Blugolds, Johnnies turn in another special game

Whenever St. John’s and UW-Eau Claire meet up, it’s a solid bet that the game will be close, exciting, and come down to the wire.  The teams met every year from 1998-2006, with the Johnnies eking out five victories to the Blugolds’ four.  They met again in 2009, with St. John’s getting a narrow 35-27 win at home.  If the best predictor of the future is past behavior, last weekend’s game was due to be special.

Chalk another one up for history.

Trailing 10-3 for most of the game, Eau Claire rallied for two touchdowns inside the final five minutes of play to take a 17-10 lead – only for St. John’s to rally for the tying touchdown with just six seconds left in regulation.  Electing to kick the extra point instead of going for two and the win, the Johnnies also got the ball to start overtime, kicking a 40 yard field goal to take a 23-20 lead.

But that wasn’t all.

On the Blugolds’ overtime possession, five Joe Sweeney rushes set up Eau Claire with a fourth-and-1 on the St. John’s 6.  Rather than kicking a field goal of their own, coach Todd Glaser went for it – and got 4 more yards from Sweeney.  The very next play, Sweeney took the ball into the end zone for the winning touchdown.  It was a fitting end to an outstanding day from one of the WIAC’s best tailbacks.  Sweeney was the Blugolds’ most consistent offensive player, gaining 106 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries to propel Eau Claire into the national rankings.

With Stout looking mediocre through their its two games, Eau Claire could well be the team challenging Stevens Point for second place in the ever-shifting WIAC.

Mosier gives Linfield a CLU

While plenty of observers expected California Lutheran to give then-No. 4 Linfield a good game last weekend, virtually no one outside of Thousand Oaks, Calif., gave them a chance to beat the defending Northwest Conference champion Wildcats.  The SCIAC champion Kingsmen lost 38-17 to Linfield in the first round of last year’s playoffs, and with Aaron Boehme back to run the offense and eight starters returning on defense, the Wildcats definitely looked like the sharper team early on last Saturday – grabbing a 28-7 lead with five minutes left in the second quarter.

But CLU gave better than they got after that point, ripping off 40 points to the Wildcats 14 to grab a thrilling 47-42 victory.  What’s even more amazing is that they did it almost exclusively on the ground.  Junior transfer running back Daniel Mosier (Moorpark College) rushed for an astounding 206 yards on just 18 carries (11.2 yards per carry), including back-to-back touchdown runs of 45 and 49 yards to push CLU’s lead to 47-35 and seal the game.
If the Kingsmen run the table – and the odds are definitely in their favor – the SCIAC could host a playoff game for the first time since 2004.

The best 0-2 team in the country?

If that title doesn’t go to UW-Oshkosh, I’m not sure who qualifies.  The Titans have played Division III’s most brutal non-conference schedule this year, taking on a top-ten program (Central) in their season-opener and the most dominant team of the last fifteen years last Saturday.  But Oshkosh, just 4-6 (2-5 WIAC) last year, put together solid showings both weekends, especially against the Purple Raiders.  Despite trailing by 21 points in the second quarter, the Titans continued to hang around, racking up 436 yards against the Mount’s very, very good defense.  Whether or not their schedule will help them move up the WIAC ladder remains to be seen, but it’s definitely another feather in the cap of Division III’s best top-to-bottom conference.

“Special” teams cost Bearcats

When No. 13 Willamette looks back last week’s loss to No. 9 Hardin-Simmons, chances are they’ll see a game they easily could have won.  The Bearcats trailed 24-22 with nine minutes remaining, but a blocked PAT, a failed two-point conversion and a blocked field goal earlier in the game kept WU from ever taking the lead.  Place kicker Mitchell Rowan is now just 4-7 on PATs and 1-3 on field goals this season, but the junior will have next week’s bye to get things sorted out before the Bearcats take on Linfield on Oct. 2.

Speaking of near victories ...

It’s only fitting to wrap up this week’s recaps with another WIAC game that nearly shook up the Division III playoff picture in a major way.  With sixth-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor taking the long trip to Wisconsin-La Crosse for their first game of the season, the Eagles came within 1:51 of pulling off the weekend’s biggest upset, taking a 19-0 lead in the third quarter before falling 24-19 to the Cru.  To be fair to UMHB, they were probably shaking off a fair amount of rust and jet lag, but results like this are why Kickoff ranked the WIAC as the nation’s best conference.

Game of the Week

With the MIAC and IIAC opening conference play this week, there’s a slew of good games to keep an eye on (especially Concordia-Moorhead/St. John’s and Dubuque/Central).  But if you’re the kind who likes to witness history, pony up $10 to watch the webcast of Pacific’s first home football game in 19 years, when they take on Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at 1:00 pm (PDT). 

Having played football for 99 straight years before dropping the program, the Boxers will be celebrating their first and 100th seasons of football at the same time.  A sellout crowd is expected, and whatever the result, it’ll be an entertaining spectacle.

Contact Me!

Due to a poorly timed family vacation, I’ll be missing my first game at Willamette’s McCulloch Stadium in three years this weekend.  Still, I’ll be keeping tabs on it and other games too.  If you have any comments, suggestions, or story ideas, please send me an e-mail at tim.walsh@d3sports.com.

Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

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