/playoffs/2012/fearsome-foursome

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.”

Oct. 14: All times Eastern
Final
Salve Regina 45, at Nichols 10
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Mount Ida 14, at Dean 7
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Final
at Thomas More 59, Waynesburg 7
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Final
at Maine Maritime 34, Coast Guard 16
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Final
at Finlandia 27, Trinity Bible 21
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Final
Hamilton 28, at Bowdoin 7
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Final
at Delaware Valley 49, King's 14
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Olivet 47, Albion 26
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Final
at Wesleyan 41, Bates 23
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Final
Union 27, at Rochester 0
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Final
Amherst 40, at Colby 7
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Final
at Western New England 41, Endicott 14
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Final
at Brockport 48, Morrisville State 7
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Final - OT
at Plymouth State 16, Framingham State 13
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Final
at RPI 27, Ithaca 14
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Final
Hobart 49, at Hartwick 27
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Final
at Ferrum 34, LaGrange 20
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Final
at Carnegie Mellon 42, Geneva 27
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Final
Ohio Wesleyan 16, at Wabash 13
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Final
DePauw 26, at Denison 17
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Final
at Trine 42, Kalamazoo 7
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Final
at Washington and Lee 47, Guilford 26
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Final
at Husson 49, Castleton 0
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Final
Gallaudet 35, at Alfred State 19
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Final
at Wittenberg 49, Allegheny 15
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Final
Brevard 41, at Methodist 17
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Final
at Lebanon Valley 31, Stevenson 24
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Final
Buffalo State 24, at St. Lawrence 21
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Final - OT
at Cortland 20, Alfred 17
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Final
at Randolph-Macon 52, Emory and Henry 29
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Final
at Wesley 29, Kean 9
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Final
at Hampden-Sydney 58, Apprentice 28
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Frostburg State 59, at William Paterson 7
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Final
at N.C. Wesleyan 45, Greensboro 0
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at Westminster (Pa.) 49, Grove City 27
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Final
Washington and Jefferson 49, at Bethany 14
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Final
at Westminster (Mo.) 56, Crown 15
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at Northwestern (Minn.) 29, Iowa Wesleyan 7
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at Knox 56, Grinnell 14
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at Widener 31, Lycoming 17
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Final
Trinity (Conn.) 23, at Tufts 16
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Final
at Mount St. Joseph 66, Earlham 7
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Final - 2OT
Ohio Northern 27, at John Carroll 20
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Final
Baldwin Wallace 23, at Muskingum 20
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Final
at Mount Union 72, Capital 14
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Final
Rose-Hulman 44, at Manchester 13
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Final
at Hanover 31, Bluffton 28
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Final
Defiance 45, at Anderson 0
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Final
at Wartburg 42, Loras 11
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Final
Hiram 62, at Kenyon 56
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Springfield 35, at Merchant Marine 13
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Final
Williams 27, at Middlebury 26
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Final
at Westfield State 33, Fitchburg State 21
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Final
Marietta 43, at Wilmington 33
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at Berry 34, Hendrix 10
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Final
Curry 40, at Becker 0
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TCNJ 20, at Rowan 14
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Final
at SUNY-Maritime 51, Anna Maria 15
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Salisbury 28, at Montclair State 10
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at Huntingdon 28, Maryville (Tenn.) 16
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Final
at Austin 33, Millsaps 19
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Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 65, Howard Payne 0
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Final
at Washington U. 55, Buena Vista 20
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Final
Alma 27, at Aurora 19
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Final
at Rockford 29, Concordia-Chicago 14
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Final
Wisconsin Lutheran 22, at Concordia (Wis.) 19
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Final
at Lakeland 57, Benedictine 21
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Final
at St. Norbert 10, Chicago 0
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Final
Concordia-Moorhead 45, at Hamline 0
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Final
St. Olaf 22, at Augsburg 20
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Final
Bethel 24, at Gustavus Adolphus 3
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Final
St. John's 35, at Carleton 0
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Final
at Eureka 30, Greenville 19
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Final
Centre 27, at Trinity (Texas) 21
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Final
Dubuque 42, at Nebraska Wesleyan 27
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Final
Central 30, at Coe 19
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Final
Lake Forest 56, at Cornell 28
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Final
at Carthage 31, Elmhurst 8
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Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 30, Carroll 0
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Final
Millikin 28, at Augustana 27
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Final
Ripon 52, at Beloit 28
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Final
MacMurray 49, at Minnesota-Morris 13
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Final
Macalester 21, at Lawrence 18
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Final
at Monmouth 59, Illinois College 14
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Final
at UW-Stevens Point 26, UW-Eau Claire 3
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Final
Case Western Reserve 63, at Thiel 28
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Final
at Wooster 38, Oberlin 28
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Final
Texas Lutheran 41, at East Texas Baptist 34
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Final
at UW-Stout 21, UW-River Falls 16
Box Score Recap
Final
UW-Oshkosh 28, at UW-Platteville 14
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Final
Sewanee 34, at Birmingham-Southern 13
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Final
at Hope 22, Adrian 3
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Final
Linfield 49, at Lewis and Clark 14
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Cancelled
La Verne at Occidental
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Final
Whitworth 17, at Pacific Lutheran 14
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Final
at Cal Lutheran 42, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 20
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Final
at George Fox 58, Willamette 12
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Final
at Pacific 35, Puget Sound 27
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Pomona-Pitzer 45, at Whittier 23
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Final
at Western Connecticut 28, Massachusetts Maritime 21
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Final
at St. Scholastica 56, Martin Luther 21
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Final - 5OT
at St. John Fisher 39, Utica 36
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Final - OT
at Heidelberg 48, Otterbein 45
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Final
at Shenandoah 38, Bridgewater 20
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Final
Southwestern 60, at Belhaven 31
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Final
Hardin-Simmons 35, at Sul Ross State 10
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Final
at Louisiana College 52, McMurry 34
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Final
at Simpson 38, Luther 17
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Final
at Chapman 45, Redlands 26
Video Video Box Score Recap Recap
Oct. 16: All times Eastern
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 42, North Central (Ill.) 20
Box Score Recap
Oct. 20: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Gettysburg at Johns Hopkins
Video Video Live stats Live stats
Oct. 14: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 49, King's 14
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final - OT
at Cortland 20, Alfred 17
Box Score Recap Live stats
Final
at Wesley 29, Kean 9
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Frostburg State 59, at William Paterson 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Wittenberg 49, Allegheny 15
Video Box Score
Final
at Brockport 48, Morrisville State 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Washington and Jefferson 49, at Bethany 14
Video Box Score
Final
Ohio Wesleyan 16, at Wabash 13
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Mount Union 72, Capital 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Wartburg 42, Loras 11
Video Box Score
Final
at Berry 34, Hendrix 10
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Springfield 35, at Merchant Marine 13
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 65, Howard Payne 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
St. John's 35, at Carleton 0
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Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 30, Carroll 0
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Final
Concordia-Moorhead 45, at Hamline 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Case Western Reserve 63, at Thiel 28
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
UW-Oshkosh 28, at UW-Platteville 14
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Final
Linfield 49, at Lewis and Clark 14
Video Box Score
Final
at George Fox 58, Willamette 12
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Final
Hardin-Simmons 35, at Sul Ross State 10
Box Score
Oct. 16: All times Eastern
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 42, North Central (Ill.) 20
Box Score Recap
Oct. 20: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Gettysburg at Johns Hopkins
Video Video Live stats Live stats