It's more than Chazz in the backfield

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Chazz Middlebrook
Chazz Middlebrook was held out of the last 77 offensive plays for MacMurray on Saturday. Even with just 1 yard on Saturday, he's still in the top five rushers in Division III.
MacMurray athletics photo

By Josh Smith

Given that Chazz Middlebrook is coming off a 1,700-yard season and has rushed for another 1,100 yards this year, it wasn’t surprising to see MacMurray’s star tailback get a carry on the second play of Saturday’s game at Minnesota-Morris.

But that turned out to be his only attempt of the day.

With Middlebrook nursing a minor injury, the Highlanders decided not to take any risks with their prolific back and turned the running game over to junior Marquez Ellison.

Ellison responded with 115 yards and four touchdowns to help MacMurray win 49-13 and remain unbeaten on the season.

“We thought during the week of practice that Chazz probably wouldn’t go at all,” MacMurray head coach Chris Douglas explained. “Once we warmed Chazz up, he was looking pretty good. He said he felt good. But there’s a difference between going full speed in warmups and going full speed in a game.

“We feel very strongly that Marquez is a quality back,” the coach continued. “We have full confidence in Marquez and we didn’t have to change a thing as far as what type of plays (were being called).”

Middlebrook and Ellison have been a challenge for opposing defenses throughout the season. While Middlebrook is typically the featured back, racking up 1,133 yards and 15 touchdowns, Ellison has provided an additional spark, scoring nine times.

“Chazz isn’t a fullback – I wouldn’t say that because he’s got some speed. But people bounce off of him. He’s definitely a bowling ball type of guy,” Douglas said. “Marquez is more like a box of knives. He’s a little bit more of a slasher and vertical guy.

“It’s almost like a thunder and lightning type of thing,” he added. “Chazz brings a little bit more of the physicality and Marquez brings a little bit more of the speed.”

Ellison’s speed was on display Saturday, turning in what he called his best game of his career. The junior running back credited the coaching staff and Middlebrook for preparing him to take on a larger role.

“You’re getting more carries. You’re getting more of the attention,” Ellison said of being atop the depth chart. “Every play matters.”

Ellison also said the offensive line played a key role in his successful performance.

“Our O-line is the best O-line I’ve ever ran behind in my life. They’re smart and they all work together well,” Ellison said.

Marquez Ellison
Marquez Ellison brings a different style to the MacMurray backfield.
MacMurray athletics photo

Although sidelined, Middlebrook said he was Ellison’s biggest cheerleader Saturday. Middlebrook was pleased to see his teammate have success, but said he intends to return to action Saturday against Eureka.

Middlebrook’s setback is a minor one, considering other challenges he has had to overcome off the field.

The senior running back’s entire family is deaf, so he learned to sign before he learned to speak. Now, he is studying to be an interpreter for the hearing impaired.

“When I graduate, my job will be to facilitate communication between a hearing person and a deaf client. With everybody in my family being deaf, I’m able get that experience,” said. “That’s what I group up knowing. My first language was ASL – before I even learned English.”

In addition to MacMurray College, Jacksonville, Illinois, is the home for the Illinois School for the Deaf, and a natural connection has formed between the two institutions, according to Douglas.

“Since we have the school for the deaf, we have a large population, per capita, of residents that are deaf. What’s unique about Chazz is he has that connection with the hearing world hear in Jacksonville, but also with the deaf community,” the coach said. “He naturally gravitates between both worlds.”

Helping others comes instinctively to Middlebrook. In fact, Douglas credits him and Ellison for setting a standard for the underclassmen in their position group.

“With Chazz being a senior and Marquez being a junior, they’re definitely mentors for those younger guys,” Douglas said. “The stuff Chazz and Marquez do in practice and carry over to games is a big learning opportunity … for all three of the freshman running backs.”

MacMurray was able to withstand not having Middlebrook in the lineup Saturday thanks to Ellison being ready to step in. However, program depth has not always been a luxury.

When Douglas took over the program 2011, the team trudged through the season with just 52 players. Of those 52, only 27 returned from the previous season.

“At the end of the day, no matter the quality of your players, you’ve got to have some quantity,” Douglas said. “We really had to expand our roster, and now we’re pretty steady.

“To be able to have the depth is critical.”

At 7-0 overall, the Highlanders are the lone undefeated team in the UMAC. However, MacMurray will be tested in the final three weeks, taking on second-place Eureka Saturday before playing on the road the final two weeks, including at UMAC co-leader St. Scholastica Nov. 4.

“We’re not to our best ability yet. There’s still a lot of mistakes we’re making,” Ellison said. “Once we all come together … we’ll definitely be putting up a lot more points.”

“We’re just trying to keep a level head,” Douglas added. “I just want our guys not to get ahead of themselves.

“When we started the season, I didn’t know what to expect because we lost so many good players,” he added. “But this team, probably more than any team we’ve had, has that internal leadership that you’ve got to have.”

Number of the week

92 – as in the 92-yard kickoff return by Bethel’s Joel Koenecke. Koenecke’s big special teams play coupled with two rushing touchdowns from Hayden Foote led the Royals to a 24-3 win vs. Gustavus Adolphus.

The rest of the West

Dylan Hecker had 165 yards and three touchdowns on 30 rushing attempts to help UW-Oshkosh prevail over UW-Platteville, 28-14, in a battle of top-10 teams. … Justin Kruse registered two tackles for a loss, including 1.5 sacks, and forced a fumble. Kruse’s defensive effort, coupled with two Anthony Garcia touchdowns powered George Fox past Willamette, 58-12. … Riley Brockway caught three of Matt Sacia’s four touchdown passes in Wartburg’s 42-11 win over Loras. Brockway finished with five receptions for 81 yards. … St. John’s defense recorded four takeaways and five tackles for a loss while holding Carleton to 70 total yards of offense. The Johnnies won the game, 35-0. … Cal Lutheran’s Aaron Lacombe only had two catches Saturday, but they went for a 60-yard touchdown and a 57-yard score. Adam Friederichsen added two more touchdown throws and the Kingsmen topped Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 42-20. … Hunter Thompson caught four passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns during St. Scholastica’s 56-21 win over Martin Luther. … Concordia-Moorhead’s Chad Johnson rushed for 154 yards and three touchdowns while the Cobber defense held Hamline to 124 total yards in a 45-0 victory. … Dwayne Allen Jr. racked up 213 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries to help power Dubuque past Nebraska Wesleyan, 42-27. Maurece Herrion added 215 rushing yards in the win. … Tyler Torgerson caught two touchdowns passes, finishing the game with six catches and 93 yards, to help Linfield beat Lewis and Clark, 49-14. … Jay Alston threw three touchdown passes, including two to Brian Sandifer, as UW-Stout defeated UW-River Falls, 21-16. … The Northwestern (Minn.) defense limited Martin Luther to nine passing yards and just 166 total yards of offense in a 29-7 victory. Gideon Burnham finished with nine tackles and three quarterback sacks for the Eagles. … Drew Patterson broke a 93-yard scoring run, his third touchdown of the day, in the fourth quarter to help finish off a 21-14 win over UW-La Crosse Friday night. … Aseal Birir had 159 rushing yards, 112 receiving yards and four total touchdowns to lead Pomona-Pitzer to a 45-23 win at Whittier. … Central’s defense picked up three passes, including two by Tyler Olson in a 30-19 win over Coe. On offense, Blaine Hawkins threw three touchdown passes. … Pacific running back Brandon Boyd ran for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 31 attempts, helping the Boxers defeat Puget Sound, 35-27. … LeAnthony Reasnover had 93 rushing yards and three touchdowns to go with a 46-yard TD reception as Eureka took down Greenville, 30-19. … Cam Bunting helped Simpson take down Luther, 38-17, with 161 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Tanner Jansen added 83 rushing yards and a score. … Khayleb Willis carried 30 times, picking up 144 yards and a touchdown, in St. Olaf’s 22-20 victory at Augsburg. … Tariq Ellis picked up 60 of his game-high 105 rushing yards while scoring the go-ahead touchdown midway through the third quarter of Whitworth’s 17-14 win at Pacific Lutheran. … Jacob Isabel caught 11 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns to propel Chapman to a 45-26 win over Redlands. … Trent White compiled 137 yards and three touchdowns on nine rushing attempts as Westminster (Mo.) defeated Crown, 56-15. … Shamaj Williams had 147 rushing yards and a touchdown, and Matt Urmanski added two scoring runs to help UW-Stevens Point defeat UW-Eau Claire, 26-3.

Rank ‘em

Eight teams from the West Region were ranked in the Top 25 poll, including five in the top-10.

UW-Oshkosh, St. Thomas, Linfield and St. John’s were ranked Nos. 3, 6, 7 and 8, respectively, the same places they were ranked last week. UW-Platteville fell one place to No. 10.

George Fox, Wartburg and Concordia-Moorhead moved up two places each to Nos. 19, 20 and 21.

UW-Whitewater (16), Cal Lutheran (7), Whitworth (5), UW-Stout (4) and UW-La Crosse (3) received votes in this week’s poll.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, breakout players or any other storylines in the Region. Or just drop me a note to let me know what you think of the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter @By_Josh_Smith.


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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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