November 17, 2011

A look in the mirror

More news about: Franklin | Thomas More
Jonny West took over the quarterback role after Kyle Ray's graduation and has thrown for 3,144 yards and 30 TDs.
Photo by Ralph Greenslade

By Adam Turer
For D3sports.com

Conference champion for the fourth time in the last five years.

Two playoff wins in the last five years.

Lost to North Central in its first playoff appearance during its recent run of success.

A 9-1 regular season record in 2011.

Led by a former coordinator who quickly led the program to the playoffs.

A dominating winning streak in the program’s rivalry game.

Looking to break through from consistent top-25 team to a legitimate national championship contender.

Beginning its quest to the 2011 Stagg Bowl at Faught Stadium on November 19.

The similarities between Franklin and Thomas More run deep. There might not be a more evenly matched first round game in this year’s postseason. The programs are very similar in both their recent past and future goals.

Over the past five seasons, since Jim Hilvert took over at Thomas More, the Saints have won 43 games and four PAC titles. Over that same span, Mike Leonard, at Franklin since 2003, has led the Grizzlies to 45 wins and four HCAC championships. Despite being in different regions for NCAA purposes since Thomas More joined the PAC, the programs are just 108 miles and two hours apart. Their geographical proximity is just the tip of the iceberg.

“I think there are a lot of similarities,” said Hilvert. “I think both staffs do a great job of recruiting and of getting the most out of their players.”

In Hilvert’s last stop, as defensive coordinator at Mount St. Joseph, he routinely exchanged game tapes with Leonard, who was offensive coordinator at Hanover prior to coming to Franklin. The two would meet at Skyline Chili in Batesville, Ind., exchange film, and talk football over 3-ways and cheese coneys. Now at their new schools, the coaches compete for recruits from the Cincinnati, Louisville, and Indianapolis areas.

“We’re two former coordinators and we both learned from good people while we were coordinators,” said Leonard.

In the spring, members of Hilvert’s offensive staff traveled to Franklin to talk shop with Leonard and his staff. The two groups exchanged philosophies on the Grizzlies’ spread attack and the Saints’ shotgun option.

“That’s just the way football coaches work and I think that kind of sharing is unique to football,” said Leonard, who was not worried about sharing information with a possible playoff opponent. “We thought that if we happen to play them later in the year, so be it.”

The Grizzlies have lost two HCAC games over the past five seasons, both in 2009. The Saints lost four PAC games in Hilvert’s first season, then went four years without losing another conference game until this year’s conference finale loss to Waynesburg on Nov. 5, after Thomas More had clinched the automatic bid. Being the alpha dog in their respective conferences helps prepare both teams for postseason competition.

“We know that we’re everybody’s big game in conference play,” said Hilvert.

Dominating conference play can be a challenge. Both teams needed to take care of business on a weekly basis without looking ahead to the postseason, while still keeping their goal of a deeper playoff run on their minds. Last season, Thomas More defeated Washington and Lee in the first round at home before being blown out at Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Grizzlies drew UW-Whitewater in the opening round and trailed by ten points heading into the fourth quarter before losing 52-21.

“Our goal was to win the conference again, but our seniors have been talking about advancing in the playoffs all season,” said Leonard. “We’ve won a couple playoff games in our time here, but we’ve lost some, too. It’s always more fun to win.”

Each program has established itself as a postseason regular. Now, they are looking to take the next step and play into December. Just reaching the playoffs is no longer the momentous achievement that it was four or five years ago for these programs.

“It helps when you’ve been to the playoffs the last four years,” said Hilvert. “Your players aren’t going to be overtaken by the moment.”

Franklin’s ambitious regular season scheduling brought Whitewater to Faught Stadium for a regular season contest on Sept. 10. Next year, the Grizzlies will play Mount Union in the regular season. Playing the purple powers in September shows Grizzlies players what kind of team it takes to reach Salem in December.

“It helps to play Whitewater early in the season,” said Leonard. “Now we know that Thomas More is very good, but we’ve played the best and we hung with the best for a while last year in the playoffs. That helps us in this stage of the year.”

The teams had two common opponents this season. Thomas More defeated Hanover, 44-13, in the season opener. Franklin claimed the Victory Bell for the seventh straight season, defeating the Panthers, 40-15, in the regular season finale. Thomas More squeaked past Mount St. Joseph 33-28, changing quarterbacks halfway through the Week 11 game, while Franklin also beat MSJ 35-23 on Oct. 1.

The Grizzlies have not seen an offense this year that resembles Thomas More’s triple option attack. The Saints made a very late season switch at a very important position and will hand the offense over to freshman quarterback Luke Magness the rest of the way. Magness saw his first significant action of the season in the final game of the regular season, when he sparked a second-half comeback in the Saints’ fourth straight Bridge Bowl win over rival Mount St. Joseph. Robert Kues, who had been the starter, appears to have left the team.

During this five-year run, Franklin has yet to win a home playoff game, while Thomas More has yet to win one on the road. Something has to give on Saturday. The winning players are looking forward to an opportunity to eat Thanksgiving dinner in the school’s dining hall, or at the home of a teammate’s family that lives near campus.

“There’s nothing like practicing on Thanksgiving morning,” said Leonard.

Sep. 1: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Coast Guard at Anna Maria
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7:00 PM
Defiance at Baldwin Wallace
Video Preview Live Stats
7:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Johns Hopkins
Video Live Stats Audio
7:30 PM
Trine at Manchester
Live Stats Audio
8:00 PM
Belhaven at Millsaps
Video Live Stats
Sep. 2: All times Eastern
6:00 PM
Mass-Dartmouth at Mount Ida
Video Live Stats
6:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Wesley
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Muhlenberg at Wilkes
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
N.C. Wesleyan at Stevenson
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Western New England at Springfield
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Fitchburg State at Becker
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Albright at Salisbury
7:00 PM
WPI at MIT
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Salve Regina at Worcester State
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Curry
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Morrisville State at St. Lawrence
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
Nichols at Westfield State
10:00 PM
Adrian at Pacific
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
Sep. 3: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
Endicott at Framingham State
Video Video Preview Live Stats
12:00 PM
Washington U. at Carnegie Mellon
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Audio
12:00 PM
Chicago at Case Western Reserve
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12:00 PM
Husson at Alfred
Video Live Stats
12:00 PM
SUNY-Maritime at Maine Maritime
Video Preview
12:00 PM
Cortland at Heidelberg
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Otterbein at Buffalo State
Video Live Stats
12:00 PM
Ursinus at Bethany
Video Live Stats
12:00 PM
Sewanee at Kenyon
Video Live Stats
12:00 PM
Alfred State at William Paterson
Preview Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
King's at Moravian
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Kean at Christopher Newport
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
McDaniel at Catholic
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1:00 PM
Lebanon Valley at Franklin and Marshall
Video Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Plymouth State at Castleton
Video Live Stats Tickets
1:00 PM
Randolph-Macon at Dickinson
Video Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Oberlin at Kalamazoo
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Emory and Henry at Ferrum
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Wooster at Washington and Jefferson
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
St. Vincent at Alma
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Concordia (Wis.) at Finlandia
1:00 PM
Olivet at St. John Fisher
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
1:00 PM
Rowan at Widener
Audio
1:00 PM
Hobart at Brockport
Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Union at Ithaca
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Susquehanna at Lycoming
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Utica at Misericordia
1:00 PM
The Apprentice School at Methodist
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
TCNJ at UW-Whitewater
Live Stats
1:30 PM
RPI at Norwich
Video Live Stats
1:30 PM
Wilmington at Bluffton
Live Stats
1:30 PM
Monmouth at Hope
Video Audio
1:30 PM
Bridgewater at Gettysburg
Video Live Stats
1:30 PM
Muskingum at Waynesburg
Audio
1:30 PM
Juniata at Grove City
2:00 PM
Wisconsin Lutheran at Trinity Int'l
2:00 PM
Lakeland at Carroll
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-Stevens Point at St. Norbert
2:00 PM
Austin at Hendrix
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Martin Luther
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Millikin at Greenville
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Eureka at Knox
Live Stats
2:00 PM
MacMurray at Rockford
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Gustavus Adolphus at Westminster (Mo.)
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-La Crosse at Luther
2:00 PM
Beloit at Lake Forest
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Jamestown
2:00 PM
Crown at Hamline
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Carleton at Macalester
Audio
2:00 PM
Bethel at Dubuque
2:00 PM
St. Scholastica at St. John's
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
2:00 PM
St. Olaf at Grinnell
2:00 PM
Buena Vista at Mayville St.
2:00 PM
Simpson at UW-Stout
2:00 PM
Aurora at Carthage
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at Coe
2:00 PM
Ripon at Concordia-Chicago
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Elmhurst at Loras
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
Video
2:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at Robert Morris-Chicago
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Benedictine at Wheaton (Ill.)
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
John Carroll at UW-Oshkosh
Video Audio Audio
2:30 PM
Southern Virginia at Earlham
Video Live Stats
2:30 PM
Lawrence at Presentation
4:00 PM
McPherson at Nebraska Wesleyan
Live Stats
4:00 PM
UW-Platteville at George Fox
4:00 PM
La Verne at Puget Sound
Video Live Stats
4:00 PM
Central at Whitworth
Video Live Stats Audio
5:00 PM
Hartwick at Western Connecticut
Video Live Stats
6:00 PM
Wabash at Albion
Video Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at Berry
Video Live Stats
6:00 PM
Augustana at Mount St. Joseph
Live Stats
6:00 PM
Thomas More at Franklin
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6:00 PM
Hampden-Sydney at Averett
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Denison at Marietta
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
Hiram at Westminster (Pa.)
7:00 PM
Thiel at Allegheny
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
Capital at Wittenberg
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7:00 PM
Shenandoah at Gallaudet
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7:00 PM
Illinois College at Rose-Hulman
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7:00 PM
Geneva at Frostburg State
7:00 PM
Greensboro at Guilford
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
LaGrange at Birmingham-Southern
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
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7:00 PM
Anderson at North Park
7:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Mary Hardin-Baylor
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran
Video Live Stats Audio
7:10 PM
St. Thomas at UW-Eau Claire
Video Live Stats Audio
7:30 PM
Hanover at Centre
Video Live Stats
8:00 PM
Willamette at Rhodes
8:00 PM
Cornell at Iowa Wesleyan
Video Live Stats Live Stats
8:00 PM
Augsburg at Northwestern (Minn.)
Video Live Stats
8:00 PM
Southwestern Assemblies at Howard Payne
Video Live Stats Audio
8:00 PM
Sul Ross State at UT-Permian Basin
8:30 PM
Redlands at Trinity (Texas)
Video Live Stats Audio
Sep. 1: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Johns Hopkins
Video Live Stats Audio
Sep. 2: All times Eastern
6:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Wesley
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Albright at Salisbury
Sep. 3: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
Cortland at Heidelberg
Live Stats
1:00 PM
TCNJ at UW-Whitewater
Live Stats
2:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at Robert Morris-Chicago
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
John Carroll at UW-Oshkosh
Video Audio Audio
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
Video
2:00 PM
St. Scholastica at St. John's
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
2:00 PM
Benedictine at Wheaton (Ill.)
Video Live Stats
4:00 PM
UW-Platteville at George Fox
4:00 PM
Central at Whitworth
Video Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Thomas More at Franklin
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6:00 PM
Wabash at Albion
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Mary Hardin-Baylor
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
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7:10 PM
St. Thomas at UW-Eau Claire
Video Live Stats Audio