Mount Union, Capital take center stage

By Ryan Briggs
Grove City SID

It is only the eighth game of the season for the vast majority of teams in the Great Lakes Region. Yet, conference titles and playoff hopes are on the line this Saturday in nearly every league. 

So instead of an intensive review of the previous week's action, let's examine this week's upcoming games.

Most weeks, games such as Wabash-Wooster, Waynesburg-Washington and Jefferson, Carnegie Mellon-Washington U. and Ohio Northern-Baldwin-Wallace would all earn headline status. But on Oct. 28, one game will trump all others across this great land: Capital at Mount Union.

The fourth-ranked Crusaders visit No. 1 Mount Union Saturday in what is essentially the Ohio Athletic Conference championship game. Both teams are 6-0 in the OAC, two games ahead of third-place Baldwin-Wallace. Barring a complete collapse, Saturday's winner will advance to the playoffs as OAC champion.

Mount Union eliminated Capital in the playoffs last year, earning a 34-31 win in Alliance on Dec. 3 in the regional finals. Mount Union, of course, went on to win the NCAA title a fortnight later. 

Mount Union survived its toughest test of the season last Saturday, scratching out a 14-0 win over longtime nemesis Baldwin-Wallace. Capital also tossed a shutout, earning a 26-0 win over cross-town rival Otterbein.

Each team features a prolific quarterback. Mount Union's Mike Jorris leads the nation in passing efficiency (206.8) and has thrown 20 touchdown passes. Capital's Rocky Pentello is the OAC's all-time passing leader with 10,831 yards.

While each team's explosive offense has put up plenty of points, both Capital and Mount Union have also excelled on defense. Mount Union has yielded just 37 total points this year while Capital has surrendered 55 points in seven games.

Saturday's game could hinge on Capital's ability to stop the run. Both Ohio Northern (202 yards) and John Carroll (163) each had productive days on the ground against the Crusaders. Mount Union tailback Nate Kmic is averaging over 7.5 yards per carry this season. If he has a big day, it could be a long afternoon for the Crusaders.

Conversely, Mount Union has not faced an offense as prolific as Capital's spread attack. Pentello threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns at Mount Union in the playoffs last year. The Crusaders are possibly the only team in the region that could keep up with Mount Union in a shootout.

Home-field advantage favors Mount Union, obviously. Yet, three of Mount Union's last four losses have come in Alliance. The other came in Salem, Va.

While Mount Union-Capital is the most noteworthy game in the region -- if not the nation � Saturday, it is certainly not the only game of significance.

Back in the fold
Respective losses to Wittenberg seemingly put a damper on Wabash and Wooster's NCAC title hopes. But Wittenberg's surprising 17-10 loss at Ohio Wesleyan last Saturday helped vault Wabash and Wooster back into contention.

Wabash is currently 4-1 in the NCAC, owning a half-game lead over Kenyon, Oberlin, Wittenberg and Wooster. That quartet is clotted together at 3-1. 

Two of these five teams will likely be bumped from contention this weekend as Oberlin also hosts Wittenberg. 

Wooster remained in the NCAC race with a thrilling 27-21 victory over Allegheny as backup quarterback Bobby Reiff tossed a 43-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Shaun Swearingen on the final play of regulation.

Wabash had much less drama in a 48-20 victory over host Oberlin. Don Juan Brown's three-touchdown effort helped the Little Giants post 35 first-half points.

No doubt both Wabash and Wooster will be looking for that kind of fast start Saturday. Last year, Wabash charged out of the gate en route to a 44-10 belting of the Fighting Scots in Wooster.

The road team has won each of the last two matchups. That trend favors Wooster, of course. The Scots have been stellar on the road over the past three years, having won 12 of 13 away from home since the start of the 2004 season. 

On the rebound
When Waynesburg opened the 2006 season at 0-3, most people figuratively sent the Yellow Jackets to the scrap heap. But someone forgot to tell the Jackets that they were out of contention. And now, they're 4-0 in the Presidents' Athletic Conference after a 34-24 win at defending league champion Thiel.

Waynesburg can clinch at least a share of the PAC title Saturday with a win at streaking W&J. The Presidents have won six straight and feature the PAC's top rushing offense at 202 yards per game. W&J (3-0 PAC) also features the PAC's top passing attack, in terms of efficiency.

For Waynesburg, Eric Daniels has 533 rushing yards while Ryan Abels has gained 505 yards on the ground. Waynesburg will need that tandem to help keep W&J's potent offense off the field.

A sure thing
The University Athletic Association champion will be determined in St. Louis Saturday as 5-3 Washington U. hosts undefeated Carnegie Mellon. Both teams are 2-0 in the UAA currently.

Saturday's game could be CMU's biggest obstacle towards its quest for an undefeated season as the Tartans must fly to St. Louis and play a very solid Washington program on its home field. 

CMU probably needs to go 10-0 to secure one of the available Pool B bids. The Tartans' strength of schedule is not overly strong but a win over Washington would certainly bolster that resumé.

This week should certainly be very entertaining. Last week featured a few major surprises. No score provided more shock, though, than the one that emanated from Angola, Ind., on Saturday.

Tri-State snapped a 16-game losing streak with a 21-7 upset of former MIAA co-leader Olivet Saturday. Courtney Sanders ran for an 11-yard touchdown and also caught a 72-yard touchdown pass as the Thunder led 21-0 early in the second quarter. Tri-State forced five turnovers. Travis Foster helped lead TSU's defensive effort with two sacks and a forced fumble. 

Another shocker
Marietta sent Ohio Northern to its third straight loss as the Pioneers pulled out a 16-6 win in Ada Saturday. Marietta had just 202 total yards but took advantage of two ONU turnovers. It is Marietta's first win over a ranked team since 1997. Quarterback Jason Vrable threw two TD passes for Marietta, which had not beaten Ohio Northern since 1995.

End of the line
Alma quarterback Josh Brehm had his NCAA-record streak of 288 passes without an interception end in the second quarter against Albion Saturday. That was the only black mark on an otherwise banner day for the Scots, who earned a 45-35 win over Albion.

Brehm threw for 362 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 122 yards and a pair of scores. Joe Cline and Kyle Ryan each caught eight passes for Alma. Albion linebacker Tim Gough intercepted Brehm, stopping the record streak at 288.

Moving on
Heidelberg will not renew the contract of coach Brian Cochran following the conclusion of the 2006 season. The Berg nearly knocked off host Wilmington Saturday night, but the Quakers pulled out a 21-14 victory that kept the Student Princes winless.

Schuyler Streber posted 187 yards from scrimmage for Wilmington while quarterback Billy Blackburn tossed a pair of touchdown passes.

Triple threats
Three Kenyon backs ran for 100 or more yards Saturday in the Lords' 33-30 overtime win over Earlham. Alby Coombs ran for 163 yards while Javier Arbolaez picked up 138 yards on 14 carries. Quarterback Rafael Sanchez added 100 rushing yards and also threw two touchdowns.

Kenyon, for the second time this season, set a new program rushing record with 411 yards via the ground. Earlham also had a big day on the ground as Ben Marshand (170) and Manny Myers (151) both eclipsed triple-digits in rushing. 

Iron Mike
Case Western Reserve linebacker Mike Tuertscher forced three fumbles at Washington U. on Saturday but the Spartans fell to 0-2 in the UAA with a 13-6 loss in St. Louis.

Tuertscher posted 11 total tackles and a sack, helping CWRU limit Washington to just 142 total yards of offense. Case could not overcome its four turnovers, however. The Spartans are now 3-4 and face Chicago in the UAA finale.

Around the MIAA
Jordan Tallman completed 30 of 47 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns Saturday as Kalamazoo chalked up a 31-19 home win over Wisconsin Lutheran. Randy Rzeznik caught six passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. ... Hope remained atop the MIAA at 4-0 with a 28-20 win over visiting Adrian. Hope forced three fumbles and overcame a 10-7 halftime deficit. 

Around the MIAA
Denison picked up its first win of the season, topping Hiram, 42-7. Denison held Hiram to just 93 total yards. ... Host Ohio Wesleyan handed Wittenberg its first NCAC loss, 17-10. Halfback Nice Rice threw one touchdown and ran for a second to help lift the Battling Bishops to their second straight win.

Around the OAC
Mount Union's seven sacks helped the Purple Raiders earn a 14-0 win at Baldwin-Wallace Saturday. It is Mount Union's third shutout of the season. Kmic ran for 215 yards on 35 attempts, helping keep the Raiders perfect. ... John Carroll blanked Muskingum for the second straight year, earning a 38-0 triumph in New Concord. 

Around the PAC
Ryan Mendel ran for five touchdowns as Washington & Jefferson won its sixth straight game, a 52-18 win over Grove City. Mendel finished the day with 130 yards on the ground. ... Westminster amassed 508 total yards in a 49-13 Homecoming rout of Bethany in New Wilmington, Pa. The Titans stormed out to a 28-0 lead in the second quarter and cruised to the win. ... Thomas More quarterback Trevor Stellman threw for 384 yards in the Saints' 20-9 home win over Huntingdon. The Saints held Huntingdon to minus-8 rushing yards. Thomas More has quietly put together a very solid 5-2 record. ... Waynesburg owned a 15-minute time of possession advantage in its 34-24 win at Thiel. Anthony Taylor intercepted a pair of passes for Rick Shepas' Yellow Jackets.

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Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

2012-14 columnist: Brian Lester
2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic

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