ATN's final take on 2009: Top moments, picks

Whether the last game you watched was the Stagg Bowl, or your favorite team’s final game in mid-November, the Division III football season’s been over for weeks. But if you find yourself craving three-point stances, tackles and touchdowns between now and the start of spring practice, Around the Nation provides the next best thing to an actual game.

Our second look back at 2009 focuses on moments that resonate, but it’s also a trip beyond the box scores. From the year’s biggest improvements and declines to off-the-beaten-path memories that we’ve never written about before, ATN’s second year-in-review installment is here.

In Part 1, we dealt with the best performances our 238 teams put forth in 1,241 games in 2009:

Stagg Bowl weekend: Great games, plays, statistics, players and coaches
January: Great teams, best of the Stagg Bowl, revisiting preseason predictions, photos of the year and more.

The memorable teams
Each season, we see some of the same teams at the top, and each season new ones emerge to take the place of last season’s champions. Either way, the teams that win tend to be the ones we remember.

Remember the remarkable rises
Before sitting down to chart the year’s biggest improvements, one team really stood out as far as changing its fortunes. Concordia (Ill.), which went winless four times between 2000 and 2005 and had just eight wins total between ’06 and ’08, surged to 8-2 and nearly represented the Northern Athletics Conference in the postseason. The Chicago-area school, situated in River Forest, Ill. hadn’t had a winning record since going 7-2 in 1987, before the career of coach Lonnie Pries, a 1993 grad. Despite never experiencing it in his time at the school, Pries envisioned a winning program, set out four principles for a complete college experience, and assembled a team that made it happen.

Among the 236 teams that played Division III football in both 2008 and 2009, 96 improved their win total, 42 won the same number of games and 98 backslid by at least one win. Most of the improvements – 31 by a single win, 33 by two wins – were marginal. Some, like Concordia’s five-win leap from 3-7, were more impressive.

Remember the notable steps forward
In two seasons, St. Thomas has surged from two to 11 wins, improving five wins between 2007 and 2008, and four more this season. Jumps that big are rare, especially in back-to-back seasons. According to ATN research, here are the schools that improved by three wins or more in 2009:

17 teams had three more wins in '09 than in '08: Albright (8-3 in 2008/11-2 in 2009), Allegheny (5-5/8-2), Amherst (5-3/8-0), Bridgewater, Va. (4-6/7-3), Dubuque (2-8/5-5), Geneva (5-5/8-2), Lebanon Valley (6-4/9-2), Mass. Maritime (0-10/3-7), McDaniel (2-8/5-5), Millikin (3-7/6-4), Ohio Northern (5-5/8-2), St. Scholastica (1-7/4-6), Thomas More (8-3/11-1), Union (5-4/8-3), Ursinus (3-7/6-5), UW-Stout (5-5/8-2) and Western New England (3-7/6-4).

Nine had four more wins, down from 14 last year: Central (6-4/10-1), Gallaudet (2-8/6-4), Illinois Wesleyan (6-4/10-2), McMurry (0-10/4-6), Mississippi College (5-5/9-2), Mount St. Joseph (5-5/9-2), St. Thomas (7-3/11-2), Susquehanna (4-6/8-3), Wesley (9-2/13-1).

Two had five more wins, same as last year: Franklin & Marshall (4-6/9-2) and Concordia, Ill. (3-7/8-2).

Four had six more wins (Two teams improved by more than six wins last year): Coe (4-6/10-1), Linfield (6-3/12-1), Norwich (2-8 E8/8-2 ECFC), Wittenberg (6-4/12-1)

Remember the notable steps backward
The good news for anyone who took a step backward in 2009 is that they generally have to have had a good 2008. Otherwise, there’s very little room to backslide.

Catholic, which finished 9-2 but lost out on the ODAC’s four-way tiebreaker in 2008, is a prime example. Nobody in the nation took a bigger step backward, but after an eight-win regular season capped by an ECAC bowl victory against Johns Hopkins, some struggles were expected with the graduation of conference players of the year on both sides of the ball (quarterback Keith Ricca and defensive Nick Olivero). Kickoff ’09 predicted only a 3-7 record for the Cardinals, who were competitive often, but only defeated crosstown rival Gallaudet.

Several 2008 playoff teams followed exceptional seasons by being just ‘good’ in 2009. Seven wins for most programs is a big step, but for Cortland State, Millsaps, Franklin and Wheaton, all of whom won 11 games in 2008 and advanced at least one round in the playoffs, they represented a step back.

The reasons for teams showing up on this list vary each year; the beginning of an overall decline, injuries and unforeseen circumstances, or just everyone around them getting better. No matter the reason, here are the teams who backslid by at least three wins:

Seventeen had three fewer wins, down from 21 last year: Buena Vista (7-3 in 2008/4-6 in 2009), Brockport State (7-4/4-6), Christopher Newport (8-2/5-5), Denison (6-4/3-7), Elmhurst (7-3/4-6), Hardin-Simmons (9-2/6-4), Hiram (3-7/0-10), Hobart (9-2/6-3), Husson (7-3 IND/4-5 ECFC), Lycoming (7-3/4-6), MacMurray (4-6 SLIAC/1-9 UMAC), North Central (11-1/8-2), Puget Sound (3-6/0-9), RPI (8-2/5-4), Wilmington (4-6/1-9), Willamette (11-3/8-2) and Wooster (8-2/5-5).

Fifteen had four fewer wins, up from four last year: Anderson (5-5/1-9), Carleton (7-3/3-7), Cortland State (11-2/7-4), Franklin (11-2/7-3), LaGrange (9-2/5-5), Loras (6-4/2-8), Millsaps (11-1/7-3), MIT (5-5/1-8), Northwestern, Minn. (9-2/5-5), Salisbury (9-2/5-6), Simpson (7-3/3-7), Texas Lutheran (4-6/0-10), Wartburg (10-3/6-4), Wheaton (11-1/7-3), Worcester Polytech (7-3/3-7).

One had five fewer wins, down from five last year: Aurora (9-2/4-6)

Three had six fewer wins, up from one last year: Mass.-Dartmouth (6-4/0-10), Moravian (8-2/2-8), Muhlenberg (9-2/3-7)

One had eight fewer wins; last year’s biggest dropoff was seven wins: Catholic (9-2/1-9).

Remember that parity reigns in Weeks 1-15
It’s easy to forget, with Mount Union and UW-Whitewater playing for the past five championships, that Division III is unpredictable and exciting throughout the 11-week regular season and first four rounds of playoffs. Aside from the purple powers, there is frequent turnover when it comes to conference champions, rivalries and early-round winners.

Among qualifiers, just 11 of the 32 teams in the 2009 playoffs were also playoff teams in 2008. (Fourteen teams were repeats in 2007-08, and 16 in 2006-07).

Of the 23 automatic-bid conferences, just six teams (Mount Union, UW-W, St. John’s, Wabash, Thomas More and Trine) were repeat champs.

Remember that not everyone has been at this for long
While Blackburn, Principia and Colorado College ceased playing football this season, we welcomed two new teams to our ranks, both in New England: Castleton State even played Anna Maria twice, winning 42-28 in both teams’ opener, and then needing to score 10 in the fourth quarter to beat the Amcats, 24-21, on Oct. 17. Wearing No. 99, kicker Luis Robitaille nailed a 28-yard field goal with 15 seconds left to win that game, and the Spartans beat Becker for a third win later in the season.

Remember how hard wins are to come by
After just six teams went without a win in 2008, the 2009 season featured several epic struggles. Becker, Bluffton, Hiram, Maranatha Baptist, Mass.-Dartmouth, Olivet, St. Vincent and Texas Lutheran were the eight teams that went 0-10. Anna Maria, La Verne, Puget Sound and Sewanee went 0-9.

Fifteen more teams won just one game.

Remember how hard conference wins are to come by
North Park still hasn’t won a CCIW game since 2000, but Cornell won an IIAC game for the first time since 2005, and Lewis & Clark won an NWC game for the first time since 2003. The Rams knocked off Loras on Nov. 7, 23-16, and the Pioneers the following week closed the season with a 23-20 victory over Puget Sound.

In Retrospect

Preseason predictions are a welcome interruption to the monotony of football’s offseason. But since ATN takes semi-seriously its role as watchdog, the people behind the picks won’t be allowed to just get our hopes up and get away with it. ATN reviews the successes and whiffs from those who dared venture a guess as to what would happen in Division III in 2009.

Remember (or feel free to forget) our preseason predictions
If Division III features as much parity and is as hard to predict as ATN claims above, then the five “experts” who ventured their guesses in the ‘Predict This!’ grid in our preseason preview edition will have struggled to answer the 15 questions Kickoff ’09 posed to them. Me (Keith McMillan), Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps, John McGraw and Brian Hunsicker put our reputations on the line back in August, and here’s how our forecasts turned out (yes, we keep score):

National champion: McMillan and Tipps correctly called UW-Whitewater. 1 point each. The other three went way out on a limb and took the team that was tied with the Warhawks at 28 in the fourth quarter.

Winner of each bracket: We all picked MUC and UW-W. In the South, everyone took Mary Hardin-Baylor, except for Tipps, who took Hardin-Simmons. And in the fourth region, Tipps, McGraw and McMillan took North Central, Coleman took UW-Stevens Point and Hunsicker called Cortland State; none of those teams even made the playoffs. Wesley and Linfield won the other two brackets. Half a point for everyone.

What 2008 playoff team will have the worst falloff, recordwise? McMillan predicted LaGrange, Coleman guessed Franklin and McGraw took Millsaps, and all three of those teams won four fewer games and missed the postseason. But the point here goes to Tipps and Hunsicker, whose choice of Muhlenberg was more spot on, since the Mules’ six-game slide was biggest among ’08 playoff teams.

Which team will be the most surprising playoff entry? McMillan and McGraw went for Rose-Hulman here, and the Engineers were just 6-4. Emory & Henry and Lycoming were also mentioned, but Tipps gets another point for taking St. Thomas.

Record of the last team chosen in Pool C, and who? The picks were Kean, DePauw, Salisbury, Bethel and Rowan, all at 8-2. I’m tempted to give Pat a point for choosing the only team in the group that actually made the playoffs, but DePauw was a Pool A qualifier by winning the SCAC. No points are doled out here, as it was pretty clear the last team in was Washington & Jefferson, whose 9-1 record earned the Presidents a trip to Mount Union and a 55-0 first-round loss.

Who will be the D3football.com Offensive Player of the Year? Tipps and Hunsicker went with Christopher Newport running back Tunde Ogun, who had a disappointing season. McMillan picked Alex Tanney, a second-team all-American quarterback, and Coleman’s Aaron Fanthorpe pick wasn’t bad. The North Central quarterback engineered the nation’s most prolific scoring offense at 49 points per game and was the country’s second most efficient passer. But it was McGraw, whose choice of Mount Union wide receiver (and rescue quarterback) Cecil Shorts III was right on the money. Shorts finished with 100 catches for 1,736 yards and 17 touchdowns, plus another 206 yards and eight TDs rushing.

Who will be the D3football.com Defensive Player of the Year? Hunsicker (St. Lawrence DT Gerard Bryant) and McMillan (UW-Stout DE Marcus Ball) picked players who were first-team all-Americans, and Coleman’s choice (Mount Union DE James Herbert) was a third-teamer, but nobody saw Wittenberg DE Eddie Vallery and his 15-sack season coming. No points awarded here.

Which team with a new coach will win the most games? Everyone picked DePauw, which switched from Matt Walker to Robby Long just a few weeks before the season, and made the playoffs. Points all around.

Which team with a new coach will improve its record the most? McMillan chose Dubuque, which improved by three wins to 5-5, but again the expert point goes to Ryan Tipps, who called McMurry. In Hal Mumme’s first season, the team formerly known as Indians improved from 0-10 to 4-6. (Two of the other picks, Buffalo State and Thiel, improved by one game, and Juniata stayed the same)

Which quarterback is going to throw for the most yards this year? In hindsight, given how the question was worded, it’s amazing none of us got this. Kurt Rocco, as likely as anyone to play 15 games, passed for 3,926 yards. Jeff Donovan made 15 starts for UW-Whitewater, and passed for 3,682, which was third best. Tipps and McGraw were close, as Monmouth’s Alex Tanney passed for a second-best 3,856 in 11 games. McMillan’s pick, Corey Sedlar, was eighth with 3,182 in 11 games for Hampden-Sydney, Wabash’s Matt Hudson (Coleman) made only 9 starts but went over 2,500 yards and Wheaton’s Sean Norris (Hunsicker) went over 2,100 in 10. Had we asked who would pass for the most yards per game, nobody would’ve guessed Kalamazoo’s Brandon Luczak (366 per) or Middlebury’s Donald McKillop (359). No points doled out either way.

Which team will win the Centennial? Kickoff usually sees a tight race coming in at least one conference, and this time, McGraw and Hunsicker were out in front of it, choosing Johns Hopkins. Tipps and Coleman were in the hunt with Dickinson, and I was way off. (Gettysburg)

Who will be the OAC’s No. 2 team? It’s usually safe to assume, given the string of 18 consecutive conference titles, that Mount Union will win. But there’s usually a cast of challengers for the title, and an at-large playoff spot, and with two of the former regulars (John Carroll, Baldwin-Wallace) becoming teams with losing records this season, the race for No. 2 was wide open. Though Capital (6-3, 7-3) and Ohio Northern (7-2, 8-2) were in the hunt, everyone but McMillan got a point by choosing Otterbein, which was 7-2, 8-2 with victories over both ONU and Capital. (the losses were to MUC and Marietta). I’d like to ignore the fact that I thought No. 2 would be B-W, but I can’t. :sheepish grin:

Who would you take to win it all, MUC/UWW or the field? Everyone but Hunsicker gets a point for taking the purple powers, though the field was looking good, perhaps, when Linfield took a fourth-quarter lead in Whitewater in the semifinals, about an hour after the fourth quarter at Mount Union started with Wesley behind, 10-7.

Of the surprise 2008 teams, who wins the most games this year? Everyone got a point, as four of us picked Monmouth, and Coleman took Trine. Both the Scots and Thunder finished 10-1.

Which team will win the most games on its new field, RPI or UW-La Crosse? RPI finished 5-4, and 4-1 on the new field at East Campus Athletic Village, which replaced the classic ’86 Field after the 2008 season. La Crosse, you might remember, played a season’s worth of home games off campus while Veterans Memorial Field at Roger Harring Stadium was being renovated, and the Eagles were 3-3 at home during a 5-5 2009. Everyone but Coleman picked RPI, and therefore earns a point.

Ryan Tipps might have set a record for most “points” earned in 15 questions, as he topped the experts’ list at 9.5. McMillan last year got 7.5 out of 14 to top the list, and the year before, Coleman got 8.

The tally: Tipps 9.5, McGraw 7.5, Hunsicker 6.5, McMillan 5.5 and Coleman 4.5. So now you know whose picks to trust in Kickoff ’10!

Remember that predictions aren’t as easy as they look
In the tradition of Kickoff, yours truly takes a stab at going beyond the top 25 to anticipate teams who will crash the playoff party, those who will rejoin it and those who are expecting to get back but won’t. Here’s how my picks fared:

Non top-25, non-playoff teams who will make the 32-team field: Alfred, Rose-Hulman, Wooster or Wittenberg, Delaware Valley and Lebanon Valley, Whitworth.

I whiffed on RHIT and Whitworth, though last year’s champion in both the HCAC and NWC failed to repeat. Turned out, however, that Mount St. Joseph overtook Franklin and Linfield passed Willamette.

Alfred, Wittenberg and Delaware Valley were hits, and Lebanon Valley led 23-0 before Albright rallied for a 44-43 overtime victory behind its backup quarterback to seize a playoff spot.

Teams who should return to the playoffs after missing a year: Central, Hampden-Sydney and Redlands. The Dutch and Tigers each went 10-0 and made it back as predicted, and the Bulldogs lost in overtime to Occidental in a game it led by 14 in the fourth quarter, in a SCIAC race eventually won by Cal Lutheran. And, of the 14 other 2007 playoff teams that I chose not to pick for a return to the playoffs after a one-year absence, only Mount St. Joseph made the field.

Teams who made the playoffs in '08 but won't in '09: Curry, Plymouth State, Randolph-Macon, Lycoming, Franklin, Muhlenberg and Thomas More. The first six teams each missed the postseason, but the Saints won the PAC and a first-round game.

Playoff-worthy teams who could get squeezed in tight conference races: Louisiana College, Elmhurst, St. John Fisher, Otterbein, Gettysburg, Kean. At 3-7 and 4-6, Gettysburg and Elmhurst were most certainly not playoff-worthy, but Fisher, Otterbein and Kean were in the playoff hunt until at least Week 10.

Remember to take rankings and polls for what they’re worth
We’ve often discussed on D3football.com how polling is part art, part science, and inexact at that. So when it comes to using hindsight to review how accurate preseason polls ultimately turned out to be, ATN uses a non-scientific formula. Everyone knew to rank UW-Whitewater and Mount Union first and second, regardless of the order. But where did the other semifinalists, Wesley and Linfield, show up? How many of the 32 playoff teams were ranked? How bad were the missteps and how good were the risks that panned out?

D3football.com poll
Wesley and Linfield: Wolverines began the season at No. 9; Linfield entered the poll at No. 14 in Week 2, following a 37-22 win over then No.-15 Hardin-Simmons.
Ranked teams in the playoff field: 12.
Missteps vs. insight:: Nobody else ranked Montclair State (No. 21) or DePauw (No. 25), both of whom were conference champions and playoff teams. St. Thomas could’ve started out higher than 22nd, and the misses (No. 4 North Central, No. 5 Hardin-Simmons, No. 10 Ithaca, etc.) were the same teams every other poll and ranking missed. Two of the 23 preseason votes went to UW-Whitewater, the rest went to Mount Union.

Kickoff '08’s 1-239 ranking
Wesley and Linfield: Nos. 12 and 29.
Ranked teams in the playoff field: 12.
Missteps vs. insight:: Linfield makes an appearance, and it turns out it wasn’t that much of a stretch to see the Wildcats overtaking Willamette in the Northwest Conference and surging deep into the postseason. Kickoff also ranked these playoff teams outside the top 25 (which mirrors the D3football.com poll’s top 25 for the first 25 spots): Alfred (No. 27), Mississippi College (No. 33), Trine (No. 39), Delaware Valley (No. 40), Hampden-Sydney (No. 46), Thomas More (No. 47), Central (No. 48), Johns Hopkins (No. 53), N.C. Wesleyan (No. 54), Albright (No. 58), Huntingdon (No. 61), Cal Lutheran (No. 69), Illinois Wesleyan (No. 82), Coe (No. 87), Mount St. Joseph (No. 91), Wittenberg (No. 108), Susquehanna (No. 113), Lakeland (No. 170) and Maine Maritime (No. 198).

The Sporting News
Wesley and Linfield: Wolverines ranked 15th.
Ranked teams in the playoff field: 11.
Missteps vs. insight:: In its one-time, early summer ranking, TSN had UW-Whitewater No. 1 rather than the defending champions, which turned out to be prescient. But they also ranked Rowan No. 6, Curry No. 12, Bridgewater (Va.) No. 16 and UW-La Crosse No. 23. Putting Johns Hopkins at No. 18 was wise, but there was no sign of St. Thomas, which was a clear up-and-comer.

Wesley and Linfield: Both unranked.
Ranked teams in the playoff field: 13.
Missteps vs. insight:: No Wesley is a major miss, but this early-summer, one-time ranking otherwise holds up well. Delaware Valley at No. 4 was brave, but so was ranking Johns Hopkins, which made the final eight after Lindy’s ranked it 24th. Lindy’s put Central ahead of Wartburg, took N.C. Wesleyan instead of Christopher Newport and had St. Thomas eighth, two spots behind No. 6 St. John’s. On top of that, their preseason all-American team included the eventual D3football.com offensive player of the year (Cecil Shorts) and Gagliardi Trophy winner Blaine Westemeyer. So we perhaps can forgive North Central at No. 3, Rowan at No. 12 and Aurora at No. 20.

USA Today Sports Weekly
Wesley and Linfield: Wolverines ranked 11th.
Ranked teams in the playoff field: 11.
Missteps vs. insight:: From UW-Stevens Point at No. 6 to Hobart at No. 16, all the misses in this top 25 – ranked once, in May by our editor and publisher, Pat Coleman – were understandable at the time. No. 21 Christopher Newport finished 5-5 and was probably the biggest whiff, but with all-American RB Tunde Ogun returning, it wasn’t a stretch to rank the Captains highly. Willamette came in at No. 7, which is basically the slot that Linfield ended up taking.

AFCA (coaches’ poll)
Wesley and Linfield: Nos. 5 and 12
Ranked teams in the playoff field: 15.
Missteps vs. insight:: This poll should perform best by comparison, since it’s first released on Sept. 21, after three weeks have been played. Also, the 40 guys voting know a thing or two about football. Wheaton turns out not to have been a very good No. 4, but the main whiff is No. 21 UW-La Crosse. Otherwise, it looks pretty good for what was known at the time.

Remember that Mount Union isn’t always the smart No. 1 pick
In the Alliance review on June 9, Jeffrey Zupanic reacted to Lindy’s picking Mount Union No. 1 and The Sporting News taking UW-Whitewater with a column about how the defending champion should start off No. 1.

Thirty-nine of the 40 voting coaches in the AFCA poll agreed a few months later, and it’s quite likely the one UW-Whitewater vote came from Mount Union coach Larry Kehres. When D3football.com released its first poll, 23 of the 25 voters had the Purple Raiders on top.

Ryan Tipps and I were the two who put UW-Whitewater No. 1, with the rationale considering who had the strongest team this season, not who was defending the 2008 title and “deserved” to be up top. The Purple Raiders lost a star quarterback and running back, but returned a lot. UW-Whitewater returned nearly every starter from a team that seemed good enough to beat the ’08 Mount Union team, though it was outplayed in Salem. Pat Coleman switched his No. 1 vote after seeing Mount Union in person in Week 5, and three more voters came over the following week, after the Purple Raiders rallied past Capital in the fourth quarter.

In the end, Tipps and I and The Sporting News were wise to go with the Warhawks, though the Stagg Bowl was tied in the fourth quarter and we very easily could have been wrong.

The Best of the Stagg Bowl

We were there before the first snowflake fell, and stayed until there were nearly two feet of snow to mash through. And while you likely caught the game itself, Stagg Bowl Weekend 2009 was an experience – from the Gagliardi Trophy being presented to an offensive lineman who had to fly into Salem from Mexico to accept the award, to the shift-on-the-fly game-day crew that allowed the championship to be played, five hours after originally scheduled. Whether you were in Salem freezing, stuck on the road somewhere or watching from the warmth of your home, Stagg Bowl 37 was one for the history books, and D3football.com was there to document it:

Frank Rossi caught up with the City of Salem’s Carey Harveycutter to discuss the needed adjustments for the heavy snowfall on the Daily Dose.

The UW-Whitewater victory affirmed the existence of a double dynasty atop Division III.

Coleman sat down with Augustana’s Blaine Westemeyer, the only offensive lineman to win an NCAA major player of the year trophy on the Daily Dose.

Remember how championships are won
From comments made in a preseason video to comments made the week before the Stagg Bowl, UW-Whitewater players took the same tack: “One week at a time.” Sure, they were motivated by losing the Stagg Bowl after the 2008 season, but they knew a misstep along the way could ruin the chance to get back, so they never looked too far ahead. And for all the coaching clichés out there, taking it one game at a time applies so practically, that’s it’s hard not to acknowledge how big a part of the Warhawks’ championship season the mantra was.

The year in photos

Football is a difficult enough game to participate in, given its speed, power and the number of things happening on any given play. Imagine being charged with a camera and lens, and then being expected to capture this game, in full frame, perfectly focused, so the eye at home can get a sense of what it was like to be there. That’s exactly what D3sports.com photographers do each Saturday, and while every shot doesn’t turn out perfect, the ones that do create lasting impressions of what the joy, pain and everything in between of the game is like.

It takes television several camera angles to bring the game to life. Our still photographers do it with just one. Here are some of 2009’s memorable pictures, as selected by the D3sports.com photographers who shot them:

By Dan Poel
Mount Union’s Cecil Shorts goes up to make a catch against UW-Whitewater’s Troney Shumpert early in Stagg Bowl 37.

By Lou Rabito
Widener's Adam Smith ran for 4 yards on this fourth-quarter play
against Frostburg State on Sept. 26 despite getting his helmet turned
completely around. A facemask penalty added to the gain in the Pride's 35-16 victory.

By Matt Milless
RPI defensive back Nick Hererra goes airborne to try to block a Union field goal attempt.

By Pat Coleman
R.J. Maki had a breakout season as a senior for Pomona-Pitzer catching passes from childhood friend Jacob Caron, finishing with 91 receptions for 1,219 yards. In this game against Lewis and Clark, he had 14 catches for 254 yards and two touchdowns.

By Ryan Tipps
Aaron Rusch dives for the pylon for a touchdown, giving UW-Whitewater a 28-14 lead shortly before half time in Stagg Bowl XXXVII.

By Scott Pierson
St. John's Ryan Wimmer loses his helmet defending a kickoff return against Bethel in Collegeville, Minn.

By Lou Rabito
Albright running back Josan Holmes couldn't escape the grasp of Delaware Valley's Ken Fowlkes in the teams' regular-season matchup,which the Aggies won, 45-16, on Nov. 7. But the Lions easily pulled away from Del Val three weeks later in the playoffs, taking a 27-3 victory.

By Scott Pierson
Willamette's Cory Lowe (54) and Bubba Lemon celebrate Lowe's 38-yard TD return of a fumble in the opening minute of their game at Concordia-Moorhead.

By Dan Harris
Cal Lutheran's defense harassed Pacific Lutheran quarterback Jordan Rasmussen in an early-season game, setting the tone for a season in which the Kingsmen made the playoffs.

By Scott Pierson
Teammates help celebrate Justin Zeller’s game-winning touchdown reception as time expired in Wheaton’s 29-26 victory in Week 1 against Bethel. (Here is bonus video of the catch)

By Pat Coleman
A lot of snow on the sidelines, a little bit of field turf rubber and a lot of caffeine were the results of preparations by the City of Salem for Stagg Bowl XXXVII.

Miscellaneous memorables

During the 11th season of D3football.com, I found myself on the banks of a New York finger lake on one beautiful Saturday afternoon and stuck for nine hours in the same spot on I-81 in Virginia on a snowy Saturday night. Those are more or less the ends of my 2009 spectrum; if you followed a team this past season, you’ve probably had your share of adventures as well.

Not much will top the snow-delayed Stagg Bowl in terms of memories from this season, but I remember Week 2 in Boston, seeing Widener beat Curry with a final-play, goal-line stand. And then, from the department of ‘I’ve never seen that before,’ David Wood, the winning coach, apparently injured his leg in the postgame celebration, and gave an interview laying on a trainer’s table.

I drove to Hobart, Alfred and St. John Fisher to see games on the same day. Pat finally made it to SCIAC country, checking in from California the week of the Linfield-Occidental game, and Around the South columnist Jason Bowen was able to visit Texas.

We saw a new playoff selection committee use an old trick, building a bracket full of Eastern teams around No. 1 seed Mount Union for the third straight season. And yet on selection Sunday, most of the reaction centered on the choice of Washington and Jefferson as the sixth at-large team, despite criteria that favored 9-1 St. Norbert, and ignored as many as five 8-2 teams that would have been deserving of the same spot.

And as with any season, the memories are not all of good times. Among 18,000 players, plus coaches and other folks associated with our 238 programs, it’s hard to get to know everybody as intimately as they deserve to be. And inevitably, each season, some of our football communities are rocked by unforeseen events. Just after the Stagg Bowl, Wabash felt a loss worse than anything that happened in a game.

Each season is different, and filled with many more unique moments than we could ever fit in a season review, even with two installments. But until the 2010 season peeks over the horizon, Around the Nation leaves you with this glimpse of what stood out in 2009.

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October 24, 2018 Defense lights UW-Whitewater's fire After three seasons out of the Stagg Bowl and one season out of the playoffs altogether, the Warhawks are working their way...
October 24, 2018 Zooming their way to the top Kalamazoo was 1-9 a year ago, and that wasn’t particularly unusual. What is unusual is the Hornets' 7-0 start to the...

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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