November 10, 2010

W&L finds success in its youth

More news about: Muhlenberg | Washington and Lee
Brent Murray
Brent Murray is part of a three-headed rushing attack that keys Washington and Lee.
Photo by Kevin Remington for W&L athletics

Two days before Frank Miriello’s team was to line up against Hampden-Sydney, the coach saw something after practice that worried him.

“They were so quiet, I was concerned they were a bit nervous or on edge,” he said of his young Washington and Lee squad. “I asked the captains, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ And they said, ‘Coach, it’s all focus. We’re focused on what we have to get done’ ”

What they hoped to get done was become the first team in school history to sweep the conference slate and use that as a springboard into the postseason. Come Saturday, they did just that as a previously unbeaten H-SC team crumpled beneath turnovers and the Generals’ triple option. After starting the season 1-2, W&L pulled off the unthinkable, winning the game 38-27 and, as a result, the Old Dominion title.

Not only was Miriello fielding one of his youngest and most inexperienced teams ever, the season also turned out to be as emotional for him as it was exciting. In his 16th season at the helm in Lexington, Va., Miriello surpassed his mentor and predecessor’s school-wins mark. He stands at 82-75-1 since the 1995 season, when he took over the team following the death of coach Gary Fallon.

He called it a “bittersweet” moment to have passed Fallon’s win total of 76 earlier this season. But he also calls it an honor to be included in the company of Fallon and other great W&L coaches, such as Lee McLaughlin, who led the team during the 1950s and ’60s.

Fallon was instrumental in pulling Miriello, a struggling high school coach, into the W&L fold.

“I was at a crossroads in my life,” he said. “Was God wanting me to be a coach or not?”

Miriello had planned on using a connection to get his foot in the door at Wyoming, but all the fledgling Miriello needed was a few minutes with Fallon before he realized that the right path for him went through Virginia.

In his mid-30s, Miriello was hired as an intern for the Generals. He said he made a mere $1,500 that first year and lived in a gym.

“My dad thought I was absolutely crazy coming down here,” he said early Sunday from his office, a day after one of the biggest victories of his career. The now-veteran head coach laughed when he thought of those early decisions, surely seeing from a wiser perspective the absurdity that his father must have recognized more than 30 years ago.

The risk paid off for the Pennsylvania native. The 2010 team, like their coach so long ago, began young and inexperienced. At the beginning of the season, Miriello admits that he wasn’t sure what kind of outcome this year would bring.

With few seniors on either side of the ball, six wins would have been a blessing in his eyes.

“I thought we might have a shot next year to [compete for the title] because this year’s team was so young and inexperienced,” Miriello said, “but it came just a little earlier than expected.”

W&L celebrates
Washington and Lee has had a little bit to celebrate this season.
Photo by Kevin Remington for W&L athletics

The success of this year has been due in large part to the triple option attack that offensive coordinator Scott Abell installed in 2007, just one year after the Generals’ last trip to the playoffs. The coaching staff visited major colleges such as Georgia Tech and Wofford to help hone the offense. What they brought back were ideas and the ability to recruit for the system.

Quarterback Charlie Westfal, a junior, has been there since the change-over and has a firm control of the offense. What has emerged, too, is the trio of rushers Luke Heinsohn, Harrison Hudson and Brett Murray. The two sophomores and a junior account for 2,479 yards, or about 62 percent of the team’s total offensive output.

From the beginning of the season, Miriello said he “knew there was some potential there.”

“It’s a wonderful feeling to have this young and inexperienced team perform and execute and win this title. It’s just mind-boggling for me. I’m so happy,” the coach said.

The season’s turnaround was part of the team getting over its youth. Despite early losses to Franklin and Marshall and to Averett, the Generals turned a corner in early October with a 55-29 win against Guilford.

“That started the thing rolling,” he said. “We just began to get more confident each week.”

Two weeks later, they built upon that confidence with a home win against Randolph-Macon, one of the favorites to win the ODAC. And this past Saturday against Hampden-Sydney further played into the Generals’ hands, being at home, on Parents Weekend.

Perhaps there was even a little destiny involved, too. Miriello notes that W&L won an ODAC title in 1981 while he was an intern for Fallon. The team won it again in ’85.

That span has repeated itself. The coach led the team to the 2006 ODAC championship, and now, again four years later, it reprises that role.

It was a fact on Miriello’s mind every day leading up to Saturday.

Muhlenberg hoofs it into the postseason
With wins over the other two-loss teams in the Centennial, Muhlenberg is another team that has surprised to take the conference title and the automatic qualifier.

The Mules came off of a 3-7 season in 2009, far down from the playoff runs they had each of the previous two seasons. But when conference play started for them on Sept. 18, they bucked off their opposition, beating Susquehanna, Gettysburg and Johns Hopkins by just one score each. The team’s only loss came against Franklin and Marshall.

They punctuated their season’s run with a 27-20 win against Ursinus on Saturday, a victory that was helped by a big third quarter for the Mules. Now, the team will get to play Nov. 20 with 31 other teams in the country.

Head coach Mike Donnelly told The Morning Call of Allentown that he was “just ecstatic” about the chance to go to the postseason. “I’m so happy for our kids,” he told the newspaper. “A lot of these kids were on last year’s team and they took it on the chin most of the year. To see them come together as a football team and survive a lot of challenges is extremely gratifying.”

Muhlenberg’s best moments this year -- as in years past -- are on a defense that has long been the shining part of the team. Led by senior linebacker Pat McDonough, who has 83 tackles this season, the team has allowed just 43 points through the past five games. They’ve clearly turned a corner from earlier in the year when they gave up two or three or four scores each Saturday.

But then there is also the offense, which has successfully put up lots of points against the best teams in the conference. Terrence Dandridge leads the rushing game with nearly 1,000 yards, and Dan Dieghan has 1,389 yards throwing. The most significant part of this offense is that Dandridge and Dieghan, along with receiver Isaiah Vaughn and others, are just sophomores.

The team boasts very few seniors and will be worthy of staying on the radar going into next season.

Muhlenberg faces cross-town rival Moravian this coming Saturday.

The blitz package
Christian Woelfel-Monsivais threw four touchdown passes in the first half to give Christopher Newport an insurmountable lead en route to a 42-10 win over Maryville. With a win again Methodist on Saturday, CNU would clinch the USA South’s playoff bid.

Gettysburg was on the losing end of its only three-overtime game in school history. McDaniel’s Tom Massucci connected on a 10-yard pass to Woody Butler to seal the 36-30 win. Bullets’ tailback Jamel Mutunga ran for a career-high 190 yards, while his Green Terror counterpart, freshman Joe Rollins, put up 294 yards.

Bridgewater fended off a furious second-half Randolph-Macon rally to win 31-26. The Eagles’ Tyler Beiler had 218 receiving yards, much of which was made up of 70-yard and 78-yard touchdown catches.

Newport News Apprentice took advantage of short-yardage situations against Frostburg State, but it was the Bobcats who posted a touchdown in the waning minutes to break away for the win. Frostburg State far outgained the Builders on offense, but Apprentice forced five turnovers to keep the team close.

Ferrum has four players rush for between 42 and 56 yards in a run-by-committee approach that helped them beat Averett 34-13. The Panthers kept pressure on Averett with eight tackles for loss and three sacks. The Cougars’ Jeremy Dixon set a school record with 182 yards receiving.

Almost neck and neck at the break, Dickinson had four second-half touchdowns to earn the win against Juniata 41-14. The Eagles’ highlight came with just 8 seconds left in the game when Abe Mellinger took a kickoff return 76 yards for 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.

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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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