|Although Wesley's coach says
he's seen better linebackers than Javicz Jones, it's because they
also played for Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Mary Hardin-Baylor athletics photo
By Adam Turer
Finally, they came to their senses and scheduled a regular season game.
After meeting in six of the past seven postseasons, Wesley and Mary Hardin-Baylor delayed the seemingly inevitable and met this year in Dover on Sept. 15. The Cru improved their all-time record against the Wolverines to 3-4 with a 32-25 victory. It is little surprise that, once again, one of these two teams will end the other’s season. This time, there is more familiarity than ever before.
“You feel like you know them a little bit more,” said Crusaders defensive coordinator Larry Harmon about preparing for the Wolverines for the second time this season. “We’re starting with an understanding of how they utilize their different skill kids, more than if we were going in to this game cold turkey.”
Physically, the teams have not changed much since Week 3. Any edge gained from the prior meeting is likely to be of the mental variety.
“We’re able to look at them and what they were thinking in Week 3,” said Wesley coach Mike Drass. “When I look back at that film, they were the better team that day.”
While they never fell below No. 6 in the Top 25 poll this season, it took the Wolverines some time to hit their stride. Wesley trailed in six of its first eight games, but rallied to defeat every opponent outside of the Cru. In its last three games, including two playoff wins, Wesley has outscored opponents 176-20.
“Coming into this year, we didn’t have any big-name type players,” said Drass. “We’ve progressively gotten better throughout the season and formed our own identity. I think we have a lot more confidence in ourselves now.”
While Wesley has steadily improved, Mary Hardin-Baylor has dominated. A fourth quarter rally to defeat Hardin-Simmons on October 20 is the toughest test the Cru has faced since seeing the Wolverines. UMHB averages over 51 points per game, second only to Mount Union, and wins by an average of 33 points per game.
“I think they’re playing with extreme confidence, and rightfully so,” said Drass.
|Just a sophomore, Sosthene
Kapepula has already had a big impact in the UMHB-Wesley
Wesley athletics photo
One thing from the regular season meeting that remains unchanged for both teams can be found at the top of the individual defensive stat line. UMHB linebacker Javicz Jones and Wesley linebacker Sosthene Kapepula continue to lead their team in tackles. As two of the most athletic linebackers in the country, each playmaker has the ability to change a game’s momentum.
“We’re fortunate that our best playmaker is Javicz,” said Harmon. “He makes it go for us. He’s pretty phenomenal.”
Jones, a senior, is the latest in a line of big-play linebackers at Mary Hardin-Baylor. He met with former Crusader and current Indianapolis Colt Jerrell Freeman before and after the Cru’s regular season finale on Nov. 10. The two talked more about life than football, said Jones. But there are similarities between the two players on the field. Jones is among the nation’s leaders with 111 tackles, seven interceptions, and four defensive touchdowns.
“I’ve seen a couple of better linebackers better than him over the years, but they both played for Mary Hardin-Baylor and one of them is in the NFL right now,” said Drass.
Jones remains humble in the face of the comparisons to Freeman, who currently ranks fifth in the NFL in tackles. He is the heart and soul of the Cru defense that held Franklin 24 points below its scoring average a week after holding Louisiana College 15 points below its season average.
“I enjoy being blessed to have the opportunity to be out there making plays,” said Jones. “As a child, I was taught to just run to the ball, so that’s what I do. Once I’m on the field, I’m just having fun.”
The Wolverines have their own playmaking linebacker. Just a sophomore, Kapepula has asserted himself as a leader on defense, tallying 102 tackles, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries so far this year. His 28-yard scoop and score — Wesley’s second defensive touchdown in the first 2:06 of the game — set the tone for the Wolverines’ 56-6 rout of Cortland State last week.
“Guys gravitate to him naturally and follow his lead,” said Drass. “I look at him in the same mold as [Jones]. He’s a tenacious player who plays throughout the entire play.”
Kapepula worked his way into the starting lineup late in his freshman year and had his best performance in the 2011 playoff win over Mary Hardin-Baylor, notching 14 tackles and an interception. He batted away LiDarral Bailey’s final pass attempt to seal the victory. He dedicated himself in the offseason to taking a leap between his first and second seasons.
“It starts with the relationship between me and my coaches, especially my linebacker coach, Tim Kane,” said Kapepula. “I stayed here over the summer and worked toward taking that leadership role.”
Both Jones and Kapepula will be counted on to make big plays on Saturday. Their leadership of the defensive units will be just as vital as their performance on the field.
“We need to stop them on third down and get the ball back to our offense,” said Drass.
Defense was the key to the first matchup this season, and will be the key again on Saturday.
“We felt like we could hold our own and control the line of scrimmage,” said Harmon of his unit’s mindset going into the September meeting. “That’s been the difference in who wins and loses this game over the years.”