October 12, 2010

Going full circle

More news about: Averett
Mike Dunlevy
Mike Dunlevy has been at Averett since 2002 and is the winningest coach in the school's short football history. Though he's never led a playoff team, this year is looking promising.
Averett athletics photo

The worst of Averett’s 2010 growing pains lasted roughly three quarters -- the first 45 minutes of the season to be exact.

The opener against Hampden-Sydney saw the Cougars fall behind 45-7 before they mustered a rally for a 45-30 final. While that rally didn’t win them the game, Averett has continued to rally from every moment forth.

The team out of Danville, Va., has won four consecutive games, most recently knocking over Christopher Newport on Saturday 17-9. What’s changed since the opener? For one, starting quarterback Cody Ladutko is back in the lineup, churning out a 68 percent completion rate overall and averaging 200 yards over the past two games.

But there’s more to it than that. This team has made those growing pains of youth work for them rather than against them. They say they’ve learned from their mistakes and have emerged the better team.

In the skill positions and the depth of the offensive line, they are more like the USA South championship team of 2006 than of the rebuilding teams of the years since. Coach Mike Dunlevy said that it took determination on the part of his players to stick with the team through those tough years. Those juniors and seniors are now, with half of the season past them, speedily moving forward and gunning for a conference title.

Dunlevy shares a little of both where he’s been and where he hopes to go:

D3football.com: You’ve turned things around since your opener against Hampden-Sydney. What or whom do you credit for your being 4-0 since then?
Mike Dunlevy:
As a team, I think we were fairly inexperienced going into that first game. We had a couple of young guys who were new to our system. Even our tailback, he’s new to our system even though he’s got experience. Cody, our starting quarterback, didn’t start until the third game of the season. We didn’t have our starting quarterback the first game. Since then, we’ve pretty much gotten everyone in the right places. I think that’s pretty much the biggest factor. At this point, we have our whole team together. I think that helps.

D3: Were you happy to take advantage of the bye week in Week 2 to get things together?
No doubt. You open up with Hampden-Sydney, who was 10-0 last year in their conference and the right now at 6-0, it was a good test for us and allowed us to play a good competitor, a good football team. And then we can see where our mistakes were and try to correct those, and that gave us a lot of time to try to do that. ... If you play a weaker opponent, maybe they don’t show you that early on, so you’re not correcting those mistakes early. You may think, “Hey, I’m getting away with this.” But Hampden-Sydney showed us right away what needed to be corrected.

D3: What part of your team are you still really working on changing or working on improving?
One of the things we could get better at is to eliminate more penalties. We’ve struggled a little bit. Right now, I think we’re leading the conference in penalties, and that’s not something we want to lead the conference in. We’ve got to get better at that, eliminate those types of mistakes.

D3: Is the youth you mentioned earlier a factor in those penalties?
Yeah, I think it is. We do have some youth in places, and I think that kind of gives us those penalties that you’re just not used to.

D3: Your offensive line has battled injury some this year. Has it been difficult to fill those slots with backups?
Well, I think the positives about it is that, while we have had a couple of injuries, the guys that we are replacing people with are experienced guys, guys that have been around awhile. I think that has helped us. It’s not like we’re getting an injury and putting a freshman out there. We’re able to place guys in positions that have experience and play multiple positions. That has helped us stay solid up front.

D3: I would argue that prior to this year, your 2006 team was the best you had fielded in a long time. Compare that ’06 team with the 2010 team.
It’s pretty comparable in the aspects of possibly a 1,000-yard rusher, possibly have a 1,000-yard receiver, if things go the way they should. That’s what we want to be, we want to be a balanced attack. And that’s what we were in ’06. I think if you go back, even to ’05-’06, we had Kyle Wilson and we had Jeff Hughley. Jeff I think was a 1,000-yard receiver one of those years, or at least 800-900 yards. We won the conference with a 2,000-yard passer. Kyle was up there close to 1,000 yards rushing. That’s kind of the similarities we’re seeing. We’re staying a balanced attack. And we have the ability right now to be balanced, with James Wilson the tailback and [Jeremy] Dixon at receiver, and then the other guys on the team really complement those guys well.

D3: You had followed up that 2006 year with an 0-10 season, but then regrew from there. Was it difficult to be patient those couple of years in the rebuilding phase?
It was obviously very humbling to win the conference and then come back the next year and go 0-10. That’s a tough situation. But I think our players really have battled back. You’re looking at guys on that ’07 season who are seniors. There’s a perfect example: We have 17 seniors who came into this program and came into this program 0-10 their first year. They kept fighting and pushing, and then found themselves in a situation where they were 5-5 the next year, then 7-3 the next. The guys are off to a good start this year at 4-1. A lot of credit goes to the kids who stayed here and stayed in the program.

Stage is being set for The Game
Hampden-Sydney has helped to make sure that The Game against Randolph-Macon on the last weekend of the regular season is going to have a lot at stake. The Tigers, needing a second-half rally, took down Bridgewater on Saturday 24-17, earning yet another big win this year. That leaves H-SC and R-MC both standing atop the ODAC charts 6-0 and both having beaten other previously undefeated opponents in the past two weeks. Not that the rivalry between the two teams needs more hype, but the Tigers and Yellow Jackets are clearly separating themselves from the pack and could play for the automatic qualifier in Week 11. Nothing is set in stone, to be sure (Bridgewater, for instance, could still play a factor if the Eagles beat Macon and Macon beats Sydney), but things are becoming more defined. The Old Dominion’s potential for parity, which was talked about in a recent Around the Mid-Atlantic, has left us in a familiar position, based on the past few seasons.

Outgoing coaches collide
The coaches at Ferrum and Methodist are famously on their final seasons at their respective schools, and neither team is engaged in a particularly banner year. But when they met on the field Saturday, it was the Panthers who walked away with the win, their first of the season. It was a far from easy victory, slogging into three overtimes before ending 51-45. Ferrum carried as much as a 21-point lead during the game before the Monarchs clawed back into contention and pushed the game past 60 minutes with a touchdown with just a minute and a half left. Methodist far outgained Ferrum -- 484 yards compared with 320 -- but the Panthers saw some particularly dynamic play from quarterback Marcus Mayo. He was a factor in six touchdowns (two he threw for, two he ran for and two on punt returns).

McDaniel digs deep on defense
McDaniel is further proving its resurgence in the Centennial by clobbering conference newcomer Susquehanna 35-0. The Green Terror, out to their best start in years, saw an exemplary offensive performance from Matt Cahill, who caught just four passes, but three of those came for touchdowns. More impressively for the McDaniel team as a whole was that defensive back Kevin White became the fourth Green Terror player in a row to win Centennial defensive player of the week honors. In the down years from 2007 to 2009, McDaniel gave up an average of 34.1, 26.5 and 26.9 points per game. This year, that number has fallen to a mere 13.

Blitz package
Washington and Lee improved to over .500 beating Emory and Henry 45-24. The Generals posted 31 unanswered points in a 17-minute stretch during the middle of the game. That’ll happen when a team posts a whopping 425 yards rushing, led by Luke Heinsohn (130 yards), Bretty Murray (121 yards) and Harrison Hudson (85 yards).

It took Shenandoah until the second half to put points on the board, but the Hornets were winners against Maryville in the low-scoring 7-6 matchup. It’s SU’s first win of the season. Though Keyone Kyle led the team on offense with 145 yards, it was the Daniel Wright-to-Rico Wallace connection that brought SU its score.

Muhlenberg trailed for just 15 seconds against Juniata on Saturday, following up an Eagles field goal with an 80-yard Chase Nadell kickoff return for a touchdown. Nadell also hauled in one of his team’s four interceptions, while Terrence Dandridge paced the offense with 104 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Contact me
I would be happy to hear from anyone who has questions or feedback regarding the Around the Mid-Atlantic column or Division III football in general. Please write to me at ryan.tipps@d3sports.com. I’m sure that I missed some highlights in the region. I invite you to talk about players and performances on the message board’s Around the Mid-Atlantic thread. Additionally, if there is an idea you’d like to see me write about, post it there or email me.

Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is a writer based in Connecticut and a former online news editor for ESPN.com, as well as a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has written feature stories for ESPN.com, currently contributes fantasy football content to RotoBaller.com, and has been a regular contributor to D3sports.com sites since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing.

2012-2015 columnist: Adam Turer
2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman

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