Hampden-Sydney’s defense under the radar

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Noseguard Scott Markland (91) is one of several juniors on the Hampden-Sydney defense who have several years of playing experience.
Hampden-Sydney athletics photo

Wes Dodson is fighting a losing battle. At the beginning of the year, Dodson asked sports information director Davis Yake to refrain from publishing notes about Hampden-Sydney’s defense in the Tigers’ game-day programs. Hampden-Sydney’s defensive coordinator wants his unit to remain under the radar. The way the Tigers have played this season, that is no longer an option.

“I don’t want our players reading about themselves,” said Dodson, in his seventh year at Hampden-Sydney, and sixth as defensive coordinator. “I like being that way. I don’t like everyone talking about us.”

Sorry, coach. We’re going to talk about one of the nation’s best defenses. Through nine games, the Tigers have allowed just 15.6 points per contest. They rank eighth in all of Division III in total defense, allowing just 253.8 yards per game. The Tigers rank 11th in pass efficiency defense and 13th in third-down defense, getting off the field more than 72 percent of the time on third down. They rank 10th in passing yards allowed.

“We sort of knew coming into this year that we would evolve on that side of the ball,” said head coach Marty Favret. “We have a good staff, and we stuck to our plan. There’s a swagger on that side of the ball, which is nice to see.”

Many outsiders still associate Hampden-Sydney and Favret with offensive innovation. That remains true, but the Tigers are far from a one-dimensional team. Last season, the offense scored more than 20 points every game, but still lost four games. In three of those losses, the defense allowed more 40 points per game. The veterans on the Tigers defense went into the offseason fed up with the impression that the only way the Tigers would lose is if their defense lapsed.

“We’ve been trying to change that mindset for a while now. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves,” said fifth-year senior safety Steven Fogleman. “Now, it’s starting to pay off. We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder.”

Surprisingly, the defense made its mark in an early-season loss. The offense turned the ball over eight times and mustered just seven points on the road at Christopher Newport. The defense kept Hampden-Sydney in the game, surrendering just 17 points in the loss. That earned the defense respect from their teammates on the other side of the ball.

“I think everyone has confidence in each other,” said Dodson. “If we’re struggling, we know the offense will pick us up. We feel that we can do the same for them. We feel comfortable being able to shut people down if we need to.”

The Tigers shut down Guilford on Nov. 2 to shift the ODAC race. The Quakers were in first place by a game and had averaged more than 30 points per game. Hampden-Sydney’s defense completed dominated Guilford’s offense, holding the Quakers to 118 total yards and outscoring them, 6-0. The Tigers’ offense and special teams added 46 more points in the 52-0 romp. It was the Tigers’ first shutout since a Sept. 18, 2010, win over Sewanee. It was their first shutout in ODAC play since an Oct. 3, 2009, blanking of Bridgewater.

“In the past, people would think Hampden-Sydney wins because of its offense. People would expect an offensive shootout,” said junior noseguard Scott Markland. “This year, we are blessed to be nationally ranked on defense. People didn’t see it coming.”

Markland is one of several juniors on the defense who have years of playing experience. Linebacker Josh Doggett and safeties John Moore and Shreve Rohle have been contributing since their freshman year. Junior Freddie Potter moved from the offensive line to the defensive line and has made an impact playing alongside Markland, who is starting for the first time, and sophomore Shaq Thomas.

“A big thing is that our defensive line is playing so much better,” said Dodson. “We have guys on defense who have played a lot of football, but are still young.”

With the second-ranked receiver in the nation in Holton Walker and the 10th-ranked offensive producer in quarterback Nash Nance, the Tigers offense is humming. That’s not unusual. What is unique is that this year, the Tigers have been getting consistently and historically strong efforts from their defense. The two units are also tighter on an off the field than in years past.

“This is one of the more balanced teams I’ve coached,” said Favret. “We really have good chemistry. There is a nice give and take. I think good teams have that.”

There are only four senior starters on the defense. The aggressive 3-3-5 scheme gives opponents fits when there is experience at each level of the defense. Other than a second half meltdown against Shenandoah, the defense has held the many potent offenses of the ODAC in check.

“It’s a challenge every week in the ODAC,” said Dodson. “Our guys have done a good job mentally preparing.”

The Tigers have at least one more opportunity to prove that they are a balanced team this year. The whole team, but especially the defense, has revenge on its mind. Randolph-Macon has averaged 44.5 points in two consecutive victories in The Game. Despite its top-10 ranking, the Tigers defense still remains under the radar. A statement against the nation’s third-ranked running back, Will McGhee, will prove that the Tigers have a defense to be reckoned with. The thing is, they don’t care what you think. They know that they can play defense, and they know that the old stereotype of Hampden-Sydney football is outdated.

“I feel like some teams still don’t respect our defense. I’m sure Macon doesn’t,” said Fogleman. “We’re a resilient defense. We’re still a work in progress, but I think our defense should be good for the next few years at least.

Two clinchers

Congratulations to the Maryville Scots on the program’s first playoff berth. In one of the most competitive, quality seasons of USA South competition, the Scots emerged as the sole champion. In a conference that usually relies on a tiebreaker to send a team to the playoffs, Maryville erased all doubt with a 47-15 win over Greensboro. The Scots received some clinching assistance when Methodist defeated Huntingdon to knock the Hawks out of contention, and avoid a winner-take-all scenario when Maryville travels to Huntingdon on Saturday. Senior Travis Felder rushed for two touchdowns to up his season total to a conference-best 16. The Scots’ defense, led by Dylan Wolfenbarger and Joshua Krebs, held Greensboro to 308 yards of offense. Pride quarterback Ryan Throndset, who averaged 255 passing yards per game entering the contest and was coming off of a 575-yard performance, was held to just 113 passing yards.

The Scots’ celebration is over, as they still have much to play for. A win over Huntingdon would make the Scots the most attractive USA South playoff entrant in several years, and should be enough to avoid a similar fate to last year’s conference champion. Christopher Newport had to travel to Alliance, Ohio, and was trounced by eventual Stagg Bowl champion Mount Union in the first round. The conference doesn’t have the cache for its champ to host a playoff game, but the fact that Methodist, Huntingdon and Christopher Newport have secured winning seasons should help Maryville’s cause.

Johns Hopkins secured its third straight Centennial title, but Franklin and Marshall put up a fight before falling 45-30. The Blue Jays led by four points late in the third quarter, but pulled away thanks to the one-two punch of Brandon Cherry and J.D. Abbott. Cherry rushed 15 times for 163 yards and three scores, and Abbott added 74 yards and two scores on just five carries. In addition to clinching the automatic bid, the win marked multiple milestones for the program. It was the 500th win in program history and head coach Jim Margraff’s 250th coaching win.

How The Game became the ODAC title game

Catholic has flown under the radar all year, but the 5-4 Cardinals made their mark on the ODAC race by defeating Guilford, 38-29. The Quakers’ loss knocked Guilford out of ODAC title contention and made this year’s edition of The Game a Week 11 playoff contest. E.J. Montgomery passed for four touchdowns, ran for one, and accounted for 309 yards of total offense (180 passing, 129 rushing). Catholic’s defense held Guilford in check, as the Cardinals outgained the Quakers 518-306 and racked up 36 first downs to Guilford’s 15. Linebacker Conor Stueckler led the defensive effort with 10 tackles, and the Cardinals sacked Matt Pawlowski four times.

Guilford’s loss meant that Randolph-Macon and Hampden-Sydney could have a play-in game if they took care of their business in Week 10.

The Tigers recovered three fumbles and held Washington and Lee to 272 rushing yards in a 35-22 victory. Tyler Ikwild led Hampden-Sydney with 15 tackles and a forced fumble. Josh Doggett notched 13 tackles and a fumble recovery. Holton Walker caught seven passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Nash Nance rushed for three scores in addition to the two touchdown passes. Freshman Marshall Hollerith led the Generals with 137 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

The Yellow Jackets made things interesting, thanks to a great game from Bridgewater. The Eagles finally looked like the team some thought would be contending for the ODAC title. Bridgewater did play a Week 10 game with title implications, but could only play the role of spoiler and nearly did so. Willie Logan completed 24 of 34 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. The Eagles outgained the Yellow Jackets 470-361 and took a 19-14 lead into the fourth quarter. Then, the fun began. The lead changed hands five times in the fourth quarter. After Zac Naccarato tossed a 51-yard touchdown pass to put Randolph-Macon on top with 3:38 to play, Logan responded with a 50-yard scoring strike of his own. Bridgewater’s two-point conversion gave the Eagles a 34-28 lead with 1:50 to play. That was enough time for Naccarato to lead the Yellow Jackets down the field for one more score, with 29 seconds left. Seth Yurgel’s previous point after try was blocked by Bridgewater’s Alex Collins, but he made his last one to seal the 35-34 victory and keep Randolph-Macon’s postseason hopes alive.

Last season, Hampden-Sydney entered The Game coming off of a crushing four-overtime loss to Washington and Lee. The Tigers started slow and never recovered, as the Yellow Jackets won for the second straight year. Now, the tables are turned. If the Yellow Jackets start slow on Saturday, Hampden-Sydney will have Bridgewater to thank for making Randolph-Macon fight for all 60 minutes in Week 10. On the other hand, the Yellow Jackets might still be running on the adrenaline of a come-from-behind last-minute victory. Two powerful offenses and two underrated defenses should make this year’s edition of the rivalry a classic. Randolph-Macon is seeking its first ODAC title since 2008, while Hampden-Sydney can win its fourth championship since 2007.

“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Favret. “I think it’s clearly the two best teams in the ODAC, playing with the title on the line. This is what we want.

Independently winning

There are two teams in the mid-Atlantic without a conference. Both enter the final week of the season 7-2. One is a perennial playoff team who is in an unfamiliar position of not yet knowing its playoff fate is secure. The other is in its first year in Division III and will be joining a conference next year. Wesley defeated first-year Division I-FCS Charlotte on the road to avoid a third loss, which could have been costly for the Wolverines’ playoff hopes. Joe Callahan passed for 317 yards, passed for two touchdowns, and rushed for two to lead Wesley to the victory in front of a crowd of 14,354.

Southern Virginia, which will join the NJAC next season, has played only four Division III opponents. The Knights are 2-2 against Division III competition, with wins over North Carolina Wesleyan and Alfred State and losses to 7-2 Methodist and 5-4 TCNJ. A win over Southwestern in the season finale would give Delane Fitzgerald’s squad a very respectable 8-2 season, with a 3-2 mark against Division III competition. The Knights will likely be humbled a bit in the NJAC next year, but should be excited about the momentum the program will be carrying into the offseason.


  • Methodist quarterback Max Reber continues to do it all — passing, rushing, scoring and winning. He passed for 292 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 126 yards, leading the Monarchs to a 52-41 win over Huntingdon. Barring an upset at home against N.C. Wesleyan in the season finale, Methodist will finish the season 8-2, its best finish since 2005.
  • This is the kind of season that will stick with Christopher Newport for years to come. The Captains are 7-2, with early season non-conference wins over Hampden-Sydney and Salisbury. The team’s only losses came in the immediate wake of assistant coach and offensive play caller Ed Davis’s cancer diagnosis and sudden death. It is almost a certainty that no two-loss team will earn a Pool C playoff bid this season. Unfortunate for the Captains, who have shown that they are one of the toughest teams in the country this year.
  •  In its seven games under offensive coordinator Matt Mumme, LaGrange averaged over 38 points per game. In its two games under head coach Matt Mumme, LaGrange has averaged ten points per game. Ferrum’s defense held the Air Raid in check, but fell, 10-3, giving Mumme his first win as a college head coach. While the offense has struggled, LaGrange’s defense has surrendered just 16 points in the two games since head coach Todd Mooney and defensive coordinator Terry Ursin Jr. abruptly resigned.
  • Muhlenberg dominated Ursinus, 41-10, behind freshman quarterback Nick Palladino’s big day. Palladino passed for 339 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for one touchdown. The passing yards set a record for a Muhlenberg freshman. Cody Geyer caught eight passes for 181 yards and three scores. The Mules secured second place in the Centennial.
  • Finally, one of my favorite coaching calls of the season, and proof that good games can happen when you least expect it. McDaniel and Susquehanna entered their matchup both 1-7 and playing for nothing more than pride. Susquehanna jumped out to a 13-point lead, but the lead changed hands five times over the last 30:11 of the game. Trailing 42-35, the Green Terror marched down the field and scored when Seth McFall connected with Nick O’Melia for a three-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds to play, cutting the Crusaders’ lead to 42-41. It was O’Melia’s third touchdown reception of the game. Green Terror coach Mike Hoyt decided to go for the win. Britton Hastings came down with a tipped pass from McFall and McDaniel nabbed its second win of the season. That is the kind of call that gets a second-year head coach the respect and trust of his players and provides a memorable moment in an otherwise frustrating season. The victory was McDaniel’s second since Oct. 29, 2011.

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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.

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