15 years of friendship

More news about: Hampden-Sydney
Kirk Rohle, left, and Ben Rogers have played a lot of football together.
Hampden-Sydney photo by Red Rocket Photography

The photo captured one of the notable plays of Hampden-Sydney’s running back Kirk Rohle and lineman Ben Rogers. Rohle, prominent in the frame, prepares to break a tackle and blast down the field; Rogers, now a three-time first-team All-Conference player, is seen nearby flattening a defender.

The only thing is: They weren’t in Hampden-Sydney uniforms. Instead, they were sporting jerseys from Hanover High School in Mechanicsville, Va.

That photo is part inside joke, part fond memory and part testament to the long friendship of Rohle and Rogers, which doesn’t just predate H-SC but goes as far back as flag football at the age of 6.

The pair began playing together on the Blue Star Cowboys. But it wasn’t until a couple of years later, when the Rohle family moved to the house across the street from the Rogers family, that the two boys’ friendship grew into the kind that has now survived 15 years and multiple teams.

The Rogerses and Rohles are in many ways one big family, including exchanging gifts at Christmas time. The photo mentioned earlier was one of those gifts, given by Rohle’s mom to Rogers. The reason it makes them laugh to this day is that Rogers, the gift’s recipient, is barely visible in the frame. It’s really more a shot of Rohle.

Through things such as laughter and athletics, the two students have grown closer. And that lifelong connection has made them stronger -- more in tune -- players.

“I can pick up on his tendencies,” Rohle says of Rogers’ blocking. “I can tell what he’s about to do even before he does it.”

That’s no doubt helped Rohle to more than 855 yards this season and 12 rushing touchdowns, including four that came in H-SC’s 63-49 win over Guilford last weekend.

“We both think the same way,” said Rogers, who wears No. 53 for the Tigers. “We believe that to become a good football player, you have to work hard in the offseason, and you have to want to win every single play.”

The two seniors, both 21, are relieved that Rohle is even playing this fall. The rusher broke his leg early in the 2010 season, and coach Marty Favret said he’s happy to see No. 9 back on the field.

Favret hinted Rogers may be even more relieved.

“When Kirk broke his leg last year, it was a huge blow to us,” Favret said. “You could see it on Ben’s face. Ben was as devastated as anybody on the field.”

Rogers himself admits that when Kirk got hurt, “I think I was more upset than he was. I had to come out [of the game]. I was so torn up; I couldn’t believe it happened.”

It’s natural that close friends would be concerned about injuries and other tragedies. Rohle said he remained optimistic because he’d been through serious injury in the past, an ACL tear.

The two students are happy to have ended up as the same college. Rogers had looked strongly at being a walk-on at Division I-FCS James Madison before he said he was told that he wasn’t tall enough to make an impact at that level. Favret recognized an opportunity. After a recruiting visit to Rohle’s home, Favret and Rohle walked across the street to see Rogers.

Rogers is the son of a Randolph-Macon graduate, but he told his father early in his college search that he wanted to go to school a little farther from home. (R-MC is only about 20 minutes from Mechanicsville.)

“If I can’t play at the big level,” Rogers said, “then I wanted to go somewhere where I can play early and win football games.” To date, Rogers has started every game since he’s been with the Tigers -- a feat achieved by only one other player ever at the school -- and has seen just six losses in nearly four years. By comparison, he’s been a part of 35 wins.

Rogers “has been a core part of our program since he got here -- as good a leader as we’ve ever had,” his coach said.” He’s somebody who, 365 days a year, finds a way to help our football program, whether it’s meeting with recruits or talking to a freshman who’s down in the dumps, he’s just once in a decade kind of guys you get.”

Rohle said his friend’s strength is his leadership skills.

“When he gets down in the stance, he controls the line,” the running back said. “All the linemen respect him and follow him. He has this natural leadership skill. You can’t teach it, he just has it.”

Because of Rohle’s 2010 leg injury, he received a medical hardship waiver and has the opportunity to play again next year if he chooses -- a choice that’s understandably hard to make. He said he doesn’t know yet what he’ll do but that “it’s good to have in my back pocket.”

Rogers calls his friend “inspiring” for being able to persevere past his injury. “Him willing to get himself better, whether it be for football or school or life in general … it’s something we can really look up to,” the lineman said.

Together, they still have work to do. Saturday marks a conference-title match against Washington and Lee, while the following week will be the rivalry game against Macon. In four years of college football, Rogers says the only piece that’s missing is a playoff win.

He said he feels the ability is there, along with the intangibles.

“I think our attitude more than our skills are something that we feed off of,” he said. “Having two people like that really helps the team.”

Rogers, Rohle said, “instills confidence in everybody. I know I’m confident when I’m running behind him.”

Wesley owns Route 13

The Wolverines did what no other team has been able to this year: slow the Salisbury machine. And it’s something Wesley has done season after season since 2005. This is the first time these two rivals are meeting since the ACFC disbanded, but with Wesley’s playoff hopes hinging heavily on this outcome, the Shane McSweeny-quarterbacked squad won 23-14. All but 7 points in the game came in the second half. McSweeny had 233 yards passing and 80 rushing, while the Gulls were paced by rushers Ross Flanigan and Randal Smedley. The noticeable void was in Salisbury quarterback Dan Griffin’s offensive prowess. He leads the team in rushing this year and has accounted for nearly half of the team’s total 48 touchdowns this season. But on Saturday, the Wesley stalwarts held him to just 14 yards rushing and a lone passing touchdown. Still, SU’s season is far from lost. They are tied atop the Empire 8 and will clinch a playoff bid with a win over St. John Fisher this coming week. Wesley now has a win over what will likely be a regionally-ranked opponent and has a good chance to get into the postseason via either Pool B or Pool C with wins over Apprentice School and Huntingdon.

JHU has at least an 11-game schedule

Johns Hopkins assured itself a trip to the NCAA playoffs by downing its chief Centennial competitor, Ursinus. The undefeated Blue Jays can finish no worse than 7-2 in conference play, and they already have wins over every other team in the conference that can also potentially finish with two CC losses. However, don’t look for JHU to slow down, because in the playoffs, seeding and home games are critical. JHU is having one of the best years in school history, and if you missed what I had to say about them two weeks ago, here’s your chance for another look.

Ursinus broadcaster Bern Gavlick, whom you may remember from a column last season, was at the game and has offered to contribute to the Around the Mid-Atlantic column this week. I’m happy to have him. Here’s his report:

As most who follow the Centennial Conference this season know, No. 14 Johns Hopkins (8–0, 7-0 CC) can deliver a lethal offensive attack through the air.  What Ursinus (5-3, 4-3 CC) and fans in attendance at this marquee battle for first place found out was, just as efficiently as the U.S. Postal Service, neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow could prevent the Jays from delivering an equally potent ground attack, as they posted a 37-9 victory at Homewood Stadium, in Baltimore.

The win by Hopkins guarantees them at least a share of the 2011 Centennial championship and puts them in the company of just a handful of other teams who have secured themselves a place in the NCAA Division III playoffs prior to Halloween.

Johns Hopkins, who entered Saturday’s contest ranked third nationally in passing offense, averaging over 342 yards per game, knew they had to improve their running game if they were to win the conference and advance in the playoffs. They wasted no time in accomplishing that task. After forcing Ursinus to punt on their first possession of the game, the Blue Jays embarked on a nine-play, 8-yard touchdown drive caped of by Scott Barletta’s 1-yard run to give JHU a 7-0 lead. This drive set the tone for the afternoon as Blue Jays’ running backs weaved their way around Bears’ defenders for 49 of their season high 303 rushing yards and the first of their four rushing touchdowns.

“We knew Ursinus has great speed on defense, I was really impressesed with the speed of their linebacker Greg Martell. So, we tried to use some of that speed with our cutting ability against them [making defenders over-pursue]”, said Hopkins coach Jim Margraff after the game. “We knew we had to get the running game going” because the weather could be just as bad in the postseason as it was Saturday.

As the first quarter came to a close and the second began, Ursinus showed they were not going down without putting up a good battle. With 1:12 left in the opening quarter the Bears’ Sean Whelan jarred the football loose from the grasp of JHU’s quarterback Hewitt Tomlin as Tim Blaine recovered the fumble for UC at their own 44 yard line. This set up an 11-play, 48-yard drive that ended with a Michael Bennett 25-yard field goal to draw Ursinus to within 4, at 7-3, early in the second quarter. Aside from a 29-yard touchdown run by Ursinus running back Drae Lewis, pulling the Bears back to within 12, at 21-9 early in the third quarter, it was all Blue Jays from there.

With just a little more than five minutes having elapsed since Bennett’s field goal, JHU’s Jonathan Rigaud took off on a 16-yard touchdown run to extend Hopkins’ lead at 14-3. This would be the first of two touchdowns Rigaud would score on 12 carries for a season high, 166 yards. Just prior to the end of the first half, after a bad punt snap by Ursinus, JHU wide receiver Sam Wernick caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Tomlin to send John’s Hopkins to the locker room with a 21-3 lead.

Hopkins would seize final control of the game when power running back Scott Barletta scored on another 1-yard push across the goal line, just minutes after P.J. Caufield intercepted a  pass and returned it 100 yards off of the Bears’ lone batched PAT. Rigaud added on one more touchdown in the fourth quarter for good measure, as Johns Hopkins iced (no pun intended) its 13th consecutive victory, dating back to Oct. 30 of last season.

Centennial’s rushers stand out

Aacross the conference, the ground games saw players who put up some big numbers. Here are the highlights:

  • McDaniel’s Joe Rollins (whom I interviewed last month) rushed for 170 yards and a score in the win over Juniata. The day is sure to help Rollins, who sits as sixth nationally in yards per game.
  • Muhlenberg put two rushers -- Dan Deighan and Terrence Dandridge -- over 100 yards in the Mules’ shutout of Dickinson.
  • Susquehanna beat Franklin and Marshall 40-14 thanks in large part to the 132-yard day and three touchdowns that Greg Tellish put up. Tellish picked up 87 more yards and another trip to the end zone as a receiver.
  • Rounding out the century-club performances is Gettysburg’s Ted Delia, who had 115 yards in the Bullets’ 22-14 win over Moravian.

Rapid roundup

In Washington and Lee’s Friday night win against Catholic, 11 players rushed for positive yardage. CUA defenders Conor Stueckler and James Fucillo were there often to make the stops, notching 13 and 12 solo tackles, respectively.

Ferrum and Christopher Newport both did their parts to set up a playoff-deciding game this coming weekend. The Panthers handled Shenandoah 41-28 in a game that was delayed a day because of weather. CNU had to fend off a late-game 12-point rally against Greensboro. Pride senior linebacker Allen Stallings had a stunning 26 total tackles, 14 of which were solo, setting a school record.

Standout tacklers also appeared in Maryville’s 23-16 win over N.C. Wesleyan. The Scots’ linebacker Dylan Wolfenbarger had nine solo and three assists, and defensive end Julian Keen had 4.5 tackles for loss. Meanwhile the Bishops’ Tazmon Foster totaled 21 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and an interception.

Averett was helped to an overtime win against Methodist by Ke’Von White, whose 32 rushing attempts netted him 217 yards and two scores.

Bridgewater’s Anthony Carter rushed for 135 yards and three touchdowns in the Eagles’ 27-14 win over Emory & Henry.

Give me your best!

This is the fifth season that I’ve written the Around the Mid-Atlantic column, and because of that, I want to hear about the best games you’ve seen in that time frame. So far, I’ve only heard from ODAC fans. I know there are Centennial and USA South fans out there, too, as well as ones from Wesley. I invite you to bring your favorite games to life again.

Tell me what about the games made them memorable. I don’t need a play-by-play, just some details that either describe the events, the atmosphere or the heroes of the day. Any season from 2007 through 2011 is fair game, and it can be regular season or playoffs, just as long as it involves at least one Mid-Atlantic region team.

I’ve got a couple that quickly come to mind, and I’m sure you do, too. In the year’s final column, I’ll publish the blurbs you send me. Email me!

Contact me

I would be happy to hear from anyone who has questions or feedback regarding the Around the Mid-Atlantic column or Division III football in general. Please write to me at ryan.tipps@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter @D3MidAtlantic. I invite you to talk about players and performances on the message board’s Around the Mid-Atlantic thread. Additionally, if there is an idea you’d like to see me write about, post it there or email me.

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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is a writer based in Connecticut and a former online news editor for ESPN.com, as well as a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has written feature stories for ESPN.com, currently contributes fantasy football content to RotoBaller.com, and has been a regular contributor to D3sports.com sites since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing.

2012-2015 columnist: Adam Turer
2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman

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