/playoffs/2013/hampden-sydney-eager-to-let-it-fly-at-linfield

For trip to Linfield, Tigers must adjust on the fly

More news about: Hampden-Sydney | Linfield
Holton Walker
Hampden-Sydney's Holton Walker had 16 catches for 268 yards in Round 1, but faces a significantly tougher defense in Round 2.
Red Rocket photography

By Adam Turer
D3sports.com

The Hampden-Sydney Tigers are rewriting the record books while winning big game after big game. Arguably the biggest win in the program's 119-year history, the first victory in six attempts in the NCAA playoffs, earned the Tigers a trip across the country to face perennial powerhouse Linfield. While many are writing off the Tigers as the next team to finish its season in the "Catdome," Hampden-Sydney is excited for the challenge.

"This is a great opportunity for us, against a very good team," Tigers quarterback Nash Nance said. "This is a business trip, and it will bring our team a lot closer together. We're staying focused, but we're still going to enjoy it."

Nance is no stranger to boarding a plane with his teammates for a long road trip into a hostile environment. He spent two years as a backup at the University of Tennessee before transferring to Hampden-Sydney. He has flown from Knoxville to "The Swamp" in Gainesville, Fla. and "Death Valley" in Baton Rouge, La. The Catdome -- formally Maxwell Field -- in McMinnville, Ore. is next on his itinerary. Another flight with teammates was unexpected when he transferred to a Division III program. Such flights are rare, but usually mean one thing: you're playing for one of the last teams standing in the playoffs.

"This is something that I'm used to, coming from the SEC," said Nance of the long flight. "Still, this is something really special that we'll be able to tell our kids and grandkids about. It's going to be a fun atmosphere."

The Tigers have been playing with their backs against the wall since losing an ODAC game to Shenandoah on Oct. 26. Hampden-Sydney crushed then league-leading Guilford on the road, beat defending ODAC champion Washington and Lee at home, then held off rival Randolph-Macon on the road by stopping a two-point conversion attempt and recovering an onside kick with 95 seconds to play.

"From the Guilford game, it was win or go home," said wide receiver Holton Walker. "We closed the season having to beat three good teams. That definitely prepared us for the playoffs."

Then, the Tigers earned a favorable playoff draw, hosting USA South champion Maryville. The Scots were making their first playoff appearance, but put up a fight in one of the opening round's most entertaining battles. Hampden-Sydney prevailed, 42-34. Walker, the leading receiver in the nation this year with 141.7 yards per game, keyed the Tigers' first playoff win. He racked up 268 yards on a 16 receptions (both school records) and scored three touchdowns. Walker had 224 yards and all three of his scores in the first half. Nance and Walker have built up a solid rapport in their two seasons and counting together.

"I trust him and he trusts me," said Walker. "We've become good friends, we communicate every single day, and our chemistry continues to grow."

"Having targets like Michael Mey and Holton Walker, you trust that you can get them the ball and they can do some special things with it," said Nance. "I think that that trust works both ways."

The offense that averages 447.4 yards per game will face its toughest task of the season, by far. Linfield gives up just 250.3 yards per game, seventh in the nation. The Wildcats also boast the No. 7 scoring defense in the nation, allowing just 12 points per game. The Tigers average 35.5 points per game.

"We've seen some good defenses, but none as good as Linfield," said Walker.

Linfield's defense has overcome several obstacles this year to remain among the nation's best. Projected starters Marq Randall, a defensive tackle, and Brynnan Hyland, a defensive end, have missed the entire season. Defensive tackle Tyler Steele suffered an injury in the regular season finale that will keep him out of the playoffs. Hyland and Steele were both preseason All-Americans. Hyland was a 2012 first team All-American defensive end. He has been helping his young replacements get up to speed all season.

"I'm not surprised, because they were all good players to start with," said Hyland. "They have really been able to slow down and just have fun out there."

Sophomore Alex Hoff went from long snapper to first-team all-conference defensive end. Defensive tackle Jeremy Girod emerged as a force in the interior, leading the Wildcats with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss. He entered the year as one of six men at his position with experience. Only three remain healthy.

Holton Walker
Jeremy Girod has helped the Wildcats overcome huge losses on their defensive line.
Linfield athletics photo

"The morale here at Linfield is that people always step up to the occasion," said Girod. "When it's your shot, you make it worth it."

Steele and Hyland are serving as extra coaches on the sideline, while defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Jackson Vaughan focuses on the defense as a whole. Their influence has had a positive impact on the always-aggressive Linfield front.

"We may be undersized, but we are fast and athletic," said Girod. "The key is the mentality of our defensive line and how we're coached to just get after it. It's a lot of fun to play here."

The defensive linemen are more than just gap pluggers in Linfield's system. The Wildcats' 4-2-5 scheme features stunts that allow every linemen to make big plays.

"We play quick and we're put in position by the defensive scheme to take the brakes off and just go," said Hyland. "Also, we're prepared mentally, which allows you to just get in position and play. We can throw a lot of different looks at people and our guys are all really versatile."

The Wildcats rank fourth in the nation in turnover margin, and turnovers have been Hampden-Sydney's weakness all year. Nance has thrown 14 interceptions and the Tigers have lost nine fumbles. The key matchup will be Nance's ability to make good decisions under pressure from the Wildcats' front seven.

"I don't think we've seen a defensive line as big and athletic as Linfield's," said Nance. "We'll have to keep them honest with our play calling and I have to do a good job of recognizing their coverages and fronts. We have to take what they give us."

The underdogs are not lacking confidence. In some ways, it may help that they have no experience of playing in the Catdome. It may also help that the majority of Linfield students will be home for the Thanksgiving break. Traveling approximately 2,854 miles on Thanksgiving is more than worth it. For the Tigers, this is just the next in a growing streak of make-or-break games.

"I get to spend Thanksgiving with my team. We're only one of 16 teams able to do that," said Walker. "We're going out to play an established team. That will be good for us."

"We think we're one of the best teams they've faced, too," said Nance.

Oct. 20: All times Eastern
Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Gettysburg 0
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Oct. 21: All times Eastern
Final
at Framingham State 29, Westfield State 14
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Final
Moravian 20, at Juniata 17
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at Salve Regina 41, Endicott 14
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Final
at Thomas More 63, St. Vincent 13
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Final
at Union 28, Hobart 23
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at Hamilton 27, Colby 24
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at Christopher Newport 27, William Paterson 19
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Final
at Ithaca 35, St. John Fisher 10
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Final
at Allegheny 44, Kenyon 35
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Final
SUNY-Maritime 21, at Mount Ida 13
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Middlebury 43, at Bates 14
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Final
at Springfield 68, Catholic 20
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Final
at Amherst 21, Wesleyan 17
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Final
at Trinity (Conn.) 63, Bowdoin 14
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Final
Husson 48, at Gallaudet 21
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Wabash 35, at Oberlin 21
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at Utica 34, Buffalo State 12
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Final
Ohio Northern 7, at Muskingum 6
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Final
at Frostburg State 62, Montclair State 3
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Final
at Wesley 34, Rowan 3
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Final
at Stevenson 26, Albright 23
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Final
Wittenberg 52, at DePauw 6
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at Albion 31, Alma 28
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Final
at Guilford 45, Shenandoah 20
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Final
Plymouth State 40, at Massachusetts Maritime 14
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Final
Wooster 58, at Hiram 25
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Washington and Lee 36, at Hampden-Sydney 6
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at Anna Maria 36, Alfred State 34
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Bridgewater 31, at Emory and Henry 23
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at FDU-Florham 49, Wilkes 31
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Lebanon Valley 17, at Misericordia 0
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at St. Lawrence 36, Rochester 14
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Final
RPI 30, at Alfred 15
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Final
at Curry 46, Nichols 16
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at Salisbury 42, Southern Virginia 0
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Ferrum 27, at Brevard 24
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Final
Randolph-Macon 63, at Apprentice 14
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at Susquehanna 21, Ursinus 14
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Final
Cortland 34, at Morrisville State 20
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Final
at Trine 50, Hope 14
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Final
Trinity (Texas) 27, at Sewanee 21
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Wartburg 41, at Luther 16
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Final
at Franklin and Marshall 56, Dickinson 0
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Tufts 21, at Williams 13
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Final
Mount Union 66, at Wilmington 7
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Final
MIT 30, at Coast Guard 21
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Final
at Norwich 24, Maine Maritime 22
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Final
at Marietta 44, Heidelberg 21
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Final
Franklin 29, at Rose-Hulman 22
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Final
John Carroll 48, at Capital 21
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at Manchester 28, Bluffton 21
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Final
Mount St. Joseph 71, at Anderson 27
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Final
UW-Whitewater 20, at UW-River Falls 7
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Kean 26, at TCNJ 3
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at LaGrange 59, Greensboro 10
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Final
at Worcester State 45, Mass-Dartmouth 40
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Final
Muhlenberg 40, at McDaniel 13
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Final
Western New England 45, at Becker 0
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Final
at Maryville (Tenn.) 35, Methodist 14
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Final
Adrian 36, at Kalamazoo 22
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Final
Denison 31, at Ohio Wesleyan 20
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Final - OT
at Washington and Jefferson 34, Westminster (Pa.) 33
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Final
Berry 37, at Millsaps 22
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Final
at Benedictine 43, Olivet 37
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Final
Birmingham-Southern 31, at Austin 24
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 45, Belhaven 7
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Final
at UW-Stout 23, UW-Stevens Point 17
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Final
Eureka 37, at MacMurray 20
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at Illinois Wesleyan 13, Carthage 10
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Final
Nebraska Wesleyan 14, at Buena Vista 13
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Lakeland 48, at Wisconsin Lutheran 0
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Final
at Aurora 28, Rockford 21
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at Concordia-Chicago 37, Concordia (Wis.) 17
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Final
at St. Olaf 29, Carleton 26
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Final
at St. John's 41, Gustavus Adolphus 17
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Final
at Concordia-Moorhead 42, Augsburg 20
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Final
St. Thomas 84, at Hamline 0
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Final
Westminster (Mo.) 24, at Greenville 14
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Final
at Loras 44, Coe 38
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Final
Monmouth 61, at Cornell 10
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Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 56, at North Park 0
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Final
Northwestern (Minn.) 30, at Martin Luther 14
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Final
Hardin-Simmons 33, at Texas Lutheran 30
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Final
at Lake Forest 70, Grinnell 6
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Final
at Millikin 56, Carroll 35
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Final
at Macalester 47, Ripon 31
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Final
at St. Norbert 38, Lawrence 6
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Final
St. Scholastica 49, at Crown 21
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Final
at Iowa Wesleyan 24, Minnesota-Morris 17
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Final
UW-Platteville 34, at UW-Eau Claire 14
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Final
at WPI 41, Merchant Marine 7
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Final
at Centre 42, Rhodes 35
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Final
Hanover 49, at Earlham 14
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Final
at Chicago 55, Beloit 12
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 42, at UW-La Crosse 28
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Final - OT
at Dubuque 28, Simpson 27
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 54, Augustana 2
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Final
at East Texas Baptist 68, Louisiana College 35
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Final
at Brockport 45, Hartwick 0
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Final
Western Connecticut 27, at Bridgewater State 20
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Final
Chapman 38, at La Verne 21
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Final
Pacific 17, at Lewis and Clark 7
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Final
Pacific Lutheran 27, at Willamette 14
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Final
at Whitworth 38, Puget Sound 23
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Final
Redlands 42, at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 25
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at Linfield 12, George Fox 6
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Sul Ross State 52, at Howard Payne 15
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at Castleton 17, Dean 14
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N.C. Wesleyan 21, at Averett 15
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at Otterbein 37, Baldwin Wallace 29
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Final
Case Western Reserve 45, at Geneva 7
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Carnegie Mellon 42, at Thiel 10
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at Illinois College 23, Knox 13
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at Cal Lutheran 60, Whittier 34
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Cancelled
Occidental at Pomona-Pitzer
Oct. 20: All times Eastern
Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Gettysburg 0
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Oct. 21: All times Eastern
Final
at Wesley 34, Rowan 3
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Final
at Frostburg State 62, Montclair State 3
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Final
Wittenberg 52, at DePauw 6
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Final
at Springfield 68, Catholic 20
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Final
Wartburg 41, at Luther 16
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Final
Mount Union 66, at Wilmington 7
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Final
at Marietta 44, Heidelberg 21
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Final - OT
at Washington and Jefferson 34, Westminster (Pa.) 33
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Final
Hardin-Simmons 33, at Texas Lutheran 30
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Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 45, Belhaven 7
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Final
St. Thomas 84, at Hamline 0
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Final
at St. John's 41, Gustavus Adolphus 17
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Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 13, Carthage 10
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Final
at Concordia-Moorhead 42, Augsburg 20
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Final
Berry 37, at Millsaps 22
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Final
UW-Platteville 34, at UW-Eau Claire 14
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 42, at UW-La Crosse 28
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 54, Augustana 2
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Final
at Brockport 45, Hartwick 0
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Final
at Linfield 12, George Fox 6
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Final
Case Western Reserve 45, at Geneva 7
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