victory.

The Crusaders led 3-0 early but Stephen Davis returned an interception for a touchdown to give Muskingum a 6-3 advantage. Davis has returned to picks for touchdowns on the season. The score was tied at 6-6 at the end of regulation.

Chaney Fulton led the Muskies on defense with 11 tackles.

Ryan McSweeney threw for 154 yards to lead Capital while Matt Tash paced the Crusaders' defense with 13 tackles and two sacks. The Crusaders are now 1-8 overall and 1-7 in the conference.

Otterbein erased a 13-0 first-quarter deficit en route to a 40-20 win over Marietta on Saturday. Anthony Korpieski had a big day in the win as he picked off two passes and now holds the career record for interceptions with 14. The Otterbein defense was active all day, forcing six turnovers, including five picks, and racking up five sacks.

Zack Grieves helped lead the way as he tallied seven tackles.

Ben Sizemore threw for 189 yards and Trey Fairchild caught a season-high seven passes for 138 yards and a touchdown.

Thomas Hinkle threw for 129 yard and Tom Fulton threw for 84 yards to lead the Pioneers. Fulton threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Sean Munfield.

Otterbein, which rolled up 340 yards, is now 7-2 overall and 6-2 in the OAC while Marietta, which tallied 262 yards, fell to 0-9 overall and 0-8 in the league.

Inside the MIAA

It wasn't easy, but Adrian found a way to win the MIAA championship and secure a trip to the NCAA playoffs with a 20-19 overtime win over Albion on Saturday.

The Bulldogs are outright MIAA champions for the first time since 1983 and are headed to the postseason for the first time since 1988.

Adrian led 13-3 at halftime, but the Britons, who were also vying for a share of the title and playoff berth, didn't go away quietly, rallying to tie the game at 13-13 and force the extra session.

Justin Hemm delivered a clutch catch in OT, hauling in an eight-yard pass from Tyler Copacia to give Albion a 20-13 advantage. Albion trimmed the lead to one on a five-yard run by Darin Williams and then chose to go for two. Williams' run attempt was stuffed as Adrian held on for the thrilling victory.

Copacia was 22-of-32 for 269 yards as he threw for two touchdowns, and Hemm caught 13 passes for 210 yards and two scores as Adrian raised its record to 8-1 overall and to 6-0 in the conference.

The Bulldogs rolled up 322 yards while the Britons were limited to 164 yards. Charles Fleck led the Bulldogs with 12 tackles, and Brett McCarty tallied 11 tackles to lead Albion, which fell to 6-3 overall and to 3-2 in the league.

Williams rushed for 77 yards to lead Albion's offense.

Kalamazoo rallied from a 10-3 halftime deficit to knock off Alma 17-13 on Saturday.

Dan Grost tied the game at 10-10 on a 41-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, and Alan Mencer helped seal the deal when he returned a fumble 15 yards for a score.

The Hornets, who are 4-5 overall and 1-4 in the MIAA, finished with 289 yards of offense, and Dimeko Price led the way with 99 yards on the ground. He also caught a 42-yard pass.

Brett Thomas and Dylan Zerki racked up six tackles apiece to pace the Hornets, who allowed 283 yards. Brandon Casto added five tackles and picked off one pass. Alma fell to 1-8 overall and to 1-4 in the conference.

Jarrettt Leister threw for 209 yards and hit Tyler Watters on a 28-yard scoring strike in the first quarter to give Alma the early lead. Luke Kanine and Clayton Every finished with nine tackles apiece.

Inside the NCAC

Kenyon kept its surprising NCAC title hopes alive with a 21-17 come-from-behind win over Wooster on Saturday. The Lords used an 88-yard drive that ended when Dan Shannon passed the ball to Greg McIntosh for a 13-yard touchdown with 10 seconds remaining in the game.

The Lords can earn at least a share of the title for the first time since 1989 with a win over Denison this week. McIntosh caught eight passes for 62 yards and Shannon was 25-of-37 for 239 yards. He also rushed for 56 yards.

Zachary Morrow tallied 11 tackles to pace the defense of the Lords, who are 6-3 overall and 5-1 in the NCAC.

Ohio Wesleyan is alive in the hunt for the conference title as well after rolling to a 34-7 win over Allegheny. Mason Espinosa threw three touchdown passes and for a total of 289 yards. His completion total of 294 breaks the old conference mark of 273. And with 3,019 yards, he is the first player in program history to throw for more than 3,000 yards. Tyler Sheetz racked up 11 tackles and had one sack to lead the defense of the Battling Bishops, who are 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the NCAC and close the regular season against Wooster.

Wittenberg maintained its hopes for a title after crushing Hiram 71-7 on Saturday. Spencer Leno and Tyler Slade both returned interceptions for touchdowns in the dominating victory as the Tigers improved to 8-1 overall and to 5-1 in league play.

Wittenberg has outscored Hiram 791-68 in their 13 meetings. The Tigers rolled up 461 yards. Reed Florence completed 15 of his 20 passes for 162 yards. Florence threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more. JaVanh Sanders rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Zach Bailey scored the lone touchdown for Hiram, which had only 144 yards. Wittenberg closes out the regular season against Oberlin on the road this week.

Inside the PAC

Washington and Jefferson stayed in contention for a share of the conference title and an NCAA playoff berth after rolling to a 27-17 win over Geneva. Ian Hennessy came up big defensively, racking up 14 tackles, breaking up three passes and recording a sack as the Presidents beat the Golden Tornadoes for the eighth consecutive time.

Dion Wiegand stepped up offensively, tallying 72 yards on the ground and 29 receiving yards. He also picked up 34 return yards and scored on a 22-yard touchdown run to give Washington and Jefferson a 7-0 lead in the opening quarter. Matt Bliss completed 22 of his 32 passes for 156 yards.

Geneva, which fell to 2-7 overall and to 2-5 in the conference, held a 368-265 edge in total yards, with Zach Hayward throwing for 197 yards.

Thomas More needed overtime to hold off Bethany 13-10 on Saturday. The road win secures the 17th winning season in the 23-year history of the program.

The Bison took a 10-7 lead with a field goal but the Saints battled back and nailed down the win when Luke Magness ran one yard for a touchdown. Scootie Middleton scored on a 10-yard run in the second quarter to give the Saints a 7-0 advantage.

Adam Rauch rushed for 124 yards to pace the Saints, who improved to 6-3 overall and to 6-2 in the PAC. Thomas More rolled up 311 yards of offense and limited Bethany to 265 yards.

Matt Grimard paced the Bison with161 yards on 27-of-44 passing.

Alex Taylor led the Thomas More defense with 15 tackles and Nick Gramke came through with 11 tackles.

Jordan Joyce was the top tackler for the Bison, tallying 13 tackles and picking off one pass. Bethany dropped to 2-7 overall and to 2-5 in the conference.

Quick look at the Tartans and Spartans

It turned out to be a big day for Patrick Blanks, who rushed for three touchdowns and led Carnegie Mellon to a 31-14 win over Chicago in a UAA game on Saturday.

Blanks rushed for 159 yards and moved into sixth all-time on the career rushing list with 2,064 yards. He scored on a pair of two-yard runs and a three-yard run on a day when the Tartans churned out 321 yards and improved to 6-3 overall and to 1-1 in the UAA.

Akwasi Brefo came through with 10 tackles while Liam McGrath added nine tackles for a defense that limited the Maroons to 295 yards of offense. Ryan Jok racked up a career-high seven tackles. The Tartans snapped a two-game losing streak with the win.

Case Western Reserve is now in wait-and-see mode as far as winning a UAA championship is concerned. The Spartans lost the inside track to the title on Saturday after falling 10-7 to Washington University-St. Louis.

The Spartans now need to beat Carnegie Mellon next week and hope the Bears lose.

Case Western Reserve, which is 5-4 overall and 1-1 in the league, managed only 184 yards. Its lone points came on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Erik Olson to Vinny Bell. It was the first touchdown of Bell's career.

Washington took control in the third by scoring all of its points in the quarter to put the Spartans' quest for a fifth UAA championship on thin ice.

Manny Sicre rushed for 68 yards and Olson threw for 83 yards. Sicre also tallied 38 receiving yards.

Ryan Ferguson and Wade Self came through with 12 tackles apiece to lead the Spartans' defense.

Notes

Shane Kacklik became the third running back in program history to rush over 1,000 yards in a season as he led Grove City to a 27-10 win over Saint Vincent on Saturday. Kaclik churned out 109 yards and scored three touchdowns as the Wolverines improved to 5-4 overall and to 4-3 in the PAC. Kaclik has rushed for 1,028 yards this year...Tate Humphrey went 27-of-35 for 310 yards and four touchdowns to lead Ohio Northern to a 51-7 win over Wilmington on Saturday. Humphrey also rushed for 31 yards as the Polar Bears improved to 4-5 overall and to 4-4 in the OAC. Humphrey ranks fourth in the league in total offense this year with 1,782 yards, including 1,506 through the air...Blaek Combs had a big day for Trine on special teams in its 49-21 win over Olivet on Saturday. He blocked a punt and recovered a fumble on a bad snap on another punt attempt and scored a touchdown. He also tallied four tackles. Combs has tallied 54 tackles this year and Trine is 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the conference...Tim Werley became the first Allegheny running back in two years to go over 100 yards in back-to-back games as he rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown in the Gators' 34-7 loss to Ohio Wesleyan. The Gators are 4-5 overall and 4-4 in the conference, and Werley has rushed for 379 yards and three scores this season.

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Findlay, Ohio. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending the last 10 at The Courier in Findlay. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic

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