Big drama on the small stage
Let's think about this scenario: One team jumps out to an
impressive lead of three touchdowns, only to see its opponent
fiercely battle back by the third quarter with three end zone
strikes of their own.
And then grit sets in. Mental toughness becomes just as important a component as physical skill and stamina. Momentum once again shifts. The first team uses big plays to wear down the opposing players. The lead -- and ultimately victory -- again becomes theirs.
If you were tuned into ESPN on Monday night, you saw the drama. And this scenario might sound familiar.
But that's not where I'm going with this.
Because in Annville, Pa., far away from the bright lights of suburban Washington and the glint of television cameras, the drama unfolded between Gettysburg and Lebanon Valley.
When the dust settled, the Bullets were the last standing in a 42-28 matchup against a team that came just one point away from a likely playoff appearance in 2009. Gettysburg, on the other hand, struggled that year through loss after loss to finish 3-7.
"We were looking at it as playing a team that had a really great season last year and had a lot of players returning," said Gettysburg coach Barry Streeter. "I just told [the players] that this is a chance for us to see how much better we can get and where we are as a team."
So where exactly does that leave them? The answer is: in a state of confidence. The team graduated its standout quarterback after last season, but in stepped Kyle Whitmoyer, a tough athlete who is quick on his feet. He was a natural in the role. The junior threw for 114 yards and ran for 130 more, including three touchdowns.
Because Gettysburg has primarily a zone-read offense, Streeter says of Whitmoyer, "He throws the ball well enough for us." Indeed he does, and he's just the kind of mobile quarterback that can help Gettysburg thrive.
But what really perhaps turned the tide on Saturday were the turnovers that Gettysburg forced -- five in all.
Scoring started early and started fast. The Bullets broke out to a 21-0 lead after the first quarter, only to see the Flying Dutchmen score three times over the next 16 minutes.
Streeter knew the kind of battle he had on his hands.
"I figured they weren't going to roll over, that's for sure," he said. "We've been really preaching to our kids about playing it one play at a time and not being overly concerned about what the next play is going to mean or what the score is going to be. So I was just trying to practice what I was preaching."
Gettysburg followed up Lebanon Valley's third score with an 80-yard drive, but more importantly, the game changer came just 43 seconds later when defensive back Tyler Fasanella recovered a fumble and brought it 45 yards into the end zone.
But Streeter said it wasn't until the team put together an 11-play, 54-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter that he could breathe a little easier about the game and where it appeared to be ending up. The drive didn't end in any points, but it ate nearly 6 minutes, 30 seconds off the clock and highlighted his team's determination. "I felt really good at that point," he said.
The coach lauded the win against Lebanon Valley, a projected top contender in the Middle Atlantic Conference, as giving a clear picture of where the team stood. It's something you can't really gauge in the preseason. And there's a sense of relief if a team starts the season off well, taking two steps forward instead of two back.
"You've got to watch your team develop its mentality," Streeter said. "If they respond in crisis situations or in difficult situations and play well early, that's always encouraging. It makes it a whole lot easier, mentally, on you. It takes that weight off your shoulders about whether these guys are going to respond. They really did."
Hampden-Sydney finished three quarters with a 45-7 lead over
Averett before ending the matchup 45-30 after the Cougars mounted a
comeback. Saturday seems to demonstrate how much of a force the
Tigers will this year be even without the likes of Corey Sedlar or
Andrew Sellers. The defense remains tough for the third year in a
row, and that's complemented by an aggressive offense. Tigers
quarterback Travis Lane threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns as
the team logged its 500th victory since its first season in 1892
and did so against a team that has been touted as a contender for
the USA South title.
Defense shone bright for Ursinus as the Bears beat last year's
Cinderella playoff team, Albright, 21-13. Ursinus notched seven
tackles for losses and three interceptions, two of which were by
freshman defensive back Chris Roundtree. Roundtree also paced the
team with four pass breakups. The Bears' offense wasn't too shabby
either, with senior Justin Decristofaro connecting for 248 passing
yards and two touchdowns. The quarterback also led the team in
rushing yards. The Ursinus win was among many for the Centennial,
which lost just one game to a nonconference opponent in Week 1.
Two teams had to play Saturday without their quarterbacks:
Maryville senior Tim Conner was confirmed to be out for the season
with a shoulder injury prior to the start of the Scots' 54-3 loss
to Huntingdon. Marcus Fitzsimmons, a Kickoff writer for
D3football.com, has some background on just what Maryville is
missing in a story for The Daily Times. In Virginia, Wesley senior
Shane McSweeny went down in the team's first drive of the game
against Christopher Newport and did not return. Backup
signal-caller Justin Sottilare took over and threw for three scores
in the No. 3-ranked Wolverines' 34-6 win. One of those went to
sophomore tailback Brandon Wright, who found the end zone three
times in the first 23 minutes of play.
In a game I highlighted in Triple
Take on Thursday morning, Moravian overcame its 2009 woes and
toppled Centennial newcomer Susquehanna 12-6. The Greyhounds took
advantage of their two running-back set of Rocco Del Priore and Joe
Tegan to command the clock and muscle out 39 carries between the
two. Susquehanna is coming off a playoff run as its former
conference's defending champ, but it also has lost a handful of
All-Conference players since then.
A freshman put the only points on the board in the
McDaniel-Juniata game. On his second field goal attempt of the day,
Bill Castor put a 27-yarder through the uprights to help the Green
Terror to a 3-0 conference victory.
Salisbury meted out revenge for its loss to N.C. Wesleyan last season by beating the Battling Bishops 13-7 on Saturday. Randall Smedley contributed 105 yards and a touchdown to the Gulls' 248 ground yards, while NCWC found success through the air with 297 yards.
Greensboro came away with a 23-13 victory over cross-town rival Guilford in the Souper Bowl. The matchup, which incorporates a canned-food drive, saw the Pride rack up the bulk of its yards with its passing game. More pride for the Pride? They notched the USA South's only win of the weekend.
It's not football season without going to the gridiron in person
and seeing how the mid-Atlantic teams stack up. So that's just what
I'm going to do! This Saturday I'll be in central Virginia seeing
N.C. Wesleyan on the road against Hampden-Sydney. And by this time
next week, you'll hopefully be learning about one of the key
components of H-SC's stout defense.
I would be happy to hear from anyone who has questions or feedback regarding the Around the Mid-Atlantic column or Division III football in general. Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm sure that I missed some highlights in the region. I invite you to talk about players and performances on the message board's Around the Mid-Atlantic thread. Additionally, if there is an idea you'd like to see me write about, post it there or email me.