November 15, 2011

Muhlenberg is where McDonough’s heart is

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Muhlenberg athletics file photo

Pat McDonough has spent much of his life on the move. The All-America linebacker from Muhlenberg was born in Pennsylvania and, through a series of family moves, made his way to New Jersey, back to Pennsylvania, twice to Ohio as well as a stop in Georgia and Virginia.

He said it was during his middle schools years and part of high school in Georgia and Ohio where he learned what good competition really was. He calls it “intense.”

But it’s now, after four seasons playing at Muhlenberg, the school in Allentown, Pa., has become one of the longest residences of his life.

“Looking back on it, I never really realized that this is probably the longest place I’ve been,” said McDonough, 22. “It is my home. I enjoy the people, the coaches, the community.”

It wasn’t always in the cards for him to end up there. McDonough began his collegiate career at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. He was on the team for the Keydets but never saw action in games. After just a semester at VMI, McDonough left to find a way to get back on the field playing the game he loved.

At VMI, he said, “I was not enjoying football. I knew football was something that had to be in my life, and I couldn’t not enjoy it and not play it.”

The Centennial seemed like a good choice for him. High school teammates Andrew Kase and Gregory Lord were already playing for Johns Hopkins and Dickinson, respectively. McDonough was drawn by the experienced coaching staff and already-stout defense.

It didn’t take long for him to separate himself from the pack. For the past three seasons, McDonough has led the team in tackles and has been a first-team All-Conference selection in 2009 and 2010. He’s sure to be there again this season. He has 333 career tackles, and has topped 100 this year and last.

“Looking back on it, it’s been a pleasure playing here and going to school here,” he said. “I can look back in 10 or 15 years and say I did this and I did that, and it’s a great accomplishment.”

He notes that he had to change, becoming a better listener to his coaches’ instruction, to get to where he is now. It “kind of held me back” during my first two years, he said. But the staff helped him see the big picture on the field and mold him into one of the best players to walk through Muhlenberg’s doors.

While not making the playoffs this year, McDonough and his teammates ended on a high note, shutting out Lehigh Valley rival Moravian 28-0. The schools are separated by only a few miles, and their rivalry is as intense as almost any other in the region.

The matchup against Moravian is “always something to look forward to even if we aren’t making the playoffs because the game means everything,” McDonough said. “Ending the season with a win and holding our heads high.”

The win is just one reason McDonough has to hold his head high. He’s raised the bar for the team’s defense and has been recognized on a national scale for his efforts. Plus, he found a home at which he was able to enjoy football once again.

“All the awards, they’re nice,” he said, “but the connection with the senior class and all the friends you develop throughout the whole four years is something you’ll remember forever.”

Shenandoah is on the move

After more than a decade in the USA South and its previous incarnations, Shenandoah’s football team just wrapped up its final season in the conference. Next year, the Hornets will become the eighth football team in the ODAC. I caught up with SU coach Paul Barnes to hear why he thought the conference switch was a good thing and what he’s going to miss the most about the USAC.

D3football: You’ve been with Shenandoah’s program since it was reinstated back in ’99. How does moving to the ODAC play into the evolution of the Hornets’ program?
Barnes:
I think that was probably the next step to take because of where we are located. Location has a lot to do with fitting into the ODAC. Since we’re the farthest team north in the USA South, a lot of our trips are three- or four-hours long to our first school, whether it’s Ferrum, Danville or CNU. They’re pretty far away. So you would have to take our student-athletes out of class a lot more. When you go into the ODAC, within a three-hour radius, you have about six or seven schools that you can play. So in terms of class time, our student-athletes won’t miss a lot of time. No. 2 is the cost factor because we will be able to go down and back on the same day. … It’s a good fit for Shenandoah.

D3: Is the revamped geography going to help you in terms of recruiting?
Barnes:
I think so. The ODAC’s been around a lot longer, too, so people recognize the ODAC. I’m not saying the USA South isn’t a good conference, because I’m not. But the ODAC, when you go into schools in other states and you say you’re from the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, they recognize that, they know what that’s about. I still have to explain about the USA South. Eventually, I think the USA South will be like that, but not right now because it’s only been in existence less than 10 years.

D3: What’s the best thing about the USA South that you feel you’re leaving behind?
Barnes:
For me, I’m leaving behind good coaches. They’re a great bunch of guys to compete against. I’ve been competing against and have known most of these guys for about 10 years, and they’re a class act, every one of them. I enjoy it. The rivalries we have built up -- us and CNU, us and Ferrum. When you talk about Averett, we started our programs together. Then CNU came aboard, N.C. Wesleyan, they came aboard. We all experienced the same things, and it’s fun to watch how we’ve grown from just a start-up program into being able to compete on the Division III level. As a matter of fact, we’re still going to be playing two USA South teams next year in CNU and Ferrum.

D3: I figured you weren’t going to leave them off your schedule entirely. They would be good nonconference games for you.
Barnes:
Right. And now that we’re getting into the ODAC … they have accepted us fully. And I really appreciate it.

Representing the Mid-Atlantic

From the Mid-Alantic region, we have four teams going to the NCAA playoffs. In the past month, I’ve written the three of them that earned their conference’s automatic qualifiers, and in case you’ve missed any of them or simply need a refresher, here links to those columns: Christopher Newport from the USA South, Johns Hopkins from the Centennial and Hampden Sydney from the Old Dominion. The fourth team going to the playoffs from this region, Wesley, earned a Pool B bid and was the subject of a column back during the second week of the season. And if history is any indicator, you’ll have plenty of opportunities read more about them in our Road to Salem features and elsewhere on the website.

I know that fans and parents have loyalties to their teams, but this is the time of year when people rally around their conferences. Even if your conference’s playoff representative is your team’s rival, be supportive. Their performance is a reflection on the conference as a whole. Celebrate your conference’s rep and the Mid-Atlantic in general. Good luck to all four of our area’s playoff teams!

Rapid roundup

Last week in Around the Nation, Keith McMillan wrote about rivalries, talking in part about The Game between Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon. The Yellow Jackets spoiled the Tigers’ sweep of the ODAC with a 48-34 victory. R-MC’s Drake Sanders and Thaddeus Scrugg both topped 100 yards and ran for 6.4 and 8.1 yards per carry, respectively. (To read my contribution to ATN last week and my experience over the past 16 seasons at my own alma mater’s rivalry, click here.)

Johns Hopkins finished the regular season undefeated for the first time in school history, but it wasn’t easy as McDaniel had the Jays on the ropes for much of the game, which ended 28-24. JHU signal-caller Hewitt Tomlin passed for 484 yards, while Green Terror rusher Joe Rollins netted 136. McDaniel finished the season 2-8, but lost six of those by eight points or less.

Thanks to a 17-16 win over Susquehanna, Juniata snapped a losing skid that dated to October 2009. Scott Andrews sent a field goal through the uprights with just 2 seconds left to usher in the victory.

Wesley solidified its Pool B bid with a hefty 54-13 win over Huntingdon. The Wolverine defense held the Hawks to their lowest gains of the year while Wesley quarterback Shane McSweeny propelled the offense to 459 yards.

Christopher Newport’s Aaron Edwards is proving he’s up for the task of quarterback. In just two weeks as starter, he’s thrown for 537 yards and seven touchdowns. Saturday saw 314 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-20 win over Maryville.

Bridgewater’s Cliff Woodard caught a touchdown pass with just seconds remaining against Catholic to secure a 22-19 win.

Stepping down after a hearty half-decade

Over the past five seasons of writing the Around the Mid-Atlantic column, I’ve tried to focus on making this space about the players, coaches and fans. They are the ones who make Division III football worth paying attention to every Saturday and worth discussing Sunday through Friday. But for a moment, I’m going to turn a bit of the attention onto myself because there will be another voice writing this column next fall.

The last five seasons far surpassed my expectations when I took this job. My coverage area has shifted. I’ve made people angry, but I also hope that I’ve made many more happy. Save for Susquehanna, which joined the Mid-Atlantic just last season, I’ve written feature stories or game pieces about every school currently part of the Centennial, Old Dominion or USA South. And of course, Wesley.

It’s hard not to think back over some of the stories that touched me most. My column about seeing three games in 30 hours, which helped establish my role in the region back in my first month in 2007. King’s linebacker Tore Alaimo’s battle with injury. Dickinson’s Ian Mitchell who raised money for charity in the name of a friend felled by cancer. Family stories involving the names Ricca, Pugh and Shannon. Greensboro’s Purple Heart winner Rodney Beasley. Ursinus’ play-by-play broadcaster Bern Gavlick. F&M’s John Troxell and his work with the Lauren’s First and Goal Foundation. And just weeks ago, Averett honoring a former player who succumbed to cancer by adding his initials to the team’s helmets.

To those who know me best, I’m an emotional person, probably more than I need to be. I’m loyal to my friends, defensive at times, highly detail-oriented and supportive of those who are deserving. Some of those features may have made it through in my writing; others you may be learning for the first time. But without those traits, I don’t know that I could have told the stories I’ve told. Looking over the list I just offered, the ones that resonated the most with me and with readers were those that brought to heart the student side of the student-athlete. Division III is built around so much more than what happens on the field, and that’s a large part of why I love it as much as I do.

Saying goodbye to the Around the Mid-Atlantic is difficult. I can say that a return to the full-time columnist role isn’t out of the question -- but that’s probably a few years away. For the past two years, I’ve been in graduate school at Virginia Tech, and outside of D3football.com, I’ve been doing agriculture writing and other work at my full-time newspaper job. Plus, in less than a month, my first-born, a boy, is expected to be here. Individually, they have all been manageable burdens, but as a whole, it has been a little overwhelming. Because of that, I chose to step back from writing the Mid-Atlantic column.

I’m not disappearing from D3football.com as a whole. My job will primarily take me behind closed doors, editing and posting other writers’ work on the website. I’ll hopefully still write a feature story or two during the regular season, something with a broad appeal, while joining Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan weekly for the Triple Take feature. And I’ll certainly contribute heavily in both D3football.com’s preseason and postseason efforts.

The changes will be good for me, and hopefully whomever replaces me will be well-received by those of you who read this space every week. I wish everyone the best, and good luck to the Mid-Atlantic teams heading to the playoffs!

Five years of stunning games

Over the past few weeks, I’ve asked for readers to send in some of the best games they’ve seen since I began writing for the Mid-Atlantic in 2007 (though I was happy to fudge it a little if folks offered up games that were a little before that, too). Here’s what people had to say:

Hampden-Sydney fan Bill Bailey said: “One of the best games that I remember watching over the past 5 years was HSC at Guilford 2007. The final score was 56-49. That is right, 15 touchdowns. Neither team had more than a two score lead. It was a night game played in Guilford's new stadium. Josh Vogelbach was Guilford's quarterback and he was outstanding. The best performance for HSC was Josh Simpson scored 7 touchdowns (6 rushing and 1 receiving). That is an ODAC record that still stands at 42 points in one game.”

Bailey wasn’t alone in mentioning this one. Former Quakers player Tyler Hasty mentioned it as well: “2007 Guilford vs Hampden Sydney. 56-49 Hsu final. Over 1200+ yds combined between the two teams. 9 odac records were tied or broken in this game. Josh Simpson ran for 6 tds, Vogelbach threw for 592 yds.”

Bailey noted one more: “Another great game was HSC @ Randolph Macon in 2009. The field was muddy and HSC was going for an undefeated season. That level of emotion along with the intensity of the rivalry of The Game made for exciting football. RMC went ahead late in the game 27-26 and then HSC ran the kickoff back for a 34-27 margin. The HSC defense had to stop 3 drives inside their own 30 in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory and undefeated season.” 

Washington and Lee grad Aaron Fulk offered these memories: “The big ones that come to my mind during those years (some of which I know are earlier than what you stated) are winning the ODAC for the first time (ever?) in 2006 over E&H, beating HSC in a shootout during their first ever game in their new stadium (‘05 I think and there had to be 5 lead changes), losing to Bridgewater at home for what was the ODAC title at the time in ‘05 on a blocked punt late in the fourth quarter, and winning the final game ever played at the old Wilson Field defeating Bridgewater for the first time in a long time in ‘07. I also watched the Generals win the ODAC last season and that was an exciting game too.”

Another W&L game got recognition, this time the loss against Bridgewater in 2009. Staunton resident and Emory & Henry grad Mark Meeks called it a “crazy ending to regulation.” A 24-yard Generals field goal attempt sailed wide left and pushed the game into overtime, where the Eagles again tapped their go-to receiver, Tyler Beiler (for the third time that day), en route to a 35-34 win.

Not to make this all about the ODAC, Ursinus Sports Information Director James Wagner offered the Bears’ 2009 games at home against Gettysburg and on the road against Johns Hopkins. The former was a 55-50 shootout with more than 1,300 yards of offense. The latter was a 16-14 grinding matchup against the Centennial’s future playoff representative.

Centennial Conference Executive Director Steve Ulrich points to two high-octane matchups between Gettysburg and Susquehanna. The Bullets won 61-55 in 2009 and the Crusaders won 56-55 in overtime in 2010.

In the 2009 game, “Gettysburg erased a 50-27 deficit, scoring the game's final 34 points over 18 minutes to defeat Susquehanna in front of a home Family Weekend crowd. The 116 combined points and 1,162 combined yards set Conference records. Gettysburg QB Kyle Whitmoyer threw for 374 yards and five touchdowns, while WB Charles Curcio scored the winning TD on a 4-yard run with 1:40 left.”

In 2010, “This time it was Susquehanna's turn to come from behind, rallying from a 48-37 deficit with 9:56 to force overtime in a game that featured nine lead changes. The teams combined for 111 points and 1,123 yards for a total of 227 points and 2,285 yards in two games over two seasons. Crusader QB Rich Palazzi threw a 25-yard scoring pass to WR Spencer Ercole to pull SU within one in OT and tossed a two-point conversion to RB Greg Tellish for the winning points.”

Ferrum alumnus Wayne Brockwell highlighted one as well. “The game that sticks out to me was Ferrum v. Methodist in 2005. It was my senior year and Ferrum was playing some of the best football it had played in about a decade. Ferrum was undefeated and Methodist had 1 loss in a non-conference game. Ferrum, Methodist, Averett and CNU were all tied for the Conference lead and all had reasonable chances at winning the conference. Ferrum won that game 42-37 at the end of the game, propelling them to their first undisputed Conference Championship and to their only Playoff team since joining a conference. That was the year Jermaine Pitts (QB) and Chris Silk (TE) dominated nearly every game. Unfortunately the last 2 games of the year (CNU at the end and Wesley in the playoffs), those teams shut down the run and Ferrum sputtered to produce points.”

Monte Shepler, a Wesley fan, wrote in about one of the great Wesley-UMHB matchups that have happened several times late in the postseason. “The greatest and most memorable game for me was the Wesley/UMHB southern Region Championship game at heavily favored UMHB. [It was in 2005.] UMHB double teamed our star receiver and Larry Beavers, in single coverage, caught four touchdown passes for around 240 yards and Wesley won 34-20. It was at UMHB which made the win twice as sweet.”

And, of course, I have a couple of my own favorites, too. But first, I need to share a disclaimer. I like the people at Bridgewater: the coaches I’ve met, the players, the fans. So it’s only coincidence that two of my most prominent football memories over the past five years involve the Eagles being on the losing end. That’s unintentional; it’s just the way things shook out. I hope the Bridgewater faithful understand!

The first game was at Hampden-Sydney in 2007, when a well-executed hook and lateral play led to a game-winning Josh Simpson touchdown against Bridgewater. The 38-31 final certainly made for an exciting game, but more significantly, it marked the first time in years that H-SC beat BC, in a way helping to dethrone the Eagles from the top of the ODAC.

The other game that has stood out to me in the past five seasons was Ferrum’s overtime win against Bridgewater in 2009. The 37-34 final came after a furious rally by BC, which saw them rebound from a 21-point deficit. But after regulation play, it was the Panthers’ Scott Puschell who booted the go-ahead score, which came after Ferrum defender Maureik Goode forced a Bridgewater fumble in overtime.

Lastly, if I’m allowed to break my own era boundaries, I would like to mention the Christopher Newport game against Mary Hardin-Baylor in 2006 as a great one. To this day, the defensive battle that saw CNU topple a Top 5-ranked UMHB team is one of the three best football games I’ve ever seen at any level. CNU made a goal-line stand during the Crusaders’ final drive that secured the 15-10 victory. It was a David vs. Goliath situation that proved David the winner.

Contact me

I would be happy to hear from anyone this postseason -- there’s still lots of football to play. Please email me or follow me on Twitter @D3MidAtlantic.

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