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Mike Riley (30) has become a quarterback's worst nightmare this season, leading Division III in sacks by a wide margin.
Photo by Michael Lanke 

By Clyde Hughes

Lake Forest's Joey Valdivia is doing it on the ground, Lakeland's Michael Whitley is doing it through the air and Mike Riley is doing it behind the line of scrimmage, but all are at the top of their class in the latest NCAA stats.

Valdivia, the top weapon for the 3-0 Foresters, leads the country in rushing yards per game with 261.1 yards per contest. Altogether he has 784 yards on 93 carries. His 10 rushing touchdowns this season is the second best in all of Division III.

He was named the Midwest Conference's Offensive Performer of the Week after rushing for 268 yards on 30 carries in a 42-26 win over Lawrence Saturday. His five touchdowns that game were the third-highest total in team history. For his career, he passed the 3,000-yard mark and is just 244 shy to becoming Lake Forest's all-time leading rusher.

Valdivia will have a pretty good challenge facing Macalester (2-1), which is overcoming a loss to Monmouth last weekend. He rushed for 278 yards on 30 carries in last year's 35-14 win for Lake Forest.

Despite the Muskies' 56-22 loss to No. 12-ranked UW-Platteville Saturday, Whitley continued to pile on the passing yards, giving him the best average per game in Division III football. In three games, the senior signal caller has completed 103 of 151 passes for 1,155 yards this season, an average of 385 yards a contest.

To boot, he has thrown nine touchdowns and no interceptions so far. Against UW-Platteville, he completed 28 of 47 passes (59.5 percent) for 305 yards and three touchdowns. The contest was the seventh consecutive game where he threw for at least 300 yards. He also was the team's leading rusher with 45 yards, and had a hand in all but four of the Muskies' 354 yards of total offense.

Whitley will now face a stiff NACC conference challenge Saturday on the road when the Muskies take on Concordia University Wisconsin in the Cheese Bowl game in Mequon at 1 p.m.

On the other side of the football, Rose-Hulman's Riley has become Division III's sack leader. In four games so far, the junior defensive lineman has 10 solo sacks and two sack assists to average 2.75 sacks per contest, ranking him at the top in that statistic.

Riley was named the HCAC's defensive player of the week in Week 3, when he had 3.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He topped that in Week 4 in a big way, setting a school record with five sacks against Defiance.

He was a key member of the Fightin' Engineers defense that helped Rose-Hulman to its first Division III football playoff berth in school history. Riley's 10 solo sacks alone has already more than doubled the 4.5 sacks his sophomore year in 2016 – in the first month of the season. He needs three more sacks to break into the school's record book career-wise, where he would surpass Matt Leach (1991-93), Matt Lowe (1992-94) and Chris Szaz (1984-87) who are all tied for eighth place with 17 total sacks. Doug Plumer (1978-81) owns the school record with 28 sacks.

Ryan Slager continues to impress on Grinnell's defense

While he's not leading the nation in tackles the way he did last season, Ryan Slager's 14 tackles per game is still quite impressive. Slager has been a tackle stat stuffer since arriving at Grinnell and last year he collected 154 tackles (15.4 per game) to lead the nation. That was the 15th highest tackle total ever in Division III.

"Ryan has proven himself as a great linebacker, and he's looking for even more this season," Grinnell coach Jeff Pedersen said before the season started.

Slager has 24 solo tackles and 18 assists for 42 total tackles so far in 2017. His Pioneers (1-2) will be on the road Saturday where they will take on run-happy Ripon (0-3).

Chaun Maiava, North Park's senior linebacker, has been CCIW's tackling machine this season. He is ranked No. 5 among all Division III defensive players in tackles, averaging 14.5 stops a game for the 1-3 Vikings. In four games, he has 26 solo tackles and 32 assists for 58 total tackles. In an 18-0 loss to nationally-ranked Illinois Wesleyan, Maiava recorded his fourth straight game of double digit tackles with 14 tackles, two sacks and two other tackles for losses. The senior needs six more tackles to go over the 300 mark in his career.

Game to watch: No. 19 Illinois Wesleyan (3-1, 1-1 in CCIW) at No. 5 Wheaton (4-0, 2-0 in CCIW): With more than 400 yards in total offense, Wheaton appeared to have put its off the field issues behind it in a 40-15 victory over Elmhurst. Now the Thunder will take on Illinois Wesleyan, which is playing its third nationally-ranked team this month. It is really tough to say this when we are still in September, but it is a must-win game for the Titans, when you consider playoff implications and already losing to No. 4-ranked North Central. Wheaton, which has been impressive as usual at this point of the season, will have home field advantage and will not hurt as much by a loss, knowing it can make up ground by beating North Central down the road. Don't expect the Thunder to depend on that, though. In case you were wondering, the last time Illinois Wesleyan beat Wheaton was in 2013, a 30-19 victory at home, a victory that helped propel the Titans to their most recent Division III playoff appearance. Wheaton also enters the game with the third-best defensive squad in the nation in terms of total defense, giving up just 175 yards per contest.

Player to watch: Lake Forest quarterback Jagan Cleary: While Valdivia has gotten most of the headlines at Lake Forest (and justifiably so), Cleary has quietly upped his game, giving the Foresters a powerful one-two punch. In Saturday's game against Lawrence he was near perfect, completing 23 of 26 passes for 303 yards, helping lead Lake Forest to a school-record 623 yards in total offense. Valdivia will get his yards, but if the Foresters really want to break through and make the playoffs this season, Cleary will have to continue to play at the clip he is at now. Saturday's game against Macalester should prove be nice test for him.

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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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