Wesley leaves ACFC with title
|Chris Mayes is the latest in a long line of stellar
Wolverines defensive linemen.
Wesley athletics photo
For eight of their nine games during the regular season, the Wesley defenders prepare one way. And that preparation is done nearly to perfection: They are statistically the best defense in the country.
But for one game each year, the Wolverines do things differently. Their regular defense goes on the shelf and all preconceived notions are set aside when Salisbury’s triple option takes the field.
“Every time we prepare for Salisbury, it’s a tough, more tiring practice,” said All-America defensive lineman Chris Mayes. “Each year is a challenge, no matter what. We know who we’re going to face when we play Salisbury.”
Proximity and a football history dating nearly two decades magnify the intensity of the Wesley-Salisbury matchup. Since the inception of the Atlantic Central Football Conference, these teams have met for the Route 13 Rivalry 13 times.
Eerily ominous, isn’t it? Perhaps even moreso considering this is the final year the conference will be in existence.
If either team saw their luck run out Sunday, it would likely be Salisbury after No. 3-ranked Wesley connected on a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to secure a 17-14 victory.
The Wolverines would say luck had little to do with it. After giving up 124 yards in the first quarter to the Gulls’ powerful running attack, Wesley regained composure.
“We got on the sidelines, kind of settled down, and went over our assignments,” Wesley coach Mike Drass said of his team’s response to the first 15 minutes of play. “A disciplined offense calls for a disciplined defense. Our whole goal was to settle down and refocus.”
Refocus they did. For the final three periods of play, Salisbury gained a mere 40 yards, a total well below their season average.
“I don’t necessarily believe that it’s luck, but as we played against the option well, we had opportunities that were made,” said Mayes, a junior and team captain who is among the nation’s leaders in sacks and tackles for loss.
Mayes, who had four tackles for loss on Saturday, was integral to setting up a field goal opportunity for Wesley. In the second quarter, the defensive lineman forced a fumble and scooped up the ball, returning it to the Gulls’ 46 yards line – a play Mayes said brimmed with excitement. And it highlighted one of many instances when Wesley was able to shut down Salisbury after the big-play first quarter.
“One person messes up, the whole team messes up,” Mayes said. "Once we became more disciplined in the second half, their offense couldn’t run the ball.”
Beyond taking his team one step closer to the playoffs, the Salisbury game meant a lot to Drass. It’s the team’s last as a member of the ACFC, which debuted in 1998 and is dissolving at the end of this season. (In 2011, Salisbury and Frostburg State will go to the Empire 8 while Wesley and Newport News Apprentice will become independents.) Saturday’s game also marked yet another Wesley sweep of its opponents.
“It was nice, obviously it being the last game, to bring that crown back home to Wesley,” he said.
Getting to this point in the season hasn’t been easy for the Wolverines. Drass said that he’s never fielded a team that has battled against so many injuries. Out of the lineup are quarterback Shane McSweeny, All-America tight end Sean McAndrew, wide receiver Gene Knight and cornerback Dakevis Howard, just to name a few.
But Drass praises the veterans who have proven themselves to be leaders. Mayes is not least among that group. For a team that, over the years, has had the likes of Bryan Robinson and Mike Ward, Drass said Mayes is right with them in terms of talent and mentality. Mayes knows that he has big shoes to fill.
“The pressure is always there, and it’s always been there,” the junior said. “But I usually don’t succumb to pressure. As a D-lineman, we always just sit down and talk about how the D-linemen in the past were always great. … And we just want to move up and be the greatest line we can be.”
But the team has also relies on a deep arsenal of younger players who have had breakout years. Two examples are sophomores Brandon Wright and Askia Jahad, who have shored up the run game. But it’s Justin Sottilare who has had the biggest impact on the team in his first year as a regular starter.
Sottilare replaced McSweeny, who went down early in the opening game against Christopher Newport. Sottilare hasn’t been is a carbon copy of his predecessor; he doesn’t have mobility McSweeny had, for instance. But with over 2,000 yards passing so far this season, he’s learned to manage the offense and has made himself known through the air.
“He’s a kid who has ice water in his veins. Nothing ever bothers him,” Drass said of the junior signal-caller. “He steps off the sideline at Christopher Newport, and you look at the stats after the game, and it’s 267 yards and three touchdowns.”
But that’s indicative of the kind of depth and flexibility the team has shown from the outset -- and which has lasted them though the wins against teams like Delaware Valley, Capital and Salisbury.
“The guys who have gotten opportunities have stepped up and responded well,” Drass said. “If you look at our team over the years, offensively, we play a pro-style of offense that adapts to the talent that we have. The offense is going to go in the direction of the players and their abilities.”
Wesley has just one more game in the regular season, against Kean in Week 11. Coaches and players will have the bye week to bask in their success against their fiercest conference rival.
Mayes notes: “The feeling is actually greater this year because of the changing conferences, so we actually put the mark in the history books. The last [one], Wesley won it.”
CNU has arisen from its slumber
Christopher Newport’s season looked bleak back in mid-September, after the Captains dropped their third straight, the most recent having been against Frostburg State, a team that hadn’t beaten anyone else before or since. Fast-forward to Week 9, and we have before us a CNU team that is in a familiar place at the top of the USA South and holding the tiebreaker over N.C. Wesleyan, the only other team with a lone conference loss. Getting here has not been easy, and on Saturday, the Captains had to fend off a Ferrum squad that was leading going into halftime. But characteristic over the short history of CNU, the Captains adjusted at the break and surged with three straight scores -- including a 52-yard touchdown pass to Christian Woelfel-Monsivais on the first drive of the second half. Proving again why conference play is so critical, we could see CNU in the postseason despite their early bumps.
F&M gets a leg up on McDaniel
A 37-yard Chris DeStefano field goal tied up the game between Franklin and Marshall and McDaniel with just under 4 minutes left to play. The Diplomats’ kicker then took it a step further, booting the game-winning score 30 yards with 7 seconds remaining on the clock. His efforts capped a matchup that saw F&M dominate McDaniel statistically yet fail to pull ahead until those waning seconds. Blame it in part on the turnovers. Quarterback John Harrison had a stellar day of 447 yards, but his touchdown-to-interception ratio was just 2-4. F&M was able to pick off a couple of their own thanks to Phil Barbieri, who hauled in two interceptions while also leading the team with 11 tackles, eight of them solo.
Running away with the records
Washington and Lee not only clobbered Catholic 49-14, the Generals racked up a season-best 604 yards of total offense. They set an ODAC record for rushing yards in a game and in a season, with 496 and 3,008, respectively. They also translate those numbers into points by notching 33 touchdowns on the ground, which was yet another conference record. On Saturday, the Generals will host Hampden-Sydney; both teams are undefeated in conference play. If W&L wins, they clinch a bid to the postseason. If the Tigers win, they would have the inside track to the conference’s automatic qualifier. However, H-SC then meets Randolph-Macon in Week 11, a team that could push a three-way tie in the conference if they win out. Then the ODAC’s tie-breaker formula applies.
Ursinus’ perfect season crumbled under the fleet feet of Moravian. A 54-yard Matt Johnson-to-Shawn Sylvainus pass play opened up scoring and led to the 24-17 win. This jumbles the Centennial Conference race ahead of a few key games in the next two weeks.
Hampden-Sydney’s win over Guilford on Saturday made this year’s Tigers senior class the winningest class in school history with an overall record of 35-5. The previous record was held by the 1973 football seniors.
Gettysburg had another day of big points and a close call. The Bullets rallied from a 23-point deficit against Susquehanna to finish with a 61-50 win at home. Quarterback Kyle Whitmoyer led the charge with five passing scores. Last week, Gettysburg also had to rally for a win, but Saturday’s victory marked the first time since 1994 that the team has won four in a row.
Shenandoah kicker Andrew Lloyd had a school-record 48-yard field goal to start the Hornets’ comeback in a 24-14 upset of Averett.
Terrance Dandridge carried a big load in Muhlenberg’s 26-13 win over Dickinson. The rusher put up 191 yards and three touchdowns.
Maryville got its third win of the season with the help of the arm of freshman quarterback Dustin Williams, who had three touchdown passes in the second half to break open a 6-6 tie against Greensboro at the half. The Scots scored 34 points in the final 24 minutes of the game.
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 email@example.com. 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.