Benedictine is battle-tested

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Danny Drummond and the Eagles defense plan on elevating the Eagles into the postseason.
Benedictine Athletics photo

By Clyde Hughes

Benedictine has not shied away from playing tough non-conference competition and this year was no exception.

Coach Josiah Sears hopes the tough competition will lead the Eagles back to the Division III playoffs, representing the NACC.

The Eagles lost to nationally-ranked Wheaton (57-14) and 3-1 Alma (45-40), while beating perennial Midwest Conference favorite St. Norbert (29-7). Benedictine was able to even its record in its NACC opener with a 20-17 squeaker against Rockford.

"Anytime you have the opportunity to play good football teams at the start of the season your intensity and focus as a team are higher," said Sears. "I believe we had that through training camp.

"We obviously did not get through our non-conference schedule with the record we would have liked, but the hope is that we are prepared to be successful in our conference. Regardless of the perceived competition level of an opponent, it is always the goal to be playing well as a team and working to improve on a daily basis."

If the Eagles return to the playoffs, it will likely ride the arm of senior quarterback Ryan Sample. In four games this year, Sample has completed 56.3 percent of his passes (98-174) with four interceptions against nine touchdowns.

"Ryan has improved most notably in his presence as a leader on the football team," Sears said. "He is a really tough young man and shows his teammates how important this team is by how hard he plays and how much he loves to compete. 

"He is certainly a very talented player in many areas but his biggest area of growth has been in how he has worked to be a great teammate this year. He and I have also developed a greater rapport as quarterback and play caller, which is always positive. He has a greater understanding of what I am looking for in attacking a defense and we have gotten more on the same page."

That has allowed Sample to blossom statistically, averaging 309.5 yards per game passing, ranking him in the top 20 among Division III passers. Brandon Moore has caught 26 of Sample's passes, averaging 107 yards per game.

"We have yet to have a breakout offensive performance this season, but we are optimistic about our improvement and believe that is coming soon," Sears said.

Benedictine's defense is averaging 31.5 points allowed, but that number is padded by giving up 57 points against Wheaton and 45 against Alma. Sears said his defense rides on the shoulders of defensive lineman Danny Drummond and linebacker Victor Johnson, both captains.

Drummond has 26 tackles in four games, including five tackles for loss. Johnson has 23 tackles and two interceptions.

"Both have played a ton of snaps in their careers at Benedictine," said Sears. "They work diligently on a daily basis and care deeply about our football team.  Each of them has made big plays in our victories against St. Norbert and Rockford that have been very important to our success."

While Sears declined to say what it would take to defeat defending NACC champion Lakeland, he stated that his squad has plenty to improve on before that Oct. 14 matchup.

"It would obviously be great to win our conference and make a playoff appearance," Sears said. "We have a great deal of improvement to make as a team for that to be reality. I am pleased with the progress our program is making and will continue to encourage our players to improve their commitment to the team with their investment in their teammates and with a strong individual work ethic."

Monmouth continues to win with defense

The Fighting Scots appear to have bounced back from a Week 2 loss to Wartburg (36-13) to improve to 3-1. Defense has been a big reason for it, led by linebackers Kyle Schultz (39 tackles) and Clark Gaden (30 tackles) and defensive back D.J. Frank (32 tackles). The Scots are limiting teams to 237.8 yards per game and 3.7 yards per play, good enough to be ranked in the top 20 nationally in both categories. Going into Saturday's game at Grinnell to open South Division play, Monmouth has given up just six touchdowns through its first four games.

Illinois Wesleyan closes out September in style

Illinois Wesleyan (4-1, 2-1) jumped up to No. 12 in the Division III rankings after its 14-10 victory over Wheaton (4-1, 2-1), which tumbled in the national rankings from No. 5 to No. 13.  While quarterback Brandon Bauer and receiver Zach Walsh will receive the hero tag for connecting on the winning touchdown with six seconds left in the game on the road, the defense was the story.

The Titans held the Thunder to 73 yards rushing for the game and held Wheaton's offense, which came into the contest averaging 48 points per game, to a touchdown and field goal.

"Our defense was terrific and put us in a position to win the game," Illinois Wesleyan coach Norm Eash told http://www.iwusports.com/. "To knock off the No. 4 team puts us back in a good position in the conference and to do great things over the next five games."

It was the third time Illinois Wesleyan played a nationally-ranked team in September, going 2-1 (beating UW-Whitewater in Week 1 and losing to North Central 26-13 in Week 3). While there has been social media chatter about the winning catch, one has to respect the way the Titans have played in a very competitive first half of the season in which they proved deserving of their ranking.

Game to watch

Mount St. Joseph (3-2, 2-1 in HCAC) at Rose-Hulman (4-1, 3-0 in HCAC), 2 p.m. – Rose-Hulman will get a chance to avenge its lone HCAC loss from last year. Hosting Mount St. Joseph game as its homecoming certainly will add some incentive for the Fightin' Engineers. The Lions led wire-to-wire last year in a 45-27 upset of the Engineers in 2016. Rose-Hulman has since reeled off seven straight conference wins, including a victory over perennial conference kingpin Franklin, allowing them a share of the conference title and the school's first trip to the Division III playoffs. Another upset win over Rose-Hulman would be an early feather in the cap of new Lions head coach Tyler Hopperton. Last year, Mount St. Joseph freshman quarterback Chaiten Tomlin threw for three touchdowns against the Rose-Hulman defense while Cory Hastings, another freshman, rushed for two more. Both return in an attempt to steal a game on the road. Rose-Hulman's defense is led by Mike Riley, one of the top sackers in Division III football and defensive back Alec Thompson, who returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown in a 48-23 win over Anderson last week.

Other games to keep an eye on

Knox (3-1, 0-0 MWC) at Lake Forest (4-0, 1-0 in MWC), 2 p.m.

Adrian (2-2) at Lakeland (2-2), 2 p.m.

Concordia (Wis.) (1-3, 0-1 in NACC) at Benedictine (2-2, 1-0 in NACC), 2 p.m.

Player to watch

Chase Burton, quarterback, Franklin at Earlham, 1:30 p.m. Saturday – Burton went 30-for-40 for 417 yards and five touchdown passes last week in a 69-19 win over Manchester University. It was the second consecutive game Burton topped the 400-yard mark passing. He threw for 453 yards, completing 22 of 32 throws and another five touchdowns in a 59-30 win over Bluffton a week earlier.

"We always want to start out fast because it wears out the defense early," Burton said of the performance, per http://www.franklingrizzlies.com. "The first few games we didn't start as fast as we'd like but the last two games we've felt like we can score wherever we're at on the field. And it has been a complete effort from everyone that sets foot out on the field."

While Earlham (0-4, 0-2 in HCAC) would normally not pose a threat, Franklin's next contest could be for the conference title against Rose-Hulman on Oct. 21

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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