October 2, 2007

Backs in the saddle

More news about: Bridgewater (Va.) | Hampden-Sydney

HAMPDEN-SYDNEY, Va. – When Hampden-Sydney and Bridgewater line up opposite each other, people don’t expect to spend the next three hours sitting relaxed and comfortable in their seats. It’s intense. And with the Tigers winning for the first time in almost a decade, emotions on both sides ran thick.


Simpson
Photo by Ryan Tipps, D3sports.com

H-SC players poured off the sidelines and jumped and cheered in celebration when time ran out. The fans, most of whom were on their feet by now, hugged, high-fived and marked the end of the streak in boisterous manner. Hampden-Sydney, undefeated in conference play and with two of its biggest games behind it, now has the clearest shot to a conference title.

For Bridgewater, things were decidedly the opposite. I found myself walking back to my car in the midst of the Eagles’ team, which was headed to the locker room. I couldn’t help but notice that I could hear my own footsteps in the grass – hardly a player or fan spoke the entire way. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, that silence seemed a little unnatural, though hardly unwarranted.

Coming into the day, each team was matched well, thanks, in part, to the strength of their respective run games. Senior Phillip Carter for Bridgewater and junior Josh Simpson for Hampden-Sydney are arguably the two best rushers in the ODAC. On Saturday, the two players combined for eight of the day’s nine touchdowns. Carter started his team off with a 98-yard kick return, while Simpson scored the winning touchdown from 14 yards out on a hook and lateral play with just 44 seconds left in the game.

I was able to talk with each player -- Carter by phone and Simpson via e-mail -- to get their thoughts on a variety of things, such as what motivates them as players and what accomplishments do they hope rest on the horizon. And given that Simpson’s team proved the victors, he’s up first:

D3f: What was your proudest or most memorable college football moment?
JS: Beating Guilford last week, and then beating Bridgewater this week. They were two huge conference wins for our team. The atmosphere at both games was amazing because of our great fan support.

D3f: What would you like to accomplish as an individual or as a team before you graduate?
JS: Winning an ODAC championship. It would be a great accomplishment for our team and for the college. It has been too long since Hampden-Sydney has won the ODAC.

D3f: Who do you credit the most with making you in the player you are today?
JS: I would have to credit my parents. Both of my parents are extremely supportive and have always pushed me to be the best I can. They are always there to cheer me on and give me constructive criticism to help my game.

D3f: What motto or philosophy best fits you as an athlete?
JS: “It’s all about the heart.” I have never been the biggest, strongest or fastest running back, so I just have to give it all I have on every run. I try to pride myself on being a hard worker and getting all the yards I can. I have been lucky to have a coach who trusts me with the ball and a line and offense who are great at blocking and give me opportunities to help our team win.

D3f: What do you like best about your school and also about your team?
JS: I love the atmosphere at Hampden-Sydney. It is its own little community, where everyone is friendly to each other. Our team is really close-knit and has a lot of chemistry, which has been key to our success this season. We are all good friends on and off the field. If you get knocked down, you always have a teammate there to pick you up and keep you motivated.

Carter talks about his motivation, the team’s goals and memorable moments.


Carter
Photo by Ryan Tipps, D3sports.com

D3f: What was your proudest or most memorable college football moment?
PC: Just getting in the game makes me happy. It took me awhile to actually be a starter, until my senior year. I enjoy playing all the teams, the Hampden-Sydneys, the McDaniels. Any and every game is a good game for me, and I’m thrilled to play. I do love playing Hampden-Sydney because they are our rivals, and it’s a whole lot of hype going into those games.

D3f: What would you like to accomplish as an individual or as a team before you graduate?
PC: As a team, a lot of us who stayed over the summer sat down, and we said our No. 1 goal was to play as a team. No matter whether we won or lost, we wanted to be a team. Last year, even though we won some games, we didn’t feel like we necessarily did it as a team. ... Second of all, we want to show people how tough we are and how relentless we are.

D3f: Who do you credit the most with making you in the player you are today?
PC: Mostly the people who really never gave me a chance. I always seemed to work harder thinking about those people, who never game me the opportunity or who doubted me. They gave me the motivation to work harder.

D3f: What motto or philosophy best fits you as an athlete?
PC: I’m about respect. You don’t have to like me or anything like that. But as long as you can respect me and say at the end of the game that he did his thing on the field, that he helped out with the team, that’s the main thing.

D3f: What do you like best about your school and also about your team?
PC: That we’re all brothers. A lot of us stayed over the summer. ... We had a big number of seniors, and a lot of us grew up together over the last four years. A lot of them are going to be in my wedding. A lot of them are like brothers: We go over to each others’ houses, have cookouts, just being a family. We know that we can rely on each other and have each others’ backs no matter what it is.

The five-century club


Through the first four games of the season, McDaniel’s all-time win total had been stuck on 499. But behind a 100-plus-yard performance by sophomore rusher Eric Zwilsky, the Green Terror notched its 500th win in history. The 14-10 victory, against new conference foe Juniata, puts McDaniel among two dozen other Division III schools that have 500 wins. Oddly enough, McDaniel’s offense was a highlight for both teams: It was the most yards the Green Terror had logged in a game all season, but it was also the fewest yards the Eagles had held a team to this season.

A convincing argument


I’ve had a couple people ask me this year why I hadn’t given much space in my column to Maryville, which had an impressive four-game start to the season -- its best in recent history, in fact. After mentioning the strong start after Week 2, I held off on further discussion about the team.

Although the win over Huntingdon was impressive, I wanted to see how the Scots fare against some stronger offenses. This past weekend, coach Tony Ierulli & Co. got their first taste of such an offense early in conference play. And North Carolina Wesleyan smothered Maryville 51-20 one year after these two teams met in a memorable battle that saw four overtimes and a two-point win by Maryville. On Saturday, the Bishops’ attack just proved too much, and quarterback Cedric Townsend was able to lead his team on several long-distance drives, including one that reached the end zone after marching 90 yards.

Noticably absent was Rommel Hightower’s usually strong performance. The Maryville rusher has been averaging more than 91 yards a game entering Saturday’s matchup, but the Bishops’ defense held Hightower to only 52 yards total, at just under 3 yards per carry.

Back with some bite


The Panthers seem to have just discovered a new weapon on offense, one that has the potential to pay off for the next couple of years. Running back Mike Vann crossed the goal line five times (three rushing, one receiving, one kick return) against Averett – a feat amplified by the fact that he’s only a freshman. Vann helped push Ferrum into the team’s second consecutive 400-yard rushing week and into a 3-2 record, one of only three that are above .500 in the USA South.

With a new quarterback this year and without an obvious run game going into the season, Ferrum looked prime for a repeat of last year’s 2-7 record. However, the team is showing that it can put up the kind of points that it hasn’t done since 2005, when Ferrum went to the playoffs.

Centennial’s unbeatens cut in half


Dickinson, Moravian, Ursinus and Muhlenberg all played Saturday, and the perfect records of two of those teams came to an end.

The Red Devils and Greyhounds faced off in Bethlehem, Pa., and thanks to the closing-seconds accuracy of freshman kicker Gordon Craig, Dickinson pulled out a 24-23 victory. The game had a storybook-like ending for Dickinson, which intercepted a pass late in the quarter, setting up the final scoring drive. Quarterback Ian Mitchell connected on all five of his passes in that home stretch, which set up the 32-yard winning kick.

Muhlenberg kept its winning season intact by topping Johns Hopkins 28-21. This is only the fourth time in school history that the Mules have had a 4-0 record. Junior Matt Rathburn was a standout performer, notching a career-high 12 tackles and returning an interception 59 yards for a score.

Ursinus, the preseason coaches poll favorite, tripped, fell and just kept rolling downhill in a 21-7 loss against Gettysburg, which had entered the game with a .500 record. The Bears’ undefeated record fell victim to its run game that couldn’t get going Saturday and left the field with only 66 yards to its credit.

One for all, and all have one


How many losses do you need to fit in with the rest of the ODAC teams? The answer: one. A poster from the ODAC message board pointed out that each Old Dominion team has just one loss on its record -- no more, no less. That’s a pretty outstanding stat, especially when compared with other conferences in the region. And though people can argue that the ODAC has played a weaker schedule than other conferences, the fact is that many ODAC teams have won games that no one was predicting. As a whole, the conference has stepped it up this season.

Of special note goes to Randolph-Macon, which pummeled defending conference champion Washington & Lee to the tune of 42-17. The Yellowjacket offense managed 30 unanswered points during the game, but it was the defense that stepped up in a big way, holding preseason All-American wideout Jack Martin to a daylong total of just one catch for 8 yards. R-M improved to 4-1 overall and is undefeated at 2-0 in conference play.

The potpourri file


Guilford won this year’s Souper Bowl, though it wasn’t for Greensboro’s lack of trying. The Pride, who lost to the Quakers 41-35, was led by Torrey Lowe, who found the end zone four times under the lights. For Guilford, Josh Vogelbach worked his magic, completing 48 passes for 422 yards. More than 4,300 canned goods, to be donated to charity, were collected that night. Guilford leads the series 6-5.

A spark of life emerged at Delaware Valley, where the Aggies shut out conference opponent King’s 27-0. DelVal quarterback Mike Isgro passed for 181 yards and three touchdowns, while King’s linebacker Tore Alaimo tied a school record with 21 tackles.

Albright now sits alone at the top of the MAC heap after beating FDU-Florham 17-14. FDU, which was down 17-0 in the third quarter, just missed succeeding in its late-game rally.

High five


The Around the Mid-Atlantic top teams:
1. Christopher Newport
2. Dickinson
3. Hampden-Sydney
4. Bridgewater
5. Widener

Not unlike every other week so far this season, things shake, rattle and roll in the High Five. And even more, I still wouldn’t wager a paycheck on there being any clear favorite in the region. CNU has the biggest nonconference win, and that counts for something. Dickinson continues to look better, going 5-0 so far, including wins over Hobart and previously undefeated Moravian. Hampden-Sydney certainly earns points for Saturday’s performance, and while a jump right into the No. 3 spot is big, I feel the Tigers have to be ahead of Bridgewater, and Widener’s squeaker win against an 0-4 team didn’t really do much to show them worthy of being higher than fifth, so the Pride gets to stay put. On the fringes is Delaware Valley, which held a spot earlier in the season in the High Five and could break back in depending on how the upcoming weeks shape up.

At the head of the class


By grade level, here are the mid-Atlantic’s players of the week:
Freshman
Mike Vann, running back, Ferrum: Found the end zone five times to help push the Panthers over conference foe Averett. Vann rushed for 187 yards and had a 94-yard run and a 90-yard kickoff return that both ended with touchdowns.

Sophomore
Corey Sedlar, quarterback, Hampden-Sydney: Commanded an offense that sliced through the Bridgewater defense and earned a 38-31 win. Sedlar posted a 76% completion percentage, totaling 477 yards.

Junior
Evin O’Sullivan, linebacker, Emory & Henry: Helped cripple the Monarchs’ offense in Emory & Henry’s narrow 13-3 win on the road. O’Sullivan totaled 21 tackles, including four for a loss and one sack.

Senior
Kyle Luciano, safety, Gettysburg: Was a factor in a handful of turnovers in the Bullets win over Ursinus. In addition to six tackles on the day, Luciano recovered both fumbles he forced and intercepted a pass.

Worth mentioning: It’s often difficult to find a freshman who stands out among his team, but this weekend showcased a couple of strong candidates for player of the week among the youngest set. Two freshmen in particular were integral to their team’s victories. Wilkes’ running back Alex Pearson compiled 169 yards and found the end zone in overtime to give the Colonels’ their first win of the season. And Dickinson can credit first-year kicker Gordon Craig with the game-winning field goal, which came from 32 yards out with six seconds left on the clock.

Games of the week


Delaware Valley at Lebanon Valley: With neither team living up to expectations in nonconference play this year, this game means all that much more if the Aggies or the Dutchmen expect to have any shot at the playoffs. Delaware Valley is one of the better MAC teams, and after Lebanon Valley’s narrow loss to Wilkes last week, anything can happen here.

Hampden-Sydney at Emory & Henry: With Bridgewater and Guilford behind them, the Tigers face their toughest test of the remainder of the season: Emory & Henry. That’s not to say the rest of the season is going to be a cakewalk for the Tigers (hear that R-M fans?), but these two teams were part of the preseason hype machine, and things have played out favorably for both. But, because each has a nonconference loss on its record, a defeat here probably puts the playoffs out of reach. The Tigers are riding high off their win over Bridgewater, while the Wasps are also playing well, with their only loss coming in a close one against a very good N.C. Wesleyan team.

Contact me


I would be happy to hear from anyone who has questions or feedback regarding the Around the Mid-Atlantic column. Please write to me at ryan.tipps@d3football.com. Or, if there is an idea you’d like to see me write about, I’m always open to hearing about that, too.

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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 third season as Around the Mid-Atlantic columnist.

2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman 

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