Losing the game, but still winning praise

More news about: Franklin
Franklin's Mitch Deffner makes a catch in front of UW-Whitewater defensive back Noah Timm. The Grizzlies were shut out but need to regroup for their conference slate.
Photo by Ralph Greenslade for D3sports.com 

FRANKLIN, Ind. – Kneeling in a huddle on your home field after losing a big game, usually the last person you want to hear from is the coach who just beat you. But there was UW-Whitewater’s Lance Leipold, who felt he needed to say a few words to the Franklin team his Warhawks had just beaten 45-0.

“You guys are a class act,” Leipold told the Grizzlies under the overcast sky at Faught Stadium. “You kept playing hard to the end. Your coaches kept coaching to end. You are going to be a very good football team.”

Despite the big loss, Franklin seemed to have won a fan in Leipold. As the Grizzlies, the defending Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference champs, starts to defend its title this Saturday at Bluffton, Franklin will try to put away the pain of the losing to the nation’s No. 1-ranked team.

“It hurts in a lot of respects,” said Franklin coach Mike Leonard, whose team lost to the Warhawks 52-21 in the playoffs last year. “I really wanted to give a great game to these guys. I had visions of victory. I give them all the credit in the world. They are so strong in every area. We’re still walking off the field with our heads held high, but it did shoot our confidence just a little bit.”

Franklin caught a UW-Whitewater in sort of a search for itself. The two-time defending champions won 26-7 to UW-La Crosse a week earlier. A good win, but after settling for four field goals in the game, it wasn’t UW-Whitewater-like. The Warhawks wanted to use this game to right the ship. That probably spelled bad news for Franklin before the game even started.

“We needed to take a step forward today,” Leipold said. “We played okay in the opener, but if we want to be the team I think we can be, we needed to take that next step and I think we were able to do that.”

For Franklin, the game doesn’t affect its favorite status going into HCAC play, but some may believe with the score that maybe the Grizzlies are vunerable. Franklin linebacker and captain David O’Rourke said opponents who believe that do so at their own peril.

Mike Leonard
Mike Leonard signed his team up for the toughest challenge in Division III, but it could pay off.
Photo by Ralph Greenslade for D3sports.com 

“I wish someone would look at us like that,” O’Rourke said. “It would be nice if someone did underestimate us. We’re going to prepare for our next game as much as we did for this game or any other. We aren’t going to take any teams lightly, especially after a loss like this. Hopefully teams will look at us as vunerable and we’ll come out on top.”

But how does one shake off a 45-0 loss that most of the Division III football world was watching closely? One game at a time.

“Nobody in the country is better than they are,” Leonard said. “I think we’ll have our confidence again and we’ll attack our next opponent. We have eight conference games, so we start up again 0-0. If we make the playoffs, we need to know what kind of team we’ll be playing and nobody’s going to better than them.”

Team captain and split end Mitch Deffner said, though, the memory of the UW-Whitewater game has become just that – a memory – for the Grizzlies to move on. He said getting back into the playoffs should be best way for Franklin to redeem itself.

“It’s never fun to lose, especially the way we did,” said Deffner, who was knocked out of the game with a knee injury. “We can’t be too down on the loss. We just shot ourselves in the foot too much. We always have motivation. Conference is the thing that will get us in the playoffs. If that’s not enough motivation, I don’t know what is. We will get over this pretty quick because conference is what counts.”

Leonard said the first order of business will be to make sure his team thinks positively and get on a roll quickly when they face Bluffton.

“Good teams don’t let a bad thing turn into the next bad thing and then the next bad thing,” Leonard said. “I can tell you I’ve got a chain of events of bad things that happened in the second quarter. What I was telling our players that the chain happens on the other end as well when good things start to happen. You can’t let one bad thing affect the next play.

“Offensively, we want to run the football in a way that matching our passing game. Defensively, we have to stop the pass. I think we’re good enough up front to stop the run.”

As UW-Whitewater took its next step against Franklin, the Grizzlies will now have the opportunity to do the same.

Stretching the field
No.15 North Central responded to its opening season loss by returning home and hammering NAIA foe Bethel (Tenn.) 70-26. The 70 points was, though, only the fifth highest scoring total in school history. The Cardinals were aided by a 35-point second quarter to give them a 49-10 lead at halftime. Running back Ryan Kent rushed for 176 yards on nine carries, including a 75-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"I think the fans really enjoyed watching this one tonight," said the Cardinals' head coach, John Thorne. "The first quarter, out in California, we played really well, but for whatever reason we started having too many mistakes and mental errors, but that happens a lot of times in the first game.

"We have to keep experimenting with different players and different schemes to make sure that by the time we start playing conference games we'll really know what team we have. I was really proud of them tonight."

Big yards
Wheaton’s Teddy Watkins collected 322 all-purpose yards in the Thunder’s 54-34 victory over Albion. That total included 136 receiving yards on nine catches. Senior Garrett Meador threw for six touchdowns in the game, which would have made him popular in Division III fantasy football.

100 wins
St. Norbert’s Jim Purtill won his 100th Midwest Conference game over 13 years when his Green Knights beat Beloit 30-14. Since 1999, Purtill has compiled an impressive 100-8 record.

Back on track
Monmouth quarterback Alex Tanney seems to be back on track with a 355-yard performance in a 61-20 victory over Grinnell. Tanney completed 21 of 28 passes and threw for four touchdowns. Wide receiver Mike Blodgett had eight of those catches for 164 yards, including a 634-yarder less than a minute into the game. Trey Yocum benefitted from the air show, to rush for 165 yards.

Game of the Week
UW-Platteville at No. 8 Wheaton: Granted, UW-Platteville was expected to only be a middle of the road WIAC team, but when you play in arguably the best Division III conference in the country, it’s always interesting to see how that experience will help against a top 10 team. In short, Wheaton won’t be able to throw anything at Platteville that they haven’t seen before. Plus, Platteville went to UW-Stevens Point and dominated the formerly 23rd-ranked Pointers.

Also . . .

No. 19 Wittenberg at Washington U.: Washington U. is off to a 2-0 start, but Wittenberg will easily be its biggest test. This could be an interesting contest.

What’s happening out there?
I’m always looking for unique stories for my Midwest column. What do I mean? Something that is a slice of life to the football season and what makes Division III football unique. For example, when I arrived at Faught Stadium in Franklin on Saturday, I was greeted at the gate by one of the assistant coaches, who personal took me through the stadium to the Franklin Touchdown Club, where I had the best tailgate meal in the last several years. Now, I’ve been to quite a few tailgates in my time at some awfully big schools, but this was absolutely one of the best. Do you think your school as a good tailgate experience? Tell me about it.

A couple of years ago, I got a tip where a player proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend during a homecoming pep rally. Little things like that makes Division III part of memories that will last a lifetime. Drop me an email and let’s hear your story.