/playoffs/2012/fearsome-foursome

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 Framingham State 50, Massachusetts Maritime 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Muhlenberg 56, at Juniata 40
Video Box Score
Final
at Dean 25, Becker 10
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 27, at TCNJ 7
Box Score
Final
MIT 38, at Catholic 21
Video Box Score
Final
Merchant Marine 56, at Maine Maritime 31
Video Box Score
Final
at Hobart 34, Endicott 17
Video Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Morrisville State 44, Nichols 22
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Albright 9, Widener 7
Video Box Score
Final
Christopher Newport 16, at Montclair State 8
Video Box Score
Final
at Westminster (Pa.) 41, Bethany 14
Video Box Score
Final
Middlebury 41, at Bowdoin 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Williams 24, at Colby 7
Video Box Score
Final
Amherst 36, at Hamilton 6
Video Box Score
Final
Ursinus 35, at Moravian 17
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Trinity (Conn.) 51, at Bates 0
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at LaGrange 38, Brevard 28
Video Box Score
Final
Geneva 33, at Thiel 24
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Plymouth State 37, Mass-Dartmouth 7
Video Box Score
Final
Kean 28, at Southern Virginia 14
Video Box Score
Final
Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Union 17, at Curry 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Carnegie Mellon 37, Thomas More 17
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Lycoming 44, at King's 41
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Western New England 21, Husson 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at DePauw 51, Wooster 24
Video Video Box Score
Final
at Ohio Wesleyan 37, Allegheny 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Misericordia 43, Wilkes 14
Video
Final
at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at N.C. Wesleyan 35, Maryville (Tenn.) 25
Video Box Score
Final
Huntingdon 31, at Ferrum 28
Video Video Box Score
Final - OT
at McDaniel 27, Gettysburg 20
Video Video Preview Box Score
Final
at Buffalo State 33, RPI 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Franklin and Marshall 27, at Susquehanna 24
Video Box Score
Final
at Denison 45, Oberlin 17
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Northwestern (Minn.) 10, Westminster (Mo.) 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Eureka 44, Crown 20
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Lebanon Valley 24, FDU-Florham 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Ohio Northern 35, Otterbein 7
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Rose-Hulman 37, Defiance 14
Video Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Marietta 49, Muskingum 25
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Franklin 59, at Bluffton 30
Box Score
Final
at Hanover 64, Anderson 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Mount St. Joseph 31, at Manchester 14
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Worcester State 34, at Westfield State 10
Video Box Score
Final
Coast Guard 13, at Norwich 9
Video Box Score
Final
at Fitchburg State 31, Bridgewater State 29
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
Video Box Score
Final
at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
Video Video Box Score
Final
North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Millsaps 17, Sewanee 13
Video Box Score
Final
at Rhodes 35, Birmingham-Southern 9
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Hendrix 36, Austin 24
Video Box Score
Final
at Martin Luther 34, Greenville 20
Video Box Score Recap
Final - OT
at Trinity (Texas) 41, Chapman 35
Video Preview Box Score Live stats
Final
at Loras 73, Buena Vista 34
Video Video Box Score
Final
at Wartburg 30, Washington U. 20
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Gustavus Adolphus 51, Hamline 7
Video Box Score
Final
Augsburg 48, at Carleton 28
Video Box Score
Final
at Bethel 64, St. Olaf 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Luther 21, Dubuque 17
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Central 52, Nebraska Wesleyan 27
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Simpson 38, at Coe 33
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
St. Norbert 66, at Grinnell 13
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Knox 13, Ripon 6
Video Box Score
Final
at MacMurray 32, Iowa Wesleyan 14
Video Box Score
Final
Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
Box Score
Final
Southwestern 37, at Louisiana College 34
Video Box Score
Final
Monmouth 26, at Macalester 0
Video Box Score
Final
at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Springfield 42, WPI 10
Recap Photos Box Score Video Video
Final
at Cornell 55, Beloit 36
Video Box Score
Final
at Brockport 28, Utica 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Hartwick 24, St. John Fisher 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at UW-La Crosse 41, Carroll 6
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at St. Scholastica 37, Minnesota-Morris 3
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at George Fox 44, UW-Eau Claire 0
Video Box Score
Final
at Western Connecticut 37, Salve Regina 23
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at UW-Stevens Point 41, Adrian 28
Video Box Score
Final - OT
at Wesleyan 24, Tufts 17
Video Preview Box Score Photos
Final
at Averett 35, Methodist 6
Video Box Score
Final
at Berry 28, Centre 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
Video Box Score
Final
at Grove City 24, St. Vincent 14
Box Score
Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
Video
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Carthage 55, at Augustana 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Chicago 28, at Illinois College 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Sul Ross State 35, McMurry 7
Final - OT
at Wilmington 37, Capital 30
Video Preview Box Score Photos
Final
Lake Forest 42, at Lawrence 26
Video Video Box Score Recap
Final
at East Texas Baptist 79, Belhaven 40
Box Score Recap
Final
Arizona Christian 56, at Whittier 38
Video Box Score
Sep. 28: All times Eastern
6:30 PM
Shenandoah at Randolph-Macon
Video Preview Live stats Audio
Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
Video Box Score
Final
at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
Video Video Box Score
Final
Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
Box Score
Final
North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
Recap Recap Box Score Video
Final
at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Brockport 28, Utica 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
Video Box Score
Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
Video
Final
at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
Video Box Score Recap