Going out on a high note

MacMurray finished the season 8-2, the program's most wins since 2002. Plus, the Highlanders don't have to risk ending the season with a playoff loss.
MacMurray Athletics photo

By Adam Turer

You’re a senior who will not play football again after your Division III career is over. Would you rather end your playing days with a win, or a playoff loss?

Over a dozen teams played their final regular season games yesterday, raising that question. As disappointing as it may be to miss the tournament, the playoffs require 31 winning teams to end their season in defeat.

The entire UMAC wrapped up regular season play, and Greenville, Westminster (Mo.), and Northwestern (Minn.) ended on a high note. So did MacMurray, winning the most games in a season since 2002. That 15-year span included four winless seasons. This year, the Highlanders finished 8-2 and in second place in the conference. They finished behind the one UMAC team that will be playing another game in two weeks.

Eureka, in its final season in the UMAC, earned the program’s first playoff berth. The Red Devils continue to rely on the rushing of LeAnthony Reasnover, who has carried 120 times for 881 yards and 15 touchdowns--in the past three weeks.

Thomas More’s last two seasons ended in two of the most heartbreaking losses I’ve ever witnessed, both in overtime. This year, the Saints disappointed, starting the season 1-4. The Saints rallied to win five straight, and now, for the first time in three years, their seniors get to end their season victorious.

“I think it is great that we got to send Coach Scafe off in winning fashion after a tremendous career that he had, but knowing that we aren’t getting a chance to make a run in the playoffs is also heartbreaking,” said Thomas More senior Johnny Lammers. “I honestly think that if some injuries don’t happen and the ball bounces our way a couple times we could be sitting at 10-0 or 9-1 with that chance to do something special. It just feels like we got cut a little bit short.”

Tyler Hopperton’s first season at the helm of his alma mater ended in a 6-4 season for Mount St. Joseph. The Lions will again finish third in the HCAC behind Rose-Hulman and Franklin, but did not suffer the dropoff that many teams face after a longtime head coach decides to retire.

Simpson ended the season with a loss, but finishes with a non-losing record (5-5) for the first time since 2013. Sewanee ended its season on a three-game losing skid, but still finishes 2017 with as many wins as the previous three seasons combined. Travis Rundle led the Tigers to three wins in his first season as head coach.

Plymouth State joined Eureka as teams who played their final regular season game but earned another game in the playoffs in two weeks. Those seniors will almost certainly end their careers in a playoff loss later this month, but at least they can be proud of taking their program to another level.

Bubbles burst

The top nine teams in the country all rolled yesterday. But the top two-loss teams in the country that were clinging to Pool C dreams all had their playoff hopes dashed. George Fox, UW-Platteville, Westminster (Pa.), and Ursinus each picked up their third loss of the season yesterday.

The Bruins were stifled by Pacific Lutheran in a 13-3 defeat. The Lutes held No. 21 George Fox to 199 yards of offense and allowed just one of 12 third down conversion attempts. UW-Platteville dropped a WIAC classic, 17-16 to UW-Whitewater. Both the Pioneers and Warhawks can now make a claim as the toughest three-loss team in the country, but that is most likely not going to be enough to get either team into the playoffs.

Ursinus slayed Johns Hopkins earlier this season, but suffered a pair of 21-14 setbacks in conference play. Franklin and Marshall had more at stake, with just one loss to the Blue Jays. The Diplomats preserved their at-large playoff hopes with a 42-28 win over the Bears.

The most impressive Week 10 result was Case Western Reserve’s dismantling of Westminster (Pa.). I thought the Titans, with a six-point loss to unbeaten Wittenberg in the season opener and a one-point overtime loss to unbeaten Washington and Jefferson, were the most underrated team in the country. The Spartans made a claim that it may be them instead. Often dismissed for their low strength of schedule and favorable conference slate this year, the Spartans delivered a statement win. With a victory over Carnegie Mellon in the regular season finale, Case Western will punch its ticket to the playoffs, even though it will be as an unbeaten Pool C team.

Milestones and tiebreakers

The Spartans also delivered one of two milestone victories yesterday, as head coach Greg Debeljak earned his 100th career victory. Wittenberg earned head coach Joe Fincham his 200th win.

Another CWRU segue gets us into conference tiebreakers. The PAC actually became much simpler yesterday thanks to the Bethany Bisons. By winning their first game of the season, the Bisons should expect a thank-you note from Washington and Jefferson. If both the Presidents and Spartans finish 10-0, the Presidents will now win the tiebreaker based on the records of common opponents. Washington and Jefferson played Thomas More, but not Grove City. Case Western played Grove City, but not Thomas More. The Saints finished 5-3 in conference play. With the loss to Bethany yesterday, the best the Wolverines can finish is 4-4. That gives the tiebreaker nod and Pool A berth to the Presidents.

Another conference potentially on the verge of needing a tiebreaker is, surprise surprise, the ODAC. There is still a chance that the most balanced conference in the country ends in a four-way tie at the top. It all comes down to one game and The Game in Week 11.

If Washington and Lee beats Shenandoah, the Generals are in. But if the Hornets pull off the home victory, things get more interesting. If Shenandoah and Hampden-Sydney both win, the Tigers clinch, thanks to their 49-43 victory over the Hornets yesterday. But if Randolph-Macon defeats its rival and Shenandoah defeats W&L, there will be a four-way tie at the top among these four teams with two conference losses. The tiebreaker becomes each team’s record against the other three. That would give the edge to Shenandoah, with wins over W&L and Randolph-Macon.

Threat Level: Midnight

With one week to play, these one-loss teams are competing for the five coveted at-large playoff spots. It may be down to four, if Case Western finishes off a 10-0 season to claim a Pool C bid. Let’s rank them based on who is most likely to win out and earn a playoff berth.

Hardin-Simmons. The Cowboys’ only loss is to the number one team in the nation. A win at McMurry, and HSU is in.
St. John’s and Concordia-Moorhead. This is your Week 11 game of the week. It’s basically a playoff game. Whoever wins this battle for second place in the MIAC will earn a Pool C bid. The loser’s season will end in disappointment.

Those two are clear-cut. Here’s where it gets tricky. The next best resumés belong to teams who face tough challenges in Week 11. A win, and they’re likely in. But a win is far from a certainty.

Illinois Wesleyan. The Titans have to get past 7-2 Millikin. If they do that, they are in.

Frostburg State. If the Bobcats beat 7-2 Salisbury, they’re likely in as well.

The next tier is teams who will only get to the table if Millikin or Salisbury pulls off the upset on Saturday. They will likely be judged on the strength of their losses.

DePauw. The Tigers’ only loss is to unbeaten conference champion Wittenberg. DePauw has to hope the committee ignores the margin of that 52-6 defeat. First, the Tigers will have to defeat their rival in the Monon Bell game. Wabash would love to reclaim the Bell and spoil any chance DePauw has to make the playoffs.

Centre. Centre’s only loss is to unbeaten conference champion Berry, 28-14. If the Colonels defeat Birmingham-Southern on Saturday, they might make it to the table.

Franklin and Marshall. The Diplomats’ only loss is to conference champion Johns Hopkins. With a win over Gettysburg, they will earn a share of the Centennial Conference title with the Blue Jays. But will they be able to jump Centre in the South Region discussion?

Framingham State, SUNY-Maritime, and Lake Forest can close out one-loss seasons, but are not likely to make it into the Pool C discussion.

This is also the time of year when I would consider voting for a NESCAC team in my Top 25. But this year, there is no NESCAC unbeaten. Trinity and Amherst are tied at 7-1, but the Mammoths earned the head-to-head victory yesterday. A win at Williams in the season finale will clinch the conference title for Amherst.

Veterans Day special

Coast Guard and Merchant Marine will be in the national spotlight next Saturday as part of ESPN’s Veterans Day coverage. The Secretaries’ Cup game will kick off at noon and be broadcast live on ESPN3. Great to see two honorable programs getting some national exposure for #d3fb. The Bears will be trying to snap a five-game losing streak, while the Mariners will be aiming for a second straight above-.500 season for the first time since 2002-2003.

On tap

Here's what to watch for on D3football.com this week.

Today-- new Top 25 poll released.

Monday--Around the Nation podcast with Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan. Also, Play of the Week. Submit nominations today if you haven't already.

Tuesday/Wednesday--Around the Region columns.

Thursday--Around the Nation column. This week, I will be re-ranking the conferences. Prepare to debate.

Friday--Quick Hits.

Saturday--You know what Saturdays are for.

We've got great content coming at you all week, every week. Follow along and get to know D-III football beyond just your favorite team.

If you have ideas for an upcoming column or just want to talk some D-III football, get at me at @adamturer on Twitter or adam.turer@d3sports.com.

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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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