December 6, 2012

Semifinal QBs a fearsome foursome

UMHB's LiDarral Bailey is upright most of the time, although the most famous play of his career was made from a less-standard position.
Photo by Andrew Zavoina, d3photography.com
Matt O'Connell
Matt O'Connell had a rough start to the season, and has missed a game because of injury, but has used his legs and his arms in big games for St. Thomas.
Photo by Scott Pierson, d3photography.com
Kevin Burke
Kevin Burke's moment of arrival as Mount Union's starting quarterback came early in the season, although he hasn't needed to rally the team late in the game at all this year.
Photo by Dan Poel, d3photography.com
Nate Wara has developed into a much more patient quarterback in his four years calling signals for UW-Oshkosh.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com

By Adam Turer
D3sports.com

Two sophomores, playing like poised veterans. Two seniors who have already reached a new pinnacle but are far from content with the achievement. Two earned regional Player of the Year honors. One entered this season with significant playoff experience under his belt. One is a Gagliardi Trophy finalist. Three rank in the top six in the nation in passing efficiency.

The four quarterbacks still standing in the 2012 playoffs have more in common than may appear at first glance.

“I don’t really think about being a younger player on the field,” said Mount Union sophomore Kevin Burke. “My teammates treat me like a senior, like I’m one of them.”

Burke leads the nation with a quarterback rating of 196.61. Right behind him ranks Mary Hardin-Baylor senior LiDarral Bailey, with a rating of 191.22. Bailey led his team to the national quarterfinals each of the last two seasons, but completed just 22 of 50 passes with two touchdowns to five interceptions in a pair of losses to Wesley. Bailey is playing with a different sense of urgency this time around, and led the Cru to a victory over the Wolverines in the quarterfinal rematch, completing 16 of 20 passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns while adding 95 yards rushing on 17 carries.

“This is the last shot we have,” said Bailey of his senior classmates. “It’s so close we can taste it.”

Bailey is the most experienced of the four remaining quarterbacks. With 26 starts under his belt, and his recent celebrity status thanks to a SportsCenter highlight and the trend that is LiDarraling, the Cru quarterback has realized his potential in his senior season.

“He is playing with so much more confidence,” said Cru coach Pete Fredenburg. “He’s making better decisions, and our offense is better suited to highlight his abilities.”

It does not take 26 starts to gain confidence. Burke has come a long way since he entered camp battling with three other players for the Purple Raiders starting job.

“It really is night and day for me,” said Burke. “I had a bunch of nerves going into the first game. It’s a lot different now that we’ve been at this for fifteen weeks.”

The four quarterbacks have combined for 114 passing touchdowns to just 25 interceptions on the season. 13 of those interceptions have been thrown by St. Thomas sophomore Matt O’Connell, who is statistically the least accomplished of the four. Don’t let the numbers fool you. Eight of those picks came in the first five games of the season.

“Matt’s maturity makes up for the fact that he’s a sophomore,” said Tommies coach Glenn Caruso. “I think his lack of experience was more of a factor earlier in the season. At this point, Matt’s been in so many different situations this season.”

O’Connell had the advantage of serving as Dakota Tracy’s understudy last year as a freshman as Tracy led the Tommies to the national semifinals. Tracy was 28-2 as a starter and showed O’Connell, another small-town athlete, how to lead a national power.

“I was really blessed to be in the role where I could learn from him,” said O’Connell. “He was a mentor, a great friend, and he had a big impact on getting me ready for my role this year.”

The sophomores, Burke and O’Connell, entered the year as unproven sophomores, but each pinpointed a moment early in the year when he took the reins of the offense. O’Connell grew up in the first game of the season, as he led St. Thomas from 11 points down to defeat UW-Eau Claire 27-24. O’Connell passed for one score and ran for another in the final four minutes to snag the victory. Burke remembers a specific play in the season-opening victory over Franklin. Burke broke a few tackles and completed a pass to his tight end.

“After that play, everybody made me feel like I had asserted myself as the starting quarterback,” said Burke.

While Burke and O’Connell seized their moment early in the season, Bailey asserted himself even earlier.

“He was very disappointed in the way last year ended,” said Fredenburg. “He really dedicated himself starting in January to lead this year. I think he senses the opportunity we have.”

The most experienced starter of the group is also starter with the least playoff experience. Nate Wara has been UW-Oshkosh’s starting quarterback for four years. In his final year, the Gagliardi finalist led his team to its first postseason appearance. The Titans have won 15 consecutive games dating to last season. He is enjoying his first playoff ride more than he is thinking about his final weeks as a Titan.

“I’m just glad I can play football. I’m not really thinking about being a senior,” said Wara. “Our main goal is still up for grabs right now.”

An overtime loss to UW-La Crosse a week after pushing eventual champion UW-Whitewater to the brink last season fueled Wara and his teammates in the offseason. The memory of those narrow defeats that kept the Titans from the playoffs in 2011 has helped motivate Wara and his teammates this year and played an important role in Saturday’s rally in Oregon which ended with a victory over Linfield in overtime.

“Our motto this year has been ‘Remember La Crosse,’ ” said Wara. “Whenever a game gets tough, we think about that.”

Wara and Bailey have four years of starting experience. Their opponents in the semifinals start sophomore quarterbacks. Yes, there are advantages, but Burke and O’Connell have proven that age is just a number. The more important number is the sophomores’ teams’ combined 26-0 record this season.

“There are a lot of inherent qualities you get with experience,” said Caruso. “In some ways, being a little young and naïve to the pressures and magnitude of the situation can be beneficial.”

Burke and O’Connell will have two more offseasons to grow and improve. Wara and Bailey have had those opportunities and made the most of them.

Which QB will have the best game Saturday?
LiDarral Bailey
Kevin Burke
Matt O'Connell
Nate Wara
Someone's backup

“All of the offseason workouts help you become more mentally tough,” said Bailey. “Those transformed me to be a different person. I took that leadership role with everyone holding me accountable.”

The seniors know that they have at most two weeks to make an impact in college football. The biggest advantage to being a senior seems to be the opportunity to learn from the three senior classes that came before you.

“Every senior that came through passed a little something on to me,” said Wara. “I hope to leave something for the guys that come after me.”

The quarterback position is unique in many ways, especially when it comes to leadership. A quarterback, no matter how old or experienced, must be a leader on the field. The learning curve is accelerated for the man lining up behind center.

“I have to treat my quarterback like a junior or senior,” said Caruso. “I never treat my quarterback like a freshman. If I have to treat him like a freshman, he needs to find another position to play.”

The four quarterbacks who will start this weekend have taken different paths to lead their teams to this point. A combined 52 wins and zero losses heading into Dec. 8 tells the story better than anything.

“Everyone dreams about having that perfect season,” said Wara. “We’ve always talked about it. Now, we have a chance to make it reality.”

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 Recap
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 Recap
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
Box Score
Final
at Amherst 34, Hamilton 0
Box Score
Final
Kean 24, at William Paterson 13
Box Score Recap
Final
at DePauw 66, Hiram 17
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Franklin and Marshall 45, at Juniata 22
Box Score
Final
at Kenyon 31, Allegheny 7
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
Box Score
Final
Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Lycoming 28, at Misericordia 24
Box Score
Final
at Plymouth State 30, Mass-Dartmouth 14
Box Score
Final
at Husson 35, Alfred State 0
Box Score
Final
at Springfield 28, WPI 23
Box Score Recap
Final
at Moravian 24, Dickinson 10
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Denison 45, Wooster 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
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Final
at St. Vincent 57, Grove City 32
Box Score Recap
Final
at Susquehanna 55, Gettysburg 40
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at King's 21, Lebanon Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
at Alfred 20, Ithaca 6
Box Score Recap
Final
at Widener 25, Wilkes 23
Final
at McDaniel 30, Ursinus 27
Box Score Recap
Final
at Muskingum 28, Marietta 10
Box Score Photos
Final
at Minnesota-Morris 28, Iowa Wesleyan 27
Final
at John Carroll 42, Heidelberg 14
Box Score
Final
Ohio Northern 16, at Otterbein 10
Box Score Photos
Final
Case Western Reserve 35, at Waynesburg 7
Box Score
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
Box Score
Final
at Mount St. Joseph 38, Manchester 19
Box Score Recap
Final
Hanover 49, at Anderson 25
Box Score
Final
at Merchant Marine 55, Rochester 7
Box Score
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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Final
at Eureka 28, MacMurray 13
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Final
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
Box Score Photos
Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Augsburg 49, Carleton 17
Box Score Photos
Final
Bethel 44, at St. Olaf 7
Box Score
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
Box Score Photos
Final
at UW-River Falls 42, Southwestern 22
Box Score
Final
Simpson 17, at Buena Vista 9
Box Score
Final
at St. Scholastica 49, Crown 13
Box Score Recap
Final
Cornell 46, at Beloit 41
Box Score
Final
at Carthage 27, Augustana 24
Final
Coe 48, at Nebraska Wesleyan 17
Box Score Recap
Final
at Wartburg 56, Finlandia 0
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Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
Box Score Recap
Final
Hendrix 42, at Millsaps 14
Box Score
Final
Illinois Wesleyan 45, at North Park 10
Final
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
Box Score
Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
Box Score Recap
Final
at Geneva 35, Thiel 27
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Final
UW-Eau Claire 40, at Wisconsin Lutheran 14
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Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
Box Score Recap
Final
UW-Stevens Point 44, at Adrian 19
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Final
UW-La Crosse 41, at Carroll 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Berry 41, Sewanee 3
Box Score Recap Recap Photos
Final
Westminster (Pa.) 38, at Bethany 9
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Final
Ohio Wesleyan 29, at Oberlin 16
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Final
at Tufts 17, Wesleyan 14
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Capital 35, Wilmington 21
Box Score
Final
at Southwestern Assemblies 23, Austin 17
Box Score Photos
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. 29: All times Eastern
6:30 PM
Randolph-Macon at Shenandoah
Live Stats
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
Box Score Recap
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 Photos
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap