|The expectations that Mike
Rader brought to Maryville have translated into to conference
Maryville athletics photo
As expected, four teams from the Around the Mid-Atlantic region earned playoff berths. Only one of them made history. The Maryville Scots earned the first Division III playoff bid in the program’s history. Maryville locked up the USA South conference’s Pool A bid in Week 10 by defeating Greensboro, while Methodist defeated Huntington. In its eighth season in the conference, the Scots clinched the automatic bid by virtue of a Sept. 28 head-to-head win over the Monarchs. The two teams finished tied for the conference title at 6-1 in league play.
“We’re excited about the playoffs, obviously. We are excited to be a part of it,” said Maryville head coach Mike Rader. “It’s a great thing for our community, our alumni, our administration, our faculty, our staff, our players, our fans, everybody.”
In Rader’s two seasons at the helm, the Scots have posted a 14-6 record and shared two USA South titles. Prior to Rader’s reign, the last football conference championship won by Maryville was a Smoky Mountain Conference title in the early 1930s. Forget being ahead of schedule; Rader came to Maryville to win and saw no reason why his team couldn’t win right away. That’s why so many underclassmen have had such an impact on Maryville’s turnaround. Two sophomores -- quarterback Evan Pittenger and defensive lineman Zach Capehart -- are among the team’s five captains.
“Leadership does not have an age,” said Rader. “Everybody can be a leader, and there are a million ways to lead.”
The expectations that the former Huntingdon assistant brought to Maryville have translated to consecutive conference championships. The 64 freshmen on this year’s squad helped take the program to unseen heights. The eight wins so far are the most a Maryville team has posted since 1978.
“From the first day to now, the freshmen have made tremendous strides. Their growth has been phenomenal,” said Rader. “You’ve got to have both phases, offense and defense, that allow freshmen to play, so that these talented kids can come in and help us right away. Every man on this team has a role.”
After losing at Emory and Henry on Sept. 14, the Scots reeled off seven straight wins, including their first six USA South contests. The 21 points scored against the Wasps in the loss marked the only time all year the Scots were held below 30 points. The Scots averaged 39.8 points per game, but that was only good for third in the league, behind Methodist and Huntingdon. The Hawks led the nation in total offense with 585.8 yards per game and the Monarchs were third with 528.5 yards per game. The Scots were way back at 21st in the nation with 474 yards per game. Unlike their conference mates who like to air it out, the Scots did their damage on the ground.
Travis Felder rushed for 107.5 yards per game and 19 touchdowns. Pittenger added 67.5 rushing yards per game and nine rushing touchdowns to complement his 181.5 passing yards per game and 11 touchdown passes. Freshman Trenton Shuler added 55.7 rushing yards per game and eight rushing scores. The Scots ranked ninth in the nation with 289.1 rushing yards per game, and second behind Linfield with 43 rushing touchdowns.
“We just want to play sound football -- run, stop the run, and win the turnover battle,” said Rader. “We base everything around that. We just want to stay true to who we are and stay true to our system.”
This was not a down year for the USA South. Last year, a three-way tie gave the title to a 6-4 Christopher Newport team, which earned the Captains a first round trip to Alliance, Ohio, to face the eventual national champions of Mount Union. The three teams that tied for the title -- CNU, Maryville and Ferrum -- each had two conference losses. This year, three USA South teams posted 8-2 overall records, and Maryville was two fourth quarter drives away from finishing with an unblemished conference mark.
“Week in and week out, this conference was exciting,” said Rader. “It really was a grind.”
Those two fourth quarter drives gave Huntingdon a 45-38 win over Maryville in the season finale. The Scots are one of five automatic qualifiers who enter the playoffs coming off of a loss. In some ways, it was a blessing. The Scots were allowing just 18.9 points per game heading into the regular season finale, including two shutouts. Huntington scored the final 14 points to end Maryville’s dream of a perfect USA South season. Maryville’s coaches were in the film room on Sunday, reviewing the mistakes made in the regular season finale and relishing the chance to correct them on the field one more time.
“We saw a lot of fixable things that we can get corrected,” said Rader. “We are getting re-focused on who we are and why we’ve been successful.”
Four teams, two games
It is not a surprise that the four teams from this column are playing one another in the first round. What is surprising is the matchups. Undefeated Johns Hopkins will host Wesley, which is making its ninth straight playoff appearance. The Blue Jays are ranked 10th in the final Top 25 poll, while the Wolverines are ranked 15th. There was almost no doubt that the Blue Jays would host a first round game, but few expected them to draw the perennially powerful Wolverines.
Wesley, in turn, is in an unfamiliar spot, entering the playoffs as a first round underdog. Head coach Mike Drass was happy just to make the tournament this season, after his team lost two regular season games.
“This is our ninth straight year of making the playoffs, but this is our youngest team. I’m excited about the experience we'll get,” said Drass. “We’re just thrilled to get in. We’ve got nothing to lose. We'll go out there, cut it loose, and have some fun.”
Drass, whose team lost to Mary Hardin-Baylor and Rowan, and defeated Division I FCS Charlotte, said that Johns Hopkins has the most impressive offensive line he has seen all year. The Wolverines’ front seven will need to rise to the challenge.
Wesley has played most of the season without five starters from its opening day lineup. While the team is young, the upperclassmen are accustomed to winning playoff games. The Wolverines have never lost their opening round game during their eight-year playoff streak.
“This time of year, there is a certain finality that you have to face,” said Drass. “Our whole focus this week, what we break on, is the word ‘advance.’”
This year, advancing just once will be a tall task for the Wolverines.
Meanwhile, 8-2 Hampden-Sydney will host Maryville. The Tigers earned the ODAC’s automatic bid by stuffing Randolph-Macon’s two-point conversion attempt with 1:35 to play in an absolute classic edition of The Game. Still, it is surprising that a two-loss ODAC champion gets the home game. The ODAC’s 9-4 record against the USA South in non-conference play this year gave Hampden-Sydney the edge over Maryville. The two teams share three common opponents, and each went 2-1. The Tigers defeated Emory and Henry, which defeated Marvyille. The Scots defeated Christopher Newport, which defeated Hampden-Sydney. The Tigers just faced one of the best rushing teams in the country and survived; the defense will have to reload quickly to slow the Scots. Maryville’s defense has seen high-octane offenses in Huntingdon, Methodist and LaGrange; Nash Nance and the Tigers offense will present yet another challenge for Dylan Wolfenbarger and the Scots defense.
Kudos to Methodist, Christopher Newport, Muhlenberg, and Southern Virginia on their 8-2 seasons. Huntingdon went 7-3 in its first season as a member of the USA South. Juniata secured its first winning season since 1999. The Eagles finished 7-3 and will play in an ECAC bowl game at Albright. Catholic won its last two games to finish 6-4, its first winning season since 2008. Guilford also finished 6-4 and earned its first winning season since 2007. These turnarounds give hope to Averett and Susquehanna, who each won one game, making sure that no team from this column finished 2013 winless.
Now, a look at the top individual performers who made this a memorable season in the Mid-Atlantic:
Travis Felder, Maryville, 12 points per game
Vaughn Cross, Methodist, 10.8 points per game
Will McGhee, Randolph-Macon, 10.2 points per game
Graham Craig, LaGrange, 357.1 yards per game (led nation)
Max Reber, Methodist, 299.8 yards per game
Nash Nance, Hampden-Sydney, 277.9 yards per game
Will McGhee, Randolph-Macon, 167.60 yards per game
Joe Rollins, McDaniel, 137.4 yards per game
Jacques Alston, N.C. Wesleyan, 137.1 yards per game
Holton Walker, Hampden-Sydney, 129.1 yards per game
Jerry Rahill, Ursinus, 107.6 yards per game
Cody Geyer, Muhlenberg, 105 yards per game
John Feaster, Muhlenberg, 6
Zane Campbell, Wesley, 5
Aaron Fant, Franklin and Marshall, 5
Brendan Wengerter, Franklin and Marshall, 12
Brandon Felus, Juniata, 10
Anthony Albanese, Catholic, 8
Kodie McNamara, Gettysburg, 11.9 per game
Dylan Wolfenberger, Maryville, 11.6 per game
Brendan Wengerter, Franklin and Marshall, 11.1 per game
Man, that season went fast. My thanks to all of you who read the column this year. Many thanks to those parents, players, coaches and fans who talked D3football with me throughout the season. A big thanks to all the SIDs who helped me each and every week. Thank you to Pat, Keith and Ryan for their tireless efforts editing and running this site. I am still humbled to write for the website that has been my laptop's homepage since 2003. I'll be writing playoff features over the next five weeks, so please keep reading. I hope to see many of you in Salem on Dec. 20.