Like any first-year coach, Aaron Pelch was anxious to get off to a good start.
And after spending a year as an assistant with the Oakland Raiders, he was the obvious choice to replace Mike Dubose, who had led the Majors to four straight seasons in which they had either won or shared the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship.
So when Dubose, the former head coach at Alabama joined the staff at Memphis last December, Pelch returned to a program that he had helped lead to playoff appearances in 2006 and 2008 as associate head coach.
So while he wasn’t too worried when the Majors lost to cross-town rival Mississippi College 27-23 in their opener in the “Backyard Brawl,” his real worries began after a 27-21 overtime loss to LaGrange the next week.
“No, they weren’t ready to string me up after the first one. But after the next one, when we fumbled seven times, I was a little concerned,” he joked.
And in fact, it didn’t look good for the 0-2 Majors, in their conference opener a week later as they trailed then undefeated Austin 24-17 early in the third quarter. But sophomore quarterback Garrett Pinciotti and Millsaps rallied with three second half touchdown passes for a 38-24 victory. With that their season was reborn.
Then last week, they did something Division III teams rarely accomplish. The Majors beat Trinity at E.M. Stevens Field in San Antonio. That took two fourth-quarter touchdowns to erase a nine-point deficit in the 27-23 victory. It was just the Tigers third home loss since 1995.
“It was unbelievable for us to go do that,” Pelch said. “It’s a really difficult place to win. They are always a real good football team. They’re well-coached and the tradition that they have is something that we model our program after. A win like that is as big as it gets in our conference.”
At any rate, the Majors hope to have turned the corner after a tough start. Perhaps, it was the turnover of almost all the coaching staff or the fact that they put new offensive and defensive systems this year.
On offense, Millsaps has been riding the legs of running back Shane Bowser, who versatility had produced 183 all-purpose yards a game and eight touchdowns. The junior has three 100-yard rushing games and racked up 167 receiving yards last week in the win over Trinity.
“He does it all for us,” Pelch said. “He’s a phenomenal player, really a game-changer for us.”
Receivers Michael Galatas and Jason O’Rear have also played a big role in the offense this year. Galatas is tied with Bowser for the team lead in receptions (17), while O’Rear has added 15 catches.
Defensively, middle linebacker Will Hawkins is second in the SCAC with tackles per game, while free safety Kevin Peters solidifies the secondary.
The schedule doesn’t get any friendlier this week as the Majors host last season’s SCAC co champions in DePauw. The undefeated Tigers don’t appear to have missed a beat from last season, when they made the first playoff appearance. DePauw edged the Majors last season 29-17 in Greencastle.
“This definitely a huge game for both clubs,” said Pelch as both teams enter 2-0 in the SCAC. “ For that reason alone, we need to look at the implications that it has across the conference and the ability to get to the playoffs, which is ultimately the goal.
“This is as big as it gets right now. This is the game that puts one team in the drivers’ seat. Right now, we are hoping it’s us. They are a very senior-heavy football team.“ They have an unbelievable quarterback and receivers who are both playing at an elite level.”
Depauw quarterback Michael Engle has replaced the school’s all-time leading passer Spud Dick and is among the top quarterbacks in the country so far. The senior has completed 80 of 109 passes for 936 yards with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Meanwhile, All-American receiver Alex Koorshas gathered 25 passes for 387 yards and six touchdowns.
“They haven’t missed a thing (from last season),” Pelch added. “Koors is an unbelievable talent, a great receiver, probably the best in the conference.
“They do a good job of protecting the passer. He doesn’t get hit a much and doesn’t really get sacked much. It’s a combination of good receivers and he looks real comfortable in the pocket. (Engle) is a really good player.”
And Pelch knows that it will take a solid effort in all three phases of the game to take down the Tigers.
“The key for us defensively is to eliminate the big play,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to control their run. They have a really good power run game.
“Offensively, we have to be able to run the ball against them. With the running back that we have and what I think is a pretty good offensive line, we got to be able to run the ball. And we have to play great on specials teams, maintain good field position and play on a shorter field while making them play on a longer one.”
Weather should not be much a factor in the game according to Pelch.
“Unfortunately, it’s going to be 75-80 degrees,” Pelch joked. “I was hoping it was going to be about 105, but no such luck.
“We love it when the northern teams come down to play us because typically they’re not used to it. We have the field turf which magnifies the heat. But we’ll see. We are still hoping.”
But even if the first-year coach doesn’t get the conditions he wanted this weekend, he and the rest of the Majors have showed recently that they can weather a storm.
Around the South this Week
DePauw (3-0, 2-0) at Millsaps (2-2, 2-0). The winner of this game puts themselves in the driver’s seat for the SCAC crown.
Trinity (1-2, 0-2) at Birmingham-Southern (3-0). The Tigers are 0-2 in conference for the first time (ever?), while the Panthers are wishing it was 2011 when become eligible for the SCAC crown for the first time.
Centre (2-2, 1-1) at Sewanee (1-3, 0-1). The Colonels are going to have to run the table and hope somebody beats DePauw twice to have any shot at a playoff bid. The Tennesee Tigers are on a three-game losing skid after opening with a win against Earlham.
Wesley (4-0) at Huntingdon (3-1). The Hawks will have to bounce back from the first loss of the season last week as the third-ranked Wolverines visit Alabama. Both teams really need this game if they hope earn a Pool B bid and get back to the playoffs. Huntingdon probably won’t be able to run it, so their veteran receiving corps will have to make plays in the pass game.
Sul Ross State (1-1, 1-0) at Texas Lutheran (1-2, 1-1). Bulldog’s sophomore quarterback Mitchell Bunger is averaging 220 yards of total offense, while Lobos have averaged 35 points a game behind the play of quarterback Monty Morales and hope to stay unbeaten in the ASC.
Mary Hardin-Baylor (3-0, 2-0) at Louisiana College (1-2, 1-0). The Wildcats are leading the ASC in scoring but have given up more points than anyone else too. Unless the Crusaders, have a let down on the road after an emotion win over Hardin-Simmons last week, it going to be hard for any defense to stop an offense that seemed to find itself last week. Especially one giving 214 rushing yards a game so far.
East Texas Baptist (2-2) at Hardin-Simmons (3-1). The Cowboys will try to right the ship after another disappointing loss to UMHB. ETBU has been every game it’s played this year because of its solid defensive play, especially last week when they shut down McMurry. The Tigers held HSU to 13 points last season, but can they generate enough on offense to win this one?
Howard Payne (2-2) at McMurry (2-2). McMurry is coming off tough back-to-back conference loses and finds themselves looking up at the rest of the ASC. While the Yellow Jackets ... I just don’t know what to expect from them week-to-week.
LaGrange (1-3) at Rhodes (2-1). Both of these teams have played tight games so far this season, but the Panthers are on their straight third road trip. Expect another close one.
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