Midwest at the midway point

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After one month of the season (well, one month and one game), the 2010 Division III football campaign is clearly starting to take shape, with some expected play and some surprises. No one is surprised that the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin continues to perform extremely well against non-conference competition.

No one probably expected the Midwest Conference would become such a jump ball so far this season where in the past you only had to remember Monmouth or St. Norbert. That’s what makes Division III football so much fun.

Without any further delay, here are the top performances after the first five weeks of the season:

Top Team Performance
No. 7-ranked North Central (4-0, 1-0 in CCIW)

The Cardinals got a big confidence booster Saturday with a 43-8 victory over Carthage, a CCIW team it had struggled with in the past. North Central has gone through switching quarterbacks to fine tune its offense but its defense has been stellar all season. Things won’t get much easier for the Cardinals as they go on the road to take on 3-1 Augustana this Saturday. The Vikings are 3-1, only losing to No. 9-ranked Central 28-23 earlier in the season.

Honorable Mention
No. 18 Wheaton (4-0, 1-0 in CCIW)

The Thunder is on a collision course once again to face North Central for the Little Brass Bell on Nov. 6 at Wheaton, where the game could mean the CCIW title and a home game in the opening round of the playoffs.

Franklin (4-1, 3-0 in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference)

The Grizzlies have bounced back from an opening road loss to Carthage to reel off three straight victories, including last week’s 41-10 win over Mount St. Joseph. Mount St. Joseph, the defending HCAC champions, was also undefeated at the time.

Surprise Team of the Half-Year
Ripon (5-0, 4-0 in the Midwest Conference)

Okay, Ripon has averaged seven wins a season since 2006, so the fact that the Red Hawks are undefeated this point in the season isn’t a completely surprise. But with defending MWC champion Monmouth reeling with the loss of All-American quarterback Alex Tanney to injury and St. Norbert losing early to Beloit, Ripon is in great position for the MWC title, and that’s the thing no one saw coming.

Quarterback Jake Marshall and running back T.J. Pierce are combining for nearly 170 yards a game on the ground as the Red Hawks average 48.8 points in conference games.

Ripon, though, still has to beat St. Norbert, which is 3-1 and 3-2 overall. The Green Knights whipped Monmouth 48-2 last week  and is tied for second place in the conference with Carroll (4-1, 3-1) and Grinnell (4-1, 3-1).  The Red Hawks have already beaten Carroll and Grinnell while St. Norbert has yet to play them. The Green Knights will have to go on the road to play Ripon on Oct. 30. Jim Purtill, though, has led the Green Knights to eight MWC titles, the last coming in 2007.

Honorable Mention
(3-1, 1-0 in Northern Athletics Conference)

Okay, this isn’t exactly a big, big, big surprise, seeing that the Spartans are only two years removed from a conference title when it went 9-2. But Aurora’s 23-7 victory over defending NATHC champion Lakeland last week was impressive.  Aurora’s only loss is a 21-14 defeat at the hands of then-nationally ranked Illinois Wesleyan on Sept. 18. Wisconsin Lutheran also is off to a 3-1 start and 1-0 in conference play, although a less impressive 40-7 win against Maranatha Baptist.

Top Individual Performances
Dion Wilson, running back, Millikin
: The Millikin running back is the country’s leading rusher, averaging 200.5 yards a game. Wilson has compiled two of the top 10 rushing efforts in the country so far this year. He rushed for 279 yards against Illinois College on Sept. 4 and 247 yards and three touchdowns against Greenville on Sept. 25. Honorable mention: Scottie Williams, of Elmhurst, is averaging 159.0 yards a game, but because of Wilson’s presence, is only second best in the CCIW. He has rushed for nine touchdowns this season. Khyree Copeland, of Concordia, Ill., is averaging 141 yards a game to lead the Northern Athletic Conference.

Daniel Passafiume, receiver, Hanover: Passafiume is averaging 11.4 catches per game, second best in the country, helping the Panthers to three victories this season. In last Saturday’s game against Anderson, Passafiume caught 17 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. Honorable mention:  Monmouth receiver Matt Shepherd caught 16 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns against Grinnell on Sept. 11.

Jared Milikan, defensive back, Anderson:  Milikan leads the nation in interceptions with seven picks this season.

Kyle Longsdorf, defensive back, Defiance: Longsdorf has been a tackling machine for the Yellow Jackets, averaging 15.5 tackles a game, third best in the nation. His 7.5 solo tackled per game is 10th best in the country.

C.J. Croft, quarterback, Hanover, and Kyle Ray, quarterback, Franklin: The two HCAC quarterbacks had two of the best total offensive performances in a game this season. Croft had 413 yards in total offense in a win over Rose-Hulman on Sept. 25. Ray, in leading the HCAC-leading Grizzlies, rolled for 406 yards in total offense against Valparaiso on Sept. 11.

Evan Jones, quarterback, Carthage:  The senior passed for 428 yards and four touchdowns (21-38-1) in a Red Men victory over Concordia (Wis.)