|Victor Bunce is in the thick of things both as a cornerback and as a return specialist.
CMS athletics photo
It probably goes without saying, but the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps football team feels good about its 3-0 start to the season.
It’s understandable given the program went winless just four years ago. But since that time, a number of young players have built on their experiences and have improved the program year after year.
Now the Stags are off to their best start since 2010 and have aspirations to win the SCIAC championship.
“We are where we hoped we would be. We’ve been working for a long time to build our program up,” said CMS coach Kyle Sweeney, whose team went 0-9 in 2012, before winning three, five and seven games, respectively, during the following three seasons. “I’m proud of our guys. It’s taken a lot of perseverance to get us into position where we can compete like we are now.”
Sweeney credited the consistent improvement to his players’ offseason work habits, adding that many of this year’s upperclassmen got valuable playing experience as freshmen and sophomores when the program wasn’t as strong.
“As we started to feel some success, you started to see the reaction of the guys. It just made them hungrier,” Sweeney said.
“Experience is the key. You can’t get nearly as much out of practicing as you can from playing in a game,” said junior defensive back Victor Bunce, who was one of those players that got hands-on experience as an underclassman. “It’s definitely helpful.”
Bunce made big contributions on defense a year ago, picking off nine passes and securing honorable mention All-America recognition.
This past weekend, the preseason All-American defensive back showed his ability on special teams as he returned two punts for touchdowns in the Stags’ 45-13 over Whittier.
“First thing you have to think about is just getting the ball fielded,” Bunce said of returning punts, adding he let two other kicks bounce during the game, which cost his team field position.
“Once you’ve got the ball in hands, you’ve got to quickly identify who you think you can be and who you want to run away from,” he continued. “It all happens so fast, you don’t really have time to dissect you anything. You just got to run.”
“On both those returns he had Saturday, the ball was caught with an unblocked player right in front of him,” Sweeney added. “He made the guy miss, accelerated and got away from everybody else – found a crease and was gone.”
The coach said Bunce is one of several veteran players in the junior and senior classes, setting the tone for the program’s younger contributors.
“Anytime you have somebody that receives the accolades and has the success Victor has had, it garners a lot of attention within the team and from the younger guys. They’re going to look at him and mirror what he does. Fortunately for us, he’s a very hard worker,” Sweeney said. “He’s a good role model for the younger guys, and I think we’ve got quite few guys on our roster that are that way.”
That team mentality has the Stags moving in a positive direction as a program. Bunce said the players are very close to one another, work well together and have good attitudes.
The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps players are also very goal-oriented and have accomplished much of what they’ve set out to do in recent seasons.
“Our guys are high academic, and they’re high achievers. Whatever goal you put in front of them is what they want to reach. As we’ve gotten better, we keep putting the goals further and further out, and they’re doing a good job of trying to reach them,” Sweeney said.
Now the goal is to win a conference championship, something the Stags haven’t done since 1987.
“I think we have the potential, but we have to do things right and things have to go our way,” the coach said. “For me, it’s a matter of a putting our guys in a position to reach that goal. We haven’t done that here in quite a while. It would be pretty special, especially for our older guys who came in and were 3-6 as freshmen.”
Having played in a number of close games last year, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps feels prepared to take on the challenges ahead.
“We all know what we’re capable of. We’ve got a lot of good players – a lot guys who’ve been playing for a few years now. There’s no question that we know what we’re capable of,” Bunce said. “We just have to stay focused and stay disciplined.
“Everybody is very, very happy with the first three games,” he continued. “We’re glad to be 3-0. We’re really happy about the two non-conference wins. But we have six games left, and none of them are going to be easy.”
UMAC defenses step up
There were a number of excellent defensive performances turned in by UMAC teams this weekend.
Westminster (Mo.) intercepted four passes and recovered four fumbles on its way to taking down Crown, 35-7. Northwestern (Minn.) remained undefeated thanks to a defensive effort that included seven sacks. The Eagles beat Iowa Wesleyan, 25-18.
Meanhwile, MacMurray’s defense generated three takeaways and four sacks en route to defeating Minnesota-Morris, 31-10. Also, Colton Fauver and Chris Friend had two interceptions each as Eureka’s defense forced five turnovers and was credited with eight sacks in a 27-13 win at Greenville.
Number of the week
500 – as in the Nebraska Wesleyan’s football program’s win total. The Prairie Wolves’ 500th win ever was also their first IIAC victory. NWU secured a 27-24 win when Kramer Rath kicked a 23-yard field goal with 6:46 left to play and Luther missed a potential game-tying kick in the final minutes. Joel Wiedel led the Nebraska Wesleyan offense with 135 rushing yards and a touchdown.
The rest of the West
UW-Platteville led UW-Whitewater by four in the fourth quarter, but the Warhawks rallied to win the battle of top-10 WIAC teams, 30-24. Cole Wilber threw three touchdown passes in the game, including the go-ahead score to Canton Larson with 3:58 to play. … Brandt Davis kicked a game-winning 30-yard field goal as time expired, giving Carleton its first win of the season, 34-31, over Hamline. Mack Journell and Zach Creighton had 114 and 101 yards receiving, respectively, and one touchdown each. … Dubuque beat Central, 35-17, in a battle of undefeated IIAC teams. Conor Feckley threw five touchdown passes, and both Dylan Schultz and Emanual Jenkins caught two TDs while eclipsing 100 yards receiving. … Sam Riddle completed 14-of-16 passes for 272 yards and six touchdowns to power Linfield past Lewis and Clark, 59-7. … Michael Alada returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in St. Thomas’s 55-7 over Augsburg. On offense, the Tommies threw five touchdown passes. … UW-Stevens Point remained undefeated with a 28-19 win at UW-Eau Claire. Ryan Swigart passed for 234 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with Logan Taylor five times for 93 yards. … Ian Kolste completed 45 of 53 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. He tossed two touchdowns in the final nine minutes to rally Whitworth to a 28-23 win at George Fox. … Buena Vista rode a strong passing attack to its first win of the year, a 34-24 decision over Loras. Cole Miller threw for 415 yards and four touchdowns. He completed seven passes to Charlie Flickinger for 139 yards and two TDs and nine passes to T.J. Lint for 131 yards and one score. … Evan Clark hauled in eight passes for 150 yards receiving and two touchdowns, helping St. John’s take down Bethel, 42-27. … Three of Aaron Olson’s four catches went for touchdowns, as he helped St. Scholastica defeat Martin Luther, 62-19. … Edward Sias threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, helping Pomona-Pitzer pick up a 35-7 win at Chapman. … Devon Linzenmeyer compiled 150 yards and three touchdowns on just five rushing attempts as UW-Oshkosh handled UW-Stout, 45-17. … Aaron Lacombe caught two of Adam Friederichsen’s four touchdown passes, finishing Cal Lutheran’s 45-13 win over La Verne with 143 receiving yards. … Gavin Glenn completed his second touchdown pass of the game with 1:35 to play to lift Coe to a 37-34 win over Wartburg. Trevor Heitland paced the undefeated Kohawks with 204 rushing yards and one touchdown. … Despite only completing two passes on the day, Concordia-Moorhead topped Gustavus Adolphus, 46-21. Chad Johnson rushed for 190 yards and four touchdowns and the Cobbers added three more rushing TDs. … Willamette’s Taylor Wyman rushed for 214 yards and a touchdown while Jimmy Sharpe chipped in three touchdowns in a 63-24 win at Puget Sound. … Alex Andrighetto rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns, and Mitch Kidd threw three TD passes as Redlands cruised by Occidental, 63-29. … UW-La Crosse quarterback Tarek Yaeggi threw for 302 yards and two touchdown and ran for another score in the Eagles’ 35-14 win over UW-River Falls. … Jon Schaub passed for 107 yards and two touchdowns to lead Pacific Lutheran past Pacific, 27-16.
Five teams from the West Region were ranked in the top-10 in this week’s Top 25 poll.
UW-Whitewater and St. Thomas remained ranked Nos. 2 and 4, respectively, and each received one first place vote.
UW-Oshkosh is spending another week ranked No. 5. UW-Platteville, which suffered its first loss of the season Saturday against Whitewater, moved up one spot to No. 7. Linfield slipped one place to No. 8.
St. John’s slid one position to No. 11. Dubuque entered the poll at No. 23 after defeating Central, which fell out of the Top 25.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (33), Whitworth (21), UW-Stevens Point (16), Coe (5) and Central (3) all received votes in this week’s poll.
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