|Nick Savant's ground game is among the nation's best, complementing record-setting quarterback Nick Palladino.
Photo courtesy Muhlenberg Athletics
It might be a bit chilly to take a swim this time of year in Allentown, Pa., but the Muhlenberg football team would love nothing more than to dive head-first into the pool. Pool C, that is.
Before that can become a possibility, the 8-1 Mules have to pick up win number nine by defeating Moravian this Saturday.
"You can't be thinking about any kind of postseason until you take care of business this weekend," head coach Mike Donnelly said. "This is a huge game against a rival."
If Muhlenberg finishes the regular season with a 9-1 overall record and 8-1 record in Centennial Conference play, it will be in the mix to secure one of the six coveted Pool C bids for the NCAA tournament. If the Mules lose to the rival Greyhounds, however, the cover will be pulled over the pool until 2017.
"I'll talk to the kids honestly and openly about all scenarios, including the fact that we are playing for a Pool C [bid]," Donnelly said. "You just have to win, but you have to be aware of why you're trying to win. For your team and your teammates and the seniors as you get closer to the end, but also for an opportunity to do something you've worked so hard for."
Muhlenberg's lone loss of the season came back on Sept. 24 in a 30-24 decision to Johns Hopkins, the class of the CC for most of the last decade. The six-point margin of victory is the slimmest of any game this season for the undefeated Blue Jays. Johns Hopkins has already clinched at least a share of its eighth straight CC title, as well as its sixth straight NCAA postseason berth.
"They're an outstanding program," Donnelly said. "People don't realize that they've done some real good damage in the NCAAs. ... I tip my hat to Hopkins."
For as great as Johns Hopkins has been this season, Muhlenberg has been similarly dominant. The Blue Jays rank 13th nationally in scoring offense (42.9 points per game), just ahead of the Mules (15th; 42.6 points per game). Muhlenberg ranks 29th in scoring defense (16.9), just ahead of Johns Hopkins (33rd; 17.4).
Following the loss to Hopkins in late September, Muhlenberg has rattled off five straight wins, including the last four by staggering margins of 36, 39, 65 and 42 points, respectively. The Mules' potent offense is powered by senior quarterback Nick Palladino, who holds virtually all of the CC career passing records. In nine games this season, he has 2,195 passing yards and has accounted for 30 total touchdowns.
"Nick is the kind of quarterback that every coach at this level would love to have in his program," Donnelly said. "He's that good. We're going to sorely miss him when he's gone"
The Palladino-led offense has topped 40 points in each of its last four wins, including a season-high 72 points in an Oct. 29 win against Dickinson. Senior wide receivers Nick Lamb (64 receptions, 816 yards, eight TDs) and Ryan Delaney (59 receptions, 691 yards, nine TDs) have paired with Palladino to give Muhlenberg one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the country.
"The two of these guys are fun to watch," Donnelly said.
Delaney and Lamb both surpassed the previous program career record for receptions, held by former All-American and current QB/WR coach Josh Carter. Delaney, in particular, has become notable not just for his in-game production, but his total commitment.
"He's never missed a practice," Donnelly said. "If you need someone to go get the water, he's doing it full-speed. You need someone to take a rep because a JV kid forgot to insert himself, he jumps in."
Behind Palladino, junior running back Nick Savant has put together a brilliant season, rushing for 1,343 yards (seventh nationally) and 15 touchdowns (11th). A serious Lisfranc injury cost Savant virtually all of his freshman season, and he was sidelined for more than eight months. He rushed for 650 yards last season, but has emerged as a true workhorse with his foot finally healthy. Senior left tackle Willie Britt, a four-year starter and all-conference standout, anchors a solid offensive line that powers Muhlenberg's balanced attack.
On defense, the Mules have showed steady improvement over the course of the season. Early-season games were plagued by mental errors and inconsistency, but the Mules have allowed just 9.5 points per game over the last month. Team speed is a strength, and Donnelly is routinely encouraged by the Mules' pursuit to the ball.
A strong secondary is anchored by senior cornerback John Feaster, who leads the team with five interceptions and ranks fifth with 38 tackles, and sophomore cornerback Nate Corvil, who has blossomed in a full-time starting role.
"[Feaster is] the most physical corner that I've had in my 20 years," Donnelly said. "You run the ball at him, and somebody's going to pay."
Senior outside linebacker Mike Luby leads the team in tackles (58) and sacks (eight), while senior nose tackle Michael Hogan sets the tone up front.
"I think he's got like four tackles because he's a nose," Donnelly said jokingly of Hogan, who actually has 33 on the season. "That's an exaggeration, but he's the man holding the whole thing together."
Add it all up, and Donnelly said the 2016 Mules have been one of the most complete teams he's coached since taking over the head coaching job in 1997. And if the Mules need a model to follow for this final Pool C push, they need only to look back to their 2014 season, which resulted in them finishing 9-1 (with a loss to Johns Hopkins). Muhlenberg earned a Pool C bid that season, losing in the first round to Widener on a field goal in the final seconds.
"I'd love to be in a position to get the team together [for the Sunday selection show], but our big worry right now is playing Moravian," Donnelly said. "We've got to take care of that first."
ODAC playoff picture
Tre Frederick rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown, Burke Estes tossed a pair of touchdowns, and Cole Burdette tallied two sacks as Randolph-Macon defeated Guilford 31-10 for its third straight win.
The win kept the Yellow Jackets in control of their own destiny entering the final week of the regular season. Randolph-Macon travels to Hampden-Sydney this Saturday to face its rival in The Game. If Randolph-Macon wins, it will clinch the ODAC title and accompanying NCAA postseason berth.
Shenandoah, Washington and Lee, and Emory and Henry all sit one game back of Randolph-Macon in the ODAC standings, but Shenandoah and Washington and Lee face each other this Saturday as well.
Randolph-Macon could sit alone at the top of the ODAC on Saturday night, or there could be a three-way tie. This will be a fun race to follow.
USA South playoff picture
Luke Bailey passed for 244 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns as Huntingdon defeated Maryville 28-24 this past Saturday. Maryville dominated time of possession (37:51 to 22:09) and outgained Huntingdon 469-359 in total offensive yards, but the Hawks emerged victorious.
Huntingdon now controls its own destiny -- a win this Saturday on the road against Averett will give the Hawks the USA South title and an NCAA postseason berth. Maryville closes its regular season with a winnable road game against Greensboro, so Huntingdon likely won't be able to clinch without a win.
Ferrum remains in the mix to earn a share of the conference crown, but with head-to-head losses to both Huntingdon and Maryville, it can't clinch the NCAA berth.
Jonathan Germano passed for 255 yards and three touchdowns, and Ryan Cary rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns as No. 9 Johns Hopkins defeated Franklin and Marshall 48-28 to clinch at least a share of its eighth straight Centennial Conference title and its sixth consecutive NCAA postseason berth. ... Mike DeMasi rushed for 187 yards and two touchdowns, and Alec Cobb accounted for three total TDs in Hampden-Sydney's 37-34 win over Shenandoah. ... Brian Mann rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown, and Chase Deaton kicked a pair of field goals as Ferrum topped Averett 14-3. ... Mike Hayes passed for a school-record 516 yards and four touchdowns, and Chris Negron rushed for 129 yards in Moravian's 42-30 victory against Juniata. Matt Lehr rushed for 123 yards and three touchdowns in the loss. ... Jay Scroggins passed for 200 yards and two touchdowns, and Malivai Barker rushed for 111 yards as Bridgewater defeated Washington and Lee 30-20. ... Adrian Minondo rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns, and Deandre Gillis added 123 yards and two TDs on the ground as N.C. Wesleyan ran past LaGrange 49-23. ... Luke Robertson rushed for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Ryan Ganard and Marc Ledrappier both intercepted passes as Susquehanna beat McDaniel 37-20. ... Sam Wagner rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown, and Tre'von Lightfoot returned an interception 100 yards for a score in Emory and Henry's wild 38-27 win over Catholic. The Cardinals had a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown by Nick Esposito and a 100-yard interception return for a score by Chauncey Wallace in the loss. ... E'Montie Dears rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns, and Kevin Cambronne returned a punt 30 yards for a touchdown as Methodist routed Greensboro 38-6. ... Billy Burger rushed for 121 yards and four touchdowns, Stephen Black added 93 yards on the ground, and Stephen Walker kicked the winning 27-yard field goal in the second overtime to give Dickinson its first win of the season with a 37-34 decision against Gettysburg.
Top 25: Little change among Mid-Atlantic teams
Johns Hopkins was ranked No. 9 for the seventh straight week in the D3football.com Top 25 poll.
Huntingdon, Muhlenberg and Randolph-Macon all continued to receive votes in this week's poll.
Randolph-Macon (8-1, 5-1) at Hampden-Sydney (3-6, 3-3), 1 p.m., Saturday: For Randolph-Macon, the goal is simple -- win and get into the NCAA playoffs. But the path won't be simple in The Game against rival Hampden-Sydney.
Huntingdon (8-1, 5-1) at Averett (4-4, 3-2), 1 p.m., Saturday: Like Randolph-Macon, Huntingdon controls its own destiny on Saturday. Averett has had its ups and downs this season, but it can play spoiler on Saturday.
Other games of note: McDaniel (3-6, 3-5) at No. 9 Johns Hopkins (9-0, 8-0), noon, Saturday; Muhlenberg (8-1, 7-1) at Moravian (5-4, 4-4), noon, Saturday; Maryville (7-2, 5-1) at Greensboro (1-8, 0-6), 1 p.m., Saturday
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