/playoffs/2010/defense-wins-challenge-looms

For winning defenses, challenge looms

By Adam Turer
for D3sports.com

Salisbury, an option team, fumbled seven times, two of them forced by Delaware Valley.
Photo by Jeffrey Levy, d3photography.com

Three of the nation’s top defenses survived round one by shutting down three of the nation’s most powerful offenses. Their reward? Try to do it again this week against an even more prolific offense.

Thomas More, Delaware Valley, and Montclair State won their first-round matchups by holding their respective opponents a collective 72.62 points below their per game scoring average.

The Saints shut down Washington and Lee’s fourth-ranked rushing attack and No. 23 scoring offense, holding the Generals 23 points and 127 yards below their season averages. Despite giving up 323 total yards, the Saints were able to make big plays and get off the field when they needed to most.

“Our defense made key plays when we had to, especially on third downs,” said Thomas More head coach and defensive coordinator Jim Hilvert.

Against a top-25 offense, a bend-not-break philosophy can be an effective defensive strategy. Delaware Valley shut down the nation’s second-ranked rushing team by forcing five Salisbury turnovers.

“We knew they were prone to turning the ball over, so we stressed the importance of gang tackling,” said head coach Jim Clements. “The turnovers were the key to our success.”

Hampden-Sydney entered the postseason averaging 35 points per game. Montclair State traveled to Farmville, Va., and held the Tigers to their lowest output since last season’s first-round playoff loss to Johns Hopkins. The Red Hawks knew they would give up yards, but focused on limiting big plays.

“Our approach was to not give up big chunks of yardage, not let them turn an 8-yard gain into a 40-yard gain,” said Montclair coach Rick Giancola.

While the Generals, Sea Gulls, and Tigers all entered the postseason expecting to put up big numbers, their first round opponents had something else in common. The Saints, Aggies, and Red Hawks each rank in the top 15 in scoring defense, holding opponents to less than 12 points per game. After shutting down high-powered offenses in round one, the winners face similar, but more imposing challenges in round two. Each team will once again need to rely on a huge effort from its defense to slow an opponent capable of lighting up the scoreboard.

“We always preach defense and kicking game,” said Giancola, whose team travels to Wesley on Saturday. “If they can give us a short field, it takes the pressure off of our offense.”

The Wolverines enter with the ninth-ranked offense, averaging 42.89 points per game. If the Red Hawks defense can go on the road for a second straight week and hold their host well below their scoring average, Montclair State will be in position to pull off a second straight upset.

“It usually comes down to who can put their will on the other side,” said Giancola. “You want to give yourself a chance to win late.”

John French
Defensive lineman John French and Thomas More kept the Washington and Lee offense in check.
Thomas More athletics photo

Thomas More faces another top-ten ground attack at Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Crusaders boast the third-ranked scoring offense in the country. The Saints hope to slow the Crusaders the way they were able to stifle the Generals. After defending their home field, the Saints now get to play the role of road underdog.

“We’re very excited to play a top-five team. We have nothing to lose,” said Hilvert. “We face another high-powered offense and we have to be able to stop the run.”

Playing keep-away proved an effective strategy in round one. A fresh and rested defense usually has the advantage over a frustrated offense. The Saints’ defense helped its offense to its best performance of the year. Thomas More rushed for more than 400 yards against the Generals, the first time they had done so in Hilvert’s tenure. The Saints ground game also kept the Generals offense on the sideline for long stretches. For the Aggies, it was their offense that helped their defense make quick work of Salisbury. Delaware Valley’s offense possessed the ball for 31 minutes, keeping the defense fresh and keeping Salisbury’s potent offense stewing on the sideline.

“You need offense, defense, and special teams working hand in hand to succeed in the postseason,” said Clements. “Sometimes your defense’s best friend is your offense.”

The Aggies hope that their offense wins the time of possession battle again this weekend and limits the opposing offense’s possessions. Delaware Valley travels to Alliance to take on a Mount Union team averaging over 40 points per game.

If Delaware Valley, Thomas More, or Montclair State wins on Saturday, it will be an upset. It will also most likely be the result of another tremendous defensive effort put forth against an offensive juggernaut. In the postseason, every possession, down, yard, and point become even more crucial.

“If you have a really good defense, it keeps you in the game,” said Hilvert. “Even if you fall behind, it’s usually not by much.”

Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Framingham State 50, Massachusetts Maritime 7
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Muhlenberg 56, at Juniata 40
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at Dean 25, Becker 10
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Salisbury 27, at TCNJ 7
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MIT 38, at Catholic 21
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Merchant Marine 56, at Maine Maritime 31
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at Hobart 34, Endicott 17
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at Morrisville State 44, Nichols 22
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at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
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at Albright 9, Widener 7
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Christopher Newport 16, at Montclair State 8
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at Westminster (Pa.) 41, Bethany 14
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Middlebury 41, at Bowdoin 14
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Williams 24, at Colby 7
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Amherst 36, at Hamilton 6
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Ursinus 35, at Moravian 17
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Trinity (Conn.) 51, at Bates 0
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at LaGrange 38, Brevard 28
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Geneva 33, at Thiel 24
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at Plymouth State 37, Mass-Dartmouth 7
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Kean 28, at Southern Virginia 14
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Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
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Union 17, at Curry 14
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at Carnegie Mellon 37, Thomas More 17
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Lycoming 44, at King's 41
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at Western New England 21, Husson 14
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Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
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at DePauw 51, Wooster 24
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at Ohio Wesleyan 37, Allegheny 21
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at Misericordia 43, Wilkes 14
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at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
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Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
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at N.C. Wesleyan 35, Maryville (Tenn.) 25
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Huntingdon 31, at Ferrum 28
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at McDaniel 27, Gettysburg 20
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at Buffalo State 33, RPI 21
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Franklin and Marshall 27, at Susquehanna 24
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at Denison 45, Oberlin 17
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at Northwestern (Minn.) 10, Westminster (Mo.) 7
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at Eureka 44, Crown 20
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at Lebanon Valley 24, FDU-Florham 14
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at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
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at Ohio Northern 35, Otterbein 7
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at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
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at Rose-Hulman 37, Defiance 14
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at Marietta 49, Muskingum 25
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Franklin 59, at Bluffton 30
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at Hanover 64, Anderson 21
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Mount St. Joseph 31, at Manchester 14
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Worcester State 34, at Westfield State 10
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Coast Guard 13, at Norwich 9
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at Fitchburg State 31, Bridgewater State 29
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Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
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at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
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North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
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at Millsaps 17, Sewanee 13
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at Rhodes 35, Birmingham-Southern 9
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at Hendrix 36, Austin 24
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at Martin Luther 34, Greenville 20
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at Trinity (Texas) 41, Chapman 35
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at Loras 73, Buena Vista 34
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at Wartburg 30, Washington U. 20
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at Gustavus Adolphus 51, Hamline 7
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Augsburg 48, at Carleton 28
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at Bethel 64, St. Olaf 7
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at Luther 21, Dubuque 17
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at Central 52, Nebraska Wesleyan 27
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Simpson 38, at Coe 33
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Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
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St. Norbert 66, at Grinnell 13
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at Knox 13, Ripon 6
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at MacMurray 32, Iowa Wesleyan 14
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Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
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Southwestern 37, at Louisiana College 34
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Monmouth 26, at Macalester 0
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at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
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at Springfield 42, WPI 10
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at Cornell 55, Beloit 36
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at Brockport 28, Utica 14
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at Hartwick 24, St. John Fisher 21
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at UW-La Crosse 41, Carroll 6
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at St. Scholastica 37, Minnesota-Morris 3
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at George Fox 44, UW-Eau Claire 0
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at Western Connecticut 37, Salve Regina 23
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at UW-Stevens Point 41, Adrian 28
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Final - OT
at Wesleyan 24, Tufts 17
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at Averett 35, Methodist 6
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at Berry 28, Centre 14
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at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
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at Grove City 24, St. Vincent 14
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at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
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at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
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Carthage 55, at Augustana 14
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Chicago 28, at Illinois College 7
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at Sul Ross State 35, McMurry 7
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at Wilmington 37, Capital 30
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Lake Forest 42, at Lawrence 26
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at East Texas Baptist 79, Belhaven 40
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Arizona Christian 56, at Whittier 38
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Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
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Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
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at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
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Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
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Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
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at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
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at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
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Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
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at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
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Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
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North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
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Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
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at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
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at Brockport 28, Utica 14
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at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
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at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
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at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
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