October 31, 2013

Coming down to crunch time

North Park has had an unusual number of postgame celebrations this season.
North Park athletics photo by Beth Conway 

There are just so many things going on in the Midwest this week, I just couldn't keep this week contained to just one subject. Indulge me as I jump around the write about the pressing issues of the week as we come down to crunch time this football season.

Let's start in the CCIW and national ranking positing. No. 13 Illinois Wesleyan's 30-19 victory over No. 19 Wheaton last week sets up its next clash against No. 4 North Central in the CCIW's unofficial round robin tournament for the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin title – and possible seeding in the Division III playoffs. The Titans bounced back from four turnovers to grab the win over the Thunder at Tucci Stadium.

It was this game last year, where Illinois Wesleyan's quarterback Rob Gallik went down with an injury and the Titans saw its season unravel with four straight losses. IWU is now 7-0 and 4-0 in CCIW play as they welcome North Central to Bloomington, Ill. on Saturday.

"It's redemption," Gallik told the (Bloomington) Pantagraph after the game, talking about the emotional ups and downs. "It's been a year waiting. It was an emotional rollercoaster. We knew it was going to be like that. It was going to be momentum swings back and forth."

North Central spent last Saturday ripping Carthage 72-20 during its homecoming game in Naperville, Ill. It was the sixth most points scored in school history for the Cardinals, which is also 7-0 and 4-0. North Central defensive back Trey Hartema said it was tough for him and his teammates to keep ignoring this date on the calendar.

"We've always tried to play one game at a time, but in the back of everyone's minds, we've known about the stretch that we have coming up," Hartema said after the Carthage game. "We were up for this game because it was homecoming. We had a lot of emotion but it's going to be important to keep that emotion up for the next month, especially the next few weeks."

By the numbers, North Central is averaging 44.1 points per game, an even 50 points per contest in CCIW games. Illinois Wesleyan's defense, though, is giving up 14.6 points per game and no team has scored more than 21 points on the Titans defense all season.

North Park makes a move

In other CCIW news, in the "Battle of the Vikings," North Park's 45-35 victory over Augustana last Saturday was the North Park's second conference win of season, the first time they registered two league wins since 1993.

North Park grabbed its first win in the CCIW since 2000 when they beat Carthage 22-20 on Oct. 5. The biggest thing about the Augustana game was that the game came on the road – a tough way to win the CCIW – and Augustana had a winning record.

The victory came by way of the "Conway influence." North Park's first-year head coach Mike Conway's two sons, freshman T.D. at quarterback and sophomore wide receiver Dakota, played pivotal roles in the victory.

T.D. Conway completed 17 of 33 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns went to Dakota Conway, who caught a total of eight passes for 146 yards. Cody Hood hauled in three passes for 136 yards and another touchdown. Marquis Maywood, another freshman from Miami, Fla., rushed for 167 yards on 33 carries and three touchdowns. Overall, North Park gained 504 yards in total offense, its most since 2010.

Could things actually be changing in Chicago?

Concordia (Wis.) in firm control of NACC

With its 45-28 victory over Lakeland on Saturday, the Concordia (Wis.) is in control of its own destiny in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference. The Falcons have won five games in a row and 3-0 in the NACC with victories over one-loss Benedictine (5-2, 3-1) and Lakeland (4-3, 2-1).

The Falcons will wrap up the season against Rockford (1-6, 0-3), Aurora (2-5, 1-2) and Wisconsin Lutheran (2-5, 2-2). While Concordia cannot official start ordering the championship banners yet, the Falcons will have to play pretty subpar over the next three weeks or Rockford, Aurora and Wisconsin Lutheran will have to play better than they have all season to pull off the upset.

Short of that, Concordia could punch its ticket win wins in two of its last three games.

Any challengers for Franklin?

Likewise at Franklin (5-2, 5-0 in HCAC play), No. 11-ranked Grizzlies have dominated the competition in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, vanquishing the last undefeated team, Rose-Hulman 64-14 on the road last Saturday.

Again, while the Grizzlies cannot technically be crowned champions yet, but Franklin closes the season against Defiance (3-5, 3-3), Bluffton (1-6, 1-4) and the Victory Bell game against Hanover (3-4, 3-2).

After Franklin lost its first two games against No. 1-ranked Mount Union and FCS non-scholarship Butler by a combined total of six points, the Grizzlies have averaged 62.8 points per game in conference play. Franklin's 64 points against Rose-Hulman are just five points shy of what all five league foes have scored against the Grizzlies defense this season (69 points).

Even if you take out the 80-14 win over Earlham just for grins, Franklin is still averaging 58.5 points a game against conference opponents.

Illinois College and St. Norbert – by quarters

Things are a little more complicated in the Midwest Conference because newly minted No. 24-ranked Illinois College (7-0, 6-0 in MWC play) and St. Norbert (6-1, 6-0) will not play each other this season. Since head-to-head competition is the first tiebreaker, the MWC will automatically move to the second tiebreaker, which is how many quarters the team has led in conference games.

Now that can make for some interesting scoreboard watching. According the MWC, Illinois College leads in that category over St. Norbert 23-17 going into the final three games of the season. The Blueboys had to come back from a 21-20 deficit last year to beat Knox 48-24, so the lead after each quarter and halftime has added meaning.

Now, if St. Norbert happens to catch up with Illinois College over the next 12 quarters of play, the third tiebreaker will be a coin flip to see who will represent the Midwest Conference in the playoffs.

Before Illinois College can get too comfortable, they still have to play Monmouth this week, which lost close games to St. Norbert (22-14) and one-loss Lake Forest (17-14) this season. The Blueboys will have to close against Carroll, a team that beat that handily beat them 49-14 in the season finale last season, so stay tuned.

Washington U. goes for fifth in a row

League play in the University Athletic Association gets started this year with the Washington U. Bears shooting for their sixth win in a row when they travel to Pittsburgh to play Carnegie Mellon (3-4).

The Bears are 5-2, but those two losses came at the hands of No. 6-ranked UW-Whitewater (17-7, Sept. 7) and Coe (10-0, on Sept. 21), a 2012 playoff team that was ranked in the Top 25 in September. UW-Whitewater's 17 points tied the for Warhawks lowest point total this year, which should tell you a lot about the Bears defense.

Washington U. has given up more than 20 points once this season, in a 45-41 win over Hendrix two weeks ago. The Bears won't play Chicago, also 5-2 until the final game of the regular season on Nov. 16.

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Clyde Hughes

Clyde Hughes has been writing sports at various times over the past 24 years, covering everything from high school, college and sporting events. A native of football-crazed Texas, Hughes works in Indiana and has written for numerous newspapers and magazines.
2003-04 columnist: John Regenfuss

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