Engineering a climb up the HCAC mountain

More news about: Augustana | Franklin | Rose-Hulman
Austin Swenson keeps his eyes downfield, and the Fightin' Engineers keep their eyes on the goal of an HCAC title.
Photo courtesy Rose-Hulman Sports Information 

Rose-Hulman coach Jeff Sokol said he has no desire to get ahead of himself, and he says that with good reason.

Even though his Fightin' Engineers are off to a 3-0 start after winning their first Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference game against Hanover last weekend, it's hardly a time to celebrate.

See, Franklin has owned the HCAC for the past five years, and has owned Rose-Hulman since they've been in the conference. Sokol knows there will be another chance to slay the dragon that stood in their way in 2013 when they shared the conference crown, but the Grizzlies got the conference's automatic bid because of their 64-14 whipping of the Fightin' Engineers during the regular season.

"Franklin is still the team to beat until they prove that they are not," Sokol said. "We have a lot of confidence and our guys expect to win every game but we know we have some important games in front of us."

Rose-Hulman put together back-to-back 7-3 seasons for the first time since the 2007 and 2008 seasons. But the Fightin' Engineers have never been to the big Division III playoff dance.

If they want to do it this year, a lot may depend on the maturity of junior quarterback Austin Swenson. So far, Swenson has been impressive and then some, throwing for 1,138 yards in his first three games, leading all of Division III in that category. His 379.3 yards per game average is fourth among all Division III signal-callers.

"He's doing great," Sokol said. "I think the biggest thing is just the experience of starting last year and being there. There were a lot of uncertainties going on last season. He started off great, then later in the season he had some very valuable learning experiences in some of the games we lost and I think it's made him a better player."

Rose-Hulman jumped out to a 4-0 start, but losses to Bluffton, Mount St. Joseph, and Franklin crushed the squad's playoff hopes. With a year of experience, and an improved offensive line and defense, the Fightin' Engineers hope the math is in their favor.

"We were tied with Franklin going into the fourth quarter, and that's the closest we've ever been to them," Sokol said of his team's 41-21 loss to Franklin in 2014. "To be honest, they had pretty well handled us until that game. Austin threw two fourth quarter interceptions and that's why the score turned out the way it did."

He said, though, the Fightin' Engineers defense is much improved from a year ago. The dramatic change can be seen in the points Rose-Hulman has given up this year per game (18.0) to that of last year (41.0) against the same three opponents.

"We have more athleticism on defense this year," Sokol said. "This is the most talented 11 guys that we've ever put out there on defense. We have high expectations for our cornerbacks and what they do out there. That was an issue for us last year. This is our most talented group."

As Rose-Hulman works on getting healthy during the bye week, they will take on Anderson Oct. 3 before trying to avenge the first of three HCAC games they lost last year the following week against Bluffton. They will face conference favorites Franklin on Oct. 24 and Mount St. Joseph Nov. 7.

"There are still a lot of little things we have to improve on," Sokol said. "We're going into the home stretch of our schedule where we're going to play all of those guys we've lost to. We have a lot of big games left."

The Fightin' Engineers hope the combination of their improvements and experience will add up to an undisputed HCAC title.

Another fast start

No. 7 Wheaton, known for their defense, has gotten off to a fast start behind junior quarterback Johnny Peltz. Peltz has accounted for five rushing touchdowns and seven passing touchdowns in the Thunder's first three games, which ranks sixth in Division III in points responsible for. Wheaton's 52.3 points per game and 566 yards in total offense per game under Peltz ranks the Thunder ninth and 12th nationally in those categories, respectively.

Wheaton's offense will get to cool its heels with a bye week before starting CCIW play against North Park on Oct. 3.

Another big night for Frasco, another loss for Augustana

It's been tough for Augustana to celebrate the offensive accomplishments of quarterback Sam Frasco, who has broken the Vikings single-game total offense record twice in consecutive games and making him the top rushing quarterback in Division III football this season.

Frasco rushed for 312 yards on 17 carries and four touchdowns for Augustana in a 56-52 loss to Loras. That nearly doubled the 324 yard he rushed for in the first two games. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns. The 585 yards of total offense against Loras topped the 469 yards of total offense Frasco collected against Albion. His 312-yard rushing total was second most in school history, 30 short of Matt Roe's 2004 Augustana record.

Going into Week 4, he's Division III top rusher with 636 total yards and third in the country in yardage per game with 212.0, behind Carnegie Mellon's Sam Benger (253.5 per game) and Josh Williams of Elmhurst (213.5 per game). But for new coach Steve Bell, the accolades come up empty because the Vikings are 1-2. Augustana's defense is surrendering an average of 51.6 points per game in the three contests. The defense has given up 573 yards per game in total offense, including 408.3 yards per contest through the air.

"Obviously Sam Frasco is a very talented athlete and has produced a couple of very impressive games so far, but they are all for naught because the team did not win the last two games," is all Bell would say this week as Augustana takes a bye week before returning to the field for its CCIW conference opener at home Oct. 3 against Williams and the Elmhurst Bluejays.

Game of the week

No. 5 Wesley (2-0) at No. 22 North Central (1-1), 2 p.m.: The Cardinals are back in the spotlight again after a disappointing 35-28 loss to No. 17 UW-Platteville on the road--a game that North Central led 28-7 at one point. Trying to rebound from the loss will not be easy at Bendedetti-Wehrli Stadium against Wesley, which brings in one of Division III's top passing attacks. Wolverines quarterback Joe Callahan is averaging 369.0 yards per game in his first two contests.

Here's a second one 

No. 21 Centre (3-0) at Chicago (2-0), 2 p.m.: The Chicago Maroons went 8-1 last year, losing only to nationally-ranked Bethel, but barely drew any playoff attention as an independent. Now they have a chance to earn some respect against the SAA favorites in the Colonels. The Maroons came from behind in the fourth quarter to beat Case Western 31-30 and nearly blew an 18-point lead against Millsaps before settling for a 31-27 victory. Centre will be the best team the Maroons have played to this point, and maybe all season.

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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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