/playoffs/2013/hampden-sydney-eager-to-let-it-fly-at-linfield

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. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Framingham State 50, Massachusetts Maritime 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Muhlenberg 56, at Juniata 40
Video Box Score
Final
at Dean 25, Becker 10
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 27, at TCNJ 7
Box Score
Final
MIT 38, at Catholic 21
Video Box Score
Final
Merchant Marine 56, at Maine Maritime 31
Video Box Score
Final
at Hobart 34, Endicott 17
Video Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Morrisville State 44, Nichols 22
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Albright 9, Widener 7
Video
Final
Christopher Newport 16, at Montclair State 8
Video Box Score
Final
at Westminster (Pa.) 41, Bethany 14
Video
Final
Middlebury 41, at Bowdoin 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Williams 24, at Colby 7
Video Box Score
Final
Amherst 36, at Hamilton 6
Video Box Score
Final
Ursinus 35, at Moravian 17
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Trinity (Conn.) 51, at Bates 0
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at LaGrange 38, Brevard 28
Video Box Score
Final
Geneva 33, at Thiel 24
Video
Final
at Plymouth State 37, Mass-Dartmouth 7
Video Box Score
Final
Kean 28, at Southern Virginia 14
Video Box Score
Final
Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Union 17, at Curry 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Carnegie Mellon 37, Thomas More 17
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Lycoming 44, at King's 41
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Western New England 21, Husson 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at DePauw 51, Wooster 24
Video Video Box Score
Final
at Ohio Wesleyan 37, Allegheny 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Misericordia 43, Wilkes 14
Video
Final
at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at N.C. Wesleyan 35, Maryville (Tenn.) 25
Video Box Score
Final
Huntingdon 31, at Ferrum 28
Video Video Box Score
Final - OT
at McDaniel 27, Gettysburg 20
Video Video Preview Box Score
Final
at Buffalo State 33, RPI 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Franklin and Marshall 27, at Susquehanna 24
Video Box Score
Final
at Denison 45, Oberlin 17
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Northwestern (Minn.) 10, Westminster (Mo.) 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Eureka 44, Crown 20
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Lebanon Valley 24, FDU-Florham 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Ohio Northern 35, Otterbein 7
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Rose-Hulman 37, Defiance 14
Video Recap Box Score Video Photos
Final
at Marietta 49, Muskingum 25
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Franklin 59, at Bluffton 30
Box Score
Final
at Hanover 64, Anderson 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Mount St. Joseph 31, at Manchester 14
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Worcester State 34, at Westfield State 10
Video Box Score
Final
Coast Guard 13, at Norwich 9
Video Box Score
Final
at Fitchburg State 31, Bridgewater State 29
Video Box Score
Final
Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
Video Box Score
Final
at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
Video Video Box Score
Final
North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Millsaps 17, Sewanee 13
Video Box Score
Final
at Rhodes 35, Birmingham-Southern 9
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Hendrix 36, Austin 24
Video Box Score
Final
at Martin Luther 34, Greenville 20
Video Box Score Recap
Final - OT
at Trinity (Texas) 41, Chapman 35
Video Preview Box Score Live stats
Final
at Loras 73, Buena Vista 34
Video Video Box Score
Final
at Wartburg 30, Washington U. 20
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Gustavus Adolphus 51, Hamline 7
Video Box Score
Final
Augsburg 48, at Carleton 28
Video Box Score
Final
at Bethel 64, St. Olaf 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Luther 21, Dubuque 17
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Central 52, Nebraska Wesleyan 27
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Simpson 38, at Coe 33
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
St. Norbert 66, at Grinnell 13
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Knox 13, Ripon 6
Video
Final
at MacMurray 32, Iowa Wesleyan 14
Video Box Score
Final
Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
Box Score
Final
Southwestern 37, at Louisiana College 34
Video Box Score
Final
Monmouth 26, at Macalester 0
Video Box Score
Final
at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Springfield 42, WPI 10
Video Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Cornell 55, Beloit 36
Video
Final
at Brockport 28, Utica 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Hartwick 24, St. John Fisher 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at UW-La Crosse 41, Carroll 6
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at St. Scholastica 37, Minnesota-Morris 3
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at George Fox 44, UW-Eau Claire 0
Video Box Score
Final
at Western Connecticut 37, Salve Regina 23
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at UW-Stevens Point 41, Adrian 28
Video Box Score
Final - OT
at Wesleyan 24, Tufts 17
Video Preview Box Score
Final
at Averett 35, Methodist 6
Video Box Score
Final
at Berry 28, Centre 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
Video Box Score
Final
at Grove City 24, St. Vincent 14
Box Score
Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
Video
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Carthage 55, at Augustana 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Chicago 28, at Illinois College 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Sul Ross State 35, McMurry 7
Final - OT
at Wilmington 37, Capital 30
Video Preview Box Score Photos
Final
Lake Forest 42, at Lawrence 26
Video Video Box Score
Final
at East Texas Baptist 79, Belhaven 40
Box Score Recap
Final
Arizona Christian 56, at Whittier 38
Video Box Score
Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
Video Box Score
Final
at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
Video Video Box Score
Final
Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
Box Score
Final
North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Brockport 28, Utica 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
Video Box Score
Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
Video
Final
at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
Photos Video Box Score
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
Video Box Score Recap