December 6, 2012

Semifinal QBs a fearsome foursome

UMHB's LiDarral Bailey is upright most of the time, although the most famous play of his career was made from a less-standard position.
Photo by Andrew Zavoina, d3photography.com
Matt O'Connell
Matt O'Connell had a rough start to the season, and has missed a game because of injury, but has used his legs and his arms in big games for St. Thomas.
Photo by Scott Pierson, d3photography.com
Kevin Burke
Kevin Burke's moment of arrival as Mount Union's starting quarterback came early in the season, although he hasn't needed to rally the team late in the game at all this year.
Photo by Dan Poel, d3photography.com
Nate Wara has developed into a much more patient quarterback in his four years calling signals for UW-Oshkosh.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com

By Adam Turer
D3sports.com

Two sophomores, playing like poised veterans. Two seniors who have already reached a new pinnacle but are far from content with the achievement. Two earned regional Player of the Year honors. One entered this season with significant playoff experience under his belt. One is a Gagliardi Trophy finalist. Three rank in the top six in the nation in passing efficiency.

The four quarterbacks still standing in the 2012 playoffs have more in common than may appear at first glance.

“I don’t really think about being a younger player on the field,” said Mount Union sophomore Kevin Burke. “My teammates treat me like a senior, like I’m one of them.”

Burke leads the nation with a quarterback rating of 196.61. Right behind him ranks Mary Hardin-Baylor senior LiDarral Bailey, with a rating of 191.22. Bailey led his team to the national quarterfinals each of the last two seasons, but completed just 22 of 50 passes with two touchdowns to five interceptions in a pair of losses to Wesley. Bailey is playing with a different sense of urgency this time around, and led the Cru to a victory over the Wolverines in the quarterfinal rematch, completing 16 of 20 passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns while adding 95 yards rushing on 17 carries.

“This is the last shot we have,” said Bailey of his senior classmates. “It’s so close we can taste it.”

Bailey is the most experienced of the four remaining quarterbacks. With 26 starts under his belt, and his recent celebrity status thanks to a SportsCenter highlight and the trend that is LiDarraling, the Cru quarterback has realized his potential in his senior season.

“He is playing with so much more confidence,” said Cru coach Pete Fredenburg. “He’s making better decisions, and our offense is better suited to highlight his abilities.”

It does not take 26 starts to gain confidence. Burke has come a long way since he entered camp battling with three other players for the Purple Raiders starting job.

“It really is night and day for me,” said Burke. “I had a bunch of nerves going into the first game. It’s a lot different now that we’ve been at this for fifteen weeks.”

The four quarterbacks have combined for 114 passing touchdowns to just 25 interceptions on the season. 13 of those interceptions have been thrown by St. Thomas sophomore Matt O’Connell, who is statistically the least accomplished of the four. Don’t let the numbers fool you. Eight of those picks came in the first five games of the season.

“Matt’s maturity makes up for the fact that he’s a sophomore,” said Tommies coach Glenn Caruso. “I think his lack of experience was more of a factor earlier in the season. At this point, Matt’s been in so many different situations this season.”

O’Connell had the advantage of serving as Dakota Tracy’s understudy last year as a freshman as Tracy led the Tommies to the national semifinals. Tracy was 28-2 as a starter and showed O’Connell, another small-town athlete, how to lead a national power.

“I was really blessed to be in the role where I could learn from him,” said O’Connell. “He was a mentor, a great friend, and he had a big impact on getting me ready for my role this year.”

The sophomores, Burke and O’Connell, entered the year as unproven sophomores, but each pinpointed a moment early in the year when he took the reins of the offense. O’Connell grew up in the first game of the season, as he led St. Thomas from 11 points down to defeat UW-Eau Claire 27-24. O’Connell passed for one score and ran for another in the final four minutes to snag the victory. Burke remembers a specific play in the season-opening victory over Franklin. Burke broke a few tackles and completed a pass to his tight end.

“After that play, everybody made me feel like I had asserted myself as the starting quarterback,” said Burke.

While Burke and O’Connell seized their moment early in the season, Bailey asserted himself even earlier.

“He was very disappointed in the way last year ended,” said Fredenburg. “He really dedicated himself starting in January to lead this year. I think he senses the opportunity we have.”

The most experienced starter of the group is also starter with the least playoff experience. Nate Wara has been UW-Oshkosh’s starting quarterback for four years. In his final year, the Gagliardi finalist led his team to its first postseason appearance. The Titans have won 15 consecutive games dating to last season. He is enjoying his first playoff ride more than he is thinking about his final weeks as a Titan.

“I’m just glad I can play football. I’m not really thinking about being a senior,” said Wara. “Our main goal is still up for grabs right now.”

An overtime loss to UW-La Crosse a week after pushing eventual champion UW-Whitewater to the brink last season fueled Wara and his teammates in the offseason. The memory of those narrow defeats that kept the Titans from the playoffs in 2011 has helped motivate Wara and his teammates this year and played an important role in Saturday’s rally in Oregon which ended with a victory over Linfield in overtime.

“Our motto this year has been ‘Remember La Crosse,’ ” said Wara. “Whenever a game gets tough, we think about that.”

Wara and Bailey have four years of starting experience. Their opponents in the semifinals start sophomore quarterbacks. Yes, there are advantages, but Burke and O’Connell have proven that age is just a number. The more important number is the sophomores’ teams’ combined 26-0 record this season.

“There are a lot of inherent qualities you get with experience,” said Caruso. “In some ways, being a little young and naïve to the pressures and magnitude of the situation can be beneficial.”

Burke and O’Connell will have two more offseasons to grow and improve. Wara and Bailey have had those opportunities and made the most of them.

Which QB will have the best game Saturday?
LiDarral Bailey
Kevin Burke
Matt O'Connell
Nate Wara
Someone's backup

“All of the offseason workouts help you become more mentally tough,” said Bailey. “Those transformed me to be a different person. I took that leadership role with everyone holding me accountable.”

The seniors know that they have at most two weeks to make an impact in college football. The biggest advantage to being a senior seems to be the opportunity to learn from the three senior classes that came before you.

“Every senior that came through passed a little something on to me,” said Wara. “I hope to leave something for the guys that come after me.”

The quarterback position is unique in many ways, especially when it comes to leadership. A quarterback, no matter how old or experienced, must be a leader on the field. The learning curve is accelerated for the man lining up behind center.

“I have to treat my quarterback like a junior or senior,” said Caruso. “I never treat my quarterback like a freshman. If I have to treat him like a freshman, he needs to find another position to play.”

The four quarterbacks who will start this weekend have taken different paths to lead their teams to this point. A combined 52 wins and zero losses heading into Dec. 8 tells the story better than anything.

“Everyone dreams about having that perfect season,” said Wara. “We’ve always talked about it. Now, we have a chance to make it reality.”

comments powered by Disqus
Sep. 18: All times Eastern
Final
Christopher Newport 31, at N.C. Wesleyan 28
Box Score
Sep. 19: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Framingham State at Fitchburg State
Live Stats Video
Sep. 20: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
RPI at Castleton State
Preview Live Stats Video Tickets
12:00 PM
Maine Maritime at Massachusetts Maritime
Preview Live Stats Live Stats Video
12:00 PM
Gallaudet at Rochester
Live Stats Video Audio
12:00 PM
Alfred State at Husson
Preview Live Stats Video
12:00 PM
Sewanee at Randolph-Macon
Live Stats Video Audio
12:00 PM
Moravian at Johns Hopkins
Live Stats Video Audio
12:00 PM
Frostburg State at Utica
Live Stats Video Audio
12:00 PM
Alfred at Buffalo State
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Newport News Apprentice at Catholic
Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Becker at Nichols
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Wesleyan at Middlebury
Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Worcester State
Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Hamilton at Tufts
Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Bates at Amherst
Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
Colby at Trinity (Conn.)
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Salve Regina at William Paterson
Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Lebanon Valley at Stevenson
Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
Allegheny at Hiram
Live Stats Live Stats Video Video
1:00 PM
SUNY-Maritime at Merchant Marine
Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Case Western Reserve at St. Vincent
Preview Video
1:00 PM
Thomas More at Thiel
Preview Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
Ursinus at Franklin and Marshall
Preview Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Endicott at Kean
Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Coast Guard at Hampden-Sydney
Preview Live Stats Video Audio Audio
1:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at Averett
Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Albright at Widener
Live Stats Audio Audio
1:00 PM
Hobart at Curry
Live Stats Live Stats Video Audio Audio
1:00 PM
LaGrange at Greensboro
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Susquehanna at Dickinson
Video Audio
1:00 PM
Rowan at Wesley
Live Stats Audio Audio
1:00 PM
Morrisville State at St. Lawrence
Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
FDU-Florham at Misericordia
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Juniata at Gettysburg
Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
Lincoln (Pa.) at Montclair State
Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
Wabash at Denison
Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
Bethany at Westminster (Pa.)
1:00 PM
Mount Ida at Springfield
Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Hartwick at Ithaca
Live Stats
1:00 PM
WPI at Norwich
Live Stats Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Iowa Wesleyan at Minnesota-Morris
1:00 PM
Huntingdon at Methodist
Video Video
1:30 PM
Ohio Northern at Baldwin Wallace
Preview Live Stats Video Audio
1:30 PM
Wilmington at Capital
Preview Live Stats Video
1:30 PM
Franklin at Anderson
Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
1:30 PM
Carnegie Mellon at Washington and Jefferson
Preview Live Stats Video Audio Audio
1:30 PM
Heidelberg at John Carroll
Preview Live Stats Video Video Audio Audio
1:30 PM
King's at Lycoming
Live Stats Video Audio
1:30 PM
Geneva at Waynesburg
1:30 PM
Mount Union at Muskingum
Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
1:30 PM
Mount St. Joseph at Defiance
Live Stats Video
1:30 PM
Earlham at Manchester
Live Stats Live Stats Video Audio
2:00 PM
Bowdoin at Williams
Video
2:00 PM
Muhlenberg at McDaniel
Preview Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
UW-Whitewater at TCNJ
Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Marietta at Otterbein
Audio
2:00 PM
Hope at Lakeland
Live Stats Video Audio
2:00 PM
Olivet at Aurora
Live Stats Video Audio
2:00 PM
Trine at Rockford
Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Albion at Concordia (Wis.)
Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
North Park at Washington U.
Preview Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
Kalamazoo at Wisconsin Lutheran
Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
UW-Eau Claire at Wheaton (Ill.)
Preview Live Stats Video Audio Tickets
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at St. John's
Live Stats Video Audio Audio
2:00 PM
St. Olaf at Bethel
Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
Augsburg at Carleton
Live Stats Video Audio Audio
2:00 PM
Hamline at Gustavus Adolphus
Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
Stetson at Birmingham-Southern
Preview Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
Trinity (Texas) at Sul Ross State
Audio
2:00 PM
Occidental at Austin
Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
Southwestern Assemblies at Howard Payne
Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Central
2:00 PM
Grinnell at Luther
Video
2:00 PM
UW-Stevens Point at Coe
Audio
2:00 PM
Eureka at Greenville
2:00 PM
Westminster (Mo.) at MacMurray
2:00 PM
Loras at Augustana
Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
Texas Lutheran at Louisiana College
Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
Illinois Wesleyan at Simpson
Live Stats Video
2:30 PM
Rose-Hulman at Hanover
Preview Live Stats Video
3:00 PM
Plymouth State at Western Connecticut
Live Stats
3:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Wayland Baptist
Live Stats Video Audio
3:00 PM
Lewis and Clark at Whittier
Live Stats Video
3:00 PM
Willamette at Cal Lutheran
Live Stats
3:30 PM
Alma at Concordia-Chicago
Live Stats Video
3:30 PM
Carroll at Lake Forest
Live Stats Video
3:30 PM
Whitworth at La Verne
Live Stats Video Audio
4:00 PM
Westfield State at Mass-Dartmouth
Live Stats Video
4:00 PM
Crown at St. Scholastica
Live Stats Live Stats Video
6:00 PM
DePauw at Wittenberg
Preview Live Stats Video Audio
6:00 PM
St. John Fisher at Brockport State
Audio Tickets
6:00 PM
UW-River Falls at South Dakota Mines
7:00 PM
Guilford at Southern Virginia
@ Salem Stadium
Live Stats Live Stats Video
7:00 PM
Wooster at Oberlin
Live Stats Video Audio
7:00 PM
Ferrum at Shenandoah
Preview Live Stats Video Audio
7:00 PM
Centre at Washington and Lee
Live Stats Video Audio
7:00 PM
Kenyon at Ohio Wesleyan
7:00 PM
Wilkes at Delaware Valley
Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
Pacific at Dubuque
Live Stats Video Audio
7:00 PM
UW-Platteville at North Central (Ill.)
Preview Live Stats Video Audio Audio
7:00 PM
Chicago at Elmhurst
Preview Live Stats Video
7:00 PM
Mary Hardin-Baylor at UW-La Crosse
7:00 PM
UW-Oshkosh at South Dakota State
Live Stats Video Audio
7:30 PM
Adrian at Benedictine
Live Stats Video Audio
8:00 PM
UW-Stout at Wartburg
Audio
8:00 PM
Martin Luther at Northwestern (Minn.)
Live Stats Video
8:00 PM
Southwestern at East Texas Baptist
Preview Live Stats Video Audio Audio
10:00 PM
Rhodes at Pomona-Pitzer
Preview Live Stats Video
10:00 PM
Linfield at Redlands
Live Stats Video Audio Audio
Sep. 20: All times Eastern
6:00 PM
St. John Fisher at Brockport State
Audio Tickets
6:00 PM
DePauw at Wittenberg
Preview Live Stats Video Audio
8:00 PM
UW-Stout at Wartburg
Audio
7:00 PM
UW-Oshkosh at South Dakota State
Live Stats Video Audio
7:00 PM
UW-Platteville at North Central (Ill.)
Preview Live Stats Video Audio Audio
7:00 PM
Mary Hardin-Baylor at UW-La Crosse
10:00 PM
Linfield at Redlands
Live Stats Video Audio Audio
2:00 PM
UW-Whitewater at TCNJ
Live Stats Audio
1:30 PM
Mount Union at Muskingum
Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
1:30 PM
Heidelberg at John Carroll
Preview Live Stats Video Video Audio Audio
1:30 PM
King's at Lycoming
Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
Rowan at Wesley
Live Stats Audio Audio
1:00 PM
Coast Guard at Hampden-Sydney
Preview Live Stats Video Audio Audio
1:00 PM
Wabash at Denison
Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
Thomas More at Thiel
Preview Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
Hartwick at Ithaca
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Hobart at Curry
Live Stats Live Stats Video Audio Audio
12:00 PM
Moravian at Johns Hopkins
Live Stats Video Audio
2:00 PM
St. Olaf at Bethel
Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
UW-Eau Claire at Wheaton (Ill.)
Preview Live Stats Video Audio Tickets
2:00 PM
Illinois Wesleyan at Simpson
Live Stats Video

What We're Reading