Hanover hanging around

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With a big receiving target gone, Hanover is running instead, to the tune of 161 yards per game. Darren Bailey averages 6.6 yards per carry.
Hanover athletics photo
When the Hanover Panthers lost preseason All-American wide receiver Daniel Passafiume before the start of the season, many wondered how Hanover would overcome the lost of a person who was a crucial part of their offense.
When Hanover lost three of its first four games, including a 31-20 defeat to Rose-Hulman, many started to wonder if the Panthers could have a winning season, much less finish third as predicted by Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference coaches before the season.
After reeling off four straight wins and putting itself in a position to win at least a share of the HCAC title, few are wondering about Hanover anymore. The Panthers, in coach Joe Austin’s fourth season, is one win away of earning Hanover back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2004.
More importantly, the Panthers trail No. 22-ranked Franklin by one game with two contests left. That means the annual Victory Bell Game, this year being played at Hanover, could be for all the marbles and a playoff spot on Nov. 12.
“Our defense is playing well and we hope to be able to hang our hat on that,” said Austin. “Our average margin of victory in our conference games is something like 43-12, so our players know they can play well. Our defense has really been the catalyst. We’ve allowed one defensive touchdown in our last three games. Tom Ross, my associate head coach and defensive coordinator, has done a terrific job of putting the players in great positions to be successful.”
The Panthers defense is led by junior linebacker Andy Dalton, who is leading the HCAC averaging 11.1 tackles a game. He has been named HCAC defensive player of the week twice, including this past week after returning an interception 85 yards for a touchdown.
Hanover seems to be over its adjustment period after losing Passafiume on offense, but Austin said he believes his team in on the right track and the winning streak is evidence of that.
“Losing a preseason first team All-American is a big letdown,” Austin said. “I went through spring and summer intending to focus our passing game around getting him the ball, so when we lost him I had to do a lot of shuffling of bodies and schemes to try and figure out where our production would come from.
“The silver lining was that we knew we wouldn’t have him a month before the season started, so there was a little bit of time to work up a contingency plan.”
What has emerged for Hanover is an impressive mix of newcomers no one saw coming. Sophomore quarterback Dexter Britt took over the helm the second game of the season and is completing 60.1 percent of his passes (119-198). The most impressive thing is that he’s thrown two interceptions against 15 touchdowns, while averaging 193.6 yards per contest.
“He has played fantastic since the Rose-Hulman loss,” Austin said. “The 7½-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is a pretty good. He’s also rushed for five touchdowns and went over 100 yards rushing last week against Bluffton.”
Britt’s two main targets are senior tight end Matt Robinette, who leads the team in catches with 39 for 583 yards and three touchdowns, and homerun hitting wide receiver Dwayne Eubanks. Eubanks, a former Panther basketball player, has 36 catches for 632 yards and 10 touchdowns, including one this season for 96 yards. Both are near the top of the HCAC in yards receiving and catches.
“Matt’s third in the conference in receiving yards and fifth in receptions,” Austin said. “This is Dwayne’s third year at Hanover, but his first playing football. Right now Dwayne is second in the league in receiving yards and seventh in receptions. His 10 TDs leads the league for touchdowns by a wide receiver. It took him a while to get comfortable with football, since he hasn’t played since high school. Now that he knows our offense well he has become a big play target for us.”
Hanover knows, because of the Rose-Hulman loss, it’s been looking at the back of Franklin’s jersey all season, but will have a chance to finally catch up with its rival in two games. Before that contest, Hanover still has a tough contest at Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati on Saturday.
“I have to guard against overconfidence with my team,” Austin said. “I think we were overconfident after our conference opening win at Defiance and it led to a hangover the next week at Rose-Hulman. I hope they believe in their ability to play well, but I also hope they stay hungry to prove it every week. If we play to our potential, I think we have a chance to do well in the games left on our schedule.”
Of course, there was a time when Hanover owned the HCAC. The Panthers won four conference titles between 1999 and 2004. Austin said he hopes his team is moving in that direction with the past two seasons.
“I think the foundation of our program is strong and I have no reason to believe that next year’s team won’t be better than this year’s team,” Austin said. “Each year our recruiting has been better and our players have worked harder to develop themselves. That’s a good combination for program development. 
“The quality of the education at Hanover is attractive to a lot of students, as is the success we have had on the field the last two years. Hopefully, that will bode well for our future. I know that I am excited about it and I think that shows when I talk to people about our program.”
Hanover faithful may even get more excited with victories in the Panthers next two games. 

Game of the Week

No. 6 North Central (7-1, 5-0 CCIW) at No. 13 Wheaton (7-1, 4-1): There’s little else that can be said about this one and its implications. As terrific as a season Wheaton has had, it needs to win the Little Brass Bell at home to make the playoffs, seeing how unkind the selection committee has been to two-loss teams lately. Ditto for North Central, which loss the opener to Redlands, but has been ranked in the Top 10 most of the season. The Cardinals have been in this situation before, when it shared the title and had one of Division III’s most prolific offenses and didn’t make the playoffs. So forget about the rankings, this is essentially a playoff game. Of course, Illinois Wesleyan (7-1, 4-1), which has a victory over Wheaton and a loss to North Central, waits in the wings. The Titans must first take care of business against Carthage, but a Wheaton win could give IWU a share of the CCIW title and still a shot at the automatic bid. North Central all but wraps up the bid with a win. Needless to say, there’s a lot on the line.

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Clyde Hughes

Clyde Hughes has been writing sports at various times over the past 24 years, covering everything from high school, college and sporting events. A native of football-crazed Texas, Hughes works in Indiana and has written for numerous newspapers and magazines.
2003-04 columnist: John Regenfuss
1999-2000 columnist: Don Stoner

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