Trine breaks out of 6-4 rut

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Evan Wyse evades a would-be tackler
Evan Wyse isn't known as a prolific passer, but he'll get the job done for the Trine offense either way.
Photo by Eric Kelley, d3photography.com

By Joe Sager

There’s no “rollin’ in a 6-4” for Trine this season.

Already 8-0, the Thunder is in the midst of what it hopes is a championship ride.

“Guys have been playing really hard on both sides of the ball. When you have guys playing very hard, it makes a huge difference,” Trine coach Troy Abbs said. “One of the local TV guys said before the season that you can count some absolutes like death, taxes and a 6-4 record for the Thunder.

“Our guys really took that to heart. This group of seniors just flat out made it known to the rest of the guys that we’re sick of being 6-4. I think it’s paid off.”

After finishing 6-4 the past four years, the squad is aiming for its first undefeated regular season since 2010 when the team finished 10-0 and beat DePauw in the playoffs, but fell to UW-Whitewater 45-31 in the second round.

“It’s a lot of fun this year,” Trine junior cornerback Cayleel Hill said. “Some of the guys played JV together and now we’re on varsity together, so it’s nice. We’re finally on the way to our goal we’ve been trying to reach.”

Trine made a statement in the MIAA two weeks ago with a 50-14 win over Hope, the conference’s preseason favorite.

“It was just one more championship week for us. We have another one coming up,” Trine senior quarterback Evan Wyse said. “It’s really nice to show all the work we put in during the winter, summer and preseason. It’s nice to see everything coming together.”

The Thunder’s offense has been booming. Trine boasts the nation’s third-best scoring offense at 49.0 points per game.

“We’ve had a pretty decent balance. We’ve been running the ball well and a decent amount and we’ve had success throwing the ball. We are ready for pretty much everything a defense can bring,” Wyse said. “Our offense has evolved. My weakness, kind of, was passing the ball. I worked a lot on that over the summer. It’s really paid off.”

The squad hasn’t had to air out the ball much. But, behind Wyse, the passing game has been efficient. He’s thrown for 1,187 yards and 16 touchdowns with just two interceptions.

“Evan is becoming a better passer,” Abbs said. “I know some of the quarterbacks got together with some of the receivers for some work on their own a couple days a week in the summer and that’s really helped. Being under the tutelage of (assistant) Chris Hedden for the third year in a row has helped, too. He is a heck of a coach.”

Wyse is not afraid to run with the ball, too. He has 698 yards on 85 carries this year. He had 150 on the ground and a career-best 271 through the air in the team’s 55-34 win at Adrian on Saturday. Junior Lamar Carswell (944 yards, 17 touchdowns) and senior Mark Wilson (546, 5) have had success as well

“The run sets up the pass,” Wyse said. “That helps a lot with Lamar and Mark and the way they run the ball.”

Defensively, Trine has been a force, too. The squad yields 14.5 points per game, which ranks first in the MIAA.

“We’re very happy and playing as a unit. There’s been a lot more discipline this year. We’re tackling better and covering better,” Hill said. “The chemistry builds each and every game. We know what each other can do; we go out there and do our job and it all falls into place.”

The ball has been falling into the defense’s hands a lot, as well. The Thunder is tied for fifth in the nation with 18 interceptions. Hill is tied for third in the country with seven picks alone.

“I just trust in our teammates to do their jobs. The defensive line gets a lot of pressure on the quarterback and forces them to throw bad passes,” Hill said. “We just capitalize on the opportunities that are given to us.”

The interceptions and four fumble recoveries have given the offense even more chances to strike.

“It’s huge. When the offense has a three-and-out or a stop due to penalties, our defense comes up with huge turnovers or forces teams to punt. It helps get us back in the game and gets our momentum going,” Wyse said.

Fortunately for the Thunder, it hasn’t had to lean too heavily on its defense.

“Our offense has been so explosive they haven’t needed that spark. We’ve got a great amount of skill on offense. Anytime we can give them the ball inside our own territory, we’re confident they have a good chance of scoring,” Abbs said. “Our defense is mature for the first time in a long time. Marcus Winters is the best defensive player I’ve coached and I’ve called the defense here for 12 years. One reason Cayleel has so many interceptions is because people have given up throwing into the boundary because of Marcus.”

Trine hopes to keep the train rolling in its final two games (at Alma and against Olivet).

“I think every week is a different challenge. The key is recharging the batteries for the week and regaining that razor-sharp focus for the next opponent,” Abbs said. “In college football, every team has good players. If your 11 don’t show up and play well or they play with bad habits, you will get beat. The theme for us is to be sharp in everything we do.”

Wittenberg in control

Wittenberg zeroed in on another NCAC championship with a 21-14 triumph over Wabash.

The Tigers erased a 14-13 deficit late in the fourth quarter and held off the Little Giants for the triumph. The squads have claimed the last 12 NCAC crowns. Wittenberg can clinch its 15th NCAC title with a win next week at home against Ohio Wesleyan. A triumph would make head coach Joe Fincham the 87th head football coach in NCAA history to win 200 games.

In the polls

No. 2 Mount Union (8-0) beat Otterbein, 51-14. The Purple Raiders welcome Muskingum in OAC action.

No. 12 Wittenberg (8-0) held off Wabash, 21-14. The Tigers battle Ohio Wesleyan in NCAC play.

No. 15 Washington & Jefferson (8-0) defeated St. Vincent, 21-3. The Presidents visit Geneva in a PAC contest.

No. 16 Case Western Reserve (8-0) beat Washington U., 45-28. The Spartans return to PAC play with a key battle against Westminster (Pa.).

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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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