November 27, 2013

For trip to Linfield, Tigers must adjust on the fly

More news about: Hampden-Sydney | Linfield
Holton Walker
Hampden-Sydney's Holton Walker had 16 catches for 268 yards in Round 1, but faces a significantly tougher defense in Round 2.
Red Rocket photography

By Adam Turer
D3sports.com

The Hampden-Sydney Tigers are rewriting the record books while winning big game after big game. Arguably the biggest win in the program's 119-year history, the first victory in six attempts in the NCAA playoffs, earned the Tigers a trip across the country to face perennial powerhouse Linfield. While many are writing off the Tigers as the next team to finish its season in the "Catdome," Hampden-Sydney is excited for the challenge.

"This is a great opportunity for us, against a very good team," Tigers quarterback Nash Nance said. "This is a business trip, and it will bring our team a lot closer together. We're staying focused, but we're still going to enjoy it."

Nance is no stranger to boarding a plane with his teammates for a long road trip into a hostile environment. He spent two years as a backup at the University of Tennessee before transferring to Hampden-Sydney. He has flown from Knoxville to "The Swamp" in Gainesville, Fla. and "Death Valley" in Baton Rouge, La. The Catdome -- formally Maxwell Field -- in McMinnville, Ore. is next on his itinerary. Another flight with teammates was unexpected when he transferred to a Division III program. Such flights are rare, but usually mean one thing: you're playing for one of the last teams standing in the playoffs.

"This is something that I'm used to, coming from the SEC," said Nance of the long flight. "Still, this is something really special that we'll be able to tell our kids and grandkids about. It's going to be a fun atmosphere."

The Tigers have been playing with their backs against the wall since losing an ODAC game to Shenandoah on Oct. 26. Hampden-Sydney crushed then league-leading Guilford on the road, beat defending ODAC champion Washington and Lee at home, then held off rival Randolph-Macon on the road by stopping a two-point conversion attempt and recovering an onside kick with 95 seconds to play.

"From the Guilford game, it was win or go home," said wide receiver Holton Walker. "We closed the season having to beat three good teams. That definitely prepared us for the playoffs."

Then, the Tigers earned a favorable playoff draw, hosting USA South champion Maryville. The Scots were making their first playoff appearance, but put up a fight in one of the opening round's most entertaining battles. Hampden-Sydney prevailed, 42-34. Walker, the leading receiver in the nation this year with 141.7 yards per game, keyed the Tigers' first playoff win. He racked up 268 yards on a 16 receptions (both school records) and scored three touchdowns. Walker had 224 yards and all three of his scores in the first half. Nance and Walker have built up a solid rapport in their two seasons and counting together.

"I trust him and he trusts me," said Walker. "We've become good friends, we communicate every single day, and our chemistry continues to grow."

"Having targets like Michael Mey and Holton Walker, you trust that you can get them the ball and they can do some special things with it," said Nance. "I think that that trust works both ways."

The offense that averages 447.4 yards per game will face its toughest task of the season, by far. Linfield gives up just 250.3 yards per game, seventh in the nation. The Wildcats also boast the No. 7 scoring defense in the nation, allowing just 12 points per game. The Tigers average 35.5 points per game.

"We've seen some good defenses, but none as good as Linfield," said Walker.

Linfield's defense has overcome several obstacles this year to remain among the nation's best. Projected starters Marq Randall, a defensive tackle, and Brynnan Hyland, a defensive end, have missed the entire season. Defensive tackle Tyler Steele suffered an injury in the regular season finale that will keep him out of the playoffs. Hyland and Steele were both preseason All-Americans. Hyland was a 2012 first team All-American defensive end. He has been helping his young replacements get up to speed all season.

"I'm not surprised, because they were all good players to start with," said Hyland. "They have really been able to slow down and just have fun out there."

Sophomore Alex Hoff went from long snapper to first-team all-conference defensive end. Defensive tackle Jeremy Girod emerged as a force in the interior, leading the Wildcats with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss. He entered the year as one of six men at his position with experience. Only three remain healthy.

Holton Walker
Jeremy Girod has helped the Wildcats overcome huge losses on their defensive line.
Linfield athletics photo

"The morale here at Linfield is that people always step up to the occasion," said Girod. "When it's your shot, you make it worth it."

Steele and Hyland are serving as extra coaches on the sideline, while defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Jackson Vaughan focuses on the defense as a whole. Their influence has had a positive impact on the always-aggressive Linfield front.

"We may be undersized, but we are fast and athletic," said Girod. "The key is the mentality of our defensive line and how we're coached to just get after it. It's a lot of fun to play here."

The defensive linemen are more than just gap pluggers in Linfield's system. The Wildcats' 4-2-5 scheme features stunts that allow every linemen to make big plays.

"We play quick and we're put in position by the defensive scheme to take the brakes off and just go," said Hyland. "Also, we're prepared mentally, which allows you to just get in position and play. We can throw a lot of different looks at people and our guys are all really versatile."

The Wildcats rank fourth in the nation in turnover margin, and turnovers have been Hampden-Sydney's weakness all year. Nance has thrown 14 interceptions and the Tigers have lost nine fumbles. The key matchup will be Nance's ability to make good decisions under pressure from the Wildcats' front seven.

"I don't think we've seen a defensive line as big and athletic as Linfield's," said Nance. "We'll have to keep them honest with our play calling and I have to do a good job of recognizing their coverages and fronts. We have to take what they give us."

The underdogs are not lacking confidence. In some ways, it may help that they have no experience of playing in the Catdome. It may also help that the majority of Linfield students will be home for the Thanksgiving break. Traveling approximately 2,854 miles on Thanksgiving is more than worth it. For the Tigers, this is just the next in a growing streak of make-or-break games.

"I get to spend Thanksgiving with my team. We're only one of 16 teams able to do that," said Walker. "We're going out to play an established team. That will be good for us."

"We think we're one of the best teams they've faced, too," said Nance.

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 Recap
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
Box Score Recap
Final
at Wesleyan 34, Hamilton 6
Box Score
Final
at Tufts 12, Bates 7
Box Score Recap
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 Recap
Final
at DePauw 48, Kenyon 35
Box Score
Final
Ferrum 30, at Greensboro 0
Box Score
Final
Maryville (Tenn.) 52, at Methodist 13
Box Score
Final
FDU-Florham 32, at Wilkes 28
Final
at Castleton 23, Anna Maria 13
Box Score
Final
Moravian 33, at Ursinus 32
Box Score Recap Photos Photos
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 Recap
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 Recap Photos
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 Photos
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
Box Score Recap
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 Recap
Final
at Albright 27, King's 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Guilford 59, Catholic 0
Box Score Recap
Final
Muhlenberg 33, at Susquehanna 30
Box Score Recap
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 Photos
Final
at Marietta 62, Baldwin Wallace 56
Box Score Recap
Final
at Heidelberg 27, Muskingum 24
Box Score
Final
at WPI 21, Union 14
Box Score Recap
Final
at Coast Guard 36, Maine Maritime 30
Box Score Recap
Final
John Carroll 67, at Wilmington 7
Box Score
Final
Mount Union 38, at Ohio Northern 21
Box Score Photos
Final
Franklin 41, at Manchester 27
Box Score
Final
Mount St. Joseph 42, at Hanover 6
Final - 4OT
Widener 24, at Lycoming 21
Final
Defiance 59, at Earlham 28
Box Score Photos
Final
at Trine 62, Concordia-Chicago 19
Box Score
Final
Capital 42, at Otterbein 41
Box Score
Final - OT
at Westfield State 14, Plymouth State 13
Box Score
Final
Wittenberg 41, at Wooster 13
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Rose-Hulman 44, Anderson 10
Box Score Photos
Final
at Bridgewater 45, Hampden-Sydney 35
Box Score
Final
Waynesburg 14, at Grove City 10
Box Score
Final
Cortland 50, at Hartwick 47
Final
at Hendrix 35, Centre 28
Box Score
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
Box Score
Final
at Benedictine 67, Rockford 15
Box Score
Final
Aurora 48, at Wisconsin Lutheran 13
Box Score
Final
Nebraska Wesleyan 27, at Luther 24
Final
Rhodes 36, at Sewanee 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at St. Norbert 35, Lake Forest 21
Box Score Recap
Final
Concordia-Moorhead 46, at Gustavus Adolphus 21
Box Score
Final
at Carleton 34, Hamline 31
Box Score
Final
St. John's 42, at Bethel 27
Box Score
Final
UW-Whitewater 30, at UW-Platteville 24
Recap
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 Photos
Final
at Lawrence 36, Beloit 22
Box Score
Final
at Monmouth 57, Cornell 14
Box Score
Final
at Coe 37, Wartburg 34
Final
Dubuque 35, at Central 17
Box Score
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 48, at Illinois Wesleyan 24
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 66, McMurry 3
Box Score Recap
Final
Elmhurst 14, at Augustana 3
Final
Macalester 16, at Ripon 8
Final
at Illinois College 50, Grinnell 14
Box Score
Final
at Louisiana College 35, Howard Payne 7
Box Score
Final
East Texas Baptist 60, at Belhaven 47
Final
at St. Thomas 55, Augsburg 7
Box Score Recap Photos Photos
Final
Washington and Jefferson 62, at Thiel 14
Box Score
Final
at Morthland 42, Maranatha Baptist 10
3:00 PM
St. Scholastica at Martin Luther
Video Live Stats
Final
Carthage 38, at Carroll 14
Box Score
Final
at UW-Oshkosh 45, UW-Stout 17
Box Score
4th - 02:39
56 Willamette
24 Puget Sound
Video Video Preview Live Stats Audio
4:00 PM
Whittier at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
Video Live Stats
Final
at Pacific Lutheran 27, Pacific 16
8:03 4th
7 Lewis and Clark
59 Linfield
Video Live Stats Audio
3rd - 13:04
7 Framingham State
20 Mass-Dartmouth
Video Live Stats
3rd - 08:04
34 Averett
27 LaGrange
Live Stats Audio
Halftime
15 Whitworth
23 George Fox
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
5:05 PM
UW-River Falls at UW-La Crosse
Video Live Stats Audio
1st qtr - 2:43 (delayed)
6 Olivet
0 Hope
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
1st - 07:19
7 Bethany
7 Carnegie Mellon
Video Preview Preview Preview Live Stats Audio
2nd - 06:58
14 St. Vincent
17 Case Western Reserve
Video Live Stats Audio
2nd - 15:00
0 Christopher Newport
7 Rowan
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
6:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Western Connecticut
Video Live Stats
14:00 1st
0 Berry
0 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 Recap
Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Juniata 17
Box Score
Final
at Salisbury 41, TCNJ 6
Box Score Photos
Final
Thomas More 45, at Westminster (Pa.) 35
Box Score Recap
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 Photos
Final
Franklin 41, at Manchester 27
Box Score
Final
Wittenberg 41, at Wooster 13
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 48, at Illinois Wesleyan 24
Final
UW-Whitewater 30, at UW-Platteville 24
Box Score Recap
Final
St. John's 42, at Bethel 27
Box Score
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 66, McMurry 3
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 53, Sul Ross State 29
Box Score
Final
East Texas Baptist 60, at Belhaven 47
Final
Dubuque 35, at Central 17
Box Score
Final
at St. Thomas 55, Augsburg 7
Box Score Recap Photos Photos
Final
at UW-Oshkosh 45, UW-Stout 17
Box Score
8:03 4th
7 Lewis and Clark
59 Linfield
Video Live Stats Audio
2nd - 15:00
0 Christopher Newport
7 Rowan
Video Live Stats Audio Audio