September 17, 2003

They really do like cheese

More news about: UW-Eau Claire | UW-Stout

I’d usually prefer not do the same type of column two weeks in a row, but since a weekend stay with D3football.com in America’s Dairyland was first-class, I thought I’d share with the nation what football is like in Menomonie and Eau Claire.

Headed to UW-Stout to cover the 12th-ranked Blue Devils’ clash with No. 15 Hardin-Simmons, I skipped work on Friday, flying into Minneapolis from Washington, D.C.’s Dulles airport a day after Pat Coleman did. After a nice encounter with Pat’s family, we wandered into Menomonie, a small-town with a brick-laden main street district set upon giant Lake Menomin.

Not quite sure what to do with Friday night, we made our way to Menomonie High School’s game with Rice Lake, a 41-13 affair that spectators said would be among Menomonie’s closest competition all season. Though I saw three touchdowns and two black people in my first ten minutes at Don & Nona Williams stadium — where Stout would play the next day — good people are good people, and I felt welcome.

Pat and computer expert Ryan Coleman, Pat’s humorously cantankerous younger brother, made up our travelling contingent for the weekend. Meeting Stout coach Ed Meierkort on the night before the game at a Blue Devil hangout called the Mardi Gras Café, we were treated, and treated well. We were also told by locals, in not so many words, that if we didn’t try the beer, brats and something with cheese in or on it, we weren’t really experiencing Wisconsin. Although I’d been to Madison before, I had always thought the cheese thing was an exaggerated stereotype.

UW-Stout coach Ed Meierkort
Ed Meierkort surveys the scene with his team trailing in the second quarter.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, D3football.com

Whether they were students tapping Meierkort on the shoulder to wish him good luck on Saturday or Cowboys parents who had flown up from Texas, everyone we ran into in town had a smile on his or her face and couldn’t wait to see these two teams kick off.

Hardin-Simmons players were up early and ready to go in the morning. We stayed in a motel next to theirs, and believe me, we were up early to be interviewed on a local radio show. Jake Bostrom and Steve Schrantz review high school games from the night before and talk Stout, Eau Claire and River Falls, all while broadcasting out of Bob & Steve’s Amoco/BP gas station in the heart of Menomonie.

One thing we learned over the course of the weekend: As much as we enjoy covering Division III football, fans out there enjoy having it covered and discussing it on the message boards. People really tuned in to the radio show, and we were greeted over and over again with appreciation for what the site provides.

After a morning interview with Cowboys coach Jimmie Keeling, nice enough to accomdate us in the lobby of the Best Western, we were ready for game time.

Hardin-Simmons used an advantage in quickness — not necessarily team speed — to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers and take a 14-0 advantage. But Stout had barely had the football. Able to establish some rhythm behind the tailback tandem of Luke Bundgaard and Ryan Englebert, and receiver Matt Sprester, the Blue Devils narrowed the lead to 14-7. With the aid of a defensive holding penalty that nobody I know saw, Stout turned a failed fourth down into a game-tying, momentum-stealing touchdown with four seconds left in the half.

“Honestly, we don’t really acknowledge the scoreboard until the second half,” said Meierkort after the game. He was apparently telling the truth, as his team took a 10-point lead on two drives of more than six minutes in the third period.

Hardin-Simmons remained in the game, and drove toward a score that would have made it 24-21 before a fumble, which appeared to come after the ballcarrier was tackled, turned the ball back over to Stout. The Blue Devils continued dominating, as they went up 31-14. In the second half, Stout converted seven of 10 third downs and held the ball for nearly 20 minutes.

The Blue Devils, who lost three games by a total of seven points last season, are not strangers to rallying from behind.

“I don’t think you can put this team in a situation they haven’t been in,” Meierkort said.

The coach recalled overcoming a 20-0 first-quarter deficit against UW-River Falls in October 2001. Last year, their season ended on a failed rally from a 14-0 deficit against UW-La Crosse. With its holder injured, Stout went for two and came up a foot short, giving the Eagles the WIAC title and NCAA automatic bid, 28-27.

“This exorcises all the ghosts of the end of last year,” Meierkort said.

Keeling was disappointed with the loss, especially since his team was flagged eight times and Stout just twice, not including two occasions where penalties offset.

“I’ve never been penalized that much, ever, and they can’t get one called on them,” said Keeling, who has coached high schools and colleges in Texas since 1959.

The Cowboys’ mistakes often set up scores for Stout, and taking that into consideration, Keeling wasn’t unhappy with his team’s play. Aside from the mistakes at such inopportune times, Keeling learned that his team belonged on the field with another Top 15 program, which is what they came north to find out.

“We’re going to be alright,” he said. “We’re big and strong and powerful, and without the penalties, I don’t think [the 31-21 loss] happens.”

Meierkort, in his life-of-the-party, be-sure-to-praise-the-other-team way, was happy to start this season with a win against a challenging opponent.

“Hardin-Simmons is good offensively,” he said. “We don’t need to see them again.”

While the stadium empties, Pat goes crazy on his laptop in the press box tracking down scores and posting stories to the Web site. Most people get to enjoy college football Saturdays; Pat gets frantic.

Since the site needs so much immediate attention on Saturdays, I figure out every interesting thing to do in an empty press box before we hustle over to Eau Claire. Just 30 minutes down the road, the Blugolds are hosting Augsburg, which like many Minnesota schools is actually just a short drive from Northwestern Wisconsin.

Eau Claire plays off campus at a municipal complex called Carson Park. The football stadium seats 6,500 and has a classic feel to it, unlike the aura the brand-spanking new turf gives Stout’s stadium.

By the time Pat, Ryan and I walk in, we have a friendly bet going on how much Augsburg will be trailing by. Eau Claire was up 7-0, so I win the bet, but only because I chose third and 13-0 and 22-0 were already taken.

We don’t look so bad for thinking the Auggies don’t stand much chance, as the score balloons to 14-0, 21-0 and 31-0. Augsburg scores and makes it 31-14 with two seconds left in the first half, and I’m thinking they just might make this interesting.

Then the ensuing kickoff is nearly returned for a touchdown by the Blugolds’ Derrick Sikora, who is pushed out of bounds at the 1-yard line. (His runback was later nullified by penalty).

During halftime, Pat sings along with the Eau Claire marching band’s Michael Jackson-themed performance.

Someone in the press box asks aloud: “Which is worse, their interpretation of Michael Jackson, or Pat’s interpretation of their interpretation?”

I think we all know the answer. I was actually impressed that a Division III school, even a big one like Eau Claire, had a marching band.

In the second half, the message that the Auggies aren’t supposed to be in this game apparently hasn’t reached them. They score to make it 31-20, then stop Eau Claire and get the ball back.

Augsburg quarterback Tony George gets a first down on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak, then scrambles for another first down near midfield. But an illegal block in the back nullifies the run, making it third-and-9 instead of first-and-10. Augsburg punts, Sikora has another big return and Eau Claire’s Nels Frederickson hooks up with Erik Ferguson on a post to make it 38-20. This one’s ovah! Sikora adds an interception return for a TD in the 52-20 UWEC win.

What have we learned today, kids? Penalties will kill a drive, and make a team lose the only thing more important than momentum: the game.

Pat and Ryan tinker with the site and round up the late scores and stories from the West Coast (although Pat will still be trying to locate the Pomona-Pitzer score on the way to the airport the next morning). I make fast friends with just about everyone still hanging around the press box. More than an hour after the game, we are the last to leave the press box for the second time that day. That’s right, some people shut down bars, we shut down press boxes.

Man, we’re dorks.

So if you’ve never seen a football game in Mississippi or Wisconsin, now you know how Division III football is done from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. I promise I’ll come up with an original idea for next week.

Poll positions
Now that the AFCA has released its first poll of the season, there are three that are released weekly during the season — counting the D3football.com Top 25 and that of another “small college expert.”

Given that polls are by nature an inexact science, I thought it might be fun to compare and contrast some of the rankings.

We all had Mount Union at No.1 and then St. John’s — okay, that part was easy. In fact, the other two polls had the same top five, with Trinty (Texas), Rowan and Linfield at three, four and five. The D3football.com voters, I suspect, have tried to project what might happen a little more, putting Baldwin-Wallace at No. 3. But in Division III the same characters often end the season in the playoffs, so relying on how last year went until someone beats those same old teams is a pretty solid poll strategy. It isn’t mine, but I imagine it works allright.

But after the top five, it gets fun.

Brockport State is seventh, ninth or 23rd, depending on who you ask. Wittenberg comes in at 10, 13 or 19. Mary Hardin-Baylor: 6, 11 or 16. Coe was ranked 20th, first in also receiving votes with 144 points and 13th in also receiving votes with 9.

In one poll, Kings Point was ranked 25th. Merchant Marine was 39th elsewhere. They’re the same institution.

A Moravian graduate co-worker loves to down Hampden-Sydney for me, as long as I’m willing to return the favor and insult his archrival Muhlenberg. The Mules, 19th in one poll, received three and zero votes in other polls. We could deal with that.

Hampden-Sydney, however, must be respected, as they checked in at 16, 23 and 40. I’m willing to root for the Tigers, arch rival of my alma mater, but only because the better coach Marty Favret looks, the better I look for having intercepted his quarterback four times in a game when he was the offensive coordinator at Catholic.

Man, I’m such a has-been.

Anyway, I digressed from the original point. How can The College of New Jersey be 24th, 38th and unranked and receiving zero votes?

Well that’s Division III for you, where compared scores and past success can get you ranked by pollsters who may never have even seen a highlight of your team, much less a full game.

Of course, as Pat pointed out this weekend, the poll doesn’t matter in the end, as Division III teams get to sort out their champion where it should take place: on the field.

Press coverage
Respect the pun (get it? Press coverage?). Then take a glance at what national and major media outlets are saying about Division III football:

From Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
“Sports at Washington & Lee ‘help to strengthen the overall development of the student, mentally and physically’ says Mike Walsh, the athletic director. Is that a little lofty? What do you expect from a school where the average SAT is 1371? All it really means is, sports are good for you, but don’t get a big head if you play. Econ 101 is at 8 in the morning, stud. Be there.”

From Terry Bowden on ESPN.com:
“To new coach Mike Hoskins of Division III Rockford College (Ill.): What in the world are you doing beating Trinity Bible College (N.D.) by a D-III record score of 105-0? I know it’s the job of the defense to hold the score down, but that is inexcusable. No one deserves to be humiliated like that, especially a bunch of guys at a Bible college. At least we know they’re praying for your forgiveness.”

From American Football Monthly, via Westminster (Mo.) Web site:
“The football-coaching trade magazine recently named 10 coaches in each division from high school to college that it considers will make such an impact in 2003 that they will be on everyone’s short list [to hire] in 2004.
Joe Loth, Otterbein
Kevin Ricca, Hampden-Sydney
Tim McNulty, Kings Point
Mike Sirianni, Washington & Jefferson
Scott Westering, Pacific Lutheran
Joe Perella, Case Western Reserve
Matt Kelchner, Christopher Newport
Bob Colbert, Bridgewater (Va.)
Erik Raeburn, Coe College
Scott Pingel, Westminster (Mo.)”

From Pat Coleman (yes, that Pat Coleman) on cstv.com:
“[A]t the Division III level we don’t get a real spring practice period — only this year did the NCAA allow any contact between coaches and players during what they term the non-traditional segment. Meanwhile, Division III baseball and tennis teams are competing in the fall and the spring. In the end, these reforms cut back on practices for Division III schools. Whether this was what prompted 18-year Ohio Northern head coach Tom Kaczkowski to violate NCAA rules by holding an extra month of practice — not to mention bringing his team in a week early — we don’t know. But this is what passes for a major scandal in Division III.”

Stat of the week
It’s hard to overlook a 41-carry, 385-yard day from St. John Fisher’s Jason Meyers, and it’s hard to pass over Paul Bryant’s six touchdowns for Bridgewater State (Mass.). But, as I did last week by failing to note Randell Knapp’s 310 receiving yards, those that get love on the D3football.com front page won’t get repeated under stat of the week. ATN dug up two more stats to be appreciated:

Whitworth was penalized 17 times for 145 yards, and defeated NAIA Montana Tech 20-3. Wait, guess that ruins the moral of my Wisconsin story.

How about three cheers for accuracy, then? UW-Stevens Point quarterback Scott Krause completed 95% percent of his passes in a 63-0 win against Tri-State (Ind.). He was 18 for 19 for 269 yards, threw five touchdown passes to four receivers and (go figure) set a school record for completion percentage.

National game of the week
No. 3 Baldwin-Wallace at No. 1 Mount Union, Alliance, Ohio, 1:30 p.m.
What do we really need to tell you about this game? It’s the seven-time national champions and winners of 97 of their past 98 games hosting the last team to beat them in a regular-season contest. Baldwin-Wallace, on a streak of 36 non-losing seasons, won 23-10 in 1994. The Purple Raiders have won 77 straight OAC games since, but last year didn’t put away the Yellow Jackets until Chris Kern intercepted a pass in the end zone on the final play of a 28-21 win. Much more on this game on both schools’ athletic sites, plus mtunionfootball.com, and our own broadcast of the game on Saturday.

Honorable mentions: UW-Eau Claire at No. 2 St. John’s, No. 13 Ithaca at Hartwick, DePauw at No. 15 Hanover, No. 17 Lycoming at Wilkes, No. 25 Kings Point at Springfield.

Hindsight game of the week
How about No. 15 Hanover holding off Thomas More 33-30 in overtime? I definitely could have chosen UW-Stout vs. Hardin-Simmons, as it lived up to its billing as a battle between ranked contenders, but there’s something about a great finish that I appreciate. The Panthers held the Saints to a field goal, then scored on a 26-yard TD pass to win. UW-La Crosse also scored 15 in the fourth to defeat Illinois Wesleyan, and Guilford had a freshman kicker boot the game-winning field goal with four seconds left.

Hindsight HMs: Kalamazoo 28, No. 16 Wabash 21; UW-LaCrosse 22, Illinois Wesleyan 12; No. 23 Central 3, Augustana 0; Guilford 27, Methodist 24; Greenville 28, Westminster (Mo.) 27, 2 OT

Your nation, your words
As always, Around the Nation thrives on reader feedback. We’re interested in your thoughts on three points this week, and when you write in, please include your full name, age, hometown and school you root for. Or use our handy feedback form.

1. What exactly is the mission of Division III? What should it be?
2. Whether you have a personal relationship or watch from afar, send ATN your most vivid memories of St. John’s John Gagliardi over the years. The namesake of the Division’s top trophy and a 400-game winner is known more for his daring to be different than the statistics. Tell us what you remember about him as he approaches the record.
3. What are the coolest, most unique names you see around the division? Each year, a friend and I comb through Division I preview magazines looking for the next Pig Prather, Craphonso Thorpe or LaBrandon Toefield. Tell ATN the best names you’ve spotted around the country.

Attention SIDs
Around the Nation is looking for new directories, media guides, record books and other helpful tools from both conference and school SIDs. The information is used when compiling Around the Nation, and is a great help for feature stories. SIDs can also add keith@d3football.com to football-only release lists or e-mail us the Web address of online guides, but please label correspondence as such in the subject line. Snail mail to Keith McMillan, 14010 Smoketown Rd., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

comments powered by Disqus

Ryan Tipps

Ryan is D3football.com's Senior Editor and begins as National Columnist in fall 2014. He was the Around the Mid-Atlantic Columnist from 2007 to 2011; has worked on all but one of the preseason Kickoff publications; has done game-day writing and photography and the pregame broadcast at the championship Stagg Bowl in Salem for almost a decade; and has taken photos at the Final Four for D3hoops.com. He's also on the selection staff for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award.

2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

Previous Columns

September 17, 2014
Startups come back for seconds
The three teams that started up Division III football programs last season are now in the midst of...
September 14, 2014
Snap judgments: These underdogs brought some bite
There were some near-upsets on Saturday, but in the end, almost all of the higher-ranked teams came...
September 11, 2014
Monarch linebacker forced to follow his heart
Forced from the middle of the action to a supporting role on the sidelines, Methodist linebacker...
September 7, 2014
Snap judgments: Right/wrong foot
There are two ways to start the season -- with a win, or a loss. Now, not every win necessarily puts...
September 2, 2014
Division III football: A gentleman's game
Hampden-Sydney and Wabash, two all-male schools, are squaring off in football this weekend for the...
March 3, 2014
Analyzing the NJAC and E8's big moves
Wesley and its Capital Athletic Conference brethren join forces with five New Jersey schools to form...
November 24, 2013
Look who stole the show in Round 1
Many of those who shined in the first round of the 32-team playoffs weren't the nationally elite...
November 21, 2013
Playoff picks, surprises, disappointments
ATN assembles a team for an annual look at who might surprise and disappoint us in the 32-team...
November 16, 2013
On this day, they were all big games
Keith McMillan has instant reactions both inside and outside the playoff picture on the final day of...
November 13, 2013
A pre-regional rankings primer
Keith McMillan introduces the committee and their roles, analyzes Pools B and C and takes reader...
November 10, 2013
Snap judgments: Seen from the other side
Millsaps may well have a story for the ages out of Saturday's win vs. Centre, as will Cornell and...
November 7, 2013
Poll positions: What to make of regional rankings
If you haven't seen regional rankings before, or your team hasn't been a contender in recent years,...
November 3, 2013
Snap judgments: The aftermath
With so many games featuring two ranked teams, we should see a lot of movement in Sunday's Top 25...
October 24, 2013
Poll positions: Doing some number crunching
The Top 25 doesn't exist to steal anybody's joy. It is merely a prism through which to view...
October 20, 2013
Snap judgments: Cycling up
Maryville and TCNJ are atop their respective conferences, the John Carroll defense isn't the only...
October 13, 2013
Snap judgments: A blurry picture developing
Not literally -- we get great pictures from our associated photographers and SIDs, but that won't...
October 8, 2013
Poll positions: Streaking up the rankings
Keith McMillan looks at why one computer ranking is making the case for a blue team No. 1, and not a...
October 6, 2013
Snap judgments: Bounceback seasons
Olivet, St. Lawrence, North Park, Husson, Western Connecticut ... the list of improved teams this...
October 3, 2013
Re-ranking the conferences
With September's games, and the vast majority of non-conference play in the books, Around the Nation...
September 29, 2013
Snap judgments: Look away from the Top 25 scores
At first glance -- like say, the scores page, with the top 25 scores the initial finals that catch...
September 26, 2013
History lesson: Engineering rivalries
Week 4 is perhaps the most odd Saturday on the schedule. There aren't many great rivalries, but...
September 24, 2013
Poll positions: How the voters reacted
A kick going wide left produced a wide variety of reactions, but when Wesley got taken down a peg,...
September 22, 2013
Snap judgments: Week 3
The Tommie-Johnnie rivalry is back, UMHB's defensive line is pretty darn good, the MIAA has a better...
September 19, 2013
History lesson: Wesley vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor
Now that longtime rivals Wabash and DePauw are both in the North Coast, and Mount Union and...
September 18, 2013
Poll positions: There's some movement coming
The top of the poll didn't change much last week but Saturday's games could have a significant...
September 17, 2013
Off the beaten path
Just because a team isn't in the Top 25 running or mentioned in the podcast or doesn't have a Play...
September 11, 2013
Poll positions: Why teams shuffle
In Around the Nation, Keith McMillan discusses a nonstandard way of assembling the ballot after Week...
September 8, 2013
Snap judgments
Keith McMillan's Around the Nation column returns. You'll see ATN several times a week, including on...

Other Columnists