|Wesley will look to play
spoiler to the fanfare surrounding Mary Hardin-Baylor's new
UMHB athletics photo
A four-overtime thriller in the ODAC. A three-way tie for first place in the USA South. Six winning programs in the Centennial. One bugaboo that Wesley just couldn’t shake. The resurgence of two neighboring, and historically struggling, North Carolina programs. Four early exits, including two heartbreaking playoff defeats.
The fall of 2012 was fun, but I have a feeling that 2013 will be even more exciting in the mid-Atlantic. There are no clear-cut favorites in any of the three conferences. Last year demonstrated how any team can defeat any opponent on any given Saturday (or Thursday, or Friday). There were upsets every Saturday last season, as teams familiar with the conference basement rose toward the middle of the pack. Only one team, McDaniel, is seeking its first win since 2011. The region welcomes two newcomers this season: Huntingdon joins the USA South after several years as an independent and Southern Virginia becomes a provisional Division III member. The mid-Atlantic welcomes our newest followers from the great football-loving state of Alabama. Wesley, an independent, again comes off of the deepest playoff run of any team in the region.
There are so many games to choose from, but here is one from each week for all fans of Around the Mid-Atlantic to keep an eye on:
Johns Hopkins at Randolph-Macon on Sept. 7
A season-opening clash between the defending CC champion and one of the top contenders for the ODAC crown. The Yellow Jackets have finished on the wrong side of the playoff bubble each of the past four seasons. Johns Hopkins earned playoff berths three of the past four years. The 17th-ranked Blue Jays will be a great season-opening barometer for quarterback Zac Naccarato and Randolph-Macon.
Muhlenberg at Franklin and Marshall on Sept.
After the Diplomats open the season at defending ODAC champion Washington and Lee, they travel to CC rival Muhlenberg. The Mules defense dominated the early part of last season, including a shutout of the Dips. These teams are vying to unseat Johns Hopkins from the top of the Centennial. Franklin and Marshall snapped the Blue Jays’ 22-game conference win streak last season. Whoever wins this early season showdown will be in position to take on the Blue Jays with the conference title on the line.
Wesley at Mary Hardin-Baylor on Sept. 21
This game is on the radars of every Division III football fan. The Wolverines lost two games last year, both to the Crusaders. How sweet would it be for Wesley to spoil the grand opening of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s luxurious new stadium? Linebacker Sosthene Kapepula will lead the effort to shut down the team that ended Wesley’s 2012 season.
Huntingdon vs. Ferrum on Sept. 28
The Panthers have narrowly missed the playoffs the past two years, despite going a combined 11-3 in league play during back-to-back 7-3 seasons. Huntingdon wants to make a strong first impression in its opening league game as a member of the USA South. The Hawks will need to focus on Ferrum instead of looking ahead to the following week’s game at Wesley. This will be the first meeting between the two programs, and will give USA South opponents a good idea of who will be the top contender to unseat Christopher Newport from the top of the league.
Guilford at Washington and Lee on Oct. 5
Last year, the Quakers equaled their win total from the previous three seasons combined. In head coach Chris Rusiewicz’s third season, the Quakers want to establish themselves as a perennial ODAC contender. Meanwhile, the Generals — who have lost just two conference games over the past three seasons — are eager to prove that they can reload and remain atop the conference standings. Guilford knocked off Randolph-Macon and Bridgewater en route to a winning ODAC season last year, but has not defeated Washington and Lee since 2008. A win over the Generals in the conference opener would serve notice that Guilford is one of the teams to beat in the always competitive ODAC.
Bridgewater at Hampden-Sydney on Oct. 12
Willie Logan versus Nash Nance. This marquee matchup of quarterbacks in the ODAC should be a high-scoring shootout. Logan will be unleashed by the Eagles this year, a threat to run or pass. Nance has explosive playmakers to distribute to, led by Holton Walker. This game may be reminiscent of last year’s Tigers-Generals matchup that turned into a four-overtime thriller.
Maryville at Christopher Newport on Oct. 19
The Captains have won three straight USA South titles, only to be routed in the first round of the playoffs each time. Last year, CNU earned the league’s automatic berth by winning the tiebreakers in a three-way tie with Ferrum and Maryville. The Scots trailed the Captains by just one score with a minute to play in the last year’s conference-opening matchup, which gave the program confidence that it could hang with anyone in the league. Sure enough, Maryville went on to win five of its last six games, including the final three. A backloaded schedule could have Maryville sitting at 6-0, in the midst of a nine-game win streak, entering this meeting.
Ursinus at Susquehanna on Oct. 26
Will either of these teams rise out of the middle of the Centennial pack? Will they at least avoid slipping toward the bottom? Quarterback Chris Curran had an outstanding performance in this meeting last year, accounting for five touchdowns in a 36-0 Bears win. Then, Ursinus dropped its next two games. Surprisingly, the team that got blanked finished the year with more momentum. Susquehanna won its final three games of 2012. The Crusaders hope to have stability in the secondary and at quarterback by this point in the season. This game should be a turning point for both teams again in 2013.
Methodist at Greensboro on Nov. 2
Last year, these two hooked up in the conference opener and the Pride held on for a 34-33 win. Quarterback Ryan Throndset will look to light it up again. If the junior can cut down on turnovers in his third year as the starter, the Pride could be in a position to post the first winning season in program history. The Monarchs are seeking their first winning season since 2005. Methodist closed 2012 on a roll, winning three straight nailbiters, including a one-point win over Christopher Newport in the finale. B.J. Minter and Bryan Bing lead a Methodist defense that steadily improved last year and came up with big stops when needed.
Washington and Lee at Hampden-Sydney on Nov. 9
There is no way that this game could possibly live up to the expectations set by last year’s meeting. Or can it? These teams have consistently produced some of the most exciting ODAC games in the last decade (some guy had a game-clinching interception in a 2005 thriller). Nick Lombardo is back to run the show for the Generals at quarterback, and has a veteran offensive line in front of him. Last year’s hero, Luke Heinsohn, graduated. Will a W&L playmaker step up into his place, or will Steven Fogleman lead the Tigers defense to a victory? This game usually comes down to which team can make the last stop.
Gettysburg at Franklin and Marshall on Nov.
And we close out the regular season with what could be a playoff bubble-buster. Gettysburg’s newcomers — and there will be many new starters this year — will be veterans by this point. The Bullets dashed any chance the Dips had of qualifying for a Pool C bid by springing the 38-31 upset in last year’s regular season finale. Both these teams hope that the Centennial title is on the line when they meet in Lancaster. With at-large berths even more scarce this year, a one-loss Franklin and Marshall team might be able to make it; a two-loss team likely will be on the outside looking in.
I enjoyed my first season writing this column and look forward to more interaction with players, coaches, and fans this year. Please reach out to me via email or on Twitter (@adamturer) if you have any story suggestions, or just want to talk ball. If you’re new to the site, be sure to poke around the other regional and national columns each week.