November 18, 2009

Four teams look forward

Teams in Around the South’s coverage area took home four playoff bids on Sunday. Three of them enter the Division III dance for the first time in Mississippi College, Huntingdon and DePauw. For Mary Hardin-Baylor, it is their sixth straight appearance and eighth time this decade.

This season, for the first time in a long time, there will be no "Texas sub-bracket" game that matches UMHB with either American Southwest rival Hardin-Simmons or Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference power Trinity.

But the Crusaders, who earned an at large bid (Pool C,) hardly got an easy draw. They were moved to a “West” Bracket that features four undefeated teams and will travel to Iowa Saturday to take on Central (10-0.).

If UMHB hopes to return to the Stagg Bowl, a journey they made in 2004 and finished a game away from the past two seasons, they will have to do it on the road. They were road warriors in 2004 as a Pool C team losing to Linfield in the Stagg. So another long playoff run in certainly not out of the question and in my eyes and those associated with the program it is expected.

"It is bittersweet," Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg said to the Temple Daily Telegraph after defeating Sul Ross State 48-16 on Saturday. "Obviously we had to do some things to get back on track after the Mississippi College loss. We feel like we're still one of the best football teams in the country, and I just hope that we get into the playoffs. Unfortunately, it's not in our hands any more."

And Fredenburg knows that getting in is the key. Without a doubt, the Crusaders have been the third best team in Division III over the past two seasons twice bowing out in hard fought semifinal losses on the tundra of Perkins Stadium at UW-Whitewater.

"I am thrilled to be in the playoffs," said Fredenburg to the Killeen Daily Herald. "We really and truly don't care who we play and where. We're tickled to be playing."

And I believe him. This is a team that has been built for the long haul. They have a fast aggressive, play-making defense. The offense has three excellent tailbacks in Quincy Daniels, Bryson Tucker and Desmond Mays. The offensive line is always among the best coached and deepest in the country and they have play-makers like PiDadro Davis and Earvin Johnson in receiving corps. I would not be surprised to see making a trip back to Wisconsin in a few weeks.

They only potential problem I see is if they get too cute with the quarterback situation. They have alternated junior Kyle Noack and freshman LiDarral Bailey throughout the season. Noack has started six games, including two of the last three, while Bailey has started four. They have alternated through most games as the Cru has had a chance to work both during their nine blowout wins.

The present different skill sets also. Bailey is a tremendous threat running the option leading the team with 828 rushing yards. Noack has been less effective on the ground gaining just 97. However, Noack is the more efficient passer completing more than two-thirds of his passes. While over the last five games, Bailey has completing just fifty percent of his attempts (19-of-38.)

So it will be interesting to see how the Crusaders manage their quarterback situation on Saturday. It came back to bite them in their only loss, 17-14, at Mississippi College. Bailey started and played most of the game and though he was 6-of-9 for 65 yards and a touchdown was sacked four times while making some freshman mistakes. Noack was inserted late in a tie game and threw the interception that set up the Choctaws winning field goal.

So do they continue to alternate the pair, risking offensive continuity, while trying to tailor their game plan to each signal-caller’s strengths or do they just go with one?

Last season, when Noack and Josh Saenz split time most the season, it was Saenz , a senior, who earned the playoff starts and shined in leading the Cru to the semifinals.

However, back in 2004, it was freshman Josh Welch, who came off the bench late in the season and led UMHB all the way to the Stagg Bowl.

Should the Cru go with youth, experience or both? That is the question for UMHB as they enter this season’s playoffs. And it could decide how far they go in the tournament’s deepest bracket.

Sweet Home Alabama

Huntingdon will host Mississippi College in a “South” bracket first round matchup. Expect a shootout. But teams are averaging right around 37-38 points per game and have been racking up the total yardage. Huntingdon averages 525 yards a contest while the Choctaws are over 430. Both defenses are giving up over 400 yards game too.

They share two common opponents this season in Louisiana College and Millsaps. Both defeated La College. The Hawks by a score of 34-21, while MC won 54-44. Both also defeated Millsaps. The Choctaws prevailed in two overtimes 47-44 and Huntingdon knocked out two quarterbacks to key a comeback from an11-point deficit to win 47-36.

The question is, are they both limping into the playoffs?

Mississippi College turned the ball over seven times in a loss to Howard Payne three weeks ago that cost them the outright title in the ASC. They also didn’t put away a 0-10 Texas Lutheran team until the fourth quarter last week. (Exciting many Crusader fans for a while, I am sure.) You are willing to throw out one subpar performance during the season, but two in three weeks heading into the playoffs is troubling. They’ll have to play much better to win there.

The Hawks had their six-game win streak snapped last Thursday night by South Alabama, a future Division I-FCS program, by a score of 35-0. Of course, they were playing against scholarship athletes, so maybe it means nothing. They still racked up more than 460 yards in their only other loss, 31-13, earlier in the season against UW-Oshkosh. Turnovers played a huge role in that game.

At any rate, they should put up a great offensive show and you would think that whoever plays the best on defense -- forcing the most turnovers will prevail. Both teams have senior leaders at quarterback, Adam Shaffer for MC and Justin Ridgeway for HC. Enjoy the show.

DePauw is the also entering the playoff with a loss after falling in the Monon Bell game to Wabash 32-19. They’ll need to bounce back as many being facing the toughest defense they’ve seen this season in Thomas More.

The 10-0 Saints are allowing just 251 yards per game this season, including just 51 a game on the ground. The Tigers will haveto  take care of the football, they were intercepted three times against Wabash, and turn any opportunities they get into points. They came away empty in the red zone twice in last week’s loss.

Game of the Year Review

In this season’s first Around the South column on Sept. 2, I previewed the games that I thought would shape how the regional and conference races would play out. To wrap things up for the year, I thought I’d take some time to review their impact and add a few that I may have missed.

THE ASC-SCAC Matchups
Millsaps at Mississippi College.
Both teams entered the season with high hopes in the annual “Backyard Brawl” and the matchup exceeded expectations. The Choctaws avenged the previous year’s 42-3 beat down by winning 47-44 in double overtime. The Majors came back from 24-3 at the half and 34-17 in the fourth quarter, but Adam Shaffer’s six-yard pass to Renard Ellis ended the game in the second overtime giving Mississippi College bragging rights for this year.

Trinity at McMurry. McMurry almost pulled the upset in Hal Mumme’s debut. The Tigers were protecting a 31-26 lead over McMurry late in the game. McMurry’s Andrew Wallace forced a fumble and recovered it and appeared to have set the “Indians” up with good field position to make a final drive. Furlow, however, stole the ball back for Trinity and the Tigers were able to run out the clock. Mcurry did end their 17-game losing streak a few weeks later and then won four straight before losing their final two.

The regional matchups
Whitworth at Hardin-Simmons.
The Cowboys overcame a 24-13 halftime deficit to win 48-31 in their home opener. Quarterback Justin Feaster and wideout ZaVious Robbins connected 11 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns. In all, Feaster completed 26 of 32 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, it was the last time the pair would play a full game together this season. The pair both went down with injuries the following week during a 37-22 loss to Linfield. Injuries in the secondary and on the offensive line contributed to a losing skid that lasted four games -- the longest losing streak since the school restarted its program 20 years ago.

UW-La Crosse at East Texas Baptist. The Tigers had hopes of returning to the form that earned them a share of the ASC title and a playoff berth in 2003. A 28-13 loss to the Eagles triggered a 0-2 start. They rebounded to start 2-0 in conference play, but an early October loss at McMurry triggered a five-game losing streak that didn’t end until last Saturday’s 42-7 win over Howard Payne. They finished a disappointing 3-7, two wins less than in 2008.

The remainder of the season
Centre at DePauw, Sept. 19.
The Colonels built a 34-3 against the preseason favored SCAC Tigers, then held off a late comeback to win 34-24. The victory moved Centre to 3-0 overall and showed that they’d be a serious contender in the SCAC race.

Wesley at LaGrange, Sept. 26. After their turnaround from 0-20 to a playoff appearance of in 2008, the Panthers fell to 1-3 after a 56-7 loss at the hands of the fourth-ranked Wolverines assuring that they wouldn’t be a factor in the race for a Pool B playoff bid. However, they did rally to win their next four games.

Trinity at Millsaps, Sept. 26. Millsaps knocked the Tigers from the ranks of the unbeaten, 24-6 to win their third straight game. It was Trinity’s fourth straight road game, while the Majors stayed unbeaten in the SCAC.

Hardin-Simmons at Mississippi College, Sept. 26. Shaffer drove his team 70 yards in just over a minute before hitting Ellis for another game winner to give the Choctaws a 39-34 victory. The win was the program’s first over the Cowboys and set up a de facto ASC Championship game against UMHB in the following weeks.

Mary Hardin-Baylor at Hardin-Simmons, Oct. 3. A game that was supposed to be one of the marquee matchups in all of Division III lost some of its luster due to Hardin-Simmons' injury problems. The Cowboys' MASH unit still gave a decent account of itself losing just 23-7. However, the Cru dominated from pretty much from start to finish. Hardin-Simmons would rally to win its final five games and finish with another winning season.

Millsaps at DePauw, Oct. 3. The Tigers put themselves back in the SCAC race and hampered any hopes Millsaps had of a Pool C bid by handing the Majors their first conference loss 29-27 DePauw built an early 16-0 lead but had to survive a late Millsaps rally and failed two-point conversion attempt Spud Dick passed for 372 yards while completing 28-of-34 and three touchdowns.

Mary Hardin-Baylor at Mississippi College, Oct. 17. The Choctaws pulled off the upset of the year in the region and maybe the country by ending the Crusaders 33-game ASC win streak. Brandon Walls 31-yard field goal with four seconds to go gave MC at 17-14 victory following the controversial decision by UMHB coach Pete Fredenberg to insert quarterback Kye Noack late in the game. Coming off the bench cold late in the fourth quarter, Noack threw the interception that set up the winning kick. The Choctaw jumped into the drivers seat in the ASC race and despite a later upset loss to Howard Payne earned the conference’s automatic bid.

Trinity at DePauw, Oct. 24. DePauw finally got the Trinity monkey off its back winning 26-18 and effectively ending Trinity SCAC title hopes. The Indiana Tigers also stayed in the SCAC title hunt that looked like it could end in a three-way tie.

LaGrange at Huntingdon, Oct 31. The Hawks avenged last season’s final game loss for a Pool B bid with a 51-13 beat down of the Panthers and upped their record to 7-1 while sporting the top-ranked in Division III.

Huntingdon at Birmingham-Southern, Nov. 7. In this, the first match between Alabama’s only Division III football playing schools, the Hawks secured an unbeaten regional record and Pool B playoff bid with a 59-28 win. In taking home the first “Wesley Cup,” they also assured themselves a first round playoff home game.

Wabash at DePauw, Nov. 14. Despite securing the SCAC’s automatic bid the previous week when Trinity handed Centre its second conference loss, The Tigers missed some early opportunities and fell to archrival Wabash in the Monon Bell game.

Other games that mattered
Centre defeated Sewanee 20-0 on Oct. 3 but lost quarterback Tyler Osterman for the season with a broken leg. The Colonel offense struggled to find consistency afterward. The lost two of the final three games at Millsaps (24-0) and at Trinity (27-17) to dash their SCAC title hopes. 

Louisiana College finished with five straight victories to complete the second straight 7-3 season. They are still a team trying to get over the hump however. All three of their loses were to playoff teams: UMHB (54-20), Mississippi College (54-44) and Huntingdon (34-21.) It will be interesting to see if they can get to the next level in 2010.

Contact Info

You can reach me at jason.bowen@capital.k12.de.us, Conrad on Post Patterns or on Facebook at Facebook.com/jasonbowen3. I’ve enjoyed being the Around the South columnist. Enjoy playoff time if your team is in and get ready for season if your offseason has begun.

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Andee Djuric

Andee Djuric is a freelance writer and copy editor currently based in Virginia. She has 13 years experience covering sports for multiple metropolitan daily newspapers in the southeast. She is a graduate of Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., with a B.A. in English.
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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