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. 30: All times Eastern
Final
Randolph-Macon 24, at Shenandoah 19
Box Score
Final
at Washington and Lee 49, Emory and Henry 23
Box Score
Oct. 1: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
Massachusetts Maritime at Fitchburg State
Video Preview Preview Live Stats
12:00 PM
Becker at Gallaudet
Video Live Stats
12:00 PM
Merchant Marine at Hobart
Video Live Stats Audio
12:00 PM
RPI at Rochester
Video Live Stats Audio
12:00 PM
Endicott at MIT
Video Video Preview Live Stats
12:00 PM
Juniata at Johns Hopkins
Video Preview Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
Montclair State at William Paterson
Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Hamilton at Wesleyan
Video Preview Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
Bates at Tufts
Video Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
Wabash at Hiram
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Middlebury at Colby
Video
1:00 PM
Amherst at Bowdoin
Video Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
Frostburg State at Kean
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Kenyon at DePauw
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Ferrum at Greensboro
Video Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at Methodist
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
FDU-Florham at Wilkes
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Anna Maria at Castleton
Video Preview Live Stats Tickets
1:00 PM
Moravian at Ursinus
Video Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
Stevenson at Misericordia
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Springfield at St. Lawrence
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Thomas More at Westminster (Pa.)
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Alma at Kalamazoo
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Franklin and Marshall at Dickinson
Video Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
Wesley at Southern Virginia
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Adrian at Albion
Preview
1:00 PM
Husson at SUNY-Maritime
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Apprentice at Alfred State
Video Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
TCNJ at Salisbury
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Buffalo State at St. John Fisher
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Salve Regina at Curry
Video Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
McDaniel at Gettysburg
Video Preview Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Lebanon Valley
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Denison
Video Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
Utica at Ithaca
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Alfred at Morrisville State
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Western New England at Nichols
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
King's at Albright
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Catholic at Guilford
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Muhlenberg at Susquehanna
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Concordia-Chicago at Trine
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Huntingdon at N.C. Wesleyan
Video Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Minnesota-Morris at MacMurray
1:00 PM
Birmingham-Southern at Chicago
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Westminster (Mo.) at Crown
Video Live Stats
1:30 PM
Oberlin at Allegheny
Video Live Stats Audio
1:30 PM
Mount Ida at Norwich
Video Live Stats
1:30 PM
Trinity (Conn.) at Williams
Video Preview Live Stats
1:30 PM
Baldwin Wallace at Marietta
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
1:30 PM
Muskingum at Heidelberg
Preview Live Stats Audio
1:30 PM
Union at WPI
Video Live Stats
1:30 PM
Maine Maritime at Coast Guard
Video Preview Live Stats
1:30 PM
John Carroll at Wilmington
Video Live Stats Audio
1:30 PM
Mount Union at Ohio Northern
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
1:30 PM
Franklin at Manchester
Preview Live Stats
1:30 PM
Mount St. Joseph at Hanover
Video Live Stats
1:30 PM
Widener at Lycoming
Video Live Stats Audio
1:30 PM
Defiance at Earlham
Video Preview Live Stats
2:00 PM
Capital at Otterbein
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Plymouth State at Westfield State
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Wittenberg at Wooster
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Anderson at Rose-Hulman
Video Preview Preview Live Stats
2:00 PM
Hampden-Sydney at Bridgewater
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Waynesburg at Grove City
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Cortland at Hartwick
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Centre at Hendrix
Video Preview Live Stats
2:00 PM
Eureka at Greenville
Video
2:00 PM
Northwestern (Minn.) at Iowa Wesleyan
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Concordia (Wis.) at Lakeland
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Rockford at Benedictine
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Aurora at Wisconsin Lutheran
Video Preview Live Stats
2:00 PM
Nebraska Wesleyan at Luther
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Rhodes at Sewanee
Video Preview Live Stats
2:00 PM
Lake Forest at St. Norbert
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Gustavus Adolphus
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Hamline at Carleton
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
St. John's at Bethel
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
UW-Whitewater at UW-Platteville
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Buena Vista at Loras
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Sul Ross State at Hardin-Simmons
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-Stevens Point at UW-Eau Claire
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Beloit at Lawrence
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Cornell at Monmouth
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Wartburg at Coe
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Dubuque at Central
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Wheaton (Ill.) at Illinois Wesleyan
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
McMurry at Mary Hardin-Baylor
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Elmhurst at Augustana
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Macalester at Ripon
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Grinnell at Illinois College
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Howard Payne at Louisiana College
Audio
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at UW-La Crosse
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Belhaven
Video Live Stats
2:10 PM
Augsburg at St. Thomas
Video Live Stats
3:00 PM
Washington and Jefferson at Thiel
Video Live Stats
3:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Morthland
Video
3:00 PM
St. Scholastica at Martin Luther
Video Live Stats
3:00 PM
Carthage at Carroll
Video Live Stats
3:00 PM
UW-Stout at UW-Oshkosh
Video Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
4:00 PM
Willamette at Puget Sound
Video Video Preview Live Stats Audio
4:00 PM
Whittier at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
Video Live Stats
4:00 PM
Pacific at Pacific Lutheran
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Live Stats
4:30 PM
Lewis and Clark at Linfield
Video Live Stats Audio
5:00 PM
Framingham State at Mass-Dartmouth
Video Live Stats
5:00 PM
Averett at LaGrange
Live Stats
5:00 PM
Whitworth at George Fox
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Olivet at Hope
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
6:00 PM
Bethany at Carnegie Mellon
Video Preview Preview Preview Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
St. Vincent at Case Western Reserve
Video Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Christopher Newport at Rowan
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
6:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Western Connecticut
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Berry at Washington U.
Video Video Preview Preview Live Stats Live Stats Audio Audio
7:00 PM
North Park at Millikin
Video Live Stats
10:00 PM
Pomona-Pitzer at Chapman
Video Preview Live Stats Live Stats Tickets
10:00 PM
La Verne at Cal Lutheran
Video Preview Live Stats
10:00 PM
Occidental at Redlands
Video Live Stats Audio
Oct. 1: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
Merchant Marine at Hobart
Video Live Stats Audio
12:00 PM
Juniata at Johns Hopkins
Video Preview Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
TCNJ at Salisbury
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Thomas More at Westminster (Pa.)
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Wabash at Hiram
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Buffalo State at St. John Fisher
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Stevenson at Misericordia
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Springfield at St. Lawrence
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Huntingdon at N.C. Wesleyan
Video Video Live Stats
1:30 PM
Mount Union at Ohio Northern
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
1:30 PM
Franklin at Manchester
Preview Live Stats
2:00 PM
Wittenberg at Wooster
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Wheaton (Ill.) at Illinois Wesleyan
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-Whitewater at UW-Platteville
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
St. John's at Bethel
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
McMurry at Mary Hardin-Baylor
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Sul Ross State at Hardin-Simmons
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Belhaven
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Dubuque at Central
Video Live Stats Audio
2:10 PM
Augsburg at St. Thomas
Video Live Stats
3:00 PM
UW-Stout at UW-Oshkosh
Video Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
4:30 PM
Lewis and Clark at Linfield
Video Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Christopher Newport at Rowan
Video Live Stats Audio Audio