/playoffs/2017/wartburg-returns

The Knights return

More news about: Wartburg
The balanced offensive attack starts with an experienced offensive line boasting four all-conference performers.
Russ DeHoedt, d3photography.com


By Ryan Tipps
D3sports.com

Wartburg is dynamic on defense, has an overwhelming offensive line and is packed with proficient playmakers.

You know what other alliteration they are fond of? Wartburg winning.

The first two playoff games may have looked very different for the Knights -- a narrow overtime win in Round 1 against Franklin followed up by a decisive 49-7 stomping of Trine -- yet the resulting victories have catapulted the team into tying a school record with a 12-win season. Next up is a quarterfinal showdown with defending national runner-up UW-Oshkosh.

“A couple of us are seniors now, and while we made it deep in the playoffs our freshman year and were a part of that team, we weren’t a big factor then,” said senior left tackle Derek Schipper. “Now we have the experience.”

While much of the credit for the team’s offensive growth goes to star skill players such as Gagliardi Trophy semifinalist Matt Sacia, who has 2,958 yards passing and 33 touchdowns, Riley Brockway, who has caught for more than 1,300 yards this fall, and a couple of running backs, the balance that Wartburg has been able to achieve began in the trenches.

“Being able to run and throw with equal effectiveness is a very fundamental part of our offensive philosophy; it’s something that we’ve been doing a good job with all year,” said head coach Rick Willis. “And the offensive line plays a major role in that -- they have to be able to be physical as run blockers as well as do a great job with pass protection.”

Through the 12 games this season, Wartburg is averaging 464 yards a game -- 214 rushing and 250 passing. Many of the year’s most explosive plays have been runs, and that has helped Sacia make the most of the run-pass option.

There are six players who are regulars in the offensive line rotation, and all have stayed healthy since the beginning. Four of the linemen were named to the All-IIAC list, including Schipper, who was a first-teamer.

About half of the line was intact from last season, but among those who stepped up to fill a graduation hole was center Tom Schiffer. His leadership and direction ahead of the snap has made the front five more dominant and more responsive to what defenses present.

“Tom has done a great job this year taking over at center,” Schipper said of his teammate. “He’s really the heart and soul of this O-line.”

The unit’s performance has been important to the development of the team, particularly after coming off of a disappointing 6-4 season in 2016, which is shoulder to shoulder with the worst records the Knights have posted in the past two decades.

Left guard Nic Vetter and left tackle Derek Schipper have helped quarterback Matt Sacia put up over 3,000 yards of offense this year.
Russ DeHoedt, d3photography.com

“We had a nice run in ’13, ’14, ’15, and we lost a whole bunch of guys last year. And there’s no substitute for experience, which we gained in the ’16 season. That’s showing up this year,” said Willis, who is in his 19th year at the helm of Wartburg and just won his fifth conference Coach of the Year honor.

Wartburg didn’t land in the Top 25 poll until the sixth week of the season, and there were perhaps some questions lingering as the Knights needed to thwart a Franklin two-point conversion attempt in overtime to win the playoff opener.

But there’s something to be said for gaining confidence against stiffer competition, adapting to the playoff atmosphere and being prepared for things that may be unfamiliar on the field.

“A lot of us didn’t have experience in the playoffs; we knew it was going to be cranked up and it was going to be a different atmosphere,” Schipper said. “But that first game really was crazy. I’ve never been a part of a game like that.”

Franklin and Trine each presented an offense that challenged Wartburg’s defense in a unique way, but it was clear with the way that Trine’s attack was thoroughly stifled that it was a matchup the Knights were prepared for.

“They were very different styles of teams, especially offensively. The Trine matchup was perhaps more favorable to us, with the running style that they use,” Willis said. “And getting off to a really good start helped. Momentum is such a big deal.”

In the same way that the Wartburg offense has benefitted from the experience of playmakers such as Sacia under center, the defense has found a solid recipe in its veteran players. Each defensive position group has a fifth-year senior among its ranks: the front unit has Blake Beckman, the linebackers have Rob Rottler, and the secondary has Chris McNutt. Couple that with some position changes that have improved the defense’s speed, and it becomes apparent why a team that gave up 25 points a game in 2016 is now giving up only 16 a game and is three rounds deep into the postseason.

It’s a return to form for the Knights. Last year appears to be the anomaly, a season cast aside as somewhat of a rebuilding year for a team that had an already solid foundation. The experience of this year’s starters and the desire to prove themselves have given the Knights the opportunity to square off against UW-Oshkosh, albeit on the road for the first time this postseason.

For the players, it’ll be a week like every other in a lot of ways: hitting the weights, watching game film, digesting every morsel the coaches throw at them, all in the hopes of gaining an advantage over their opponent. What’s different, however, is that on the horizon is the season’s toughest opponent, and there’s an opportunity to make the special year of 2017 something even greater, something historic.

“I didn’t know how this year was going to go -- you never really know after last year,” Schipper said. “I knew we had some good players on both sides of the ball, but once we got some momentum and kept winning, things really started looking up.

“Now we sit here ready to play our 13th game of the year -- it’s really wild.”

 

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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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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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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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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1:30 PM
Hanover at Manchester
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Mount St. Joseph 20, at Defiance 0
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at Utica 30, Alfred 22
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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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at Muskingum 21, Otterbein 14
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Final - OT
at Berry 28, Millsaps 21
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at Muhlenberg 42, McDaniel 18
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at Rowan 28, Wesley 27
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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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Mary Hardin-Baylor 49, at Belhaven 0
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at Hardin-Simmons 58, Texas Lutheran 14
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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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at Gustavus Adolphus 42, Augsburg 0
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Final
Dubuque 38, at Buena Vista 7
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North Central (Ill.) 26, at Carthage 14
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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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Millikin 14, at Elmhurst 13
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at MacMurray 20, Iowa Wesleyan 13
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UW-Eau Claire 40, at UW-Platteville 16
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Final
at St. Thomas 68, Carleton 0
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at Mass-Dartmouth 41, Worcester State 27
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at Wartburg 47, Central 20
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at UW-Oshkosh 24, UW-La Crosse 13
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at UW-Whitewater 44, UW-River Falls 7
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at Birmingham-Southern 47, Austin 35
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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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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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East Texas Baptist 48, at Louisiana College 27
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Illinois Wesleyan 27, at Washington U. 21
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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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at RPI 31, Hobart 24
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Final
Trine 31, at Finlandia 0
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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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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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