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The little picture is the big thing

The Eagles have done nothing but celebrate after games in 2017.
Photo by Tommy Thompson

By Andrew Lovell
D3sports.com

The Bridgewater football team has a bye this weekend, but head coach Michael Clark will still be facing a formidable opponent capable of wearing him out.

"I'll be with my grandchildren on Saturday," Clark said. "I am a heavy favorite."

How you define winning when it comes to spending time with grandchildren is certainly up for debate, but that's nothing new for Clark. He has repeatedly changed his definition of "winning" over 23 seasons as the Eagles' head coach.

"I teach a coaching class and one of the things I always talk about is, 'Don't ever go into a situation to work where you don't ask them to define winning,'" Clark said. "Because winning is defined differently in different spots, and even in the same place, the definition can change."

In Clark's early years from 1995-1999, wins were few and far between, at least in the traditional sense. Bridgewater went a combined 12-37-1 over Clark's first five seasons, a stretch that included a pair of winless campaigns. The wins weren't reflected in the standings, but they manifested themselves in the form of a rock-solid foundation that paved the way for a six-year run of true greatness.

Between 2000 and 2005, the Eagles won five ODAC titles, reached the NCAA playoffs six consecutive times, and added five ODAC Coach of the Year Awards to Clark's mantle. The Eagles' peaked in 2001, advancing all the way to Salem, Virginia, where they lost 30-27 to perennial national powerhouse Mount Union in the Stagg Bowl. During the run, winning was defined as competing on a national level.

Clark has seen enough to know what to focus on from day to day.
Photo by Tommy Thompson

In the 11 seasons following that program-shifting run, Bridgewater has been good, but not great, going a combined 68-42, sprinkling four seasons with a .500 or worse record among seven seasons above .500. The Eagles haven't won more than eight games or returned to the NCAA playoffs since 2005.

The national landscape of Division III football has changed since the early 2000s, particularly with the emergence of programs like UW-Whitewater, Mary Hardin-Baylor, and St. Thomas to compete with Mount Union on an annual basis. "Winning" for Bridgewater, in Clark's view, no longer means being able to mount a serious push for a national championship, but instead compete in an unpredictable ODAC.

"A lot's changed since that time, but right now, I've got business in the ODAC that I need to take care of," Clark said. "That'll never be erased, but it certainly doesn't influence anything I do right now."

"They don't want to hear what happened back in [the early 2000s]," Clark added about his current players. "To them, that's ancient history."

Through three games in the 2017 season, Clark's players have shown an ability to manage different situations. In the season opener, Bridgewater put together a 96-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by senior wide receiver Corey Jochim's 65-yard catch-and-run in the final minute of regulation, to rally past a competitive Gettysburg squad 27-24.

In their second game, the Eagles rallied behind junior quarterback Brendon Maturey to upset nationally-ranked Thomas More 25-23 on the road. And just this past Saturday, Bridgewater's players managed to block out the week's worth of congratulatory calls, emails and text messages and take care of business against an inferior opponent in a 52-0 victory over The Apprentice School.

"If you shut somebody out in college football, that's a good effort," Clark said.

All three victories have come under different circumstances, a fact that bodes well for the rest of the season.  

"Anytime you do that early in the season," Clark said, "the hope is it allows you to bank some confidence and poise that you may have to use again later on down the stretch."

The Eagles have relied on two quarterbacks this season, junior and Week 1 starter Jay Scroggins, and his classmate Maturey. Scroggins passed for 107 yards and two touchdowns in the first half against Gettysburg, but was sidelined in the second half with an injury. Maturey stepped in and accounted for two touchdowns, one rushing and one passing, in the second half.

"Jay's a guy that can beat you with his arm and keep you honest with his feet," Clark said. "Brendon's a guy that can beat you with his feet and keep you honest with his arm."

Scroggins didn't travel for the Thomas More game, but Maturey (196 total yards, three TDs) performed admirably in his place. Scroggins returned to the starting lineup against Apprentice, but both played.

Bridgewater's defense, which returned key players up front on the line and in the secondary for second-year coordinator Rob Everett, has excelled at creating big plays. Through three games, the Eagles have already forced six interceptions and recovered three fumbles. The nine total turnovers are tied for 14th nationally.

Combine an active defense with a solid offense and opportunistic special teams, and you've got a formula for a 3-0 start.

"When you get into those conference games," Clark said, "most of which you anticipate being games that are won or lost in the fourth quarter, you can put yourself in a position where your team can look at each other and say, 'We've been here.'"

Clark admitted he harbors hope of coaching in another Stagg Bowl, but the thought hardly consumes him. He's far more concerned with the happenings around the ODAC.

"As much as people want to talk about big picture, we need to really try to stay small here a little bit," Clark said.

Bridgewater opens its ODAC slate on Sept. 30 on the road against Hampden-Sydney, the winner of two of the last four conference titles.

Susquehanna grinds out key road win

Jason Brougham and Connor Thompson each intercepted passes in the final 10 minutes of regulation to thwart Muhlenberg drives and secure a 14-11 win for Susquehanna. In a low-scoring, defensive-minded game that featured nine total turnovers, the River Hawks emerged victorious one week after pushing Centennial Conference juggernaut Johns Hopkins to the limit.

In addition to his fourth-quarter interception, Thompson also tallied 10 tackles, a sack and two fumble recoveries. Quarterback Nick Crusco struggled at times, tossing three interceptions of his own, but he was sharp when it counted, connecting with Mikah Christian on the go-ahead, 31-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Consecutive road games against Johns Hopkins and Muhlenberg is the toughest two-week stretch a Centennial team can have, and Susquehanna emerged looking like a legitimate conference contender. In its two wins this season, Susquehanna has allowed just 17 total points (six to Lycoming; 11 to Muhlenberg). The River Hawks host Franklin and Marshall this Saturday.

Huntingdon wins second straight

Otis Porter caught eight passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns, both on throws by Preston Samoden in the second half, as Huntingdon defeated N.C. Wesleyan 41-30 for its first USA South victory of the season.

Kobe Smith rushed for 93 yards, Dontavion Cunningham rushed for 48 yards and a touchdown, and Brandon Williams piled up 14 tackles and two sacks on defense. Overall, the Hawks accumulated 509 yards of offense and 21 first downs as they erased an 18-point, second-half deficit.

The win marked the second straight for the Hawks after a season-opening defeat against Guilford. Huntingdon is set up to potentially rattle off a number of consecutive wins, as its next three opponents are a combined 4-5. The Hawks won 19 combined games over the 2015 and 2016 seasons, so the bar remains high in 2017.

Quick count

Ryan Cary rushed for a pair of touchdowns, and David Tammaro connected with Luke McFadden on a 16-yard touchdown strike in Johns Hopkins' 37-7 win against Moravian. ... Alec Cobb passed for 317 yards and four touchdowns, two apiece to Major Morgan and Cam Johnson, but Hampden-Sydney came up short against No. 13 UW-Platteville 38-29. ... Nicholas Searcy rushed for 128 yards and two TDs, and Brendon Scott added 119 yards and a touchdown on the ground as LaGrange topped Methodist 39-30. ... Karsten Miller passed for 373 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Guilford's 42-21 loss to FCS-level Davidson. ... Tanner Erisman passed for 285 yards and five touchdowns, including the go-ahead, 40-yard score to K.J. Pretty in the fourth quarter, and Taalib Gerald rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown in Franklin & Marshall's 43-41 win over McDaniel. Perry Stefanelli rushed for 167 yards and three TDs in the defeat. ... O'Shay Carter passed for 277 yards and five touchdowns, including three to Bubba Craven, as Brevard routed Greensboro 63-7 for its first win since transitioning to Division III. ... Michael Ashwell caught 14 passes for 125 yards and one of Hayden Bauserman's four touchdown passes in Shenandoah's 56-30 loss to Hobart. ... Samuel Ragland rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns as Ursinus improved to 3-0 with its 35-28 victory against Juniata. Austin Montgomery passed for 343 yards and two scores in the loss. ... Walker Brand ran for 154 yards and two TDs as Washington and Lee notched a solid 24-14 road win over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. ... Tyriek Able tallied a pair of interceptions, one of which he returned 73 yards for a touchdown, as Averett's defense locked down Ferrum in a 19-7 victory. ... Adam Diggs passed for 357 yards and a school-record six touchdowns in a 56-46 shootout win over Emory & Henry. ... Robert Geiss passed for 304 yards and three touchdowns, all three to Chris Longo, and Ethan Fusco kicked a 31-yard field goal as time expired in Dickinson's 24-21 win against Gettysburg. ... Joe McBride passed for 344 yards and a pair of TDs, but Randolph-Macon came up short in a 25-20 loss to Catholic.

Top 25: Johns Hopkins holds steady

For the second straight week, Johns Hopkins checked in at No. 14 in the D3football.com Top 25 poll. Bridgewater received a pair of votes in this week's poll.

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether it’s questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me by email at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com and follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell).

 

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Columnist

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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Previous Columns

September 13, 2017 Starting from scratch
November 15, 2016 A proper send-off
November 9, 2016 Deja Mules
November 1, 2016 Uncharted territory

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