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Opportunistic Kohawks make history

More news about: Coe

Austin Troendle picks off one of nine Kohawks takeaways that keyed the first-round win over Monmouth.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

By Adam Turer
D3sports.com

Coe's defense made Saturday feel like a Thursday.

The Kohawks dub every Thursday practice "Turnover Day." Extra practice time is devoted to drills focused on stripping the ball, scooping and scoring, and corralling tipped passes. All of those drills translated in an unbelievable way in Coe's home playoff win over Monmouth.

Coe ranked sixth in the nation in turnover margin in the regular season, forcing 27 and giving the ball away just ten times. Still, nothing could have foreshadowed the whopping 9-0 turnover differential in the opening-round victory over Monmouth.

Andrew Johnson had two of the Kohawks' five interceptions and Tait Simpson came up with two of Coe's four fumble recoveries. Each takeaway was crucial to the Kohawks' 21-14 win over the Fighting Scots. Monmouth had only turned the ball over nine times all season heading into the playoffs.

"A lot of it is coaching. We spent a lot of time in the classroom last week and had a really good game plan," said Johnson. "We knew the conditions were going to be crazy out there with winds whipping all over the place. We wanted to stop the run first and make them throw the ball into that wind. When that happened, our D-line got a lot of pressure on the quarterback and made it hard for them to throw and we were able to capitalize on it."

The wind played a factor, as did some good fortune. One of Johnson's interceptions was a diving effort on a ball that was deflected off of his teammate's helmet near the line of scrimmage. Coe's defense has been opportunistic all season long, turning some fortuitous bounces into takeaways.

"Turnovers and touchdowns. We want our offense to take care of the ball and our defense to take away the ball, and we want to turn those turnovers into touchdowns," said Johnson. "We know when we're on the field, we've got to do our job and get off the field and get our offense the ball. We know that they've put up points all year, so we've just got to trust them."

There are plenty of reasons to trust the Coe offense, especially running back Trevor Heitland. He leads the nation in rushing yards with 1,870 and needs 174 yards against St. Thomas to wrest the lead in rushing yards per game away from MacMurray's Chazz Middlebrook. The workhorse has rushed for over 200 yards in five different games this season, including a season-high 251 in the win over Monmouth.

He is seven carries away from 300 totes this season. The most important of his 293 carries to date may have been his 46-yard jaunt late in the third quarter which extended the Kohawks' lead to 21-7. It's not just the big plays that make Heitland so valuable. After Monmouth cut the deficit to seven with 6:51 to play in the game, Heitland carried the ball on nine straight plays as Coe ran 4:56 off the clock and forced Monmouth to use its final two timeouts.

Then, Coe's defense rallied for one final stand. It would have been fitting if the game ended with a turnover. Instead, it was a sack by Ryan Leonard that pushed back the Fighting Scots after Tanner Matlick drove his squad to Coe's 25-yard-line. Two plays later, the game was over and the Kohawks advanced, setting a school record with their 11th win of the season.

Coe's defense prides itself on stepping up and making big plays when its back is against the wall. Six of the nine takeaways occurred in Coe territory, including interceptions at the 4-yard-line and in the end zone.

"Our defense has done it week in and week out. They've played exceptionally well. They stiffen up when they get down in the red zone," said head coach Tyler Staker. "They bow their neck a little bit and they play with a spine when teams start knocking on the door. We made plays when we needed to make plays."

"I like to think that we're pretty tough when we get on our side of the field. We pride ourselves on keeping the other team out of the end zone, just coming up with plays whenever we can," added Johnson. "Coach Atwater diagrams the right play calls when we're down in the red zone. We've just got to make it happen when it comes down to it."

Coe's first home playoff win since 2002 happened in front of a raucous crowd that included many alumni. Among them was Kohawks legend and 10-year NFL veteran Fred Jackson, who played on that 2002 team. This has been an impressive journey for a program with a rookie head coach coming off of a sub-.500 season, and it has energized the alumni base as much as it has the current roster.

"It's been an incredible ride. It's pretty surreal, to be quite honest," said Staker. "I felt we had a really good squad coming into this year and felt we were capable of doing some really good things this season. To go 11-0, the most wins in school history for a season, to win the conference title, to do it all in my first year, it's been unbelievable.

"You have to give the credit to the seniors. We've had tremendous leadership all season long. To turn it around from 4-6 to 11-0, you don't do that without great senior leadership."

Now, those seniors get a crack at one of the purple powers. The Kohawks will continue playing their game, focused on stopping the run and creating turnovers. They know that St. Thomas will be a measuring stick, and they are up for the challenge.

"What a great opportunity this is for our guys and our football program to go play one of the best teams in the nation and get a chance to face them in the playoffs," said Staker. "They're excited for this opportunity."

As the Kohawks proved on Saturday, they are nothing if not opportunistic.

Oct. 19: All times Eastern
Final
Martin Luther 21, at Northwestern (Minn.) 6
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Oct. 20: All times Eastern
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at Stevenson 33, Wilkes 21
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at RPI 31, Hobart 24
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at MIT 13, Coast Guard 0
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Norwich 15, at Maine Maritime 7
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at Moravian 31, Juniata 14
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at Dean 53, Gallaudet 21
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Endicott 45, at Becker 13
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Frostburg State 24, at Montclair State 17
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SUNY-Maritime 68, at Castleton 41
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at Trinity (Texas) 28, Sewanee 14
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Johns Hopkins 51, at Gettysburg 14
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N.C. Wesleyan 29, at Brevard 21
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at Misericordia 37, FDU-Florham 33
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Union 29, at St. Lawrence 7
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at Ithaca 28, Rochester 3
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at Colby 23, Hamilton 21
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at Middlebury 35, Bates 34
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Trinity (Conn.) 48, at Bowdoin 6
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Springfield 23, at Catholic 11
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Amherst 33, at Wesleyan 3
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at Plymouth State 17, Massachusetts Maritime 14
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at Husson 54, Anna Maria 14
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TCNJ 13, at Kean 8
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Carnegie Mellon 41, at Thiel 7
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Salve Regina 30, at Curry 21
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King's 37, at Albright 26
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Trine 31, at Finlandia 0
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Final - OT
Susquehanna 41, at Ursinus 35
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Delaware Valley 52, at Lebanon Valley 7
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at Western New England 70, University of New England 13
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Franklin and Marshall 35, at Dickinson 14
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at Wittenberg 38, DePauw 23
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at Emory and Henry 52, Shenandoah 50
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at Wabash 32, Oberlin 7
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at Westminster (Pa.) 27, Washington and Jefferson 20
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at Hampden-Sydney 38, Guilford 35
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Final - OT
at Randolph-Macon 44, Bridgewater 41
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Cortland 56, at Hartwick 3
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at Denison 27, Ohio Wesleyan 10
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Waynesburg 12, at St. Vincent 10
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Salisbury 33, at Southern Virginia 0
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at Methodist 42, Greensboro 6
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Christopher Newport 39, at William Paterson 10
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Albion 49, at Adrian 42
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Thomas More 35, at St. Scholastica 0
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at Westminster (Mo.) 25, Minnesota-Morris 7
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Lake Forest 24, at Grinnell 0
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at Greenville 41, Crown 14
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at Merchant Marine 25, WPI 24
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Final
at John Carroll 27, Marietta 24
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at Tufts 28, Williams 21
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Ohio Northern 49, at Capital 46
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Baldwin Wallace 35, at Wilmington 33
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at Mount Union 54, Heidelberg 0
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at Lycoming 52, Alvernia 0
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at Rose-Hulman 44, Anderson 6
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at Franklin 64, Earlham 20
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Final
Hanover 48, at Manchester 14
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Mount St. Joseph 20, at Defiance 0
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at Utica 30, Alfred 22
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Final
Maryville (Tenn.) 37, at LaGrange 17
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Framingham State 27, at Westfield State 2
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Morrisville State 35, at St. John Fisher 7
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Final
at Muskingum 21, Otterbein 14
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Final - OT
at Berry 28, Millsaps 21
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Final
at Muhlenberg 42, McDaniel 18
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at Rowan 28, Wesley 27
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Final
at Wooster 28, Hiram 21
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Allegheny 54, at Kenyon 10
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at Nebraska Wesleyan 23, Luther 15
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Wheaton (Ill.) 20, at Augustana 3
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at Eureka 50, Benedictine 20
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Final
Mary Hardin-Baylor 49, at Belhaven 0
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at Hardin-Simmons 58, Texas Lutheran 14
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Final
Chicago 63, at Beloit 0
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at Concordia (Wis.) 45, Concordia-Chicago 34
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Aurora 25, at Rockford 7
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at Bethel 41, Concordia-Moorhead 13
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Lakeland 38, at Wisconsin Lutheran 12
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at St. John's 57, St. Olaf 7
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Final
at Gustavus Adolphus 42, Augsburg 0
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Final
Dubuque 38, at Buena Vista 7
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Final
North Central (Ill.) 26, at Carthage 14
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Final
at Ripon 58, Macalester 34
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at Monmouth 51, Cornell 0
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at Simpson 38, Loras 33
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at Knox 20, Illinois College 6
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UW-Stout 31, at UW-Stevens Point 27
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Final
Millikin 14, at Elmhurst 13
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Final
at MacMurray 20, Iowa Wesleyan 13
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Final
UW-Eau Claire 40, at UW-Platteville 16
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Final
at St. Thomas 68, Carleton 0
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Final
at Mass-Dartmouth 41, Worcester State 27
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Final
at Wartburg 47, Central 20
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Final
at UW-Oshkosh 24, UW-La Crosse 13
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at UW-Whitewater 44, UW-River Falls 7
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Final
at Birmingham-Southern 47, Austin 35
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Final
Centre 41, at Rhodes 14
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at Carroll 23, North Park 0
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at Kalamazoo 17, Alma 10
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at Pacific Lutheran 33, Willamette 20
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at Brockport 65, Buffalo State 7
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at Averett 45, Huntingdon 17
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Washington and Lee 38, at Ferrum 35
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at Pacific 54, Lewis and Clark 22
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Redlands 35, at La Verne 17
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Whitworth 47, at Puget Sound 13
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Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 27, at Occidental 7
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Linfield 14, at George Fox 0
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Final
at Hope 35, Olivet 30
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Final - 4OT
at Western Connecticut 50, Bridgewater State 48
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Final
Case Western Reserve 27, at Geneva 14
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at Sul Ross State 28, Howard Payne 27
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Final
East Texas Baptist 48, at Louisiana College 27
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Final
Illinois Wesleyan 27, at Washington U. 21
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Final
St. Norbert 46, at Lawrence 0
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at Pomona-Pitzer 42, Whittier 17
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Chapman 33, at Cal Lutheran 29
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Oct. 20: All times Eastern
Final
Frostburg State 24, at Montclair State 17
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Final
at RPI 31, Hobart 24
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Final
Trine 31, at Finlandia 0
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Final
at Wittenberg 38, DePauw 23
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Final
at Westminster (Pa.) 27, Washington and Jefferson 20
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Final
Delaware Valley 52, at Lebanon Valley 7
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Final
Johns Hopkins 51, at Gettysburg 14
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Final
at Mount Union 54, Heidelberg 0
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Final
at John Carroll 27, Marietta 24
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Final - OT
at Berry 28, Millsaps 21
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Final
at Rowan 28, Wesley 27
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Final
at Muhlenberg 42, McDaniel 18
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Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 20, at Augustana 3
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Final
Mary Hardin-Baylor 49, at Belhaven 0
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Final
at St. John's 57, St. Olaf 7
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Final
at Hardin-Simmons 58, Texas Lutheran 14
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Final
North Central (Ill.) 26, at Carthage 14
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Final
at St. Thomas 68, Carleton 0
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Final
at UW-Oshkosh 24, UW-La Crosse 13
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Final
at UW-Whitewater 44, UW-River Falls 7
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Final
at Brockport 65, Buffalo State 7
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Final
Whitworth 47, at Puget Sound 13
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Final
Linfield 14, at George Fox 0
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Final
Case Western Reserve 27, at Geneva 14
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Final
Illinois Wesleyan 27, at Washington U. 21
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