Red-letter day for Green Knights

More news about: St. Norbert
Anthony Parker leads St. Norbert with four picks, returning one of them for a touchdown.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com 

When you have one as many Midwest Conference football titles as Jim Purtill has in his 15 years at St. Norbert, the Green Knights coach (130-28) acknowledges he had a lot of special occasions in DePere, Wis.

Few, though, could top last Saturday. Sure, the Green Knights captured at least a share of Purtill's 11th MWC title with a 23-0 victory over Grinnell, the team's first shutout since 2011. Yes, Illinois College's surprising 35-29 loss to Cornell put St. Norbert in the driver's seat to take the conference's playoff bid on Senior Day.

It was a player 10 years removed from the program – former offensive lineman Brett Meach – who made the day one the players, and Meach, won't forget.

Purtill said Meach has been diagnosed with a life threatening cancer and along with treatment, he went through a grueling seven-hour surgery in August in an attempt to save his life. Purtill told him he had a standing invitation whenever he felt better to come to a game and be an honorary captain for the Green Knights.

Meach picked Saturday, giving a pregame meal speech to the team that seemed to strike an emotional chord.

"I usually talk for a couple of minutes but this time I just turned it over to Brett," Purtill said. "He said, 'Hey, I'm battling cancer and the card you sent me meant a great deal to me. I'm getting through this because of the close friends I've made at St. Norbert. This is very special to me.' The kids stood up and gave him a standing ovation. It was an emotional day."

During the game, periodically, players were sought out Meach on the sidelines to talk with him and thank him for his presence.

"At one point, Brett turned to one of our assistant coaches and asked if we were putting them up this," Purtill said with a laugh. "We said no. That's just our kids. They would go 20 yards out of their way to say hi to Brett."

After the game, the news of Illinois College loss, securing a portion of the conference title, circulated around the locker room.

"One of our team captains mentioned Brett and thanked him again for coming, where the team gave him another standing ovation. That left a lot of us teary eyed."

Purtill was still a little emotional Monday reading a note he had received from Meach about Saturday, which he was planning to share with the team this week.

"Green Knights, thank you for being such a gracious audience to me on Saturday. Like I said . . . I believe in my heart I will not lose this battle . . . Doctors are saying I may not be alive in six months. The SNC brotherhood is strong and deep. I am so proud of you and everything you've done for the SNC community. Collectively we are fighters. We are winners. We battle. These are my intentions as I head further down the road to recovery. The kindness you guys showed me will never be forgotten. Gentlemen, in fact I went back home tonight and prayed to God that I never forget this day. . . ."

The Green Knights can wrap up an undisputed title with a win on the road against a very good Lake Forest team (7-2, 6-2). Purtill said his team will depend on its old-school values of hard-nose defense, field position and taking advantage of scoring opportunities.

Now, St. Norbert can also rely on the fighting spirit of Brett Meach as another intangible in trying to reach the playoffs again.

A funny thing happened to Franklin on its way to the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title – and that's the young Bluffton Beavers on Saturday. There was no reason to think Bluffton would beat the Grizzlies, which had just broken into the top 10 rankings at No. 9.

Franklin came into the game averaging 59.1 points per game in steamrolling its first six conference opponents. Bluffton entered the game with a 2-6 record and 2-4 over its HCAC contest, averaging 20.8 points per game.

But when Bluffton freshman quarterback Conner Sheehan threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Shawn Frost on the Beavers second series to give them a 7-0 lead, all of those facts seemed to go out the window. That touchdown wasn't even worthy enough for the highlight reel.

Sheehan's last pass of the game was, a 44-yard touchdown to Donovan Brown, which was tipped by Franklin defensive back LaDarrius Calvin about the 10, broke a 17-17 tie with 35 seconds left in the game to give Bluffton the upset victory.

The touchdown was D3football.com's play of the week.

"We fought hard and never gave up, but you have to have a little bit of luck in games like this," admitted Bluffton coach Tyson Veidt. "It was a 50-50 ball and it was just one of those plays. Our kid stayed with it and made a great individual effort."

Franklin, which tumbled to No. 23 in the rankings, can win a share of the HCAC title with Rose-Hulman (6-3, 6-1 in HCAC) and the conference's playoff spot with a win over rival Hanover (5-4, 5-2 in HCAC) in the annual Victory Bell Game. Veidt said he hopes the magic continues for the Beavers (3-6, 3-4) in their rivalry game against Defiance (3-6, 3-4) on Saturday.

"You always hope as a coach get your kids believing what we're doing are the right things," Veidt said. "This solidifies some of things that we constantly preach to the kids. We hope this spring boards into this week. Our schools are an hour apart and this is the 89th game in the rivalry."

The little things matter at Benedictine

The Benedictine Eagles have bounced back from a 5-5 record from a season to go and will take a 7-2 record (4-1 in NACC) into its Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference finale against Lakeland (6-3, 4-1 in NACC). Coach Jon Cooper said in a conference known for its close games, the improvement can't seem to overshadow a missed extra point that allowed Concordia (Wis.) to grab a 28-27 comeback victory over the Eagles back on Oct. 5.

The extra-point is the difference from possibly the Eagles being undefeated in league play at this point and possibly getting ready for a trip to the playoffs. It's just that close.

"It's a tough pill to swallow," said Cooper, a month later as his team will battle Lakeland for second place. "We also had a touchdown called back and another long run called back. It was just a tough loss, but you know, (Concordia) is a very good football team. They have a great quarterback, great wide receiver and they've gotten better as the season gone along, so you can't take anything away from them."

Cooper said senior leadership has helped the Eagles bounce back from is .500 record and he is excited to see where his younger players will take the disappointment of being possibly one-point short of the conference title this year into 2014.

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
1999-2000 columnist: Don Stoner

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