Evaluating the region's opening weeks

At just about the one-third mark of the season, it seems appropriate to digest what we’ve seen through three weeks of the season with a full slate of intriguing non-conference games on the books and a few conference openers complete. The easiest way to decipher this is to break it into three categories: surprises, ho-hums and disappointments. So, here we go.

It’s always fun to see teams making an early-season push and getting everybody in their conference to take notice of them. No one has done this better than Coe, which is 3-0 with a solid win over Augustana, a road victory over Gustavus and a conference opening win over Luther. Last year, the Kohawks lost their opening two games and need overtime to beat Luther later in the season. On Saturday, they beat the Norse 19-6 to set up a showdown with Central. Coe’s conference record of 4-4 last year was the fewest wins for them since 2003. This year they appear to be back on track.

Two years ago, Bethel surprised the D-III world with a run to the semifinals against Mount Union. I won’t rehash what happened in that game but many thought it would put Bethel on the national scene for a while. It didn’t, as the Royals suffered through their worst season since 1993, going 5-5 and losing their opener at home to Carleton 17-14. This season, the Royals are off to a 2-1 start and beat Carleton on the road 42-7. If football games were 59 minutes, they would be 3-0 as their Week 2 loss to highly ranked Wheaton came on the last play of the game.

Leading the ho-hum category is St. John’s. Coach John Gagliardi marked his 600th game on Saturday by picking up win 464. St. John’s has opened with at least three straight wins in four of the last five seasons. Saturday’s win at Concordia-Moorhead was revenge for a 9-6 loss to the Cobbers at home in Week 3 last year. With a solid running attack and quarterback Joe Boyle’s ability to throw the ball the Johnnies are the front runner for the MIAC crown and a playoff run.

Bringing up the rear in the ho-hum category is UW-Whitewater. Now they haven’t really played a solid opponent yet and likely won’t until they reach the conference schedule but outscoring the opponent 88-3 through two games is what we’ve come to expect. Watch for the Warhawks to have revenge on their minds when they battle UW-Stevens Point who handed them their first conference loss in four years last season.

Finally, you hate to highlight it but there are just some teams that are really struggling to get on track. Ten years ago, PLU started the season 2-0 en route to a 14-1 championship season. A decade later the Lutes are searching for the formula that made them a national contender. They have opened the 2009 season at 0-2 being outscored 95-14. The Lutes have averaged four turnovers a game while totaling minus-77 yards rushing on the season. Once accustomed to a consistent position at the top of the NWC, the Lutes will be clawing and scratching to stay out of last place.

Northwestern (Minn.) has been fighting for respect on the D-III landscape for years. They opened last year in a nail-biting loss to Simpson and stunned UW-River Falls on the road. This year, the luck has apparently run out. Simpson crushed Northwestern by 28 points in Week 2 and UW-River Falls got revenge at Northwestern this past week. The UMAC schedule should make it easier for Northwestern but the showdown at St. Thomas at the end of the season will likely be anti-climatic.

It’s early, things can change and I could be totally wrong but it’s three weeks into the season and things are starting to take shape.

Boehme shows triple threat

In a matchup usually seen at playoff time, Linfield unleashed its triple threat on Occidental to pick up a huge non-conference road victory, 31-27. Linfield quarterback Aaron Boehme hurt the Tigers through the air, on the ground and surprisingly by hauling in a pass on the go ahead drive. Boehme finished with 172 yards passing and a touchdown, 56 yards rushing and a touchdown and a 21 yard reception from Trevor Patterson on the 53-yard drive that gave Linfield the lead for good. 

Oh my gosh, Oshkosh

UW-Oshkosh had three players complete a pass during a 71-yard drive in the second quarter. Justin Wara found Nate Wara on a flea-flicker for 21 yards before Matt Haass lofted a 21-yard toss to Justin Wara for a successful faked field goal. Later, Tyler Wegner found Matt Haass for a 3-yard reception. The drive eventually ended when Wegner was intercepted. 

Dashing Hope's hopes

UW-Eau Claire quarterback Cory Sartorelli tied a school record with six touchdowns on Saturday as the Blugold football team defeated Hope 52-45 in double overtime. All six of Sartorelli's touchdowns came on the ground. The six touchdowns tied for most in a single game with Chad Hoiska's six against Oshkosh on Nov. 8, 1997. 

Finding victory in the loss

Northwestern (Minn.) lost 20-17 on Saturday to UW-River Falls but freshman Peter Miller, who doesn’t even play football for Northwestern, will never forget the game. Picked at random for a halftime contest, Miller passed, punted and kicked his way to free tuition for a year. Starting at the 10-yard line, Miller’s pass sailed 66 yards to the 24 yard line. His pooch punt set up a 10-yard field goal which the former high school soccer player nailed with ease. This is the first winner of the Football Frenzy promotion since its inception in 2002.

Jared and Jared leave opponent jarred

Jared Beckwith and Jared Jenkins provided all the offense that UW-Stevens Point needed on Saturday to knock off Division II Missouri S&T. Quarterback Jared Beckwith was 28-39 for 330 yards and two touchdowns. Hauling in over half of those completions was wide receiver Jared Jenkins who notched 15 catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns. The Pointers kicker, who accounted for the other three points, is not named Jared.

Gags reaches another milestone

Legendary St. John’s head coach John Gagliardi reached another milestone on Saturday coaching in his 600th career game. No other head coach at any level of college football has coached 600 football games. The Johnnies made it a memorable one in defeating an upstart Concordia-Moorhead team on the road for Gagliardi’s 464th career victory.


Wartburg knocked off Cornell for the eighth straight time Saturday and used a stingy defense to do it. Senior defensive backs Andrew Creary and Spencer Policha led the way with double digit tackle totals. The defensive unit tallied four takeaways, two blocked kicks, two sacks and seven tackles for loss. The Knights are now 15-2 against Cornell and 19-3 in their last 22 conference games.

Did you know:

  • Loras scored 31 points in the second quarter in a 45-21 victory over Simpson.
  • St. Olaf running back Leon Clark who entered Saturday averaging more than 180 yards rushing per game was injured and held to 15 yards in a 27-16 loss to St. Thomas.
  • Cal Lutheran held Pacific Lutheran to 2 net rushing yards in a 49-7 drubbing of the Lutes.
  • After ending a four-game losing streak to St. Olaf, St. Thomas is 2-0 for the first time since 1997.
  • Gustavus Adolphus coach Peter Haugen picked up his first collegiate win in a 30-24 double overtime victory over Hamline.
  • In Central’s 41-27 victory over Dubuque, the Dutch gave up 504 yards of offense -- that’s the most since allowing a school record 539 yards in a victory at Augsburg on Sept. 10, 2005.

Games to Watch

Coe at No. 16 Central, Pella, Iowa: Both teams are coming off disappointing seasons but both teams are 3-0 and opening a lot of eyes on the D3 landscape. Both have proven the ability to win close games and pull out victory even when statistically overmatched. The teams have split the last six games with Central winning the last three. The winner of this game gets an early jump on the IIAC title.

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Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

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