Seniors lead Olivet back to playoffs

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Braden Black is a four-year starter at quarterback for Olivet.
Olivet athletics photo 

It’s hard to quantify the effect of senior leadership on a football team. Since it’s not as definitive as something like a tackle, interception or a pass, no real statistics exist for it,

Olivet coach Dan Pifer has no problem telling anyone how much the senior leadership means to his Comets, though. He merely points to the team’s eight wins – especially the four decided by a touchdown or less.

“I’d say we have some really good senior leadership. That’s been one of the reasons for our success,” he said. “We have a good mix of older and younger guys. The older guys are showing the young guys how we do things. I think that’s been a big thing since the start of the year – bringing the younger guys along.”

While it can be a clichéd and often overused term, senior leadership has had a legit impact on Olivet. The team rallied in its four victories decided by a touchdown or less.

“We’ve been in some tight ballgames all year. I think those older guys have done a good job making plays in games,” Pifer said. “We have some young guys who have stepped up, too. That’s what we want – our older guys have a lot of football under their belts and the younger guys are following their lead. We’ve been fortunate to come away with some wins in close games.”

It all started with a 15-13 decision at Hope on Oct. 1 in MIAA play. The Comets rallied from a fourth quarter deficit against Benedictine to tie the game and won it in overtime, 54-48. They followed with a 36-30 win over Alma and posted a 44-37 victory at Adrian last week. It gave them at least a share of the MIAA title and locked up a playoff berth. The Comets can win the championship outright win a victory over Trine on Saturday. The team claimed a share of the championship last year.

“This senior group has been through a lot of football. We’ve been in some tight games where we lost and some tight games where won,” said Pifer, who is in his fifth season at the helm. “Win or lose, we learn from those situations. People say you can learn from a loss, but we can learn from a win, too. I’d much rather do that.

“I think we’ve gotten better every week and we have to get better. November is what you get remembered for. As you get closer to the end of the year, the games become more important. We have to raise our level accordingly and deal with the little injuries and the temperature changing and all those factors. Our older guys know that and help the younger guys get through it. It boils down to mental toughness and how bad you want it and how you can find a way to win.”

The team’s offense is loaded with experience. The team starts seven seniors, led by quarterback Braden Black. He’s a four-year starter and is joined by running back Damorria Lilly, receivers Mitchell Bailey and Ryan Anderson, tight end Travis Lankerd and linemen Carl Wilson and Jessie Perez as senior starters.

“Braden has been there from Day 1. He was here when we had the 0-10 season (in 2012). He has seen a lot of football, good and bad. It’s paid off for him this year,” Pifer said. “We’ve gone from 0-10 to conference champs and everything in between. There’s not a lot that can happen that will surprise us.”

Olivet has four senior starters on defense (linebackers Thomas Gary-Homes and Chanler Carner, end Justin Madar and tackle Robert Cuba) and three of them are captains – Madar, Cuba and Homes.

“It’s a whole group of guys who have done well. The juniors have followed the seniors’ lead and it’s trickled down,” Pifer said. “If we give a good effort, we think we have a chance to be successful on Saturdays.”

Game of the Week

Case Western Reserve 26, Westminster 22: The Spartans overcame a 19-point deficit with 3:22 left in the third quarter to pull out the key road win. Case Western Reserve remains atop the PAC standings with Thomas More and can clinch a share of the title with a win against Carnegie Mellon on Saturday.

What to watch

John Carroll at Mount Union: The squads meet for the OAC title Saturday. The Purple Raiders are looking for their 25th consecutive conference crown. They have won 112 regular season games. Like Mount Union, the Blue Streaks own one of the country’s top defenses. John Carroll has not allowed a touchdown in its last 14 quarters.

In the polls

No. 1 Mount Union (9-0) shut out Muskingum, 44-0. The Purple Raiders battle John Carroll on Saturday for the OAC championship.

No. 13 Thomas More (9-1) crushed Thiel, 63-16. The Saints completed their schedule with at least a share of the PAC title.

No. 16 John Carroll (8-1) moved up four spots after its 49-6 win over Otterbein. The Blue Streaks visit Mount Union on Saturday to play for the OAC title.

No. 17 Wabash (8-1) climbed two spots after its 22-14 win over Denison. The Little Giants battle DePauw in the 123rd Monon Bell Classic on Saturday.

No. 19 Wittenberg (8-1) went up three slots after its 64-17 win over Kenyon. The Tigers can clinch the NCAC crown and a playoff berth with a win at Allegheny.

No. 21 Case Western Reserve (9-0) jumped three spots following a 26-22 victory at Westminster. The Spartans can claim a share of the PAC title with a win Saturday against Carnegie Mellon in the Academic Bowl.

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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.

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