December 8, 2011

Flip of a coin

More news about: Mount Union | Wesley
Charles Dieuseul, photos by JT Higgins
Charles Dieuseul has anchored the Mount Union defensive line for the past two-plus seasons.
Photo by JT Higgins for d3photography.com

By Jason Bailey
for D3sports.com

If quarterbacks had time to brainstorm adjectives while fleeing Charles Dieuseul, they might describe him as relentless, as ferocious, as dangerous. Almost anything but indecisive.

But how many other football players picked Mount Union by flipping a coin?

“I’m that kind of person that I leave my life up to chance,” said Dieuseul, who was also considering Jacksonville University, a Division I FCS program in Florida. “I couldn’t make a decision.”

Recruiting visits to both campuses didn’t make things clearer. Mount Union had amazing facilities, legendary coach Larry Kehres and a winning tradition while Jacksonville had relative homefield advantage. While Dieuseul was weighing his options, close teammate Stephen Fox also faced a tough decision after being accepted to play football at Harvard and Brown.

Dieuseul eventually pulled out a quarter at high school baseball practice in Winter Haven, Fla. It was a tried-and-true method, but there was much more at stake than burgers or tacos for dinner.

Fox called heads before Dieuseul flicked the coin into the air. Heads. Brown.

Dieuseul stuck with heads, and Fox returned the favor. Heads. Mount Union.

“I’m happy I chose Mount because it is an excellent place,” Dieuseul said. “I fit in with everybody, I have a personal relationship with all our coaches. It’s the right fit for me. I truly believe that coin flip set me up for the rest of my life.”

Although he hasn’t called any pregame coin tosses for the Purple Raiders, Dieuseul has made plenty of contributions to a team seeking its seventh consecutive Stagg Bowl appearance. The junior defensive end/linebacker has 70 tackles, a team-high nine sacks and three forced fumbles for a defense that leads Division III in points allowed (7.38) and yards allowed (180.23).

And since arriving at Mount Union, Dieuseul knows exactly what he wants.

“He’s hungry to get his first national championship,” said Fox, a backup nose guard at Brown. “He’s always strived to be No. 1, no matter what he did. So going to Mount Union — where they are competing for national championships every year — I think that’s really perfect for his personality.”

Dieuseul quarterbacked a veer offense and played middle linebacker at Lake Region High School before transitioning to defensive end as a freshman at Mount Union. Now splitting time at both defensive positions — Fox uses Dallas Cowboys superstar DeMarcus Ware as comparison — Dieuseul always keeps his eyes in the backfield. He rushes the passer from a two-point stance when playing defensive end in the base 4-2-5 scheme, spying the quarterback as a linebacker when the Purple Raiders shift to their 3-3 stack defense.

Dieuseul’s explosive play last week might be the defining moment of Mount Union’s postseason.

Wabash trailed 20-0 in the fourth quarter, but was knocking on the door one week after rallying from a 21-point deficit. Dieuseul responded by exploding into running back Tyler Holmes, forcing a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The stagnant Mount Union offense — down to its third-string quarterback, freshman Kevin Burke — couldn’t take advantage, however, and committed an intentional safety on fourth down to gain field position.

“We can deal with two points, but we hate giving up touchdowns,” Dieuseul said.

That stingy mindset is even more important for a Mount Union team that also led the country in scoring defense in 2010 (8.93) and 2008 (8.73), finishing second in 2009 (9.67). Injuries to junior quarterbacks Neal Seaman and Matt Piloto in the quarterfinal victory resulted in the fewest points Mount Union has scored in a playoff game since the 2006 quarterfinals. The Purple Raiders still are averaging 39.7 points per game, but played two one-possession contests in the regular season (escaping Ohio Northern 14-6 and Baldwin-Wallace 25-20) for the first time since 1998.

Scout’s take

Baldwin-Wallace pushed Mount Union to the limit in an Ohio Athletic Conference matchup this season, losing 25-20 on a touchdown pass with 135 seconds remaining. Although the Purple Raiders allowed the most points they have since last season’s Stagg Bowl, Yellow Jackets coach John Snell said it’s tough to crack the code of the nation’s top-ranked defense.

“I wish I really knew the answer. We haven’t been able to score enough points to win. … They’ve been extremely challenging to attack. They are so good on defense. The word I have typically used to describe them is stifling. Very rarely do you move the ball on a consistent basis against them. … I don’t think there’s any glaring weakness to attack. They’re good up front, their linebackers are good, their secondary is very athletic and runs extremely well. There’s really not too many weak spots. … We felt that we’ve got to continue to do what we’ve done offensively. Try to run the ball and spread it around to different people. Do different things that might catch them. A play here and there that might get us four, five or six yards that they might not have seen.

“You can’t beat them being one-dimensional. I’ve really not seen anybody beat them solely running the ball or solely throwing the ball. You’ve got to be able to mix it up and have to be able to have success in both phases. … They’ve gone this year between the 4-2 and the 3-3 stack. We see both of those defenses in our conference. It’s not dramatically different, they just have exceptional people playing at every one of those positions.”

“You never want to assume the other side of the ball is going to score a lot of points,” said defensive coordinator Vince Kehres, Larry’s son. “You always anticipate every play could be significant, and the game could come down the wire. You want to play great on your side of the ball.”

The Purple Raiders have no shortage of dynamic defensive players alongside Dieuseul. Junior strong safety Nick Driskill, who was named the D3football.com North Region Defensive Player of the Year, has a team-high 92 tackles along with four interceptions and 6.5 sacks. Senior free safety Alex Ferrara is the vocal leader, making on-field adjustments for an experienced defense that returned nine starters and ranks second in the country with 25 interceptions.

“We have a lot of guys on the team who seem to be where the ball is and make plays when the opportunity arises,” Driskill said. “We have a quick, athletic team.”

Forcing turnovers and preventing big plays will be important against a familiar playoff foe. Mount Union (13-0, 9-0 OAC) hosts Wesley (12-1) in a national semifinal Saturday, two years after the Purple Raiders advanced to the Stagg Bowl by defeating the Wolverines 24-7.

Kehres said watching game film of the previous meeting is useful because Wesley senior quarterback Shane McSweeny (2,669 passing yards and 31 touchdowns, 712 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns) remains the leader of a potent offensive attack. Mount Union’s scout-team offense is lining its receivers offsides in practice this week to simulate the Wolverines’ speed.

“The key for us is not allow Wesley to have a lot of explosive plays,” Kehres said. “We don’t want to change our philosophy. We want to stop the run and I’m confident with the guys in our secondary that they can hang with the receivers.”

Driskill said he isn’t concerned because of Mount Union has experience facing great receivers in practice. But the Purple Raiders have lost significant star power on offense — Cecil Shorts was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in April after graduating with 63 career receiving touchdowns — and look more vulnerable than any season in recent memory.

Playing in close games isn’t necessarily a negative. The defensive players agree it prepares them for competitive fourth quarters after 10-point losses to UW-Whitewater in recent Stagg Bowls — Mount Union allowed 21 unanswered points in 2010 and 10 fourth-quarter points in 2009.

“Coming to Mount Union, you don’t expect to lose,” said Ferrara, who was one of 10 Gagliardi Trophy finalists. “It really shows us that we’re not those (previous) teams. We really have to earn everything that we do. A lot of people take it for granted. Losing just adds more fuel to the fire.”

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