Espinosa helping to put OWU in the hunt

More news about: Ohio Wesleyan
Mason Espinosa might have come to Ohio Wesleyan as a two-sport athlete, but now in his senior year, he's 100 percent football.
Ohio Wesleyan athletics photo

Mason Espinosa dreamed of being a two-sport athlete in college. He grew up playing football and baseball in Tennessee, and while football was his first love, the idea of being a college baseball player intrigued him as well.

But after his freshman football campaign with Ohio Wesleyan, a campaign in which he put up eye-popping numbers en route to being the first player in program history to throw for 2,000 yards (2,055) in a season, Espinosa had to give up his baseball dream.

"Ohio Wesleyan was willing to let me play both, which is one of the reasons I chose to come here, but a shoulder injury kept me from playing baseball," said Espinosa, now a senior.

"It was tough not being able to play it. It's a sport I grew up playing. I enjoyed it. But I knew I was recruited here as a football player first, and I had to make sure that I stuck to my commitment."

There was never a doubt Espinosa was going to be a college football player. It was in his blood.

"My dad played at Tennessee Tech. It was the primary sport for me because I had always been around it," Espinosa said. "Baseball was more of something I did to occupy my time when I wasn't playing football. I knew I wanted to be a college football player."

It's worked out well for Espinosa, and the Bishops, who are off to a 2-0 start and poised to make another run at the NCAC championship.

The Bishops shared the championship with Wittenberg last year, but the Tigers got the automatic playoff nod because of a tiebreaker, leaving the Bishops a little empty-handed despite a 6-1 league mark and 9-1 record overall. The nine wins tied a school record and the title was the first since 1989.

Yet, the success of last season -- as intoxicating as the thrill of it was after winning four games the previous year -- doesn't count for much now as far as Espinosa is concerned.

"The new coaching staff did a great job of instilling a winning attitude, and we had the mindset that not performing up to our potential was not acceptable here," Espinosa said. "We know we're capable of competing for a championship, but we have to keep our focus on the next game. We can't look ahead. There are no free rides in this league."

With Espinosa running the show offensively, the Bishops will certainly be in the hunt. He has been on top of his game since the moment he arrived on campus. In the final five games of his rookie season, Espinosa lit up opponents to the tune of 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns. His effort earned him honorable mention All-NCAC honors.

If anyone needed a sign of the things to come from Espinosa, one only had to look at what he did to Hiram in the 2010 season finale. Espinosa torched the Terriers for 471 yards and six touchdowns in a 47-27 win. He completed 34 passes that day on 44 attempts.

The totals for touchdowns, yards and completions were single-game records.

As easy as Espinosa made things look at times his first year with the Bishops, he will tell you that was hardly the case.

"It took time to adjust to the speed of the game and the complexity of the defenses you see at the college level," Espinosa said. Teams mix things up a lot more on defense in college to confuse you. It took time to make that transition and adapt to the differences from the high school game."

As a sophomore, Espinosa threw for 2,388 yards and 16 touchdowns while being picked off 12 times. Last year, during that magical run to an NCAC co-title, the talented signal-caller was nothing short of phenomenal, finishing with a school-record 3,371 yards and 20 touchdowns as he established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the country.

The experience he gained in those first three seasons has paid off nicely now. Espinosa has completed 60 of his 93 passes for 592 yards and two touchdowns this season.

"The experience has been invaluable," Espinosa said. "I've been in a position to gain so much experience and I've learned a lot over the last three years. It's definitely prepared me for this year because I want to be at my best in every game."

As good as Espinosa is, however, he refuses to take up all of the space in the spotlight. He is surrounded by talented receivers in Dave Mogilnicki, Calvin Cagney, Scott Jenkins, Erik Wall and Steven Uhler. Cagney was a D3football.com All-American in 2012 and has 13 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown this year. Mogilnicki, a second-team All-NCAC selection last year, has caught 15 passes for 146 yards and a score.

"My receivers are very good, and we are all on the same page," Espinosa said. "I have an understanding what matchups to look for and because I know my receivers so well, there are times where I can just throw the ball up and know they will make a play."

Espinosa also praised his offensive line for his success.

"Those guys do a great job of meshing together and give me time to make plays," Espinosa said. "I wouldn't be successful without them in front of me. I owe them a lot of credit."

Espinosa is obviously one of those players' names opponents circle on the scouting report, but the pressure of being that type of player doesn't bother Espinosa at all.

"I don't think about the pressure. I just go out and play because I know we have an experienced team and we do a good job of preparing to play every week," Espinosa said. "I enjoy the challenge of it."

Of course, part of that stems from the fact that he played high school football in the South.

"It was a tremendous experience," Espinosa said. "I played at one of the bigger schools in the state [of Tennessee], and the atmosphere was always great. I really enjoyed it and it helped prepare me for the next level."

Speaking of preparation, Espinosa and his teammates spent a lot of time in the offseason getting set for the 2013 season, which is filled with high expectations for the Bishops.

Espinosa said he has done his part to provide leadership.

"I'm a returning captain and have taken on a more vocal role, especially being the quarterback, Espinosa said. "My teammates have been very supportive, and we have great chemistry. We have worked hard to get to where we are now as a team."

While it is easy to dream about what could be this year, the Bishops have no intentions of letting the expectations get the best of them.

"Going 15-0 is the ultimate goal, but we know we can't worry about possibilities down the road," Espinosa said. Right now, we are taking each week as if we want to go 1-0. As long as we stay focused on that and prepare for each game like it's the biggest game, we will give ourselves a chance to win each week."

In the Poll

Top-ranked Mount Union opened its Ohio Athletic Conference title defense by blasting Muskingum 37-0 on Saturday.

The Purple Raiders (2-0, 1-0 OAC) got the job done in this road game by stepping up big on defense. They limited the Muskies to 69 total yards, including only 22 on the ground.

Joshua Scott paved the way as he racked up six tackles and picked off a pass. Mike Maier also came through with an interception while Trevor Smith forced a fumble that led to a safety.

The defending national champion was on point offensively as well, rolling up 457 yards behind a stellar performance by quarterback Kevin Burke, who threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 82 yards as well.

The Purple Raiders continue to be a model of consistency, winning their 17th consecutive game overall and extending their regular-season win streak to 75 games. It's also the 111th consecutive game Mount Union has won on the road in the regular season.

Heidelberg made a statement in its first OAC game of the year, rocking Ohio Northern 55-27 on a day when it scored touchdowns on eight straight possessions.

The No. 13 Student Princes notched their third consecutive win in the Bendekovic Bowl as Cartel Brooks and Bryan Lacey both went over 100 yards on the ground. Brooks rushed for 143 yards and two scores while Lacey churned out 104 yards and found the end zone twice.

Michael Mees wasn't bad either, throwing for 304 yards and four scores. Dontae Dye benefitted the most from Mees' big day, making two catches, both for touchdowns and racking up 126 receiving yards.

Heidelberg (2-0, 1-0 OAC) finished with 590 yards of offense thanks to an offensive line that did not allow a sack.

Will Nance paced the defense with nine tackles. The Student Princes allowed 373 yards.

Wittenberg nailed down its first win of the year on Saturday as it toppled DePauw 45-0 in its NCAC opener on the road.

The 17th-ranked Tigers (1-1, 1-0 NCAC) got a huge lift from Reed Florence, who threw for one touchdown and rushed for two more in the victory.

Florence scored the first two touchdowns of the game on runs of 1 yard and 4 yards and hit Sean Gary on a 9-yard scoring strike in the third. He threw for 212 yards.

Wittenberg cranked out 461 yards, with Gary rushing for 110 yards. The Tigers had four scoring drives that covered 66 or more yards.

Kyle Sanning anchored a defensive effort that limited DePauw to just 140 yards. Sannning came through with seven tackles, while Dwight Hill and Spencer Leno finished with five tackles apiece. DePauw managed only nine first downs compared to 27 for Wittenberg.

It was a good day for No. 19 Wabash, which rolled to a 50-13 win over Denison in its NCAC opener on Saturday.

The Little Giants did suffer a loss, though, to one of its key players. Tyler Holmes tore his ACL in the second quarter. He had tallied 104 yards and a touchdown before the injury. A year ago, Holmes led the conference in rushing with 1,067 yards.

Michael Putko was 15-of-23 for 173 yards and he also rushed for a pair of touchdowns.

Wabash finished with 430 yards of offense while Denison was limited to 279 yards. Houston Hodges caught seven passes for 78 yards and the Little Giants were tough to deal with on defense as they forced four turnovers, all on fumbles. Denison was just 1-of-11 on third-down conversions against Wabash.

Inside the OAC

Tom Arth was the quarterback of John Carroll the last time the Blue Streaks went on the road and knocked off Baldwin Wallace. That was during the 2001 campaign.

Arth is now the head coach of the Blue Streaks, who dominated the No. 23 Yellow Jackets 27-7 to wrap their hands around the Gold Bowl Trophy for the first time since 2010. It marked the first time since 2008 that John Carroll (2-0, 1-0 OAC) defeated a ranked team. Five years ago, the Blue Streaks stunned No. 9 Capital.

DaQuan Grobsmith played a key role as he rushed for 115 yard, the third time in his career that he has rushed for 100 or more yards against Baldwin Wallace.  He scored one touchdown while Mark Myers threw for 258 yards and a touchdown. Marshall Howell went over 100 receiving yards for the second consecutive game as he caught six passes for 116 yards.

Mitch Kroz stepped up on defense as he racked up 15 tackles. His effort earned him the Lee Tressel Shriner Classic Player of the Game. David Porter added 10 tackles on a night when John Caroll limited Baldwin Wallace to 183 yards. The Blue Streaks rolled up 368 yards.

Nelson Candelario and David Flegal racked up 12 and 11 tackles, respectively, for the Yellow Jackets (1-1, 0-1).

Tied at the half, Otterbein dominated the final 30 minutes of play against Wilmington on Saturday en route to a 30-14 victory in its OAC opener.

The Cardinals, coming off a 28-0 loss to nationally ranked St. John Fisher, started every scoring drive in Wilmington territory en route to the win.

Ben Sizemore was 13-of-25 for 131 yards and threw three touchdown passes. Steven Carpenter caught two of those passes and finished with four catches for 54 yards. His touchdown grab in the opening quarter were the first points of the season for the Cardinals (1-1, 1-0 OAC), who finished with 306 yards of offense.

Alex Cameron and Austin Jones paved the way on defense, tallying eight and seven tackles, respectively. The Cardinals allowed 305 yards, but one of the keys to their success was their ability to defend the run. Wilmington racked up only 77 rushing yards.

Brandon Arehart was 24-of-43 for 228 yards to pace Wilmington (0-2, 0-1). He threw one touchdown pass while Jeremy Duncan caught 12 passes for 104 yards.

Inside the MIAA

Albion forced four turnovers and churned out 479 yards of offense as it cruised to a 38-20 win over Aurora in a non-conference game on Saturday.

Dominic Bona had a stellar day as he completed 28 of his 42 passes for 329 yards. Six receivers made catches in the victory, with Darrin Williams making nine catches for 89 yards to pave the way.  Williams caught a 4-yard touchdown pass and also ran for a score to help the Britons (2-1) earn their second win of the season.

Brett McCarty anchored the defensive effort with 11 tackles on a day when Aurora did manage to roll up 445 yards. The Britons led 24-6 heading into the fourth quarter and finished with 479 yards of offense.

Andrew Dee seized the moment in his first career start for Trine on Saturday, throwing for 285 yards and two touchdowns as the Thunder survived a wild 47-41 shootout with Concordia in a non-conference game on Saturday.

Not only was Dee on point in the passing game, completing 19 of his 31 passes, but Trine's running attack cranked out 200-plus yards for the third consecutive game.

Trine (3-0) finished with 212 rushing yards behind 111 yards from Richard Gunn, who also scored a touchdown.

Gage Corner caught seven passes for 111 yards and a score, and Derek Posey led the defense with eight tackles. The Thunder allowed 353 yards while rolling up 495 yards.

Trine led 47-27 early in the fourth after Dee's 44-yard scoring strike to Zach Hess before holding off a furious rally by Concordia.

Inside the PAC

Dion Wiegand had his best game in a Washington and Jefferson uniform as the Presidents smashed Grove City 40-19 on Saturday in their PAC opener.

Wiegand rushed for 172 yards and five touchdowns, the most touchdowns in a game for a President since Ryan Mendel did it in October of 2006. Wiegand racked up 241 all-purpose yards as the Presidents improved to 22-0 in night games under head coach Mike Sirianni.

Washington and Jefferson (2-1, 1-0 PAC) rolled up 475 yards in all, picking up 320 of those yards on the ground.

Erik Espe came through with a team-best seven tackles and Chris Heim finished with six tackles to go along with a sack. The Presidents allowed 352 yards. Grove City (2-1, 0-1) was led by Steve Maskrey, who rushed for 48 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Presidents tallied 26 first downs and have scored 40 or more twice this season.

Thomas More
shined under the lights Saturday night, cruising to a 31-0 win over Westminster in its first night game since 2005. It's the first time the Saints have played at night since joining the league eight years ago.

The Saints have not allowed a point yet this season, posting back-to-back shutouts, and they got the job done behind a defense that allowed 351 yards, with only 99 coming on the ground.

Kyle Fuller racked up nine tackles and Nate Dorsey finished with seven tackles. Tey Wells and Erick Butler came through with five tackles apiece. Butler added a sack as well to his stat line.

The Saints (2-0, 1-0 PAC) racked up 482 yards on a day when Jensen Gebhardt was 12-of-17 for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Ryan Winkler caught two of those scoring strikes and finished with six catches for 112 yards.

Westminster (0-2, 0-1) was led by Dak Britt, who played well in defeat, throwing for 239 yards on 22-of-36 passing.

Inside the NCAC

Caleb Jones rushed for a career-high 196 yards and Hiram ended its streak of games without recording a shutout by blanking Allegheny 20-0 in an NCAC game on Saturday.

Jones carried the ball 33 times and scored twice for the Terriers (2-1, 1-1 NCAC), who earned their first shutout win since 1995, a stretch of 159 games that started after a 24-0 win over Heidelberg. The win is also the first over the Gators since a 13-6 win in 1983.

Hiram rolled up 365 yards of offense, including 293 on the ground thanks in large part to Jones, and George Blake threw for 72 yards.

Allegheny (0-3, 0-2) was limited to 181 yards, including only 50 through the air, and Nick Deichler led the way with 73 rushing yards. Garrett Primer had a big game defensively, racking up nine tackles and coming up with nine sacks against the Gators.

Wooster erupted for five unanswered touchdowns to take down Oberlin 39-21 on Saturday in the NCAC opener for both teams.

The Fighting Scots trailed 14-7 before taking control of the momentum behind a scoring surge that featured two touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown by quarterback Richard Barnes. Sean Hackel caught one of those passes and also rushed for a score.

Barnes rushed for 112 yards while throwing for 224 yards on 14-of-25 passing. He racked up 336 of Wooster's 498 yards while Hackel rushed for 96 yards.

Frank Colaprete won his first game as the head coach at Wooster (1-1, 1-0 NCAC) and Collin Woodward led the defense with 12 tackles. Brandon James added 11 tackles.

Oberlin (1-1, 0-1) was led by Lucas Poggiali, who threw for 196 yards and a touchdown. Stephen Hause caught that lone scoring strike from Poggiali.

Quick Look at Spartans and Tartans

Case Western Reserve just seems to have bad luck against Frostburg State. For the second year in a row, the Spartans were beaten in the final seconds, losing 36-33 on a last-second field goal by the Bobcats.

A year ago, Case (1-2) lost 17-16 on a touchdown pass in the final minute.

Billy Beecher rushed for 92 yards and tied his career-high in touchdowns with three while Ricky Hanzlik came through with 105 yards on the ground. Case tallied 294 rushing yards 432 yards in all. Case allowed 567 yards as it lost its second consecutive game.

Scott Suren led the defense with a career-high 14 tackles for the Spartans while Gavin Sandidge came through with a career-best 13 tackles.

Troy Witt scored the lone touchdown for Carnegie Mellon in its 19-7 loss to Catholic on the road Saturday.

Witt ran three yards for the score on a slow day offensively for the Tartans (1-2), who managed only 235 yards of offense. Zach Cree rushed for 67 yards and caught three passes for 32 yards.

Rob Kalkstein was 12-of-21 for 121 yards and Eric Rolfes led the defense with 12 tackles. Carnegie Mellon allowed 331 yards. Ross Farguharso came through with nine tackles.

Notes: Chase Longwell made quite an impression in his first career start for Capital, throwing for 150 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 84 yards as well in the Crusaders' 42-13 win over Marietta Saturday. The Crusaders rolled up 579 yards in all in their OAC opener and Craig Candeto won his first game as the head coach....Damon Brown scored on a career-best 80-yard run during a 28-point third quarter to help Adrian roll past Concordia-Chicago 48-0 on Saturday. Brown rushed for 117 yards while Jack Carter tallied thre sacks and recovered a fumble...Zack Hayward threw for 248 yards and rushed for 100 yards as Geneva pushed its win streak to three with a 49-28 win over Thiel on Saturday. Lemuel Fuller caught two touchdown passes, including an 81-yard scoring strike that broke a 28-28 tie in the third quarter....Despite allowing 461 yards in a 45-0 loss to Wittenberg on Saturday, DePauw's Cody Baker played well defensively. Baker racked up 16 tackles while Aam Folta tallied 10 tackles.

Contact Me: I always love hearing from the readers. Feel free to drop me your thoughts on my column or a story idea for a future column. You can also follow me on Twitter @BLester1993.

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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.

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