Pride returning at Widener ahead of schedule

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Jordan Powell finishes off a pick-six
Junior defensive back Jordan Powell has four interceptions this season and has returned three of them for touchdowns.
Widener athletics photo

By Jason Bowen

It’s baseball playoff time, so which postseason team is Widener most like?

“We’re a little like the New York Yankees,” said coach Mike Kelly. “We thought we’d be okay this season, but we might be a little ahead of schedule.”

Like those “Baby Bombers,” the Pride is a young team coming off a couple of solid (6-4) seasons but have a lot of traditional success that includes championships at the conference and national level.

At 5-1 in conference (5-2 overall), Widener finds itself in the MAC race and controls their own destiny with games against Stevenson, King’s and undefeated Delaware Valley over the next three Saturdays. Their two losses to Rowan (6-0) and Albright (9-7) were by a total of eight points.

“We’ve been competitive (each week),” Kelly said, whose team has just 12 seniors. “But this week is as big as it gets because we are sitting alone in second place.”

With this week’s opponent Stevenson, the defending MAC champions, Albright and Lebanon Valley all tied for third, the “Little Lions” don’t wanted to get sucked back down into that vortex of two-loss teams.

After last advancing to the postseason in 2014, a postseason bid for this program to either the NCAA field or a Centennial/MAC Bowl game would be a big step.

Not surprisingly, it has been the defense that has spurred the team’s success this season. The unit under the direction of former Philadelphia Eagles coach Bill Shuey has consistently ranked among the best in D-III statistically over the past five years.

“They’re going to hit you. We you play us, get ready for that,” Kelly said. “It’s a physical group. They’re resilient. They’ve had a few plays go against them but they haven’t folded. They keep coming at you.”

The unit has not only been physical this season, they have been offensive. The currently are tied with Mary Hardin-Baylor for the most defensive touchdowns with six.

Four of those touchdowns have come from corner Jordan Powell. The junior has three interception returns for scores and a fumble recovery. Overall he is putting up All-America type numbers with 10 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, four interceptions and eight pass breakups.

Ironically, Powell says his favorite thing to do beside playing ball is to hang out with his puppy Nala, a 1-year old white labrador named for a character in The Lion King.

Powell is quick to credit Shuey and the rest of this teammates for the production he has enjoyed this season.

“Our defensive coordinator is the mastermind behind everything we do as a defense. I do whatever he tells me to do and it works out the majority of the time. The defensive line is getting pressure, the linebackers get reroutes, and everybody is working as one. It’s not just me.”

Overall, the unit has allowed 288 yards (ranked second in the MAC) and just 12.5 points a game (16th in D-III). The program has produced All-America defensive linemen on a regular basis of late and this year is no different.

Senior end Casey Kerschner and junior tackle Vince Char have stood out. Both earned first team all-conference honors last season. Kerschner leads the team in sacks (8), tackles for loss (14.5) and has forced three fumbles. At 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, Char is explosive and has the ability to push into the pocket himself. He has tallied 5.5 sacks.

Kelly feels that Kerschner may be the best overall lineman that they’ve had of the bunch. “He’s a run and pass guy. He may be the most complete of all of them.”

Powell finds Kerschner impressive too for his position in the secondary.

“Casey is a beast. The way he plays the game and the way he sees the game is unreal. He’s the most athletic defensive end I’ve seen at this level. He stays so patient and calm. He’s a technician on the field. It’s something to watch.”

The senior end, who also has the ability to move inside and play tackle as the team rotates in linemen to stay fresh, is also quick to credit his coaches.

“Coach Shuey prepares us very well and prepares himself for how he’s going to call the game. I feel that man is on a different level than most coordinators I’ve seen. He’s been able to put everybody in the right place at the right time.”

At 6-3, 255 pounds, Kerschner also feels defensive line coach Jason Henshaw deserves credit for his personal accolades and the program’s success turning out great linemen.

I’m the biggest in that array of players, my pass rushing isn’t as good as those guys but I’m playing well right now.”

So while the overall goal is a postseason bid and shot at eighth-ranked Delaware Valley in season finale rivalry Keystone Cup, the leaders on this team know that there is still a lot of work to do. It continues this week against Stevenson.

“They’re very athletic and well-coached,” Kelly said. “They’re a wounded animal right now. This is a survival game for them if they want to play an 11th game. We are going to have to give a very determined effort to take care of them.”

“We have to keep fighting for out spot,” Kerschner said. “It comes down to hard work and effort.”

Games This Week

Lebanon Valley (4-3, 4-2 MAC) at No. 8 Delaware Valley (7-0, 6-0): The Aggies have not been challenged since Wilkes hung with them until the fourth quarter. Is this the week? The Dutchmen upset Stevenson a couple of weeks ago and hung with Widener the week before that. LVC ranks 18th in D-III in time of possession despite converting just under 28 percent of their third downs (226th). Puzzling. They’ll need to shorten the game to hang in this one.

No. 11 Brockport (7-0, 5-0 E8) at Buffalo State (4-3, 1-3): A victory in the I-90 rivalry will move the Golden Eagles a step closer to clinching the E8. They rank in the top twenty in both total offense and total defense in D-III, including number in rush defense. The Bengals have dropped three of four games and have rushed for just 95 yards a game.

No. 14 Wesley (6-1, 6-0 NJAC) at Montclair State (3-4, 3-3): Things snowballed against Frostburg last week as the Red Hawks gave the most points (62) in game last week since they played Mount Union several years ago in the playoffs. Things don’t appear to get any easier this week when they host a Wolverine squad ranked third in D-III in scoring defense and eighth in total defense.

No. 15 Frostburg State (6-1, 5-1 NJAC) at Southern Virginia (1-6, 0-6): The Bobcats have outscored opponents 121-10 since falling to Wesley. The posted 518 yards on a physical Montclair defense and scored on both defense and special teams. The Knights will have a better shot after this week when they finish with William Paterson and TCNJ.

Rowan (3-4, 2-4 NJAC) at No. 25 Salisbury (6-1, 6-0): The Sea Gulls have quietly won six in a row after their Week 1 overtime loss to Albright. It has been their defense that has been the key as they rank 12th in both scoring and total defense. Rowan has lost four straight but still plays pretty good rush defense allowing just 92 yards a game. They’ll need to in taking on the Gulls’ triple option attack.

Widener (5-2, 5-1 MAC) at Stevenson (4-3, 4-2): The Mustangs are still in the running for a postseason bowl bid while the Pride still hopes to challenge Delaware Valley for the MAC title. Veteran quarterback Daniel Williams leads Stevenson, while the sophomore Sean McGaughey has battled injuries this season for Widener. Coming off a bye week he should he healthy.

FDU-Florham (2-5, 1-5 MAC) at King's (3-4, 2-4): The Devils snapped a five-game losing streak by knocking off Wilkes last week. Receiver Mike Panzarino has 35 catches in the past two games. This could a fun game to watch as the Monarchs average just under 290 yards a game through the air.

Misericordia (1-6, 1-5 MAC) at Lycoming (3-4, 3-3): The Warriors had a three-game win streak snapped two weeks ago versus Widener despite leading 10-0 early. The Cougars allowed just 17 points last week, but couldn’t get on the board in 17-0 loss to LVC.

Wilkes (0-7, 0-6 MAC) at Albright (5-2, 4-2): The Lions have dropped two in a row after an unbeaten start. Quarterback Alec Vignola can light it up in the air but Albright needs to run the ball more effectively. You would think they could get done this week against a team allowing 230 yards a game on the ground.

Ithaca (4-3) at Utica (3-4): The lone nonconference matchup in the east this weekend. The Bombers won last season 23-14. Freshman quarterback Wahid Nabi was an impressive 21-of-24 last week in Ithaca’s 35-10 victory over St. John Fisher. The Pioneers have won two of three with their only loss coming to the Fisher in overtime. The Bombers will try to avoid looking ahead with the Liberty League title on the line next week against Union and Cortaca the following week.

Morrisville State (2-5, 0-4 E8) at Alfred (5-2, 3-1): After dropping two straight, the Saxons will try to right the ship before traveling to E8 leader Brockport with the conference title on the line. The Mustangs are have lost four in a row and are still searching for their first conference win since 2015. They did put 502 yards of offense in last week’s loss to Cortland.

Cortland (5-2, 4-1 E8) at St. John Fisher (1-6, 1-3): The Cardinals led Ithaca 10-7 at the half last week but have lacked consistency on both sides of the ball this season. The Red Dragons overcame an early 10-point deficit against Morrisville by winning the turnover battle and by blocking and returning a field goal attempt for a touchdown. Cortland is mostly likely looking at a bowl bid unless Brockport collapses in the final three weeks.

Christopher Newport (5-2, 4-2 NJAC) at Kean (3-4, 3-3): Both teams played good defense this season ranking in the top 30. End Rich Coggins makes plays in the backfield for CNU, while Kean linebacker Darin Hungerford leads the NJAC in tackles.

TCNJ (1-6, 1-5 NJAC) at William Paterson (0-7, 0-6): Both these teams have showed signs of life lately. The Lions upset Rowan a couple weeks ago, while the Pioneers put up a season-high 19 points vs. CNU.

RPI (5-2, 1-1 LL) at St. Lawrence (2-5, 1-2): The lone Liberty League contest of the week. The Saints would love to play spoiler after a disappointing season. Meanwhile, the veteran Engineer defense is one of the top in D-III in taking away the football, including seven last time out against Alfred.

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Jason Bowen

Jason Bowen has 10 years of Division III coaching experience at Wesley, where he was also the Sports Information Director. He currently provides color analysis on broadcasts of Wesley games on WDEL Radio 1150AM and has served as a staff and freelance writer for the Delaware State News in Dover. He has been a contributor for D3football.com since 2006. By day he teaches high school biology. He is a 1992 graduate of and three-year letter winner at linebacker for Mansfield (Pa.) University.

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov
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