/playoffs/2011/the-last-unranked-team

The last unranked team

More news about: St. John Fisher | St. Thomas
Paul Vosburgh has been coaching St. John Fisher since the program was a club team.
St. John Fisher athletics photo

By Andrew Lovell
D3sports.com

If you haven't taken a close look at the final eight teams standing in this year's playoff field, consider this -- seven of the eight are ranked in the top 10 in the country.

The eighth? That would be unranked St. John Fisher. But don't tell the Cardinals they don't belong. Coach Paul Vosburgh will simply point out the schedule St. John Fisher faced this season, a slate that included two other playoff teams (Salisbury, Hobart), the defending Empire 8 champion (Alfred) and perennial playoff contenders (Ithaca, Springfield).

"I think that's helped us here in the playoffs because we've played two outstanding teams back-to-back," Vosburgh said. "... What helped us in getting ready for those two playoff games was the strength of our competition during the year. We really didn't have any soft teams to play, no one that we could say, 'This is definitely a win.' "

The Cardinals knocked off undefeated conference champions in Johns Hopkins and Delaware Valley on the road in consecutive weeks in the playoffs. That's no small feat. But Fisher will face its toughest test Saturday, when it lines up against undefeated MIAC champion St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.

The Tommies have lost just once since the start of the 2010 season -- a 12-7 loss to conference rival Bethel in last year's quarterfinals. They also rank No. 1 in the country in rushing defense (46.8 yards allowed per game), No. 3 in total defense (212.2 yards allowed per game), and boast a balanced offense that averages just under 40 points per game.

"They're a very good football team," Vosburgh said. "There's a reason they're 12-0, I'll tell you that. They're just a good, solid football, and they are very good on defense. ... They don't have any apparent weaknesses."

For St. John Fisher to continue its impressive run, it will have to slow down St. Thomas running back Colin Tobin, a task much easier said than done. Tobin, who has piled up 1,443 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground this season, has rushed for 206 and 260 yards, respectively, in the Tommies' first two playoff games.

St. John Fisher's defense has overcome a number of key injuries, particularly to its linebacker corps early in the season, and turned in a strong season. But this will be the most potent rushing attack its faced all season, save for Salisbury's machine-like triple-option attack.

Cody Foster is part of a defensive front three with four sophomores on its part of the two-deep. Brenden Moore is in a linebacking corps that has five seniors and a junior.
St. John Fisher athletics photo

"Nobody's really found a way to [slow Tobin], I don't think," Vosburgh said with an uneasy laugh. "He's great, and he's got a very good offensive line in front of him. They've got some big ol' horses up there that get it done too."

Should the Cardinals be successful in slowing Tobin's pace, they'll be tested by the dynamic aerial duo of quarterback Dakota Tracy and wide receiver Fritz Waldvogel, a Gagliardi Trophy finalist. Waldvogel has also proven to be lethal both as a kick and punt returner, so it would behoove the Cardinals to keep a close eye on No. 4 whenever he's on the field.

While all of the numbers and superlatives favor St. Thomas, St. John Fisher at least has the element of uncertainty on its side. The Cardinals lost starting quarterback Ryan Kramer about midway through their first playoff game against Johns Hopkins with what Vosburgh called a pulled groin/hip flexor.

Junior Ahmed Hassanien, who began the season as St. John Fisher's No. 3 quarterback, stepped in and tossed the go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter, and helped the Cardinals hang on in the second half. Hassanien made his first career start against Delaware Valley and turned in a strong performance, even taking a page out of the scrambling Kramer's book with a 32-yard touchdown run.

"I thought Ahmed did a really good job for his first start, to go in against a team the caliber of Del Valley," Vosburgh said. "The good thing is he allowed the game to come to him. He didn't try to force anything, that's why he didn't have any interceptions.

"He had a great run for a touchdown. He read that play. They were going to jump the bubble pass that he was going to throw [but] he read that before it happened and he just decided it was time to take off with the ball. ... He played within the framework of our team and managed the game very well for us."

Vosburgh, who said Kramer probably could have played against Delaware Valley "if we would have really needed him," remained coy in his assessment of Kramer's status against St. Thomas, calling the junior day to day.

St. Thomas has had a lot to celebrate over the past two seasons, with its only loss an injury-depleted 12-7 defeat to Bethel in last year's quarterfinals.

Understandably, St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso said his team is "absolutely" preparing for both Kramer, a dual-threat option, and Hassanien, a pocket passer.

Caruso said his team has also focused on cleaning up any lingering turnover issues, an important aspect considering St. John Fisher has intercepted nine passes in its two playoff victories. The Tommies lost three fumbles and threw an interception against Monmouth, which ultimately left the team in the rare position of being tied at halftime.

"That's one of the better things that came out of the game, that we were in a situation at halftime where it wasn't a given," Caruso said. "Our kids had to fight through that and they certainly did."

Caruso called St. John Fisher a well-balanced team, and not simply in terms of its run-to-pass ratio, but from top to bottom across the roster.

"They have a very solid defense, they have a very solid offense, their kicking game puts them in good field position [and] I think they're very well coached," Caruso said.

Though the Cardinals have won consecutive road games, they face a flight for the first time in school history. But Vosburgh is quick to point out the two-and-a-half hour flight will be shorter than the five-to-six hour bus rides the team has had in the last two weeks. Caruso said he doesn't expect the flight to have any negative effect on the team.

"At this point they're kind of road warriors," Caruso said. "There's nothing about going on the road that should surprise or shock them anymore because this is the fifth week in a row they've been doing it. It's been the same story every week -- undefeated team they know nothing about, they go into their home stadium and they're able to play extremely well."

The Cardinals are in the NCAA playoffs for just the fourth time in the school history, but three trips -- including this one -- have been remarkably successful. In 2006, the Cardinals reached the semifinals before falling to Mount Union. The following season, the Cardinals advanced to the quarterfinals before again losing to Mount Union.

"I think this team has some of those characteristics," Vosburgh said. "They've got a lot of fight in them, got a good work ethic in them and they're a close group of young men. ... [Now it's] different names, different people, different physical strengths and weaknesses, but the character things, a lot of the good things that helped those teams win, we also have on this 2011 team."

Should the Cardinals defeat the Tommies, they'll face the winner of the UW-Whitewater-Salisbury matchup in the semifinals. But first they'll have to get past the No. 3 Tommies, a team hungry to advance to the semifinals after falling in the quarterfinals each of the last two seasons.

Oct. 20: All times Eastern
Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Gettysburg 0
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Oct. 21: All times Eastern
Final
at Framingham State 29, Westfield State 14
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Final
Moravian 20, at Juniata 17
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at Salve Regina 41, Endicott 14
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Final
at Thomas More 63, St. Vincent 13
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Final
at Union 28, Hobart 23
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at Hamilton 27, Colby 24
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at Christopher Newport 27, William Paterson 19
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Final
at Ithaca 35, St. John Fisher 10
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Final
at Allegheny 44, Kenyon 35
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SUNY-Maritime 21, at Mount Ida 13
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Middlebury 43, at Bates 14
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at Springfield 68, Catholic 20
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at Amherst 21, Wesleyan 17
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at Trinity (Conn.) 63, Bowdoin 14
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Husson 48, at Gallaudet 21
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Wabash 35, at Oberlin 21
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at Utica 34, Buffalo State 12
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Final
Ohio Northern 7, at Muskingum 6
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at Frostburg State 62, Montclair State 3
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Final
at Wesley 34, Rowan 3
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Final
at Stevenson 26, Albright 23
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Wittenberg 52, at DePauw 6
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at Albion 31, Alma 28
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at Guilford 45, Shenandoah 20
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Final
Plymouth State 40, at Massachusetts Maritime 14
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Final
Wooster 58, at Hiram 25
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Washington and Lee 36, at Hampden-Sydney 6
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at Anna Maria 36, Alfred State 34
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Bridgewater 31, at Emory and Henry 23
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at FDU-Florham 49, Wilkes 31
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Lebanon Valley 17, at Misericordia 0
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at St. Lawrence 36, Rochester 14
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RPI 30, at Alfred 15
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Final
at Curry 46, Nichols 16
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at Salisbury 42, Southern Virginia 0
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Ferrum 27, at Brevard 24
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Randolph-Macon 63, at Apprentice 14
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at Susquehanna 21, Ursinus 14
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Final
Cortland 34, at Morrisville State 20
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at Trine 50, Hope 14
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Final
Trinity (Texas) 27, at Sewanee 21
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Wartburg 41, at Luther 16
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at Franklin and Marshall 56, Dickinson 0
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Tufts 21, at Williams 13
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Final
Mount Union 66, at Wilmington 7
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MIT 30, at Coast Guard 21
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Final
at Norwich 24, Maine Maritime 22
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at Marietta 44, Heidelberg 21
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Final
Franklin 29, at Rose-Hulman 22
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Final
John Carroll 48, at Capital 21
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at Manchester 28, Bluffton 21
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Final
Mount St. Joseph 71, at Anderson 27
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UW-Whitewater 20, at UW-River Falls 7
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Kean 26, at TCNJ 3
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at LaGrange 59, Greensboro 10
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at Worcester State 45, Mass-Dartmouth 40
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Final
Muhlenberg 40, at McDaniel 13
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Final
Western New England 45, at Becker 0
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Final
at Maryville (Tenn.) 35, Methodist 14
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Final
Adrian 36, at Kalamazoo 22
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Final
Denison 31, at Ohio Wesleyan 20
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Final - OT
at Washington and Jefferson 34, Westminster (Pa.) 33
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Final
Berry 37, at Millsaps 22
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Final
at Benedictine 43, Olivet 37
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Final
Birmingham-Southern 31, at Austin 24
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 45, Belhaven 7
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Final
at UW-Stout 23, UW-Stevens Point 17
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Final
Eureka 37, at MacMurray 20
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at Illinois Wesleyan 13, Carthage 10
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Final
Nebraska Wesleyan 14, at Buena Vista 13
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Final
Lakeland 48, at Wisconsin Lutheran 0
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Final
at Aurora 28, Rockford 21
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Final
at Concordia-Chicago 37, Concordia (Wis.) 17
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Final
at St. Olaf 29, Carleton 26
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Final
at St. John's 41, Gustavus Adolphus 17
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Final
at Concordia-Moorhead 42, Augsburg 20
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Final
St. Thomas 84, at Hamline 0
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Final
Westminster (Mo.) 24, at Greenville 14
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Final
at Loras 44, Coe 38
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Final
Monmouth 61, at Cornell 10
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Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 56, at North Park 0
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Final
Northwestern (Minn.) 30, at Martin Luther 14
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Final
Hardin-Simmons 33, at Texas Lutheran 30
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Final
at Lake Forest 70, Grinnell 6
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Final
at Millikin 56, Carroll 35
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Final
at Macalester 47, Ripon 31
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Final
at St. Norbert 38, Lawrence 6
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Final
St. Scholastica 49, at Crown 21
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Final
at Iowa Wesleyan 24, Minnesota-Morris 17
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Final
UW-Platteville 34, at UW-Eau Claire 14
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Final
at WPI 41, Merchant Marine 7
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Final
at Centre 42, Rhodes 35
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Final
Hanover 49, at Earlham 14
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Final
at Chicago 55, Beloit 12
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 42, at UW-La Crosse 28
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Final - OT
at Dubuque 28, Simpson 27
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 54, Augustana 2
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Final
at East Texas Baptist 68, Louisiana College 35
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Final
at Brockport 45, Hartwick 0
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Final
Western Connecticut 27, at Bridgewater State 20
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Final
Chapman 38, at La Verne 21
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Final
Pacific 17, at Lewis and Clark 7
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Final
Pacific Lutheran 27, at Willamette 14
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at Whitworth 38, Puget Sound 23
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Final
Redlands 42, at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 25
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Final
at Linfield 12, George Fox 6
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Final
Sul Ross State 52, at Howard Payne 15
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at Castleton 17, Dean 14
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N.C. Wesleyan 21, at Averett 15
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at Otterbein 37, Baldwin Wallace 29
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Case Western Reserve 45, at Geneva 7
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Carnegie Mellon 42, at Thiel 10
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at Illinois College 23, Knox 13
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at Cal Lutheran 60, Whittier 34
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Cancelled
Occidental at Pomona-Pitzer
Oct. 20: All times Eastern
Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Gettysburg 0
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Oct. 21: All times Eastern
Final
at Wesley 34, Rowan 3
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Final
at Frostburg State 62, Montclair State 3
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Final
Wittenberg 52, at DePauw 6
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Final
at Springfield 68, Catholic 20
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Final
Wartburg 41, at Luther 16
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Final
Mount Union 66, at Wilmington 7
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Final
at Marietta 44, Heidelberg 21
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Final - OT
at Washington and Jefferson 34, Westminster (Pa.) 33
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Final
Hardin-Simmons 33, at Texas Lutheran 30
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Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 45, Belhaven 7
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Final
St. Thomas 84, at Hamline 0
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Final
at St. John's 41, Gustavus Adolphus 17
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Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 13, Carthage 10
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Final
at Concordia-Moorhead 42, Augsburg 20
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Final
Berry 37, at Millsaps 22
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Final
UW-Platteville 34, at UW-Eau Claire 14
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 42, at UW-La Crosse 28
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 54, Augustana 2
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Final
at Brockport 45, Hartwick 0
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Final
at Linfield 12, George Fox 6
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Final
Case Western Reserve 45, at Geneva 7
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