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No time to enjoy, no time to look ahead

Stanley Hogan III's career day kept alive Rose-Hulman's HCAC title hopes.
Photo courtesy RHIT Athletics

It almost seems unfair that Rose-Hulman cannot savor its huge HCAC win over nationally ranked Franklin last week because it has what is essentially a championship game Saturday at home against once-beaten Bluffton.

The dramatic fourth quarter in which Fightin' Engineers running back Stanley Hogan III capped of a 121-yard performance with a one-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left in the game gave Rose-Hulman a 23-22 victory over the Grizzlies on the road. The win helped erase the pain of losing fourth quarters to Franklin the past two seasons.

The drive was set up when Nate Johnson forced a TyRonte Files fumble on the Franklin 29 that was recovered by Rose-Hulman 's Tyler Brutofsky with just a little over two minutes left in the game.

"We just never panicked," Rose-Hulman coach Jeff Sokol said. "We got a huge turnover, as far as the forced fumble. We weren't in a rush. We just knew we had to call some good plays. We had some nice execution on third down to keep the drive alive. We were just confident we were going to move the ball. Our guys worked year-round to do it. If you want to win a championship, you have to beat Franklin."

Now Rose-Hulman (6-2, 5-1 in HCAC) must face Bluffton (6-1, 4-1) for a shot to stay in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference lead. Franklin (5-2, 4-1) travels to Mount St. Joseph (6-2, 5-1) in the other critical conference matchup on Saturday.

"We've got to beat Bluffton," Sokol said, acknowledging that the Fightin' Engineers had to change their focus quickly for another huge game. "I don't think we can let down. If you can't get up for a game like this, what can you get up for?

"We had to defend against a two-point conversion last year to beat them. They've beaten us the last two times they've come to Rose-Hulman. Our guys know the challenge. Franklin was certainly an emotionally exhausting game and a physically exhausting game to play, but our guys will recover and they will be ready to play against a great Bluffton football team.”

Sokol said he was particularly pleased with his defensive effort all season, highlighted by holding Franklin to 22 points, well under its conference average.

"We returned 10 starters on defense, so there's not really any surprises on that side of the ball," Sokol said. "Alec Thompson at corner has been unbelievable. He has been taking on the best receiver our opponents have and has done a great job.

"(Safety) Kevin Nowak is the team captain. He got injured in the Anderson game with an MCL, and was supposed to miss four to six weeks. He willed himself to be able to play, got cleared and played all 82 snaps. We forced them to execute at almost a perfect level to beat us and they almost did. They had 24 incompletions and that's a lot."

Offensively, senior Austin Swenson is in his third season leading the Fightin' Engineers offense, setting single-game records completing 45 of 71 passes last week, adding to his collection of more than 20 school records. Over his impressive career, he has completed 713 passes out of 1,104 attempts for 7,910 yards with 75 touchdowns against 26 interceptions.

Hogan, who had the winning touchdown, had a career-high 33 carries in the Franklin game, while being named the HCAC's player of the week.

But Rose-Hulman has had their challenges this season. They lost the opener to Illinois College, 14-13, and then dropped a road contest to Mount St. Joseph, 45-27, on Oct. 8.

"We had a rough start against Illinois College," Sokol admitted. "We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot. It was our first game in a lot of ways. Week in and week out we really don't make the kind of errors that we made in that first game.

"We left Mount St. Joseph knowing that we still controlled our own destiny. We knew that we could still win a share of the conference championship. Maybe it was a wake-up call. We knew Mount St. Joe was a very good football team and they outplayed us that day. We still had to take care of business against Manchester and we did to get back on track."

Now with Rose-Hulman staring at a chance of winning a conference title and going to the playoff – if it can get a little help from Franklin Saturday against Mount St. Joseph – it seemed like Sokol has been preparing for this moment since taking over the program in 2011. After the initial 5-5 record the first two years, Rose-Hulman has not lost more than three games in a season since.

Sokol and Rose-Hulman are now two games away from possibly their biggest prize since they have been together.

Pat Mathieson lifts Wisconsin Lutheran

The Warriors quarterback came up big in Wisconsin Lutheran's surprise 50-34 victory over defending NACC champion Lakeland on Saturday, accounting for six touchdowns. Mathieson completed 19 of 32 passes and four touchdowns. Then he rushed for another 219 on 17 carries and two more touchdowns. That jumbled up the NACC race with the Warriors 3-1 in league play (3-4 overall), while Benedictine (4-3 overall) and Lakeland (4-3 overall) are both 2-1. Aurora, though, is still undefeated in NACC play.

Game of the week

Illinois College (5-3, 4-2 in MWC) at St. Norbert (5-2, 5-0), 2 p.m.—After losing their first two games, the Green Knights have gone undefeated in conference play and appear to be steamrolling to their big November showdown with undefeated Monmouth (7-0, 5-0). But Illinois College, which has a win over Rose-Hulman, is good enough to pull off the upset, especially if St. Norbert is peeking ahead toward its next game.

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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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