Ohio Northern gets defensive

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ONU's Chad Coward
Chad Coward has contributed 20 tackles, four and a half for loss, two passes broken up and two forced fumbles for the Polar Bears so far.
Ohio Northern athletics photo

Ohio Northern is getting defensive in the Ohio Athletic Conference thus far this season.

Over the last two weeks, two different Polar Bear athletes have been honored the OAC’s Defensive Player of the Week. First, it was Justin Henck, a senior defensive back, who earned the honor after a 34-10 win over then-nationally ranked Otterbein.

Then, junior safety Chad Coward was acknowledged for his performance in the Polar Bears’ 36-0 win against Muskingum last weekend.

Henck earned recognition for his two-interception game in Westerville. He returned the second interception for a 70-yard touchdown, which ended all scoring and sealed the Polar Bears’ victory. Henck got the start at left cornerback in place of Eric Wenzler.

“Justin is a senior who is a guy that has played the last 3 years for us,” Ohio Northern coach Dean Paul said. “And although he wasn’t a starter, I think the thing about is impressive about Justin is he has prepared himself just like a starter would. You know, we talked about the next man in philosophy and mindset and Justin was ready. He had not started or played a significant amount of snaps the first game, but he prepared like a starter would and when Eric wasn’t able to play, I was really excited to see Justin play well.”

Seeing Henck succeed on the field set an example for the rest of his teammates and also gave a glimpse at the amount of playmakers Ohio Northern has on their roster.

“It is something that is really rewarding,” Paul said. “Probably more than anything, to see a guy who’s a senior, to watch him work hard and to watch him prepare, it really is rewarding as the coach to see a guy get rewarded for his hard work and his attitude. It does make us feel confident in our defense to have a secondary that has good depth, but it also just helps us feel good for that young man.

“He’s a guy that plays with what I would describe as good technique because there are other guys who run just as fast, if not faster, but you can see he has good understanding of our coverages,” continued Paul. “He has a good understanding of what the offense may try to do. He also plays with good discipline. I think those are certainly qualities you value in a defensive back, somebody who does their job, someone who knows their job and someone who understands what the opponent may be trying to do.”

In the victory over Muskingum, Coward made seven tackles, registered two sacks and returned a fumble, which he forced, 30 yards.

“Chad is a safety who also plays nickel,” said Paul. “He’ll roll down like a nickel, almost like a linebacker at times. He’s more of a safety and Chad is a guy who plays with just extremely good effort. He plays extremely hard. He’s very knowledgeable.

“He knows his position, studies the opponent very hard,” Paul continued. “He’s very diligent about the way he prepares and follows through his progression week through week, following the game plan and the scouting report. He just plays with such a motor. He’s always flying around and he’s real versatile. He’s able to pressure the quarterback, has had tackles-for-loss, had big interceptions.”

The Polar Bears’ defense will need to be at their best this Saturday afternoon when they travel to Alliance, Ohio for an annual meeting with the Mount Union Purple Raiders.

Thus far this season, the Purple Raiders are averaging 49.0 points and 448.0 yards per game. They have passed for more than 300 yards per game and gained another 183.0 on the ground.

“The guys are playing fast,” Paul said of his defense. “We’ve tried to really allow them to play fast by making sure they really know our system and know our schemes and not ask them to do too much. Right now, they’re playing with a lot of confidence.

“For us, a lot of that comes down to great pursuit,” he continued. “We’re working on some of the little things in terms of tackling and pursuit. I think right now, we’re tackling very well; we’re pursuing very well.”

News and Notes
In last week’s 35-34 win against Heidelberg, Otterbein junior defensive back Dominic Jones, returning to the game this season after a few years off and an infamous stint at Minnesota, returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. Jones’ return turned out to be the catalyst for Otterbein’s come-from-behind win over the Student Princes. Heidelberg held a 12-point lead in the third quarter.

At 2-1 overall, Oberlin is off to their best start since 1989. In its 47-21 win over Hiram, Oberlin racked up a school-record 622 yards of total offense. Joey Zebelian, a senior signal-caller for the Yeomen completed 22-of-28 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns. Zebelian engineered touchdown drives of 91 and 96 yards in the second quarter.

Waynesburg quarterback Josh Graham completed 16-of-23 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-16 win over Grove City last weekend. Waynesburg is 2-1 overall and 2-0 in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. Graham was not sacked in the game.

Case Western Reserve junior defensive lineman Dale English accounted for four tackles, two sacks and a pair of pass breakups in the Spartans’ 37-7 win over the Denison Big Red.

Great Lakes Region Teams in D3football.com’s Top 25 Poll This Week

No. 2-Mount Union (OAC)-No change following a 51-0 win at Wilmington
No. 7-Wittenberg (NCAC)-Down one spot after a 24-21victory at Allegheny
No. 8-Ohio Northern (OAC)-Up two spots following a 36-0 win against Muskingum
No. 11-Thomas More (PAC)-Up one spot after a 29-21 win over Washington and Jefferson
No. 14-Trine (MIAA)-No change following a 35-14 win at UW-River Falls two weeks ago
No. 20-Wabash (NCAC)-No change after a 31-14 win over Chicago

Others Receiving Votes: Case Western Reserve (UAA), Washington and Jefferson (PAC), Otterbein (OAC), Baldwin-Wallace (OAC)

Games of the Week
Ohio Northern (3-0, 2-0) at Mount Union (3-0, 2-0), Saturday, 1:30 p.m..
Ohio Northern was the last team from the OAC to beat Mount Union when they upset the Purple Raiders in Alliance during the 2006 season. In the three meetings since, Mount Union has controlled the rivalry. However, with a dynamic offense and physical defense, Ohio Northern could give the Purple Raiders another scare on their home turf.

Allegheny (2-1) at Case Western Reserve (3-0), Saturday, 1:00 p.m. The Gators are reeling after a 24-21 loss to the Wittenberg Tigers last weekend and they come to Cleveland for Case’s homecoming game. Allegheny could supply Case Western Reserve with their greatest challenge during their 34-game regular season winning streak.

Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

2012-14 columnist: Brian Lester
2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic

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