In openers, hope springs, or falls, eternal

More news about: N.C. Wesleyan

By Keith McMillan

Great expectations. In Week 1, everyone has them.

Anyone who’s any kind of player, who’s bought into what his coach is preaching, went out last Saturday believing deep down his team could and should win. Players don’t think like the rest of us. They’re more singularly focused.

And half of them went home last weekend thoroughly disappointed, dreams of an undefeated season dashed.

In the outside world, expectations run the gamut. But they can still be heaped upon a player or team in unrealistic proportions. 

Some shy away. Some welcome the challenge.

North Carolina Wesleyan did just that last Saturday. Not that they went looking for trouble initially -- coach Jack Ginn said Newport News Apprentice dropped his Battling Bishops from the schedule in February and Wesley, a semifinalist which began the season ranked sixth, was one of the few teams still looking to fill an opening.

“There weren’t too many teams still looking for a game in February,” Ginn said. “So you end up with Wesley and it’s ‘let’s go up there and see what we’ve got.’ ”

What Ginn has, of course, is a fourth-year program that returned 18 starters from an ’06 team that lost four games by a total of 10 points. That got them picked to win the USA South championship in a coaches’ poll.

Ginn also brought to Dover a team that could match the Wolverines stride for stride.

Cedric Townsend exemplified N.C. Wesleyan's team speed at quarterback, though he didn't run much.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3sports.com

“We knew one of us was getting ready to play a team faster than us, but we didn’t know which one,” Ginn said. “I don’t think that happens too often to either of us.”

Both teams flashed that blazing speed -- N.C. Wesleyan’s Orlando Webb hauled in 47- and 76-yard TD passes. Wesley’s Michael Clarke scored on a 59-yard TD pass before the half with the Wolverines trailing 17-7 and Larry Beavers gave them the lead by returning the second-half kickoff 82 yards for a score.

Wesley asserted itself with 11- and 10-play drives in the second half to go ahead 34-24 before N.C. Wesleyan closed the gap by returning a fumble 8 yards for a score with 1:30 left.

The Battling Bishops, who took control of the game and opened that 10-point second quarter lead, felt they hadn’t lived up to expectations. But it wasn’t anyone else they felt they let down. They fell short of their own expectations.

“We wanted to come here and play our way, and we made them play our way,” Ginn said, noting his team snapped the ball 59 times in the first half. “Until that second-half kickoff, we were in pretty good shape.”

“We didn’t keep our poise,” he added.

Ginn gave Wesley its credit, but repeated that he felt his team’s games were about how his team played. When they play their best game, he said, the rest takes care of itself. And on that note, he wasn’t considering hanging close to the Wolverines any kind of moral victory. 

“We can play like we did at Maryville last year and beat ourselves (in a 50-48, four-overtime loss) or we can play like we did against Christopher Newport (in a 46-34 win against the eventual conference champions),” Ginn said. “We’ve had the educational loss here already. I think we’re past that.”

And yet his team has to get past that sinking feeling losing always brings.

But as Ginn told them postgame, at the end of the season, losing to Wesley could mean virtually nothing if the Battling Bishops go on to win the USAC as predicted. The automatic playoff bid might set the two teams up for a rematch.

Then he told his players anyone who didn’t believe could “get (his) ass out of here,” not long after said, “That’s a hell of a Saturday afternoon. That’s fun!”

“We came here to find out how good we were,” Ginn said. “We’re pretty good.”

Wesley quarterback Jason Schatz also came into Week 1 with high hopes, basically carrying the expectations built by two semifinal appearances on his transition from receiver for standout Chris Warrick back to quarterback.

It did not go so well, as Schatz was 12-of-28 for 179 yards. He threw one interception and took one sack, but did toss three TD passes.

Schatz said the offense still had work to do and admitted he was “tentative” to begin but thought he settled down.

“I think he had a case of nerves,” Wesley coach Mike Drass said. “I told him this morning, just relax and go out there and have some fun. That’s why you play ball. Stop thinking about Chris (Warrick), stop thinking about all the other stuff. Is it a 
Cover 2, Cover 3, is it man, and let’s play some ball.”

Drass pointed to the 59-yard strike to Clarke as evidence of Schatz’s potential.

“That was a laser, too. That’s what he can do.”

From afar, Wesley looks like it’s sitting pretty, enjoying life at the almost-top. But in reality, their success has created expectations. Drass has said the bar has been raised in Dover, and the only step forward they can take is the Stagg Bowl.

Which is why the coach did not chalk up all of the Wolverines’ nine penalties, four turnovers and 31 points allowed as mere early-season sloppiness.

“They’re not first game mistakes, they’re extremely horrible, atrocious mistakes a team should never make. And we will correct them,” Drass said. “When we come out here next Saturday we will not make those mistakes. You’ve got my word on that.”

Expectations manifest themselves in different ways.

At Kean, safety Ryan Staton and quarterback A.J. Roque said the Cougars entered last season thinking they could do some damage. They eventually did, but not in their opener, a 29-19 loss to U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

If they felt they were overconfident after a 4-6 season in 2005, just imagine the possibilities after going 7-4 in 2006.

“That was the coaching staff’s biggest concern,” Kean coach Dan Garrett said. “When I got on your site (last Friday) and saw ‘The expectations are raised,’ I said, ‘oh boy, they’re reading our mind, because they know.’ That was the biggest worry -- there’s expectations now, and how our team was going to respond to that with the guys who have been here four or five years.”

They won 48-7, piling up most of their 327 rushing yards after halftime.

“It was a different mind-set that second half,” Garrett said. “That first half, we’re not 
established yet, so there’s doubts in their mind. We came in at halftime and said we have to come out a little better in the second half than the first half. They started believing. It’s all a mind-set.”

In Division III, where one loss hurts and two might kill your playoff hopes, having that mind-set from the very first week is ultra-important.

“We don’t have the powerhouse tradition,” Garrett said. “We don’t have that Rowanesque feeling or Montclair State -- when you show up, people fear you. They 
have that. We don’t have that. So when we let down, that’s the season. People are going to knock us off. It’s important every week, especially in our conference.”

In Week 1, expectations were to a degree met (Cal Lutheran transfer Danny Jones leading No. 2 UW-Whitewater to a 41-7 win in its opener, No. 1 Mount Union rolling 75-7) or unmet (Rochester losing 33-10 to Carnegie Mellon, No. 11 Hardin-Simmons losing 47-21 to No. 7 UW-La Crosse and then-No. 15 Wilkes being upset 17-16 by William Paterson).

Expectations have their place, but ultimately, what’s done in response to them -- wins and losses are far more absolute -- is what endures.

Fantastic finishes

If you’ve played or watched football for years, you might begin to think there are a finite number of things that can happen. Then there are these three finishes from this weekend, which you can feel free to file under ‘Stuff I’ve Never Seen.’

Opening its brand-new Lewis C. Everett stadium, Hampden-Sydney was in position to christen the new/refurbished place with a crowd-pleasing dramatic win against Johns Hopkins. The Tigers led 16-10 for most of the third quarter but gave up a touchdown to the Blue Jays with 1:34 to play. A good kickoff return helped get Hampden-Sydney in position for a field goal and dramatic finish. But senior Patrick Kay snuffed the 47-yard attempt, to preserve Johns Hopkins’ 1-point victory.

That might be a painful way to lose, but not completely unprecedented. These next two likely are:

UW-Stevens Point, was tied 7-7 in Lake Wales, Fla., with NAIA Webber International when Travis Tubbs unleashed an 84-yard punt that pinned the Pointers at their own 2-yard line. A penalty wiped that kick out, however. Dustin Robinson burst through and blocked Tubbs’ next punt, and Lincoln Berg recovered with 38 seconds left in the game to give Stevens Point a 13-7 victory.

A Northwestern coach talks to kicker Cody Crum as the sprinkler system delays the Eagles' extra point. You can see the game situation on the scoreboard.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, D3sports.com

Any other week, that’s the crazy finish of the day. But Northwestern (Minn.) came through with one of the more preposterous endings I’ve ever heard of. And since our Ryan Coleman was on site shooting for D3sports.com, I was getting as-it-happened updates and still hardly believing it.

Trailing Cornell at home, the Eagles scored what appeared to be the tying touchdown with 51 seconds left. There was just a little matter of the point after.

After an injured Northwestern player was tended to in the back of the end zone, the home field’s sprinkler system came on, and wasn’t turned off for nearly 15 minutes.

When play resumed, the Rams’ Chris Gustafson shot through the middle of the line and blocked the PAT.

Eagles lineman Clint Wolcyn stays loose during the long delay.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, D3sports.com

“It was kind of surreal,” Cornell coach Matt Dillon told the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun after his team’s 31-30 victory. “For one, (the delay) iced their kicker. And two, I think it gave our guys a chance to rest and recover a little bit because we were reeling at that time.”

The moral of the story, kids? Pay attention during special teams periods at practice. It could be the difference between winning and losing.

Fantastic First and Ten

Snap reactions to Week 1 results: 
1. Mount Union had a 52-point first quarter and 72-0 halftime lead! Seriously, is it running up the score when your running back carries seven times for 151 yards and four TDs, all in the first quarter? When your starting quarterback is 9-for-9, and you play four quarterbacks in the first half? The Purple Raiders scored three TDs on defense and special teams in the record-breaking quarter, including a 100-yard interception return TD. As usual, the Purple Raiders are on another level.

2. Sorry, Rochester, about the whole preseason hype thing.

3. Didn’t you used to be the Middle Atlantic, power conference? Although the schedule was fairly impressive, MAC teams went 0-6 in Week 1. Yikes. Gettysburg walloped Lebanon Valley 49-25 and NJAC also-ran William Paterson upset defending champion Wilkes 17-16.

4. How about that new kickoff rule? Beavers’ runback for Wesley against N.C. Wesleyan was a mere 82 yards, which means he fielded a kickoff from the 30 at the 18. Division III kickers are not going to like this rule (although we saw Merchant Marine’s Geoff Troy boot one to the 2 on Friday), but the fans will benefit with more kicks in play. Kicks landing around the 12-15 were the norm at the games we watched.

5. I’m still trying to figure out what happened to Millsaps. Allowing 21 points in the fourth quarter in a 27-26 loss to rival Mississippi College single-handedly ruins the ‘rotate 74 players’ in Week 1 strategy.

6. Reports of certain transfers not bothering Coe’s defense appear to be accurate, as the Kohawks beat Illinois Wesleyan 24-6. Central, Wartburg and Dubuque all posted impressive Week 1 wins as well, while Buena Vista logged one of the week’s major upsets. Could be a bunch of horses in the IIAC race.

7. The WIAC is back. So maybe it never really left, but it was starting to look like it might be Whitewater and not much else this year. La Crosse went into Texas and logged a huge win at Hardin-Simmons. Eau Claire beat Division II Northern Sun member Southwest Minnesota State 42-13, bringing back memories of last year’s La Crosse win over Division I-AA/FCS South Dakota State in Week 1 of last year. Stevens Point’s win was documented above, Oshkosh walloped Ripon, River Falls beat Hope by 30 and Stout got off on the good foot against Menlo. Platteville was idle.

8. As an established program moving from NAIA, Pat Coleman and I figured in our preseason 1-238 ranking that Geneva might not have that difficult a transition to Division III. In Week 1, the Golden Tornadoes (yes, that’s their real name) beat Thiel 20-3.

9. Did anyone notice Guilford scoring 70 too? Mount Union’s efforts seemed to gain most of the pub, with Kenyon hanging a 70-35 win on Grinnell catching some attention. The Quakers played at NAIA Southern Virginia and didn’t get their result (70-26) in until late, so in case you missed it, quarterback Josh Vogelbach tossed eight TD passes, among other things.

10. Sul Ross State (a 33-31 winner against Texas Lutheran) is still rising, while Lycoming (a 31-6 loser to Ithaca) is still falling.

My 26-35

With nearly 240 schools, a Division III top 25 is roughly equivalent to a Division I-A top 12. And since we aren’t planning to roll out the D3football.com Top 50 anytime soon, that’s about as good a comparison as we can give to demonstrate how elite our top 25 is.

The 26-35 is to give an idea of which teams just missed my ballot, to create a watch list of sorts. It’s not always just the next 10 teams on the ballot though. Sometimes, insight on how the entire poll shakes out is necessary.

Preseason votes are never easy because it’s all speculation, based on how a team finished the year before, who it brings back and its schedule, among other things. And it isn’t hard to see positive outcomes for more than 25 teams.

Week 1 is even weirder, because only a portion of the teams get underway, like 15 of the top 25. So even as the first wave of results provides some clarity, it also leaves a voter to make decisions like how far to move teams who played other top 25s and lost (Hardin-Simmons and Rowan) in relation to teams who haven’t played at all. Do you give them credit for scheduling well? Can you really bump a team very far up or down for doing nothing?

I had already been second-guessing some of my votes, like keeping UW-La Crosse top 10 after major losses, or taking Baldwin-Wallace and Capital instead of Ohio Northern. 

What to do with the suddenly mighty NJAC, with maybe five teams worthy of top 25 consideration and a while yet before they start sorting it out amongst each other. 

I flipped Whitewater and St. John Fisher over Wesley, despite the Wolverines playing better competition. They made me nervous, despite flashes of brilliance. 

I took Bethel, Wilkes and Millsaps, all Week 1 losers, out of my top 25 completely. I did the same for Capital, which showed just how far it is from balanced, with three offensive starters and seven on defense back from a top-five team. The Crusaders, without injured All-American receiver Derick Alexander, beat Wittenberg 13-0.

While all four may well end up top 25 teams -- recovery from a less-than-impressive Week 1 is always possible -- there’s just too many teams out there that look good so far to keep them around.

The teams who just missed my ballot: Kean, Cortland State and Montclair State, Augustana, Mount St. Joseph, N.C. Wesleyan. Salisbury impressed in Week 1, as did the entire WIAC. I’ll be watching Widener and Dubuque, a pair of teams who play strong enough competition to make a leap, but not anytime soon.

Alma mater moments

Mark Simon, a longtime member of the D3sports.com family and alumnus of The College of New Jersey noticed his Lions had been shut out in a 13-0 Week 1 loss to Muhlenberg. He fired this to me in an e-mail: “I'd be willing to bet that any D3 who got shut out by another D3 in its season opener last year didn't have a winning record ... would be interesting to compile a list.”

Then the researcher in him -- it’s what he does at ESPN, for Baseball Tonight -- got the best of him:

Last year, of the 17 D-III teams that got shut out in Week 1 (some teams opened in Week 2), Ripon, Kings and Monmouth finished with winning records.

Four D-III teams got shut out at home in Week 1:
Willamette went 2-7
Wisconsin Lutheran went 0-10
McDaniel went 4-6
Martin Luther went 2-8

That’s a combined record of 8-31. So it don't bode well for TCNJ.

Rumor has it if you score 75 in Week 1, you tend to do pretty well.

Games to Watch

Compiling Around the Nation has grown into such an arduous (yet enjoyable) task that it’s become almost necessary to take all the help I can get. Pat Coleman, Ryan Coleman and Mark Simon have already lent their help to the second ATN of the year, so why not call in one more assist?

Since Gordon Mann and I were both previewing national games of the week last season, he on the Daily Dose and me here in Around the Nation, we decided to … well, I’ll just let Gordon tell it:

Here at D3football.com, we believe in consolidation.

In previous seasons we’ve used Around the Nation and the Daily Dose to highlight the upcoming weekend’s action. But why use two when one will do? So instead we’ll highlight a few games each week to help you focus on the ones that matter other than those involving your favorite team.

Wish you were here: If money and time were no object, at least two games would be worth the trip to see in person. In Texas, No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor hosts No. 12 Christopher Newport in an intriguing rematch of last year’s barnburner. Both teams are major players in the South region. Both have extremely challenging non-conference schedules. Both could put a very large feather in their cap come Selection Sunday with a win on Saturday.

The other marquee match-up also involves Top 25 teams as No. 18 Augustana travels to No. 23 Baldwin-Wallace. Last year the Vikings’ defense held Baldwin-Wallace to 151 yards. It was also the only game in which Augustana gained more yards in the air than its opponent. But they still lost to the Yellow Jackets 17-7. On Baldwin-Wallace’s end, it’s strange but not unrealistic to talk about the season opener as a “must-win” for the Yellow Jackets’ playoff hopes. Such is life for teams in Mount Union’s conference.

Don’t sleep on this one: Only one team is ranked but the west coast battle between No. 16 Whitworth and Redlands will give an early indication of which team will contend for their conference title. Defending NWC champion Whitworth was picked second in the NWC preseason poll behind No. 13 Linfield. Redlands is trying to climb back atop the SCIAC now that Occidental begins life without quarterback Andy Collins. And while many SCIAC games kickoff long after its dark on the east coast, this one starts at 3 pm EST. So there really is no excuse for sleeping on this one.

Zzzz: Some games that look good on paper end up being as colorful as cardboard. Two years ago No. 7 Wesley versus Delaware Valley would’ve been a good non-conference battle between playoff contenders. This year it could get ugly early considering the Wolverines’ speed and Del Val’s offensive struggles. In a different vein, Geneva could challenge No. 17 Washington & Jefferson when they meet in Washington, but they won’t challenge them in the standings. The Golden Tornadoes are a provisional member of Division III and are not eligible for the PAC title.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset: Setting aside games in which Top 25 teams are playing each other, this week’s pick for the upset special is Franklin over No. 23 Wabash. Yes, the Little Giants "always fight" but the Grizzlies are the ones who should be in a cantankerous mood. Franklin missed the playoffs despite a 9-1 finish and a 45-38 overtime win over Hoosier State rival Wabash.

-- Gordon Mann

Other games to keep an eye on: No. 9 Springfield at Union, No. 15 North Central at Concordia (Wis.)

Who are those guys?

Taking a look at those unfamiliar names on schedules, and following Division III teams in interdivisional play:

vs. Division I, FCS (formerly I-AA, 1-3 in Week 1) 
Butler at Hanover

vs. Division II (3-3 in Week 1) 
No. 13 Linfield at Western Oregon
Greensboro at UNC-Pembroke
UW-Stout at Missouri-Rolla
East Texas Baptist at Ouachita Baptist

vs. NAIA (5-1 in Week 1) 
Concordia-Moorhead at Dickinson State
Ferrum at Southern Virginia
St. Ambrose at UW-Platteville
Sul Ross State at Southwest Assemblies of God
UW-Eau Claire at Black Hills State
Valley City State at St. Olaf

Recommended reading

We blogged the heck out of Saturday’s Wesley-North Carolina Wesleyan game on the Daily Dose, so for more insight on that game in particular, check out the blog.

We recorded our first ATN podcast this week and there will be more where that came from, one every week. Check for that on Monday mornings on a regular basis as not only a wrapup of the week that was, but opinion from Pat Coleman and I a couple of days before you get the regular column.

It looks like Division III might have a good year in terms of numbers in the NFL, with eight players on Week 1 53-man rosters and three more on practice squads. While long-timers Ethan Brooks (Williams tackle) and Bill Schroeder (UW-La Crosse receiver) have faded out of the league in the past few years, Menlo receiver Nate Jackson (Broncos) and UW-Stout cornerback Tony Beckham (Lions) have established themselves as experienced young players. 

But Fred Jackson, a 2002 D3football.com All-American running back as a senior at Coe, is a newcomer to the league after working his way up through indoor ball and NFL Europa. When he made the Buffalo Bills’ roster, he was the subject of a feature on the team’s Web site.

General feedback

Around the Nation is largely interactive, and since its inception has made reader feedback a part of the column. We keep a running board on Post Patterns (under general football) to discuss issues raised in the column, and we'll share feedback and answer questions there, as well as in the column occasionally. Send all correspondence to keith@d3football.com, or use our feedback form.

Question & Answer

Around the Nation would be glad to take three of your questions each week to answer here in the column, while tackling the rest on the Post Patterns thread.

Topic of the week

Turf vs. Grass on Post Patterns, General Football: We know there are advantages from an institutional standpoint on switching from grass to turf, but what do those of you have played on both surfaces think? Are there grass purists out there, or places you think will never switch?

Call for video

Around the Nation is always looking for video of anything Division III football-related. That means we'd like to get our hands on documentaries, local cable broadcasts and re-airs, links to archived broadcasts and coaches' tapes. 

Anyone with access to footage, please send an e-mail to keith@d3football.com. Arrangements can be made to keep coaches’ footage private or to pay fans for shipping and materials.

For print, radio and Internet journalists

Keith McMillan is available on Thursdays and Fridays or by appointment to talk Division III football. For more information, e-mail Keith.

Attention SIDs

As always, Around the Nation requests media guides and any other aids in helping us cover your school or conference this season. For more information, contact Keith McMillan at keith@d3football.com, or snail mail to D3football.com, 13055 Carolyn Forest Dr., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

Links to online media guides are now preferred over mail. In addition, please do not add my e-mail address to your regular release lists, but instead use our news release capabilities to have your information posted on D3football.com’s front page and your team's page. For more information on how that works and how we can help each other, contact publisher Pat Coleman at info@d3football.com. Thank you.

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Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his third season writing Around the Nation after spending four seasons writing Around the Mid-Atlantic.

2014-2015 columnist: Ryan Tipps.
2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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