November 26, 2010

Second round has big showdowns

Josh Ostrue, Colin Tobin
Josh Ostrue leads the way for Colin Tobin, who rushed for 154 yards for St. Thomas in the first-round win against Benedictine.
Photo by Scott Pierson, d3photography.com

By Brian Hunsicker
for D3sports.com

If D3football.com’s rankings are to be believed, a quarter of Saturday’s matchups shouldn’t happen until December. But rankings are no factor when the selection committee pieces together its bracket; thus, a pair of No. 1 seeds face unusually difficult tests this weekend.

St. Thomas and North Central, both top seeds in their respective corners of the Division III football bracket, face teams that, like themselves, are also ranked in the top 10 in D3football.com’s latest poll. The Tommies, ranked fourth, host eighth-ranked Linfield; the No. 5 Cardinals entertain Ohio Northern, ranked seventh.

“It’s been my experience in this profession not to be surprised by anything,” St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso said this week. “You have two unbelievable teams meeting in the second round. And for one of those teams, their journey is going to end on Saturday.”

Of this weekend’s eight games, only one other features two teams ranked in the top 10: No. 10 Thomas More at No. 6 Mary Hardin-Baylor.

The mantra for teams at this time of year is that every opponent is tough; but for the Tommies and Cardinals, these challenges are a bit tougher than would normally be expected. Caruso raved about several aspects of the Wildcats’ team. North Central coach John Thorne had high praise for the Polar Bears’ ability to limit turnovers and, defensively, stiffen in the red zone.

Indeed, the battle of turnovers could go a long way in determining who wins the Cardinals-Polar Bears game.

“They run the ball well, and their quarterback [senior Kyle Simmons] has grown into their new offense, and he takes care of the ball,” Thorne said. And not only do Simmons and the ONU offense take care of the ball, the Polar Bears’ defense is adept at creating turnovers – their +1.73 turnover margin ranks fourth in Division III. North Central isn’t far behind, ranking 18th nationally in that same category.

Matt Wenger
Matt Wenger was one of several key North Central players who got their own bye week, sitting out the regular-season finale against North Park.
North Central (Ill.) athletics photo by Steve Woltmann

And, to Thorne’s other point, ONU was also the most effective running team in the OAC – 26th nationally – at 215.6 yards per game. If any team is up to stopping them, North Central and its 3rd-ranked run defense would be a prime candidate. In their first-round win, the Cardinals limited St. Norbert to 2.6 yards per rush, just above their season average of 1.8 yards per rush.

While the numbers and the homefield advantage seem to favor North Central, the Cardinals have had their own set of challenges this week. Players took their final exams for the fall semester Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; Thanksgiving further complicated preparations.

In some ways, the Cardinals’ preparations have gone as good as could have been expected. To make a deeper run into the postseason, Thorne and his coaches mapped out ways to ensure the Cardinals would be healthy when playoff time arrived. North Central’s increased depth allowed them greater rotation throughout the season, and Thorne was more liberal about playing time for reserves. Even during close games, it wasn’t unusual to see the team’s standout players on the sideline.

“No one had amazing stats,” Thorne said, “but we all decided to what was best for the team and not worry about individual stats.”

While ONU faces a five-or-so hour drive to Naperville, Ill., the travel arrangements will be much more complicated for Linfield. The Wildcats have the longest trip of the weekend, traveling two time zones east to the Twin Cities. Caruso identified it as one of the Tommies’ biggest advantages.

“It’s not just the familiar surroundings, it’s the homefield crowd and that your preparation can use the entire week and [the players] can sleep in their own beds,” Caruso said.

Homefield advantage aside, the Tommies will still have to cope with Linfield’s prolific offense; the matchup with St. Thomas’ defense will be one of the most anticipated aspects of the game. Linfield’s scoring offense and total offense rank 12th or better nationally; conversely, the Tommies’ total defense and scoring defense have similarly lofty ranks (sixth in scoring, 14th in total defense).

Caruso was particularly concerned about Wildcats quarterback Aaron Boehme, a senior, calling him “one of the finest quarterbacks in the country.” A dual threat, Boehme is the Wildcats’ second-leading rusher who has completed 60 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions; he’s 15th in the country in total offense.

Boehme brings an accomplished, talented squad to St. Thomas, just as Simmons will do for his Polar Bear teammates against North Central. Both are matchups that – at least according to one set of rankings – should’ve happened in a week or two. But in 2010, that’s just the way the bracket breaks.

Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Bridgewater State 34, Fitchburg State 25
Box Score
Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
Box Score Recap
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
Box Score Recap
Final
at Massachusetts Maritime 32, Worcester State 14
Box Score Recap
Final
at Endicott 37, Nichols 0
Box Score
Final
MIT 30, at Maine Maritime 13
Box Score
Final
at Buffalo State 40, Morrisville State 24
Box Score Recap
Final
at Salve Regina 48, Coast Guard 10
Box Score
Final
St. Lawrence 20, at RPI 14
Box Score Recap
Final
at Framingham State 23, Western Connecticut 17
Box Score
Final
at Montclair State 21, Rowan 14
Box Score
Final
at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
Box Score Recap
Final
at Trinity (Conn.) 38, Bates 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Western New England 59, Curry 28
Box Score
Final
at Utica 24, Cortland 13
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Colby 9, at Williams 7
Box Score Photos
Final
at Middlebury 40, Bowdoin 3
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Final
at Amherst 34, Hamilton 0
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Final
Kean 24, at William Paterson 13
Box Score Recap
Final
at DePauw 66, Hiram 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Franklin and Marshall 45, at Juniata 22
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Final
at Kenyon 31, Allegheny 7
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Final
Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
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Final
Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Lycoming 28, at Misericordia 24
Final
at Plymouth State 30, Mass-Dartmouth 14
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Final
at Husson 35, Alfred State 0
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Final
at Springfield 28, WPI 23
Box Score Recap
Final
at Moravian 24, Dickinson 10
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Final
at Denison 45, Wooster 7
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Final
at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
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Final
at St. Vincent 57, Grove City 32
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Final
at Susquehanna 55, Gettysburg 40
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Final
at King's 21, Lebanon Valley 17
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at Alfred 20, Ithaca 6
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Final
at Widener 25, Wilkes 23
Final
at McDaniel 30, Ursinus 27
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Final
at Muskingum 28, Marietta 10
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Final
at Minnesota-Morris 28, Iowa Wesleyan 27
Final
at John Carroll 42, Heidelberg 14
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Final
Ohio Northern 16, at Otterbein 10
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Final
Case Western Reserve 35, at Waynesburg 7
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Final
at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Rose-Hulman 23, at Defiance 15
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Final
at Centre 49, Chicago 27
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Final
at Mount St. Joseph 38, Manchester 19
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Hanover 49, at Anderson 25
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Final
at Merchant Marine 55, Rochester 7
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Final
Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
Box Score Recap
Final
Concordia-Chicago 42, at Maranatha Baptist 10
Box Score Photos
Final
Washington U. 36, at Birmingham-Southern 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
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Final
at Northwestern (Minn.) 38, Martin Luther 20
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at Eureka 28, MacMurray 13
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at Westminster (Mo.) 35, Greenville 14
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Final
Dubuque 30, at Luther 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Monmouth 52, at Lake Forest 6
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Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
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Final
at Augsburg 49, Carleton 17
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Final
Bethel 44, at St. Olaf 7
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Final
at Hamline 42, Gustavus Adolphus 40
Box Score Recap
Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
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Final
at UW-River Falls 42, Southwestern 22
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Final
Simpson 17, at Buena Vista 9
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Final
at St. Scholastica 49, Crown 13
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Final
Cornell 46, at Beloit 41
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Final
at Carthage 27, Augustana 24
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Coe 48, at Nebraska Wesleyan 17
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Final
at Wartburg 56, Finlandia 0
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Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
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Hendrix 42, at Millsaps 14
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Final
Illinois Wesleyan 45, at North Park 10
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at Macalester 34, Grinnell 0
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Final
at Ripon 33, Knox 19
Final
Illinois College 40, at Lawrence 15
Final
UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
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Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
Box Score Recap
Final
at Geneva 35, Thiel 27
Final
UW-Eau Claire 40, at Wisconsin Lutheran 14
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Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
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Final
UW-Stevens Point 44, at Adrian 19
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Final
UW-La Crosse 41, at Carroll 7
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Final
at Berry 41, Sewanee 3
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Westminster (Pa.) 38, at Bethany 9
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Ohio Wesleyan 29, at Oberlin 16
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Final
at Tufts 17, Wesleyan 14
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Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Capital 35, Wilmington 21
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Final
at Southwestern Assemblies 23, Austin 17
Cancelled
Langston at McMurry
Video Live Stats
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Chapman 19, Trinity (Texas) 17
Box Score Recap
Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
Box Score Recap
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
Box Score
Final
Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
at Utica 24, Cortland 13
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
Box Score Recap
Final
at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
Box Score Recap
Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
Box Score Photos
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
Final
UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
Box Score
Final
UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
Box Score
Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
Box Score Recap
Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap