|Major Morgan and the Tigers always get hyped for The Game, but a playoff berth is also on the line this year.
Hampden-Sydney Athletics photo
By Adam Turer
It doesn’t get much sweeter than a Week 11 rivalry game with an entire season on the line.
Five conferences enter that final weekend with a make-or-break contest to decide the conference title and the accompanying Pool A playoff berth.
The Midwest Conference always sets us up for a true conference championship game. This year, it again pits Monmouth against St. Norbert. But for every other conference that does not have two divisions, a true conference title game in Week 11 takes some serendipity.
The Victory Bell is always a big game that players get excited about, but a rivalry can lose its luster when it becomes a one-sided affair. Hanover has posted just two winning seasons since 2005 and Franklin has dominated this HCAC rivalry. But this year’s edition has much at stake.
The Panthers have already secured a winning season, their first since 2012. With a win, Hanover can earn the conference’s automatic playoff berth (a three-way tie with Mount St. Joseph tips in favor of the Panthers, who have the better non-conference loss of the three teams).
“This is a little bit of uncharted territory, but our guys know what’s at stake,” said Hanover coach Matt Theobald. “We’ve talked about it for the past few weeks. This goes back to our first team meeting after I was hired in January 2016. This is the scenario that we wanted to put ourselves in. We’re happy to have the opportunity to compete.”
In the ODAC, The Game is always high-stakes. The result makes or breaks the season for Randolph-Macon and Hampden-Sydney players and alumni, no matter the teams’ records going in. After the Yellow Jackets were upset by Ferrum on Saturday and the Tigers broke a three-game losing skid to Washington and Lee, all of a sudden The Game is for all the marbles. The winner will be the ODAC champion.
"In some ways this will be our easiest week, because the motivational part’s not hard," said Tigers coach Marty Favret. "The hype is going to be there. We’ve got a young team and don’t want them to get over-hyped."
Surprisingly, this will be the first time the Tigers have hosted their rival with an ODAC title and playoff berth at stake during Favret's tenure. It has happened at Randolph-Macon a few times, but not in front of the Hampden-Sydney home crowd.
"For our community and our students, I hope they appreciate how special it is. We’re really grateful to have a chance," said Favret. "After starting 0-2, we just wanted to have a chance in November and now we do."
Salisbury’s overtime loss to Wesley puts more pressure on the Sea Gulls in Week 11. But it did not change the fact that the showdown with Frostburg State will be for the NJAC title. However, with a loss, Salisbury will likely be outside the playoff picture. If the Sea Gulls win, the NJAC will be a two-bid league, as Frostburg State will almost certainly snag a Pool C bid.
The American Rivers Conference looked chaotic just a couple of weeks ago, with a logjam atop the conference standings. Now, Dubuque hosts Wartburg with the winner earning the ARC title and advancing to the playoffs.
Those aren’t the only win-and-in scenarios. Two of the nation’s top conferences feature ties for second place heading into Week 11. The winner of those runner-up showdowns should be assured of a Pool C berth.
In the MIAC, Bethel and St. Thomas are both 8-1. The winner will still be behind St. John’s, but a 9-1 MIAC runner-up is a sure bet for an at-large bid. The Royals, who have not made the playoffs since 2013, host the Tommies. When the teams faced the Johnnies, Bethel lost by 18 while St. Thomas lost by 20.
Baldwin Wallace and John Carroll are similarly situated in the OAC. A 9-1 runner-up will claim a Pool C berth. The Yellow Jackets lost to Mount Union by 35 while the Blue Streaks lost to the Purple Raiders by 13. Both of those games were played back in September and both teams are riding six-game winning streaks into this showdown.
The playoffs begin one week early for these teams. With so much at stake, eyes from all over the nation will be on these games on Saturday. The stakes are high and it’s time for some of these players to play in the biggest game of their lives.
“We’re excited, but also nervous. We’re trying to make it fun. It’s been a long time since Hanover has been in this situation. We’ve been talking about this game since January. It was our focus in offseason conditioning,” said Theobald. “The records don’t matter. For the seniors, this [could be] their last college football game. It’s a great atmosphere. We’ve just got to calm the nerves and get through those first five minutes.”
Here's what to watch for on D3football.com this week.
Later today-- New Top 25 poll released
Monday--Around the Nation podcast with Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan and Team of the Week weekly honors.
Thursday--Around the Nation column.
Friday--Quick Hits, and another edition of the Around the Nation podcast.
Saturday--You know what Saturdays are for.
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