|Nick Driskill has been
playing at a high level in the playoffs as well for Mount Union,
with an interception against Johns Hopkins and two punt blocks vs.
Photo by Dan Poel, d3photography.com
By Brian Lester
Nick Driskill has been making plays all season for the Mount Union defense, hardly a surprise for a player who was recently named North Region Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row and was one of the ten finalists for the Gagliardi Trophy, which goes to the top all-around student-athlete in D-III football.
The senior defensive back made a few more plays on Saturday, most notably on special teams. He blocked two punts in a momentum-swinging second quarter in the national quarterfinal against Widener, including one that he recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. The other set the stage for an eight-play scoring drive.
The top-ranked Purple Raiders went into the second quarter with a 7-3 lead. They ended it with a commanding 37-3 advantage and would go on to crush Widener, the team with the No. 4 scoring offense in the nation, 72-17.
And while Driskill was the one who was credited with the blocks, he won't hog the spotlight on the plays.
"I can't take all of the credit," Driskill said. "Charles (Dieuseul) was the one who allowed me to run free and get the blocks. I owe him a steak or two for that."
Dinner will come later. For now, Driskill and the Purple Raiders are focused on continuing their march toward a national championship.
In the win against Widener, Driskill racked up four tackles and has 71 on the season. He has 13.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, has picked off two passes, forced two fumbles and recovered a fumble.
He helped Mount Union shut down the Widener running game, holding it to minus-29 yards. The Purple Raiders gave up just 293 yards of total offense as they inched closer to ending a three-year national title drought.
Putting the D in defense
Safety Nick Driskill and linebacker Charles Dieuseul help anchor the back seven for the Mount Union defense, especially in the postseason:
"Each week we work on getting better and I thought we took another step last weekend," Driskill said. "We were able to make plays against a very good team and hopefully we can play even better this week."
The success Driskill has enjoyed this season isn’t by accident. The 2011 D3football.com Defensive Player of the Year and 2012 Capital One Academic All-American of the Year has worked hard to get to where he is today as an athlete and in the classroom. He also benefits from having solid football instincts.
“He reacts very quickly to what he sees with his quickness and he puts himself in position to finish plays,” Mount Union defensive coordinator Vince Kehres said. “Nick has a tremendous work ethic and has worked hard each offseason to make himself better as an athlete. His results on the agility, strength and jumping tests we measure in the offseason are always among the best on the team.”
Driskill said his success is linked to the fact that he spends a lot of time in the film room and he never allows himself to be satisfied with his performance.
"I know I'm never going to play a perfect game, and I am very hard on myself. It's hard for me to walk away from a game feeling completely happy with my play," Driskill said. "I study a lot of film and work hard on the field. I also go into every game as focused as possible."
Driskill is one piece of a defensive unit that has dominated the competition, and even dominated might not be the word that does the Purple Raiders’ defense justice.
Mount Union is giving up 174.6 yards per game and had a six-week stretch during the regular season in which it did not give up a point. The most points allowed this season is 17. That has happened twice. Eight teams have scored seven points or less.
|Charles Dieuseul, who moved
from defensive line after last season, has had a fantastic season
at linebacker for Mount Union.
Photo by Dan Poel, d3photography.com
Dieuseul, a senior linebacker, has been huge to that success, racking up 71 tackles. He has also picked off three passes.
Freshman linebacker Hank Spencer has tallied 48 tackles and has recorded two interceptions while sophomore defensive lineman Ted Rosalva has come through with 45 tackles and five sacks.
Senior defensive back Isaiah Scott (45 tackles), senior defensive lineman Frank Orteca (43 tackles) and junior defensive lineman Matt Fechko (42 tackles) have also played key roles for the Purple Raiders, who are allowing 39.1 yards per game on the ground and 135.8 through the air.
So what has been the key to the success of the defense? Driskill said he and his teammates set high expectations for themselves before the season began.
"We went back and looked at the defensive stats of the 2006 team here. They were one of the best teams in program history," Driskill said. "We also looked at the defensive stats of Alabama from last year. We wanted to be as good as those teams. We set the expectations high."
The Purple Raiders will be aiming high again this week as they take on Mary-Hardin Baylor, the No. 2 team in the nation, in a national semifinal at Mount Union Stadium.
The Crusaders won the American Southwest Conference title and are 13-0. Quarterback LiDarral Bailey has thrown for 2,529 yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for 937 yards and 13 scores.
Like the Purple Raiders, Mary Hardin-Baylor also has a stellar defense. The Crusaders have racked up 36 sacks and have forced 40 turnovers, putting them plus-19 in the turnover margin.
Yet, Mount Union is confident its defense will rise to the occasion just as it has so many times before as it takes aim at advancing to the Stagg Bowl and having a shot to win its first national title since 2008.
“We have been able to have a good year because of our overall quickness as a defense,” Kehres said. “Our ability to get off blocks and tackle as a unit and our ability to play smart has also been big. We react quickly because our players are focused in practices and meetings on their keys and assignments as well as our opponents’ tendencies. That is a credit to our seniors and captains who lead by example.”
Driskill has been one of those leaders and he is hoping to end his career with a title.
"We don't want to be a senior class that doesn't win a championship," Driskill said. "All of us came to Mount Union to win one. We are playing a good opponent this week, but if we play our game, we'll have a chance to move on."