Competitive Centennial teams have their ups and downs

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McDaniel's Joe Rollins has churned out some great performances for his team, including a 266-yard, four-score outing on Saturday. But his team is still stuck on zero wins, with Johns Hopkins to play to finish the season.
McDaniel athletics photo

For better or worse, the majority of teams' seasons did not play out as expected by those outside of the program. With one week to play in the regular season, only one team from the Mid-Atlantic region has officially clinched a playoff berth. Congrats to the Washington and Lee Generals on their ODAC title. More on the Generals and their thrilling ODAC victory over Hampden-Sydney later in the column. First, a look at two Centennial Conference teams who went in opposite directions this season.

Franklin and Marshall regressed to a 3-7 record in 2011, ending a string of back-to-back winning seasons. This year, the Diplomats were picked to finish sixth in the Centennial preseason poll of coaches and sports information directors, and were picked seventh in the conference in Kickoff 2012. After Saturday's 14-12 victory over preseason favorite Johns Hopkins, the Dips stand at 6-2 in league play and 7-2 overall, tied for second with Muhlenberg.

"This is by far the most competitive the Centennial has been in my years in the conference," said Dips head coach John Troxell. "I believe we have five to six teams that can compete in any conference."

The Diplomats took a 14-0 lead over then-No. 16 Johns Hopkins into the final seconds of the third quarter. When the Blue Jays finally got on the board with 18 seconds to play in the penultimate quarter, kicker Richie Carbone missed the extra point that would have cut the deficit in half. When Jonathan Rigaud scored 18th touchdown of the season with just under 30 seconds to play in the game, the Blue Jays were forced to go for two in order to tie.

"We always tell our guys that every game comes down to inches," said Troxell. "The missed extra point obviously helped determine the outcome of the game."

The game of inches also played against the Diplomats. Chris DeStefano missed a 38-yard field goal try to close the first half. The kick would have given Franklin and Marshall a 10-0 lead at the break. Sam Massaro came up large for the Diplomats, recovering the fumble that set up the Dips' first score of the game, intercepting a pass deep in Franklin and Marshall territory and leading the team with nine tackles.

"One nice thing about this team is that we have enough depth that it seems like somebody else is always stepping up to win a game for us," said Troxell. "Everybody believes in not giving up and believing in who is going to find a way in the fourth quarter."

Despite the Dips' victory, the Blue Jays still control their own destiny for the Centennial's automatic bid. With a win over McDaniel this weekend, Johns Hopkins will secure its fourth playoff berth in five years. The Green Terror is still seeking its first victory of 2012.

Another heartbreaking loss sent McDaniel to its eleventh consecutive loss. The Green Terror led by eight early in the fourth quarter before giving up the final 12 points in a 42-38 loss to Susquehanna. It was the second time in three weeks that McDaniel let a fourth quarter lead slip away. Leading Dickinson by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter on Oct. 20, the Green Terror lost 38-31 in overtime. Such tough losses can take a toll on a team.

"We had a meeting on our bye week and made sure that everyone stays together and stays with the same mindset," said McDaniel running back Joe Rollins.

McDaniel was picked to finish eighth out of the 10 CC teams in both the CC preseason poll and in Kickoff 2012. Tenth place has already been secured; now all that stands between McDaniel and a winless season is a rivalry game against the conference's defending champion.

The Green Terror has dealt with several season-ending injuries and have started freshmen at quarterback and wide receiver and on defense. Rollins has continued to thrive and is currently 10th in the nation with 137.5 rushing yards per game.

"We continue to focus on the positives," said first year head coach Mike Hoyt. "We're getting better every single week, and we're putting full games together in terms of effort and playing hard."

Franklin and Marhsall, led by coach John Troxell and quarterback E.J. Schneider, have two losses this season, but they also have wins over regionally ranked Washington and Lee and Johns Hopkins, making for a solid playoff resume.
Franklin and Marshall athletics photo

While Franklin and Marshall's seniors aim to end their careers on a high note by defeating rival Gettysburg and possibly earning a playoff berth, McDaniel's seniors knew that they were part of a rebuilding process.

"Our seniors understand that this was a season of changing the culture," said Hoyt. "All our players understood that this season was going to be a process in doing things differently."

Rollins, a junior, has tried to lead by example. He rushed for a season high 266 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries on Saturday. He refuses to allow the losses to weigh on him, and he tries to inspire his teammates through his performance in practice and on gameday.

"When you worry about things that you have no control over, it messes with your game and your motivation," said Rollins. "When people see one person working hard, it makes them want to push harder and not give up."

Despite the disparity in the win column for each team, each coach has drawn on positives. For one team, the benefits will not be clearly evident until 2013. The other program has the opportunity to live in the moment and extend the 2012 season. Even if both end their season on Saturday, 2012 was a step in the right direction.

"The positives this season have far outweighed any negatives," said Troxell.

Merry Clinchmas

It was Parents' Weekend in Lexington, Va., on Nov. 3, and the families in attendance certainly got their money's worth. Washington and Lee and Hampden-Sydney put on the type of back-and-forth performance that so many expected. Both teams refused to break, extending the contest to four overtimes. If there was a signature game in Luke Heinsohn's record-setting career at W&L, it was this performance. The nation's leading scorer set a career high and school record by scoring 33 points in his team's 45-42 quadruple overtime victory. The Generals secured the ODAC's automatic playoff berth with the win.

"I've never been a part of a game like that," said Heinsohn, the Generals' all-time leading rusher and scorer. "There were several plays that could have ended the game. It was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions."

The senior rushed for 192 yards and four touchdowns and kicked six extra points. That was not enough to give his team the win. It took a 37-yard field goal in the fourth overtime, after the Generals held Hampden-Sydney to minus-one yard on the Tigers' possession and Max Antwerpes missed a 43-yard field goal attempt. If it was not for a blocked extra point on Heinsohn's first extra point attempt of the game, the Generals would have won by a point in regulation. The blocked kick was not the only mistake the Generals made in the first half. Hampden-Sydney forced two turnovers and jumped out to a 17-0 lead, taking a 17-6 lead into halftime. Heinsohn's touchdown run and extra point tied the game at 27 with 39 seconds to play. Making three extra points that were necessary to extend the game gave Heinsohn confidence heading into his game-winning kick.

"I wasn't really nervous. I was just praying," said Heinsohn. "I was calm all the way out there, through the kick. It takes a lot of focus. At the end, I was just tired of overtime and wanted to get off the field with a win."

Hampden-Sydney quarterback Nash Nance passed for 262 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another. Evan King ran for two scores in regulation for the Tigers. Quarterback Nick Lombardo rushed 30 times for 170 yards for the Generals. Brett Murray rushed for both of the Generals' overtime touchdowns.

"That's what makes our offense so special," said Heinsohn. "We have so many different weapons, and in Coach Abell's offense, any one of the four of us [Heinsohn, Lombardo, Murray, and Sasha Vandalov] can score on any play."

The ODAC will be a one-bid league again this year, as Randolph-Macon, Hampden-Sydney, and Bridgewater all enter the final week of the regular season with 6-3 records. The Eagles' loss to Randolph-Macon was final before the conclusion of the epic tilt in Lexington, making the Tigers-Generals game a true ODAC championship contest. Now, the Generals have to try to recalibrate after the emotionally and physically draining victory and prepare to close the season with another ODAC win, before heading to the playoffs for the second time in three years.

"We've got to come down and refocus," said Heinsohn. "We have to stay hungry for wins."

One bid still up for grabs

Washington and Lee is in. Wesley is a lock for the lone Pool B bid. Johns Hopkins is in barring an upset loss to winless McDaniel, which would rank as one of the most shocking Week 11 outcomes in D3football.com history. Franklin and Marshall and Muhlenberg need wins Saturday to have a chance at a Pool C bid. That leaves the USA South's Pool A bid as the only certainty yet to be decided. Christopher Newport and Ferrum are tied at 6-1 in conference play, but the Captains hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their 38-31 victory over the Panthers on Oct. 6. Ferrum finishes the regular season at home against 5-4 (4-2) Maryville; Christopher Newport hosts 4-5 (3-3) Methodist. The Captains do not kick off until 7 p.m., so a Ferrum win in the Panthers' 1 p.m. contest will put all the pressure on CNU to emerge victorious. Ferrum is seeking its first postseason berth since 2005, while Christopher Newport is looking to make its third straight playoff appearance.

What Did I Miss? Do you know about any upcoming milestones, big games or new names in the Mid-Atlantic? Please share them with me. If you have suggestions for next week's column, please reach out to me on Twitter at @adamturer or via email at adam.turer@d3sports.com. I can't believe it's here already, but enjoy the final week of the regular season!

Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is a writer based in Connecticut and a former online news editor for ESPN.com, as well as a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has written feature stories for ESPN.com, currently contributes fantasy football content to RotoBaller.com, and has been a regular contributor to D3sports.com sites since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing.

2012-2015 columnist: Adam Turer
2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman

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