November 21, 2011

You gotta play the best

Franklin freshman defensive back D.J. Hinton got an up close and personal look at UW-Whitewater in September.
Photo by Ralph Greenslade for D3sports.com

By Adam Turer
for D3sports.com

To be the Man, you’ve got to beat the Man.

Any football coach will tell you that to be the best, you have to beat the best. Franklin head coach Mike Leonard has tried to turn that cliché to reality. As the Grizzlies prepare to take on defending national champion UW-Whitewater, they know exactly what to expect when competing against the Warhawks.

Thanks to ambitious scheduling and coincidental bracketing, this will be the third time the Grizzlies meet the Warhawks in a 53-week span. Franklin hosted Whitewater in Week Two this season, falling 45-0. Next season, Franklin begins a home and home series with the other Purple Power, Mount Union. While scheduling Whitewater in the regular season this year likely cost the Grizzlies a perfect regular season, Leonard is confident that it was the right thing to do for the long-term success of the program.

“Some people think that I’m an idiot for it,” he said. “In my younger days, I couldn’t imagine playing that type of team here at Franklin.”

The players have embraced the challenge. The Grizzlies have earned the automatic playoff berth out of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference four out of the past five seasons. Playing against the highest level of competition in Division III creates opportunities for Franklin that other programs go without.

“Not a lot of kids grow up wanting to play Division III football,” said senior wide receiver Nathan Ellis. “If kids know that they’ll be playing against the best D-III has to offer, it gives them a little more incentive to come here.”

Every D-III program wants to be the first to take down the Purple Powers, who have met each other in the Stagg Bowl in six straight years. By scheduling them in the regular season, the Grizzlies increase the odds that they will be that team to shock the nation.

“We knew we’d have to play a team like that eventually, but I didn’t expect us to be able to schedule them for the second week of the season,” said senior defensive back Des Prentice.

Adrian opened the 2010 season at Whitewater. Coach Jim Deere and the Bulldogs were excited for the opportunity to play a non-conference game against the standard-bearer.

“They’re the benchmark,” said Deere. “It lets you know where you’re at in your program and where you need to improve.”

Adrian lost that game 35-0 and did not return the game in 2011.

The Franklin seniors are excited for the underclassmen, who will graduate with the experience of playing Whitewater and Mount Union multiple times. Leonard uses the schedule as a selling point on the recruiting trail.

“It really gets recruits’ eyes open,” said Leonard. “We know we’re not at that level yet, but we hope these games help us to get there in the next three to four years.”

Since starting their dominant run seven years ago, it has become increasingly difficult for the Warhawks to scheduled non-conference Division III opponents. With at-large playoff bids at a premium, few teams want to risk the loss. Adrian was one of the few Division III teams to play at Whitewater in non-conference action in recent years.

“Our players took it as a challenge,” said Deere. “They were excited about it and when we got there they thought ‘That’s what we’re supposed to look like.’ ”

Franklin is confident enough that it can handle its business in the HCAC that a non-conference loss to one of the top two teams in the nation will not keep the Grizzlies out of the postseason. If anything, the marquee games help prepare Franklin for the conference slate.

“It shows you a landmark, a measuring stick for your team,” said Ellis. “It also gets Franklin more known on the national stage.”

The players get an up-close look at how they need to play in order to reach their biggest goals. Every program wants to model itself after the two-time defending champions. These contests serve as a learning experience for the Grizzlies.

“It’s the way they play from snap to whistle,” said Prentice, when asked what stands out the most about the Warhawks.

“Physically, they’re just faster and stronger,” added Ellis. “Also, they are more disciplined than any other team we play. They don’t talk any trash on the field.”

Despite losing 45-0 earlier this year, and 52-21 in the first round of last year’s playoffs, the two games against the Warhawks allow the Grizzlies to play with more confidence. In their first playoff trip under Leonard, in 2007, the Grizzlies lost a tight game to North Central. The next year, Franklin drew an Otterbein team in the first round that had scored 20 points against Mount Union in the regular season. The mindset of the Grizzlies when they saw the 2011 bracket was much different than it was in 2008.

“Having played Whitewater earlier in the season, we weren’t in awe of our first-round opponent when we saw the bracket,” said Leonard. “A few years back, we felt like underdogs going in [to the playoffs].”

There is a balance that the players must carefully manage in these games against the national powers. While they can play loose, knowing that they are the underdogs, they also must play a near-perfect game in order to pull off the upset.

“We know that all the pressure is on them,” said Prentice. “We have nothing to lose, but now that we’ve seen them a couple of times we know what kind of level we need to play at in order to compete.”

The biggest boon for Leonard was getting Whitewater and Mount Union to agree to come play at Faught Stadium in Franklin, Ind. The Purple Raiders are a household name in the area because of Pierre Garçon’s success with the Indianapolis Colts. The Warhawks are starting to become a household name in the area with the teams matching up for a third time in Franklin’s last 12 games. Seeing these programs firsthand lets the Franklin College community know what it takes to reach the level of national prominence to which Leonard strives to lead the Grizzlies.

“We wanted to play them at our place so that the whole campus, community and town could see what a championship team looks like and see the quality of athletes that they have,” said Leonard.

Whether at home or on the road, the Franklin community — and, importantly, recruits — will notice when the Grizzlies take the field against the best of the best in Division III.

Sep. 30: All times Eastern
Final
Randolph-Macon 24, at Shenandoah 19
Box Score Photos
Final
at Washington and Lee 49, Emory and Henry 23
Box Score
Oct. 1: All times Eastern
Final
Massachusetts Maritime 30, at Fitchburg State 0
Box Score
Final
Becker 42, at Gallaudet 18
Box Score
Final
at Hobart 38, Merchant Marine 35
Box Score
Final
RPI 51, at Rochester 13
Box Score Recap
Final
Endicott 21, at MIT 9
Box Score
Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Juniata 17
Box Score
Final
at William Paterson 18, Montclair State 13
Final
at Wesleyan 34, Hamilton 6
Box Score
Final
at Tufts 12, Bates 7
Box Score
Final
Wabash 45, at Hiram 21
Box Score
Final
Middlebury 35, at Colby 14
Box Score
Final
Amherst 31, at Bowdoin 10
Box Score
Final
Frostburg State 25, at Kean 18
Box Score
Final
at DePauw 48, Kenyon 35
Box Score
Final
Ferrum 30, at Greensboro 0
Box Score
1:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at Methodist
Video Live Stats
Final
FDU-Florham 32, at Wilkes 28
Final
at Castleton 23, Anna Maria 13
Box Score
Final
Moravian 33, at Ursinus 32
Box Score
Final
Stevenson 48, at Misericordia 0
Box Score
Final
at St. Lawrence 42, Springfield 14
Box Score
Final
Thomas More 45, at Westminster (Pa.) 35
Box Score
Final
Alma 56, at Kalamazoo 26
Box Score Recap
Final
Franklin and Marshall 20, at Dickinson 10
Box Score
Final
Wesley 63, at Southern Virginia 9
Box Score
Final
Adrian 28, at Albion 21
Box Score
Final
Husson 33, at SUNY-Maritime 12
Box Score
Final
Apprentice 24, at Alfred State 8
Box Score Photos
Final
at Salisbury 41, TCNJ 6
Box Score
Final
at St. John Fisher 28, Buffalo State 24
Recap
Final
Salve Regina 47, at Curry 14
Box Score
Final
at Gettysburg 38, McDaniel 23
Box Score
Final
Delaware Valley 48, at Lebanon Valley 0
Final
at Denison 21, Ohio Wesleyan 14
Box Score
Final
at Ithaca 23, Utica 14
Box Score Recap
Final
Alfred 49, at Morrisville State 24
Box Score Recap
Final
Western New England 56, at Nichols 27
Box Score
Final
at Albright 27, King's 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Guilford 59, Catholic 0
Box Score
Final
Muhlenberg 33, at Susquehanna 30
Box Score
Final
at N.C. Wesleyan 41, Huntingdon 31
Box Score
Final
at MacMurray 31, Minnesota-Morris 10
Box Score
Final
at Chicago 38, Birmingham-Southern 34
Box Score
Final
Westminster (Mo.) 35, at Crown 7
Final
at Allegheny 26, Oberlin 21
Box Score
Final
Mount Ida 15, at Norwich 14
Box Score
Final
Trinity (Conn.) 38, at Williams 13
Box Score Recap
Final
at Marietta 62, Baldwin Wallace 56
Box Score
Final
at Heidelberg 27, Muskingum 24
Box Score
Final
at WPI 21, Union 14
Box Score
Final
at Coast Guard 36, Maine Maritime 30
Box Score
Final
John Carroll 67, at Wilmington 7
Box Score
Final
Mount Union 38, at Ohio Northern 21
Box Score
Final
Franklin 41, at Manchester 27
Box Score
1:30 PM
Mount St. Joseph at Hanover
Video Live Stats
Final - 4OT
Widener 24, at Lycoming 21
Final
Defiance 59, at Earlham 28
Box Score
4th - 12:17
19 Concordia-Chicago
55 Trine
Video Live Stats Audio
3rd (14:00)
20 Capital
21 Otterbein
Video Live Stats Audio
Final - OT
at Westfield State 14, Plymouth State 13
Final
Wittenberg 41, at Wooster 13
Box Score
Final
at Rose-Hulman 44, Anderson 10
Box Score
Final
at Bridgewater 45, Hampden-Sydney 35
Box Score
Final
Waynesburg 14, at Grove City 10
4th - 5:06
40 Cortland
40 Hartwick
Video Live Stats
Final
at Hendrix 35, Centre 28
Final
Eureka 27, at Greenville 13
Box Score
Final
Northwestern (Minn.) 25, at Iowa Wesleyan 18
Box Score
Final
at Lakeland 16, Concordia (Wis.) 7
Final
at Benedictine 67, Rockford 15
Box Score
Final
Aurora 48, at Wisconsin Lutheran 13
Box Score
Final
Nebraska Wesleyan 27, at Luther 24
4th - 02:05
36 Rhodes
21 Sewanee
Video Preview Live Stats
Final
at St. Norbert 35, Lake Forest 21
Final
Concordia-Moorhead 46, at Gustavus Adolphus 21
Final
at Carleton 34, Hamline 31
Box Score
Final
St. John's 42, at Bethel 27
4th - 02:42
30 UW-Whitewater
24 UW-Platteville
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
Final
Buena Vista 34, at Loras 24
Box Score
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 53, Sul Ross State 29
Box Score
Final
UW-Stevens Point 28, at UW-Eau Claire 19
Box Score
2:00 PM
Beloit at Lawrence
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Cornell at Monmouth
Video Live Stats Audio
Final
at Coe 37, Wartburg 34
Final
Dubuque 35, at Central 17
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 48, at Illinois Wesleyan 24
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 66, McMurry 3
Box Score
Final
Elmhurst 14, at Augustana 3
2:00 PM
Macalester at Ripon
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Grinnell at Illinois College
Video Live Stats
Final
at Louisiana College 35, Howard Payne 7
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at UW-La Crosse
Video Live Stats Audio
HALF
32 East Texas Baptist
17 Belhaven
Video Live Stats
Final
at St. Thomas 55, Augsburg 7
Box Score
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
Halftime
3 UW-Stout
45 UW-Oshkosh
Video Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
2nd - 08:51
26 Willamette
6 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
2:39 1st
0 Lewis and Clark
21 Linfield
Video Live Stats Audio
5:00 PM
Framingham State at Mass-Dartmouth
Video Live Stats
Start of 1st
0 Averett
0 LaGrange
Live Stats Audio
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
Final
at Hobart 38, Merchant Marine 35
Box Score
Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Juniata 17
Box Score
Final
at Salisbury 41, TCNJ 6
Box Score
Final
Thomas More 45, at Westminster (Pa.) 35
Box Score
Final
Wabash 45, at Hiram 21
Box Score
Final
at St. John Fisher 28, Buffalo State 24
Recap
Final
Stevenson 48, at Misericordia 0
Box Score
Final
at St. Lawrence 42, Springfield 14
Box Score
Final
at N.C. Wesleyan 41, Huntingdon 31
Box Score
Final
Mount Union 38, at Ohio Northern 21
Box Score
Final
Franklin 41, at Manchester 27
Box Score
Final
Wittenberg 41, at Wooster 13
Box Score
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 48, at Illinois Wesleyan 24
4th - 02:42
30 UW-Whitewater
24 UW-Platteville
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
Final
St. John's 42, at Bethel 27
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 66, McMurry 3
Box Score
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 53, Sul Ross State 29
Box Score
HALF
32 East Texas Baptist
17 Belhaven
Video Live Stats
Final
Dubuque 35, at Central 17
Final
at St. Thomas 55, Augsburg 7
Box Score
Halftime
3 UW-Stout
45 UW-Oshkosh
Video Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
2:39 1st
0 Lewis and Clark
21 Linfield
Video Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Christopher Newport at Rowan
Video Live Stats Audio Audio