November 2, 2006

Texas hospitable ... to defense

More news about: Mary Hardin-Baylor | UW-Whitewater
It was tough going on offense for anyone on either side.
UMHB athletics photo

BELTON, Texas -- Justin Beaver you know. UW-Whitewater teammates Justin Jacobs and Derek Stanley might also ring a bell. Warhawks tight end Pete Schmitt you may remember from his key play in the Stagg Bowl, fullback Travis Reuland from his ties to Beaver and Brady Ramseier and Max Sakellaris were all-American linemen.

Josh Welch quarterbacked Mary Hardin-Baylor in the Stagg Bowl two years ago and Freddie Rollins rushed for the touchdown and two-point conversion that tied the game at 21.

Outside their home conferences, the recognizable names from the past two Stagg Bowl runners-up were all offensive players. After Saturday's 7-3 Whitewater victory, the nation's Division III onlookers should get familiar with defensive tackle Ryan Kleppe and his fellow Warhawks, as well as free safety Josh Kubiak and his fellow Crusaders.

"Last year our offense overshadowed our defense," said Kleppe, "and this year, they're just as good."

One wouldn't have been able to tell on Saturday, as the defenses so dominated two offenses that they managed just a field goal between them. But the game was never boring, and considering the need for defense during a long playoff run, both teams should have come away encouraged.

"I feel bad about the loss, but I still feel good about the way we played," said Kubiak, who was talking to me for the second time after a game the Crusaders very well could have won and lost.

The defensive statistics are overwhelming.

Since Neil Mrkvicka's 94-yard kickoff return on the opening play accounted for the game's only touchdown, UMHB's defense pitched a shutout against a team averaging 40 points and 422 yards per game coming in. They were coming off 45- and 49-point performances against two of the best teams in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Star running back Beaver was missing, but he wouldn't have made a huge difference Saturday. The speedy, gang-tackling Crusaders were smothering everything. Whitewater finished with eight first downs, 30 yards rushing, 120 total yards and were 2-of-12 on third down.

The Warhawks basically did the same from the time Kleppe sacked Welch on the fourth and fifth plays of the game. Relying more on brute strength and solid technique, the Warhawks had Mary Hardin-Baylor abandoning the option and double- and triple-teaming linemen in the first half. UMHB came in averaging 36 points per game and 307 yards, including 201 rushing. They finished with 13 first downs, 49 yards rushing, 204 total yards and were 3-of-13 on third down.

Mount Union and Rowan have the No. 2 and 3 defenses in the country, statistically. Given Saturday's performances against premier offenses, Mary Hardin-Baylor and Whitewater each look worthy of No. 1 accolades. If the Profs rebound, those teams could create a defensive-minded final four.

But after the loss, Kubiak, who had nine tackles, two pass breakups and a sack, was in no mood to look that far ahead. The Crusaders' final two opponents, he pointed out, had either won the conference (East Texas Baptist, 2003) or beaten them last season (Howard Payne). Victories in those American Southwest Conference games will set up a first-round playoff game on Belton High School's field, against someone other than Hardin-Simmons, the ASC opponent UMHB beat 28-16 on Oct. 7.

"We knew that this wouldn't affect whether we make the playoffs or not, but we still took it really seriously," Kubiak said. "We wanted to win."

The Crusaders probably should have. UMHB dinked a 47-yard field goal attempt off the high school uprights, threw an interception on the 12 at the end of the first half and settled for a late 27-yard field goal after driving to the Whitewater 4-yard line. 

On the flipside, that the only scoring drive of the day, lasting seven plays and covering 5 yards following a Jacobs fumble with 9:51 left. On the longest drive of the day, UMHB took 14 plays to go 59 yards, but they twice got first downs on Whitewater penalties.

The Warhawk defense that buckled down in crunch time, and really hasn't been tested since 2005 games against Mount Union, Linfield and UW-La Crosse, might finally get the respect it deserves. 

"There was nobody quitting when Jake fumbled," said Kleppe of his quarterback's fumble at the 15-yard line. "It was kind of like 'What are you made of?'"

Cornerback Gabe Schultz, perhaps the smallest player in the lineup listed at 5-6, 178, showed what he was made of on a key play after the fumble.

On second-and-goal from the 11 two plays after a holding penalty, Welch lofted a fade to 6-2 freshman receiver Fred Cumby. Cumby caught the ball with both hands, but with safety Ben Farley draped over top of him, Schultz stripped the ball before Cumby feet touched the ground. If there were replay in Division III anywhere besides the Stagg Bowl, it would have been reviewed. As it stood, it was the four-point difference in the game.

"You've got to use whatever you've got," said Schultz, who was looking for either a fade or a slant and lined up to take the slant away.

It was an odd day for Whitewater's defenders, who didn't figure they'd have to make a game-opening kick return stand up, and didn't expect to be shouting out the punter in post-game interviews. When Kleppe noted that "Nick Croak did a great job for us," he was no doubt referencing the Warhawks punter's was part in the defensive effort: Nine punts for 394 yards, with four inside the 20 and three for 50 yards or longer.

Kleppe, a 6-0, 290-pound senior had perhaps his best day ever, with 10 tackles, three sacks and five and a half tackles for losses. He attributed some of the success to having his "arm back," since he broken in the season-opening win against Lakeland and played with it wrapped for several weeks.

The benchmark day for the Whitewater defense started with a familiar goal, Kleppe said.

"We stress stopping the run first, which makes teams one-dimensional."

On the flipside, the Crusaders' success comes from an array of blitzes, solid coverage and lightning-quick pursuit to the ball.

"Our linebackers are extremely fast," said Kubiak. "We take a lot of pride in our team speed on defense. I don't know how many times I've heard 'em say 'we're too fast, you can't run on us.' "

Derek Underwood only took one of his 20 carries longer than eight yards, but his late 20-yarder helped Whitewater pin the Crusaders deep for their final unsuccessful drive. The Warhawks missed their best scoring chance when freshman kicking sensation Jeff Schebler missed a third-quarter 50-yarder, he too hitting an upright.

Whitewater left Texas both tested and intact, although Reuland, their best pass protector, was injured late in the game. The Warhawks are 8-0 and recognize that they're beatable, putting them in the proper mind-set to handle stiff playoff challenges.

Mary Hardin-Baylor has two losses by a total of eight points, with a drive inside the 5 in the waning minutes of each. Kubiak said the loss was a confidence-builder, and upsets aside, the Crusaders look like the second seed in the South playoff bracket behind Wesley.

Tour report


Keith McMillan burns the 2 a.m. (3 a.m. ET) oil.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3sports.com

On the third of four trips for Around the Nation's Run to the Playoffs -- and thank the Lord the last weekend morning on a 6 a.m. flight -- Pat Coleman and I actually made it to Austin the night before, and headed to Belton for UW-Whitewater's visit to Mary Hardin-Baylor.

The two teams had scheduled this game for the chance to play top competition, and both got the test they wanted. Whitewater, which had to convince UW-Oshkosh to move their scheduled game to Sept. 23, already plays the toughest teams in its general area with its conference schedule.

This game and Linfield/Hardin-Simmons were probably the top two non-conference, non-traditional matchups of the season, and we applaud all four teams for taking those games.

Belton, and Texas in general, was as hospitable as anywhere I've ever been for Division III football. We were able to put faces on a handful of message board handles, and also ran into fans who said they read and don't post, which is fine too. The hospitality took us up the road to Sorge's Italian Restaurant in Temple, which I don't mind plugging because of its Division III ties. The owners, Gary and David Sorge, are natives of Alliance, Ohio, home of Mount Union. Also, apparently some of the meetings when UMHB was discussing adding a program were held there.

When you see what Mary Hardin-Baylor has done on campus with its basketball and baseball facilities, it's easy to wonder why they don't yet have an on-campus football palace. But the program is well taken care of in its field house, and the Belton High School stadium is just on the other side of an overpass.

In a true testament to the enormity of high school football in Texas, the home of the Tigers (aka the Big Red) seats 8,000, and has a turf field. The turf is free of team-oriented markings, so the Crusaders can throw a few banners up on game day and adopt the stadium.

From the top row of seats and press box, at least eight water towers are visible. The landscape is flat and mountain-free for as far as the eye can see, which might be all the way to Waco on a clear day.

Saturday will bring Around the Nation to Glassboro, N.J., for Cortland State's visit to Rowan. Whitworth at Linfield will be just as big a game, but I don't think I can take another flight this week. To the true frequent flyers, I don't know how you do it.

Poll positions / My 26-35
One of the three top 25 voters who was voting for UW-Whitewater No. 1 overall appears to have flipped after Mount Union beat Capital 38-12, albeit at home, and Whitewater overcame No. 6 Mary Hardin-Baylor in Texas, 7-3.

I don’t think the overflow teams, those creeping up on No. 25 on my ballot, are that interesting this week. Not too many shocks in this un-ordered group: Williams, Trinity (Texas), Washington & Jefferson, North Central, Wheaton, Carnegie Mellon, Bethel, St. Olaf, St. Norbert, Curry, Dickinson, Averett, Alfred, Coe and RPI.

Sul Ross State proved itself not quite ready for the big time, and Washington & Lee did not look good against Bridgewater.

Five games to watch
Another huge weekend is on tap, after we had to look at 15 games to watch last Saturday.

No. 10 Whitworth (8-0) at No. 15 Linfield (5-2)
Major implications here, for both the Northwest Conference title (neither has an NWC loss) and for Pool B playoff bids, not to mention teams in Pool C hoping none of their bids are snapped up by overflow Pool B teams. The Wildcats don't seem to be the same team that dominated the West the past few seasons, but a five-game streak of victories has secured consecutive winning season No. 51, likely erasing doubts that may have set in after season-opening losses to Division II Western Oregon and then-and-now-No. 7 Hardin-Simmons. Keen stat-watchers know the record of Whitworth's opponents is only 17-43, but the Pirates haven't allowed more than 16 points in a game. That average is just nine over the past five games, a period in which Linfield has scored 37 points per. The trip to McMinnville is significant for Whitworth, and they might still be a playoff team with a loss. Linfield doesn't have that luxury and needs the season-defining win against a team that hasn't stayed within 11 points of it since 2001 and hasn't beaten it since 1975.

No. 12 Cortland State (8-0) at No. 17 Rowan (5-2)
The Profs are in a win-or-miss-the-playoffs situation, a potential Pool C bid damaged by last week's 27-20 stumble at Montclair State. They can still win their fifth NJAC championship in the past six years by defeating the Red Dragons. A Cortland loss would mean they would meet Ithaca in a win-or-go-home Cortaca Jug game. The Red Dragons could be the East's No. 1 seed or miss the postseason entirely. Cortland's defense has allowed three points in two weeks, since TCNJ's 14 points last week came on a interception return and blocked punt return. Quirky scores may influence Saturday's game, since the Profs have a defense to match (No. 3 in nation at 161.9 yards per game to Cortland's No. 19 and 221.4). Rowan has given up 75 rushing yards all season, bad news for a Cortland team playing with backup quarterback Ray Miles in place of Alex Smith

No. 20 Union (6-1) at No. 14 Hobart (7-0)
Both of these teams seem to be less dominant than their fans expected after last season's playoff runs, but each is poised to go back. Union can clinch the Liberty League with a win, but Hobart still needs to beat 6-2 Rochester in its finale to wrap the league up. The Statesmen also make good Pool C candidates, although the Dutchmen, who lost to Springfield 38-30 early on, cannot afford another defeat. The statistical comparison does not really favor either team, with Union's 210 rushing yards per game being the only outstanding stat. The Dutchmen are slightly more impressive on offense, and the two are about equal on defense. Union's Tom Arcidiacono is the nation's third-leading rusher, and went for 85 yards and a score in last season's 28-18 win vs. Hobart.

No. 16 Ithaca at Alfred (6-2)
The middle game in a brutal season-ending three-game stretch for both holds different opportunities for the Bombers and Saxons. Ithaca has given up just a touchdown a game in its last four; 28 points since St. John Fisher's 34-point second half, and is coming off a 24-7 win over Springfield. A victory would set up a Cortaca Jug game with major playoff bid implications. The Saxons are 6-2 and seemingly out of the playoff mix, even with season-ending victories over Ithaca and Fisher. The 41-34 loss to Springfield means they would likely take the Empire 8 title, and a 21-14 loss to Hobart probably means no Pool C for Alfred. A shame, perhaps, for a team that proved itself a touchdown shy of two top-20 teams, but them's the breaks. Alfred, to many the best team left out of last season's playoffs at 8-2, can match that record with consecutive victories. The Bombers and Saxons are fairly even statistically, with each being better on defense. Alfred leads the E8 in total defense by far.

Averett (6-2) at Christopher Newport (6-2)
The Captains are lucky to still have a title shot after faltering against North Carolina Wesleyan Saturday, probably marking their rock bottom in a season that includes a big win over Mary Hardin-Baylor. For Averett, the season has gone as planned, with games against Mount Union and Wesley to start the season paving the way for an unbeaten run through the USAC slate. Now is the time to earn respect, however, by beating a team with a winning record for the first time since a 54-34 win against Guilford (5-3) in mid-September. Pomoco Stadium will likely be alive for this all-or-nothing USAC tussle.

A quick look at five other games which have conference title, multiple-team tie and Pool B or C implications:

No. 11 Central (8-0) at Coe (6-2)
The Kohawks, despite losing by a field goal in the rain to Wartburg, which lost in overtime to Central, have no shot at the playoffs or IIAC title, and can't force a three-way tie because of a 32-30 slip-up against Loras. But the Kohawks might be powerful enough to hand the Dutch their first loss, which could end up affecting the 7-1 Knights' chances at a Pool C bid. 

No. 24 Wheaton (7-1) at Carthage (6-2)
Wheaton falls in behind North Central if the current three-way tie in the CCIW holds form. The Thunder would be a solid Pool C candidate. Carthage, which lost to Augustana and Elmhurst, could help the Cardinals clinch outright a week before playing them. 

Emory and Henry (5-3) at Washington and Lee (6-2)
Despite the Generals being manhandled by Bridgewater last Saturday, they have a chance to wrap up the first playoff bid in school history with a home win. Lose, and four- and five-way ties are possible in the ODAC. Just as we started to forget about Don Montgomery and what he did in two decades as Mount Union's defensive coordinator, the Wasps (3-1 in ODAC play right) are again contending for a playoff spot.

Franklin (7-1) at Defiance (6-2)
Mount St. Joseph has clinched the HCAC title, but the Grizzlies, clinging to at-large playoff hopes, battle the Yellowjackets for second place. Franklin gains 387.1 yards per game, Defiance (No. 9 nationally at 195.5 yards per) brings a strong defense.

Hope (5-3) at Olivet (5-3)
The Comets stumbled two weeks ago against Tri-State, rendering Hope the likely representative of the MIAA. But Olivet can take the AQ with a win.

Upset special
Bethany at Carnegie Mellon was very tempting here, but the 4-4 Bison's results are too scattershot to think they'll take down a rolling Tartans team with playoff aspirations. Millsaps (5-3) was my pick two weeks ago to knock off DePauw, and this time around, with a shot at beating Trinity and earning the SCAC's playoff bid next weekend, could they be looking past 5-3 Rhodes? By records it's no upset at all, but the Lynx have been non-competitive against the top teams on their schedule, so a win over the Majors would be a surprise. It's all on the ability for Millsaps to hold it together here. Their championship chance will come if they first focus on winning this Saturday.

So far this year: 4-for-7, although Dickinson's 22-21 win over Hampden-Sydney marked the second time my upset special lost by one point (the other was Lycoming's 17-16 loss vs. Delaware Valley).

Surprisingly Good Game
I'm going to take a shot in the dark at an old "throw out the record books" rivalry game. The Bronze Turkey is in and out of hiding, but should be in the house (or somewhere nearby) when Knox (2-7) and Monmouth (6-3) get together. The Prairie Fire's wins have come over programs who are a combined 1-16 and I have no real reason to believe in them other than I've played in enough rivalry games to know the best team doesn't always win. The Scots were a playoff team last season and probably had hopes of returning, but can at least beat their rivals for some solace. In the end, Monmouth has enough talent to get it done, but not without some struggle.

So far this year: 5-for-7, as then-No. 5 Wesley hung on to beat 3-5 Salisbury 13-10 on Saturday.

Also keep an eye on -- John Carroll at No. 1 Mount Union, No. 7 Hardin-Simmons at Texas Lutheran, Bethany at Carnegie Mellon, Carleton at St. Olaf, RPI at Rochester, Amherst at Trinity (Conn.), Salisbury at Widener, Hampden-Sydney at Johns Hopkins, Albion at Adrian

Who are those guys?
A small slate again this week, although a pair of quality Division III teams are in action. Last week Husson beat La Salle 17-7 and Newport News beat Southern Virginia 32-0.

 vs. Division I-AA (1-0 in Week 9, 7-7 in 2006)
None

 vs. Division II (0-0 in Week 9, 4-9 in 2006)
Chowan at No. 4 Wesley

 vs. NAIA (1-0 in Week 9, 21-7 in 2006)
Huntingdon at Southwest Assemblies of God

But don't quote me …
Random tidbits from Week 9 and thoughts on Week 10:

It was a solid weekend for Least Bang for the Buck candidates, a category that is featured in ATN's Year in Review each season. Weather wasn't a factor in the UMHB-Whitewater 7-3 game, and around the country, excuses for poor offensive outputs may vary. Here are some other candidates:

Hanover 7, Bluffton 6
Carnegie Mellon 10, Wash U. 7 (OT)
Delaware Valley 10, King's 0
Coast Guard 3, Maine Maritime 0
And our likely winner: Colby 10, Bates 7 in four overtimes. (See photo.)

For those who didn't stay up late enough to scoreboard-watch, Cal Lutheran had a chance to knock off Occidental. But a 24-7 halftime lead for the Kingsmen became a 28-27 defeat and the feather in the Tigers' cap so far.

West Virginia fullback Owen Schmitt, in action Thursday night in a Division I-A matchup of undefeateds against Louisville, began his career at UW-River Falls before walking on with the Mountaineers.

Millikin (2-6) is the only team among the nation's top 25 in run defense with a losing record. They're 14th.

Your playoff questions
The D3football.com staff is here for you if you need answers, but with the NCAA committee's playoff criteria publicly available, longtime readers have outdone themselves this season on our blog, The Daily Dose, and Post Patterns, our message board. The fan analysis is as good as I can remember it, so no need for me to go overboard. There are fairly comprehensive looks at Pool B and Pool C under General Football on the message board.

For a week now the Daily Dose has featured a thread called Your Team's Playoff Chances, specifically for you to ask about the team you root for and where it stands as of now in the playoff picture. Also featured there are links to our playoff FAQ, which should help any of you confused by mentions of Pools A, B and C, in-region games and Quality of Wins Index.

For print, radio and Internet journalists
Keith McMillan is available, by appointment, on Thursdays and Fridays to talk Division III football. For more information, e-mail Keith.

Attention SIDs
As always, Around the Nation requests media guides and any other aids in helping us cover your school or conference this season. For more information, contact Keith McMillan at keith@d3football.com, or snail mail to D3football.com, 13055 Carolyn Forest Dr., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

Links to online media guides are now preferred over mail. In addition, please do not add my e-mail address to your regular release lists, but instead use our news release capabilities to have your information posted on our front page and your team's page. For more information on how that works and how we can help each other, contact publisher and editor Pat Coleman at info@d3football.com. Thank you.

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Keith McMillan

Keith McMilllan, who has been a columnist for D3football.com since 2000, has provided color commentary on D3football.com's national broadcasts of the Stagg Bowls. He played at Randolph-Macon in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference for four years and covered it for two more.

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