November 26, 2010

Wheaton, Bethel meet again

More news about: Bethel | Wheaton (Ill.)

By Jason Bailey
for D3sports.com

Wheaton celebrates its 2009 win
Wheaton (Ill.) scored on the last play of the game to defeat Bethel last season, and it hasn't been forgotten.
Photo by Scott Pierson, d3photography.com

It wasn’t any easier to stomach on video.

A Bethel pass-rusher leaps over a running back’s attempted block. The Wheaton quarterback scrambles right as four defenders converge. A flick of the wrist, an athletic catch in the end zone and the Thunder beat the Royals 29-26 on a 5-yard touchdown pass on the game’s final play.

“Looking at that kind of makes you sick knowing that you let it slip away based on not doing the right thing,” Bethel linebacker Ross Petterson said. “On that final pass, it just feels like you got punched in the gut, and you can’t even believe what happened.”

But don’t read too much into the dramatic ending of last year’s regular-season meeting between Wheaton and Bethel. When the teams meet again in a second-round playoff game Saturday, the past battles will mean little (Wheaton also edged Bethel 10-7 in a driving rainstorm in 2008).

“What it means is that we’re two very evenly matched teams,” Wheaton coach Mike Swider said. “Both games could have gone either way, and we realize that. We’re not idiots. It’s a difference of one or two plays, and the outcome is the other way.”

That small margin of error is why neither Wheaton (10-1, 6-1 CCIW) nor Bethel (10-1, 7-1 MIAC) are stuck in the past. Both teams earned Pool C bids to the postseason after losing to an undefeated conference champion (North Central and St. Thomas) that received a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. And now that there is a rare opportunity to reach the national semifinals without meeting UW-Whitewater or Mount Union, looking backward isn’t the best way to move ahead.

The real advantage of those previous matchups is knowing what to expect: A heavyweight fight.

In Bethel’s corner is Logan Flannery, who has 1,516 rushing yards -- his fourth consecutive season with more than 1,000 yards -- and 15 TDs in 11 games, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. The wrecking ball pounded Wheaton for 281 rushing yards in two games combined and is running behind an offensive line with four consistent starters since the start of last season. Bethel coach Steve Johnson isn’t hesitant to say Flannery is one of the best backs in the country.

“He has great vision. He’s really tough, and he’s not really that big, but I think he kind of surprises defenders how powerful he is,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to explain. I don’t think he could either. He’s just a running back who was born to run.”

Flannery, the MVP of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, was instrumental in Bethel’s 28-20 first-round playoff victory over Wartburg. He recorded 182 offensive yards, scored on the ground and in the air, and added a 2-point conversion for good measure. His attention, however, has quickly shifted to the latest installment of a “fun rivalry” with Wheaton.

“Their defense is good, and we have to stay poised and not get frustrated, because they’re going to make big plays and we’re going to make big plays,” Flannery said.

Wheaton has definitely had ups and downs. Despite a balanced attack led by quarterback Jordan Roberts -- four rushers and two receivers have more than 400 yards -- the dual threat has needed to deliver several stirring comebacks. The Thunder scored 24 unanswered points in the second half of a 31-24 regular-season victory over Carthage, then upped the ante by scoring 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat Coe 31-21 in the first round of the playoffs.

“We don’t give up. We can finish games. And we want it,” said linebacker Cory Hart, who started last week’s comeback with a crucial third-quarter interception. “We’re not the biggest, strongest, fastest athletes, but we’re a team and we play like we’re playing for something.”

That team effort includes a Thunder defense that has forced 35 turnovers and shut down several top running backs in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin. Wheaton receiver Freddy Ellis said one message has been repeated clearly this season: “We are a physical football team, so let’s keep swinging and see if they can keep up with us for four quarters.”

There’s no doubt -- whatever team gets knocked out Saturday will know exactly what hit them.

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Sep. 24: All times Eastern
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at Massachusetts Maritime 32, Worcester State 14
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at Endicott 37, Nichols 0
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MIT 30, at Maine Maritime 13
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at Buffalo State 40, Morrisville State 24
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at Salve Regina 48, Coast Guard 10
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St. Lawrence 20, at RPI 14
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Franklin and Marshall 45, at Juniata 22
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Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
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Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
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Lycoming 28, at Misericordia 24
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at Plymouth State 30, Mass-Dartmouth 14
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at Husson 35, Alfred State 0
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at McDaniel 30, Ursinus 27
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at Muskingum 28, Marietta 10
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at Minnesota-Morris 28, Iowa Wesleyan 27
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at John Carroll 42, Heidelberg 14
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Ohio Northern 16, at Otterbein 10
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Case Western Reserve 35, at Waynesburg 7
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at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
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Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
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Simpson 17, at Buena Vista 9
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Cornell 46, at Beloit 41
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at Carthage 27, Augustana 24
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Coe 48, at Nebraska Wesleyan 17
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at Wartburg 56, Finlandia 0
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at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
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Hendrix 42, at Millsaps 14
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Illinois Wesleyan 45, at North Park 10
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at Macalester 34, Grinnell 0
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at Ripon 33, Knox 19
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Illinois College 40, at Lawrence 15
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UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
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UW-Eau Claire 40, at Wisconsin Lutheran 14
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St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
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UW-La Crosse 41, at Carroll 7
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Westminster (Pa.) 38, at Bethany 9
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Ohio Wesleyan 29, at Oberlin 16
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Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
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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
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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
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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
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
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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 Photos
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap