Monon Bell Classic takes on extra meaning for DePauw

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Jake Lasky running the ball for DePauw
Jake Lasky took over the starting quarterback role midway through the season and will get the call in the Monon Bell game for the first time as a senior.
DePauw athletics photo

By Joe Sager

Playing in a “meaningful” game in November is the goal for every football program.

For DePauw, that’s a guarantee every year with its annual Monon Bell Classic. The 124th edition of the rivalry clash with Wabash is even more important for the Tigers since they still have a shot at an NCAC championship, at least on paper, and a chance at an at-large bid to the playoffs.

In order to clinch a share of the title with Wittenberg (9-0), DePauw (8-1) needs a victory and Wittenberg loss to Wooster. To get an at-large bid, DePauw needs to win and wait for Sunday afternoon’s selection show.

“It’s such a huge tradition. Playing in it is like nothing else,” DePauw senior quarterback Jake Lasky said. “The energy level of that game is unmatched. It’s amazing. You’ll have alumni watching it all over the country, too. It’s just something you have to be there to experience and be part of the rivalry to understand.

“Not all teams get to this week and have meaningful games. We have to keep it in perspective. We don’t want to get in our heads over everything,” he continued. “The big thing for us is that we’ve taken it one week at a time. Our goal is to always go 1-0. We don’t let the past week affect us or our future games affect us. We want to go out and play the best we can and focus on ourselves. No matter the circumstances, we want to go out and give our best performance.”

That mentality got DePauw back on track and in postseason contention after its 52-6 loss to Wittenberg three weeks ago.

“I think the top teams in the conference are very close matchups. Our game against Wittenberg doesn’t exactly show that, but we had a lot of mistakes in the game and some weird things happened. That was a team loss and, honestly, it brought us back to reality,” DePauw junior linebacker Matt Crupi said. “We realized we are beatable and we needed to step up our game and practice harder and work harder. It’s helped us, moving forward.”

The Tigers overcame adversity earlier in the season, too. Starting quarterback Matt Labus suffered an injury in the team’s fourth game, a 31-30 win at Ohio Wesleyan. Senior Jake Lasky seized the position afterward and helped guide the squad to an 8-1 mark.

“Coming into the beginning of the season, it was (Labus) and me battling for that spot. We shared the responsibility of backing up (Matt) Hunt last year. No matter what happened, we had to keep building off each other,” Lasky said. “I had to be ready. Even though I had to come in, I was still preparing to be the starter. That’s how it is for every player. It’s all about the next man up and preparing like you’re going to play.”

Despite the change at quarterback, the Tigers’ offense remained productive. It tallied at least 26 points in the four wins since Labus was hurt. Lasky set a program record with 500 yards of total offense in the squad’s 42-26 win over Allegheny two weeks ago. He passed for a career-high 413 yards and five touchdowns and ran for another 87 yards.

“It feels good coming and having that transition being so smooth. We still have an explosive offense,” Lasky said. “We have a lot of seniors on our offense and we’ve played together for a while. It’s fun to be out there with those guys and to be explosive and make plays.

“I haven’t played in that many games. As the season goes on, games slow down a little. One thing that helps that is having a good offense. We have a great overall receiving corps and a solid line,” he continued. “I have to be able to run and throw. Whatever the defense plays, we can go with the opposite. It’s exciting to get all those numbers. But, the big thing for me and our offense was that we went out and executed the game plan.”

Defensively, the Tigers have been giving the squad a chance to win games.

“That’s huge. We don’t have certain offensive or defensive goals. We have team goals,” Lasky said. “It’s great that we have a pretty good defense that limits scores and gets turnovers. That adds to the confidence on offense, too.”

DePauw’s defense has been especially stifling against the run. The squad leads the NCAC and is seventh in the country in rushing defense (57.8 yards per game).

“We installed a new (3-4) defense this year, which is a really good scheme. As the season has progressed, we’ve become more comfortable and been able to install more complicated stuff.  It’s been really good to us,” Crupi said. “Since we’re a smaller team, we’re moving around a lot more and confusing offenses. We’ve been doing great against the run game. Even with some injuries, the defense has been able to run around and make some plays.”

The Tigers hope that holds true against Wabash, which leads the NCAC and ranks 15th in the nation in rushing offense (264.4 yards per game).

“Wabash is known for their running game, this season, especially. Our defense is known for rushing defense, so it’s going to be a great battle there, which I am really excited about,” Crupi said. “We always have that date circled on the calendar, for sure. That’s a big game.”

200 for Fincham

With Wittenberg’s 42-23 win over Ohio Wesleyan, the Tigers clinched at least a share of the NCAC title. The victory was the 200th for head coach Joe Fincham, who is in his 22nd year at the helm. He became the 86th head coach in NCAA history to surpass the 200-win mark and the 26th at this level. He is one of 44 coaches to compile all the wins one institution.

100 for Debeljak

Case Western Reserve’s 41-10 win vs. Westminster (Pa.) kept the Spartans atop the PAC standings. It gave head coach Greg Debeljak his 100th career win. In his 14th year, he is 100-42 and the program’s winningest head coach. The Spartans are 87-25 since 2007.

Farewell to Scafe

Thomas More beat Thiel, 56-7, in PAC play. It marked the final game for Saints boss Regis Scafe in his 45-year coaching career. Scafe, who announced his retirement Oct. 16, finished with a 130-97 record in 22 years as a collegiate head coach with stops at Case Western Reserve, John Carroll and Thomas More. In addition, he spent 15 years coaching at Chanel High School in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.

In the polls

No. 2 Mount Union (9-0) beat Muskingum, 59-7. The Purple Raiders visit John Carroll in OAC action.

No. 12 Wittenberg (9-0) defeated Ohio Wesleyan, 42-23. The Tigers welcome Wooster in an NCAC battle.

No. 14 Case Western Reserve (9-0) raced past Westminster 41-10. The Spartans visit Carnegie Mellon for the annual Academic Bowl. It is a key PAC showdown as well.

No. 15 Washington & Jefferson (9-0) topped Geneva, 31-17. The Presidents welcome Waynesburg in a PAC fray.

No. 25 Trine (9-0) broke into the rankings with a 41-6 decision over Alma. The Thunder welcomes Olivet for an MIAA showdown.

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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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