October 26, 2011

Working toward a new tradition

More news about: Westminster (Pa.)
Jeff Hand
Jeff Hand's Titans have won five games, their most since 2002.
Westminster (Pa.) athletics photo 

This weekend Westminster (Pa.) will seek to play the role of giant killer as eighth-ranked Thomas More looks for its fourth consecutive Presidents’ Athletic Conference title.

Win or lose, the Titans (5-2, 4-1) are in position to record their first winning season since joining 2002. Now there are signs that storied program that captured six titles in NAIA and played for three more, is ready to take a step forward in the NCAA.

“I think one of the best things, we came into the season, and we knew we had a good foundation,” said Jeff Hand, in his seventh year as coach at Westminster after moving from fellow PAC member Waynesburg. “We got them to buy into the program and we want to try to work as hard as we can every day. We want to outclass our opponents. It’s nice to see the support – even in small things.”

Growing up near Westminster, Hand appreciated the school’s football culture. He didn’t attend the school, but he did make it to a few games here and there. It made an impression.

The plain-Jane, Penn State style uniforms and their simplicity captivated him as a student. The winning traditions he witnessed stayed with him when he went to college and coached at other programs. He knew if an opening came available, he’d consider Westminster.

When he was visiting as a young man and taking in the pageantry and atmosphere, he didn’t know he’d be charged with leading a new chapter of the program – a chapter that’s much different from the NAIA era.

“The first thing is moving from a mindset that you could attract quality players with the scholarship the school offers,” Hand details. “The second is even more philosophical; that winning is powered by the quality of the program. That is, the environment, the facilities, the tradition, the alumni and friends and the quality of the school and the future it can provide for student athletics.

“Young men are graduating and they are comparing you to other Division III schools. Our approach had to change. We had to focus more on facilities and operational budgets. You can treat the men better. Westminster has made those commitments on an incremental scale. We are starting to see the fruition of that.”

Hand says the university and athletic department has been tremendously supportive throughout. The territorialism and egos often connected with university culture faded away.

A tough transition
Westminster was an NAIA power, but tried to go to Division II and struggled. This year could be its first winning season in Division III since 2002.
 (5-2, 4-1 PAC)
2010 (2-8, 1-6 PAC)
2009 (4-6, 2-4 PAC)
2008 (5-5, 3-3 PAC)
2007 (5-5, 2-4 PAC)
2006 (2-8, 1-5 PAC)
2005 (4-6, 2-4 PAC)
2004 (5-5, 2-3 PAC)
2003 (5-5, 3-2 PAC)
2002 (6-4, 4-1 PAC)
2001 (4-5, 0-0 PAC)
2000 (8-2, 0-0 PAC
1999 (3-8, D-II)
1998 (3-8, D-II)
1997 (9-2, NAIA)
1996 (9-3, NAIA) 
1995 (4-3-2, NAIA)
1994 (12-2, NAIA)
1993 (10-3, NAIA) 

A collection of supporters called the “Towering Titans” has also stood beside the team leading in fundraising and other areas. Graduates of the program have also been eager to give back and identify a would-be Titan. They also will consider qualified grads.

According to the coach, there are more than a few schools ready to pounce on the top recruits, “football factories” he calls them. Places where students are expected to be about football every single day of their collegiate life. Westminster is looking for the right player.

“We tell them their future is important to them, and it’s important to us,” Hand explained. “We have a great support system. It’s very simple. We are going to treat our players well. That’s our foundation.”

The campus has also experienced a transformation overall. “The look is still the same, there’s just less empty space,” Hand said.

There’s a new student center, new townhouse-style residence units, revamped library and dining hall areas and every dorm has undergone renovations. Athletically, the weight room has been retooled, a new football-only locker room and new FieldTurf and lightning for evening practice and games.

Hand says all are part of a recipe that will make a difference on the field, but more importantly for a generation of young men who trust Westminster with four years of their life.

And for tradition, Hand says it’s time to start another.

 “The tradition is now, the tradition is us, and the tradition is the present.” And the tradition is being crafted even today in the classroom and on the practice field.

Game Notes:
Josh Mandel of Oberlin threw for 454 yards on 63 attempts – both school records in a 24-21 loss at Washington (Mo.) Mandel had three touchdown passes. Robin Witjes had 13 receptions for 176 yards.

Adrian stays unbeaten with a 52-21 win over Kalamazoo. Brandon Miller finishes with 236 yards passing and three touchdowns for the Bulldogs. Justin Hemm had seven receptions for 154 yards and two scores.

Wittenberg’s Josh McKee had six receptions for 108 yards and two scores. Zach Hurtt tallied 14 tackles, two pass break ups and an interception. McKee now holds the NCAC record for career touchdown receptions. He has 44. He’s also in Division III’s Top 25 for all-time career receptions.

Andrew Keller of Marietta threw for a school record 412 yards in a 42-20 loss to Heidelberg. Germany Woods rushed 34 times for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Teammate Cartel Brooks had 11 carries for 191 yards for the Student Princes.

Baldwin-Wallace racked up 580 yards of total offense in a 75-0 rout of Wilmington. Ryan O’Rourke threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns and Sebastian Zuluaga rushed for 128 yards for the Yellow Jackets.

Thomas More’s Zach Autenrieb set a single-game school record with three interceptions in a 41-21 win over Bethany. Bethany was paced by Matt Grimard who passed for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Daryl Powell caught 13 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns.

Mount Union topped Capital 27-7. Jake Simon rushed 17 times for 169 yards. Troy Spiker had 16 tackles and recovered a fumble for Capital.

Wabash, now 7-0, 4-0 NCAC, dispatched Denison 39-13. Chase Belton rushed for 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Shawn Lehocky had 202 yards passing and three touchdowns as Westminster beat Thiel 48-21.

Clinton Orr rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns as Albion crowned Olivet 52-7. Alex Harris threw for 212 yards and three touchdowns. Brian Spencer had seven receptions for 140 yards and two scores.

Hope knocked off Trine 28-23. Michael Atwell had 244 yards passing and two touchdowns for the Flying Dutchmen.

Tim McNerney rushed 26 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns as Washington and Jefferson topped Geneva 24-7.

James Huddleston recorded 12 tackles, including three sacks and five for loss in Ohio Wesleyan’s 34-10 loss to DePauw. Huddleston also had a fumble recovery and forced another in the loss.

Otterbein edged Muskingum 17-13. The Cardinals scored on a two-yard run by Austin Schlosser with 1:54 to post the win. Officials determined that while Schlosser fumbled the ball, it did cross the goal line before the Muskie defense pounced on the loose ball. Schlosser finished with 314 yards passing. Trey Fairchild had seven receptions for 122 yards for Otterbein.

Ohio Northern scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat John Carroll 24-21. ONU’s Tyler Rue passed for 273 yards. Justin Wilson had seven receptions for 107 yards. Domonic De La Riva scored three touchdowns and rushed for 107 yards. Defensively, C.J. Seitzinger had 17 tackles.

Brett Williams had two touchdowns as Kenyon fell 41-17 to Chicago. Williams rushed for 136 yards on 32 carries.

Great Lakes Region teams in D3football.com’s Top 25 poll this week
No. 2. Mount Union – Stuck in second.
No. 8. Thomas More – Holding steady
No 9. Wabash – climbs up two spots
Dropped out: None.
Others receiving votes: Adrian 58; Wittenberg 55; Baldwin-Wallace 32;

Mount Union won its 60th straight regular season game and extended its regular season road winning streak to 103 games.

Zach Hurtt of Wittenberg has reached double figure tackles in six of the Tigers’ eight games in 2011.

Wilmington has now lost 23 straight games dating back to the 2009 season. 

DePauw snapped a four-game losing skid with a 34-10 come-from-behind win over Ohio Wesleyan.

Trine has lost two straight home games, the first time since September 2006.

Prime Time:

Hiram plays first-ever night game at home as they face Wooster Saturday.

Remember When:
 Baldwin-Wallace has scored 70 points or more, four times in program history. Prior to Saturday’s 75-0 win over Wilmington. The Yellow Jackets cruised to a 73-0 win over Marietta in 1973, a 71-0 decision against Heidelberg in 1982 and a 118-0 win against Kent State in 1923.

James Huddleston became the first OWU defender to log five tackles for loss in a game since Terry Mee accomplished the feat against Wooster on September 28, 1991.

In its win over Denison, Wabash converted a defensive two-point conversion. Luke Zinsmaster returned a blocked PAT 98 yards for the score. It’s the first defensive conversion since 2003.

Games to Watch
Thomas More (7-0, 6-0 PAC) at Westminster (5-2, 4-1), 2:30 p.m., Eastern

President’s Athletic Conference rivals clash. Thomas More leads Westminster by a game and a half. The Titans are enjoying their best season since bolting NAIA. A win would create plenty of separation for the Saints. This should also serve as a preview of future PAC title tilts in years to come.

Albion (4-3, 4-0 MIAA) at Adrian (7-0, 3-0 MIAA) 4 p.m. Eastern
This game will probably determine the MIAA title. Albion still has to play at Trine in November. Keep in mind a back-breaking early conference schedule that sent the Britons against Division I FCS (non-scholarship) Butler, Wheaton and UW-Steven’s Point and left them 0-3 before settling into conference play. Adrian’s defense is stout and offense is even more than capable.

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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