November 10, 2013

Snap judgments: Seen from the other side

Daniel Barone corrals a Hail Mary with three seconds left, just the first of three scores in the final three seconds of Bowdoin's win.
Photo by Brian Beard for Bowdoin athletics

Even in a short four-year career, including a year or more on the sidelines for many of us, a D-III player goes through many types of games. So even though it was more than 15 years ago, and Millsaps deserves celebration for stealing a game it probably should have lost, I immediately identify with Centre just as much on Saturday.

It wasn't the only crazy finish of the day, but it was the most improbable. If only there were somewhere we could find win probability percentages for D-III games. Long story short, Millsaps won a game in which everything needed to go right in the final three minutes; for Centre, everything -- even simple handoffs -- went wrong. Those burn for years, and the only way to rectify it is when they play next season.

Long story long, as I wrote on Saturday: Millsaps scored 11 points in the final two minutes, then caused a Centre fumble during a go-for-the-win two-point conversion attempt, and improved to 9-0 with a 28-27 overtime win. Centre had stopped what seemed like Millsaps' final gasp, a fourth-and-7 pass with 2:59 left. But Zach Bell caused Harry Meisner to fumble, and Nick Arnold returned it 27 yards to the 6-yard line to set up a Majors touchdown. Zak Thrasher scored with 1:50 left, completed a two-point conversion pass to Calvin Shaw, and Millsaps got the onside kick. Then after scoring first in overtime, Centre went backwards, hit a 36-yard pass and then a 3-yard scoring toss. Then, down one, it went to Meisner again to win it.

There was another wild finish, in the Colby-Bowdoin game (that's best viewed on video, not in writing), and a four-overtime game the was way off the top 25 radar, but games like the one Thiel and Westminster (Pa.) played on Saturday is what makes Week 10s so great.

So are the upsets. Because I already had John Carroll ahead of Heidelberg on my ballot, and Wittenberg ahead of Wabash, I didn't have to change the top part of my top 25 that much, even considering the blowout nature of those games. But the losses by Franklin (to Bluffton) and Illinois College (to Cornell) really shook things up.

Here are some other fast reactions to Saturday's games:

• Vince Brautigam can coach. The man who revived Dubuque football before Stan Zweifel did the same is back at Cornell. The Rams' improvement from 3-7 last season to 6-3 right now is partly due to the move from the IIAC to the MWC, but the Rams just knocked off a top 25 team. They also have two close losses and could be 8-1 and in the playoff discussion themselves. The game is always primarily about the players, but sometimes we need to tip the hat to coaches as well.

• Speaking of one, the last time John Carroll had a huge Mount Union game, Tom Arth was the quarterback. (That may or may not be true, but it sure seems that way). Arth is not the first-year head coach of the Blue Streaks, who aren't just revived at 9-0, they're playoff bound. Win or lose on Saturday, they're likely one of the first teams in Pool C if not automatically in in Pool A.

• Hardin-Simmons' huge day against Texas Lutheran threw the Pool B picture out of whack, but it also was a deserved day of joy for a team whose reputation has taken a beating in the past year-plus. After giving up 71 points to Linfield early in the season, HSU hung 73 on a previously unbeaten team.

• Lebanon Valley wrapped up its first MAC title since 1969, a nice result from a team that was on the short end of a Week 11, 44-43 stunner against Albright that knocked them out of the playoff picture.

•Wesleyan was vying for its first unbeaten season since 1970 (instead it finished 7-1, like it did in 1997) when it was walloped, 40-10, by Trinity. Amherst beat Williams and Middlebury handed Tufts its 31st loss in a row. The NESCAC has no reason to break the three-way tie at 7-1, but if it had to -- say, for an AQ -- Wesleyan would come out of the three-way tie for losing to the team lowest in the standings. (Trinity finished 6-2). Amherst's loss is to Wesleyan, and Middlebury's is to Amherst -- so Amherst, IMO, would be the playoff team. There are many ways to break a three-way tie of course, but since this isn't a 'three teams that all beat each other tie,' that's how I'd solve it.

• Pat details the NJAC possibilities in Monday morning's podcast, but Rowan can clinch with a win over TCNJ in Week 11. That's no gimme, but for the Profs, just to have an AQ and title to play for after the Week 6 drubbing at Morrisville State is special. Add in the non-conference win against Wesley, and Jay Accorsi might be looking at some postseason coach of the year honors if Weeks 11 and beyond go well. Worth noting too that Rowan scored just once, on a deep pass as time expired in the first half, but it was enough to hold off Kean, 7-6, on Saturday. Rowan also beat Cortland State, 10-9, in its previous game, and won 7-0 against Montclair State early in the season.

• Meantime, in the NJAC, Cortland State was beating Morrisville State, 62-49, outgaining them 641-622. Huntingdon rolled up 624 yards and lost, 52-41 to Methodist, which has to be hard to swallow. And of course, the Hardin-Simmons/Texas Lutheran shootout outdid them both.

• The MIAC probably has five playoff-worthy teams, but the byproduct of having a bunch of really good ones is that sometimes only the AQ team gets in the postseason. St. Thomas knocking off Concordia-Moorhead left the MIAC with three teams at 7-2 going into Week 11, and it appears to be a year when a two-loss team is going to have a really tough time getting a playoff spot.

• We might have a season where no crazy tiebreakers come into play. Fourteen of 24 automatic bids were clinched Saturday. Here's what's left:

Four are head-to-head, winner takes all:
MIAA -- Hope/Albion 
NEFC -- Salve Regina/Endicott 
OAC -- John Carroll/Mount Union
ODAC -- Hampden-Sydney/Randolph-Macon

Others:

HCAC -- Franklin is in with a win over Hanover or a Rose-Hulman loss to Earlham.
IIAC -- Wartburg is in with a win over Loras. Coe, if it beats Central, could get in with a win and a Wartburg loss. If both Wartburg and Coe lose, Simpson's game at Luther and Dubuque's at Buena Vista would come into play.
MAC -- Lebanon Valley is in with a win over Albright. Widener's game with Del Val would come into play otherwise.
MWC -- St. Norbert is in with a win over Lake Forest. Illinois College faces Carroll.
NJAC -- Rowan in with a win against TCNJ. Brockport State faces Morrisville State.
PAC -- Washington & Jefferson is in with a win over Waynesburg. Thomas More faces Mount St. Joseph.

We'll analyze these more later in the week, but right now, here are the non-AQ playoff candidates:

Pool B (three spots)
Millsaps, 9-0, .507 SOS
Framingham State, 8-1, .574
Wesley, 7-2, .678
Texas Lutheran, 7-1, .424
Wash. U., 7-2, .555
Rhodes, 7-2, .497

Pool C (Seven for five spots)
John Carroll/Mount Union loser
UW-Platteville/UW-Oshkosh winner
Pacific Lutheran, 8-1, .545
Illinois Wesleyan, 8-1, .502
Wabash, 8-1, .514
Thomas More, 8-1, .470
Illinois College, 8-1, .460

That's not including Chapman, which is 7-1 with a .428 strength of schedule and no wins (or even losses) against regionally ranked teams.

Discuss the Pool B and Pool C playoff pictures more on D3boards.

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