November 20, 2013

Sirianni seeing familiar faces

More news about: Washington and Jefferson

Mike Sirianni once patrolled the sideline, not to mention the field, for Mount Union.
W&J athletics file photo 

Washington and Jefferson head coach Mike Sirianni has nothing against Mount Union. He is a former player there, after all, winning a national championship with the Purple Raiders in 1993. He also coached there for three seasons under the now retired Larry Kehres.

Sirianni just doesn't like the fact that his Presidents, co-champs of the Presidents' Athletic Conference, drew the daunting task of matching up with the defending national champions in the opening round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.

"I'm happy we won our conference and I'm happy we are in the playoffs, but I'm not happy with our draw," Sirianni said. "I don't understand how we get that matchup when it probably should have went to one of the at-large teams. I don't understand the whole process."

Unhappiness aside, Sirianni knows his team has a game to get ready for and dwelling on the draw against the No. 1 team in the land, a team that has won its last 25 overall, won't do any good. The trick, however, to being ready to go is making sure his players have the right mindset.

It's a fine line to walk on against a team that has won 11 national championships. This will be the first postseason meeting between the Purple Raiders and Presidents since 2009 when Mount Union rolled to a 55-0 win.

"We can't go in there intimidated but we can't go in there thinking we are world beaters either and believing that Mount Union isn't that good," Sirianni said. "We have to prepare as best as we can. It will be a challenge and we are going to be a heavy underdog, but I'd rather be playing than not playing at all this week."

Sirianni is all too familiar with how good the Purple Raiders are on the football field. He's been on their sidelines and has seen the machine in motion, first as a player and then as a coach.

"I am a proud alum and I enjoyed my time as a coach there, but none of that really matters this week," Sirianni said. "I'm focused on my football team and making sure we are ready to play. The thing about Mount Union is that it prepares for every game the same way. It doesn't matter what your record is. They don't change their preparation and they get better every week."

With that in mind, Sirianni knows his team will need to have the best practice week of the season.

"We know we need to have a great week of practice and we know we are going to have to play a great football game to win. Mount Union doesn't make many mistakes. They execute very well and we have to do the same thing in order to have any chance."

Washington & Jefferson has been playing good football since a 24-19 road loss to Bethany at the beginning of October.

The Presidents bounced back the next week to knock off Thomas More 45-21, the start of a five-game win streak.

Looking back, Sirianni said the loss to Bethany was a turning point in the season for the Presidents, who are making their 23rd trip to the playoffs.

"If we don't lose to Bethany, I don't know if we beat Thomas More the next week," Sirianni said. "That loss got us refocused and we changed a lot about the way we played. It was a key swing for us. We have been playing well ever since."

The Presidents are averaging 443.2 yards per game and are led by Dion Wiegand, who has rushed for 1,265 yards and 20 touchdowns.

The Presidents are allowing 402.9 yards per game and Jared Pratt has racked up 94 tackles. B.J. Monacelli has tallied 57 tackles and Shane Smith has come through with 52 tackles. Erik Espe has added 51 tackles.

Sirianni was just named the coach of the year in the PAC and he credits his time on the staff at Mount Union for helping him become the coach that he is today.

And like a good coach, he will do everything he can to put his team in a position to win Saturday's game, even if logic says the Presidents have no chance.

"We could hope for really horrible weather and maybe they will play bad, but seriously, we just have to think of everything we can to give us a shot. We aren't going to go down without swinging. We will take our best shot and see what happens. It's all we can do."

Inside the OAC

Mount Union capped its regular season without a loss and the Ohio Athletic Conference championship as it defeated John Carroll 42-34 in a battle of unbeaten teams.

The Purple Raiders have now won 25 consecutive games and 83 straight in the regular season. They have won 22 consecutive league titles as well and 25 titles overall. 

Kevin Burke threw for three touchdowns and 374 yards and rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Luc Meacham caught 10 passes for 175 yards and two scores. 

Cody Pogorelc led the defense with a career-high 12 tackles. Mike Maier added 11 tackles. 

Mount Union finished with 555 yards but allowed 545 yards to John Carroll, which gave up more than 10 points in a game for the first time all season. The Blue Streaks led 10-7 at one point and closed the gap to 35-27 in the fourth quarter before the Purple Raiders secured the victory.

Mark Myers threw for 451 yards and two touchdowns while Brian Kornowski caught six passes for 152 yards. Zach Strippy caught seven passes for 74 yards and two scores.

Brody Zangaro tallied seven tackles to pace the John Carroll defense. Despite the loss, the Blue Streaks did earn a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. It is just the program's fourth postseason appearance and the Blue Streaks will host a playoff game for the first time when it takes on St. John Fisher on Saturday at Don Shula Stadium.

Inside the MIAA

Albion completed a perfect run through the Michigan Intercolllegiate Athletic Association on Saturday with a thrilling 34-31 win over Hope on the road Saturday.

Albion trailed 31-27 with less than two minutes to play and needed 75 yards to reach the end zone. The Britons, who had failed to score on seven of its previous 10 possessions, moved the ball down the field behind the play of Dominic Bona.

Bona completed all three of his passes on the drive, including a 4-yard scoring strike to Sage Alward with 51 seconds to go to give the Britons the lead for good.

Hope's 31-yard field goal attempt with four seconds to go came up short and the Britons delivered Craig Rundle his 100th win as the head coach at Albion. The Britons rolled up 413 yards of offense and allowed 476 yards. Bona threw for 193 yards and Michael Czarnecki rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns.

Michael Atwell threw for 337 yards and three scores to pace Hope.

Adam Hahn and Bret McCarty tallied 12 and 11 tackles, apiece to lead Albion while Adam Drooper and Kirby Cook came through with eight tackles apiece for Hope, which came in with an opportunity to earn a share of the title and the league's NCAA postseason bid.

Albion will begin its playoff quest with a road game against North Central on Saturday in Illinois. Albion and North Central have never met on the football field. This will be the 10th playoff appearance in program history for the Britons.

Inside the NCAC

Wittenberg capped off its perfect run through the North Coast Athletic Conference with a 56-0 win over Allegheny on Saturday.

The Tigers have won 12 titles since joining the NCAC in 1989 and have won four of the last five crowns. Wittenberg led 49-0 at halftime and Reed Florence threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more. He threw for 119 yards. Nine receivers caught at least one pass. 

Brady Vanover helped fuel the defense as he blocked a punt to set up one score and picked off his first career pass to set up another touchdown. Spencer Leno led the Tigers with five tackles. The Tigers earned their third shutout of the year and have held five of their 10 opponents to nine points or less.

Wittenberg will begin postseason play on Saturday with a home game against Lebanon Valley. The Tigers are chasing their first national title since 1975.

Inside the PAC

Anthony Ritchie of Grove City did it all on Saturday. The senior wide receiver threw a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown and and caught two scoring strikes as he helped the Wolverines knock off Thiel 50-44 in overtime in a wild season finale on Saturday.

Ritchie's two touchdown catches in the second quarter gave him a share of the career touchdown reception record (17). His touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave the Wolverines a 44-37 lead.

Westminster kicker Justin Dahl hit all three of his field goals in the Titan's 30-27 win over Geneva. One of his kicks went for 42 yards, a career-best distance, and he nailed that one as time expired to propel Westminster to the thrilling win. Dahl also connected on all three of his extra-point attempts.

The win came in the 30th edition of the Mercer County Cup. Groe City is 21-9 in those games and have won the last seven in the series. The 94 points scored by the two teams is the most in the history of the rivalry.

Thiel played an overtime game for the second straight week and Andrew Smith threw for 299 yards to pace the Tomcats. He threw two touchdown passes. Josh Potter rushed for 107 yards and Smith rushed for 94 yards and three touchdowns as he displayed his versatitlity.

Matt Fedzen caught four passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. 

Monon Bell Game

The Monon Bell still belongs to Wabash after the Little Giants rolled to a 38-21 win over DePauw on Saturday in the 120th edition of the historic rivalry. Wabash has won the last five meetings with the Tigers.

The Little Giants led 35-7 at halftime and rolled up 466 yards while holding DePauw to 230 yards.

Michael Putko threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns to pace the Little Giants.  Sean Hildebrand caught 10 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 
for a touchdown.

Cody Buresh led Wabash with seven tackles, but despite losing only once this season, the Little Giants were left out of the postseason.

Matt Hunt threw for 172 yards and three scores for the Tigers. JD Robinson caught two of those scoring strikes and finished with four catches for 89 yards.

Adam Folta racked up nine tackles to lead DePauw on defense.

Academic Bowl

Erik Olson threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns as he shined bright in Case Western Reserve's 35-32 win over Carnegie Mellon in the latest edition of the Academic Bowl.

The Spartans, who finished 5-4 on the year, have now enjoyed seven consecutive winning seasons and they handed the Tartans their fifth consecutive loss. Carnegie Mellon ends the year at 3-7.

John Mangelluzzi caught two touchdown passes in the victory and racked up a career-high 136 receiving yards. He caught a total of four passes.

Everett Dishong led the Spartans on defense with eight tackles. 

Rob Kalkstein paced the Tartans as he threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Tim Swanson caught three passes for 118 yards and a touchdown.

Ryan Jok racked up eight tackles and a sack to pace Carnegie Mellon on defense.

Carnegie Mellon finished with 452 yards and allowed 419. 

Contact Me: Feel free to drop me an email anytime or follow me on Twitter @BLester1993.

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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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