/playoffs/2017/wartburg-returns

The Knights return

More news about: Wartburg
The balanced offensive attack starts with an experienced offensive line boasting four all-conference performers.
Russ DeHoedt, d3photography.com


By Ryan Tipps
D3sports.com

Wartburg is dynamic on defense, has an overwhelming offensive line and is packed with proficient playmakers.

You know what other alliteration they are fond of? Wartburg winning.

The first two playoff games may have looked very different for the Knights -- a narrow overtime win in Round 1 against Franklin followed up by a decisive 49-7 stomping of Trine -- yet the resulting victories have catapulted the team into tying a school record with a 12-win season. Next up is a quarterfinal showdown with defending national runner-up UW-Oshkosh.

“A couple of us are seniors now, and while we made it deep in the playoffs our freshman year and were a part of that team, we weren’t a big factor then,” said senior left tackle Derek Schipper. “Now we have the experience.”

While much of the credit for the team’s offensive growth goes to star skill players such as Gagliardi Trophy semifinalist Matt Sacia, who has 2,958 yards passing and 33 touchdowns, Riley Brockway, who has caught for more than 1,300 yards this fall, and a couple of running backs, the balance that Wartburg has been able to achieve began in the trenches.

“Being able to run and throw with equal effectiveness is a very fundamental part of our offensive philosophy; it’s something that we’ve been doing a good job with all year,” said head coach Rick Willis. “And the offensive line plays a major role in that -- they have to be able to be physical as run blockers as well as do a great job with pass protection.”

Through the 12 games this season, Wartburg is averaging 464 yards a game -- 214 rushing and 250 passing. Many of the year’s most explosive plays have been runs, and that has helped Sacia make the most of the run-pass option.

There are six players who are regulars in the offensive line rotation, and all have stayed healthy since the beginning. Four of the linemen were named to the All-IIAC list, including Schipper, who was a first-teamer.

About half of the line was intact from last season, but among those who stepped up to fill a graduation hole was center Tom Schiffer. His leadership and direction ahead of the snap has made the front five more dominant and more responsive to what defenses present.

“Tom has done a great job this year taking over at center,” Schipper said of his teammate. “He’s really the heart and soul of this O-line.”

The unit’s performance has been important to the development of the team, particularly after coming off of a disappointing 6-4 season in 2016, which is shoulder to shoulder with the worst records the Knights have posted in the past two decades.

Left guard Nic Vetter and left tackle Derek Schipper have helped quarterback Matt Sacia put up over 3,000 yards of offense this year.
Russ DeHoedt, d3photography.com

“We had a nice run in ’13, ’14, ’15, and we lost a whole bunch of guys last year. And there’s no substitute for experience, which we gained in the ’16 season. That’s showing up this year,” said Willis, who is in his 19th year at the helm of Wartburg and just won his fifth conference Coach of the Year honor.

Wartburg didn’t land in the Top 25 poll until the sixth week of the season, and there were perhaps some questions lingering as the Knights needed to thwart a Franklin two-point conversion attempt in overtime to win the playoff opener.

But there’s something to be said for gaining confidence against stiffer competition, adapting to the playoff atmosphere and being prepared for things that may be unfamiliar on the field.

“A lot of us didn’t have experience in the playoffs; we knew it was going to be cranked up and it was going to be a different atmosphere,” Schipper said. “But that first game really was crazy. I’ve never been a part of a game like that.”

Franklin and Trine each presented an offense that challenged Wartburg’s defense in a unique way, but it was clear with the way that Trine’s attack was thoroughly stifled that it was a matchup the Knights were prepared for.

“They were very different styles of teams, especially offensively. The Trine matchup was perhaps more favorable to us, with the running style that they use,” Willis said. “And getting off to a really good start helped. Momentum is such a big deal.”

In the same way that the Wartburg offense has benefitted from the experience of playmakers such as Sacia under center, the defense has found a solid recipe in its veteran players. Each defensive position group has a fifth-year senior among its ranks: the front unit has Blake Beckman, the linebackers have Rob Rottler, and the secondary has Chris McNutt. Couple that with some position changes that have improved the defense’s speed, and it becomes apparent why a team that gave up 25 points a game in 2016 is now giving up only 16 a game and is three rounds deep into the postseason.

It’s a return to form for the Knights. Last year appears to be the anomaly, a season cast aside as somewhat of a rebuilding year for a team that had an already solid foundation. The experience of this year’s starters and the desire to prove themselves have given the Knights the opportunity to square off against UW-Oshkosh, albeit on the road for the first time this postseason.

For the players, it’ll be a week like every other in a lot of ways: hitting the weights, watching game film, digesting every morsel the coaches throw at them, all in the hopes of gaining an advantage over their opponent. What’s different, however, is that on the horizon is the season’s toughest opponent, and there’s an opportunity to make the special year of 2017 something even greater, something historic.

“I didn’t know how this year was going to go -- you never really know after last year,” Schipper said. “I knew we had some good players on both sides of the ball, but once we got some momentum and kept winning, things really started looking up.

“Now we sit here ready to play our 13th game of the year -- it’s really wild.”

 

Nov. 9: All times Eastern
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at Rowan 35, Kean 20
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Nov. 10: All times Eastern
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Coast Guard 26, at Merchant Marine 12
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at Catholic 20, Maine Maritime 14
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at Amherst 45, Williams 14
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at Stevenson 34, FDU-Florham 0
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Westfield State 27, at Western Connecticut 13
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Hamilton 38, at Bates 13
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Husson 21, at Plymouth State 10
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SUNY-Maritime 34, at Gallaudet 7
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at Bridgewater State 21, Massachusetts Maritime 7
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at Nichols 39, Curry 29
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Union 34, at RPI 10
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at MIT 22, Springfield 7
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Framingham State 47, at Worcester State 6
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Fitchburg State 32, at Mass-Dartmouth 29
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Trinity (Conn.) 9, at Wesleyan 0
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Muhlenberg 53, at Moravian 7
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at WPI 20, Norwich 17
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at Johns Hopkins 42, McDaniel 17
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at Dean 19, Anna Maria 13
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King's 45, at Wilkes 0
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Ithaca 24, at Cortland 21
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Denison 61, at Kenyon 7
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Alfred 41, at Rochester 13
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at University of New England 42, Alvernia 27
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Tufts 35, at Middlebury 13
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Salve Regina 47, at Endicott 34
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at Brevard 28, Greensboro 7
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Brockport 49, at Morrisville State 7
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Montclair State 24, at William Paterson 0
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Lycoming 21, at Misericordia 14
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at Colby 30, Bowdoin 14
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Westminster (Pa.) 21, at Geneva 7
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at Christopher Newport 16, Wesley 14
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at St. John Fisher 31, Buffalo State 28
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Averett 22, at Methodist 13
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Franklin and Marshall 34, at Gettysburg 10
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TCNJ 33, at Southern Virginia 30
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Hobart 42, at St. Lawrence 31
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at Western New England 52, Becker 0
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at Susquehanna 24, Juniata 6
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at Bethany 35, St. Vincent 0
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at Lebanon Valley 30, Albright 24
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at Ursinus 31, Dickinson 0
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Hope 33, at Adrian 14
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Shenandoah 27, at Washington and Lee 24
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at Castleton 21, Alfred State 3
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at Albion 35, Olivet 19
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Washington and Jefferson 33, at Waynesburg 14
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Randolph-Macon 48, at Hampden-Sydney 35
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Trine 48, at Kalamazoo 18
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Wittenberg 27, at Wooster 21
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at Emory and Henry 70, Guilford 27
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at Ohio Wesleyan 40, Hiram 12
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at Frostburg State 38, Salisbury 35
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at Maryville (Tenn.) 31, N.C. Wesleyan 14
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Utica 75, at Hartwick 14
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at John Carroll 45, Baldwin Wallace 35
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at Louisiana College 45, Howard Payne 13
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at Minnesota-Morris 21, Greenville 13
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at Concordia (Wis.) 21, Wisconsin Lutheran 14
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Coe 26, at Luther 7
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at Northwestern (Minn.) 28, Iowa Wesleyan 0
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at MacMurray 34, St. Scholastica 20
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at Aurora 25, Lakeland 22
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Benedictine 54, at Concordia-Chicago 41
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at Chicago 48, Lake Forest 16
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at Washington U. 44, Carroll 6
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at Wabash 24, DePauw 17
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Delaware Valley 33, at Widener 0
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at Allegheny 47, Oberlin 14
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Capital 33, at Muskingum 28
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at Grove City 42, Thiel 15
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at Heidelberg 49, Ohio Northern 17
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Otterbein 34, at Wilmington 24
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at Mount Union 49, Marietta 7
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at Rose-Hulman 70, Earlham 6
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Hanover 23, at Franklin 20
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Manchester 35, at Anderson 6
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at Bluffton 34, Defiance 7
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Alma 37, at Finlandia 0
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Bridgewater 42, at Ferrum 21
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at Huntingdon 42, LaGrange 14
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Carthage 38, at Augustana 9
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at Trinity (Texas) 21, Berry 17
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at Eureka 38, Rockford 7
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Rhodes 21, at Austin 14
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at Southwestern 59, Texas Lutheran 35
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at Hardin-Simmons 83, McMurry 6
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Gustavus Adolphus 29, at St. Olaf 20
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Centre 56, at Birmingham-Southern 20
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at Hamline 27, Augsburg 9
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at Concordia-Moorhead 51, Carleton 14
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Simpson 56, at Buena Vista 7
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Wartburg 47, at Dubuque 28
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at Martin Luther 47, Crown 18
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Central 37, at Loras 34
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at North Central (Ill.) 55, Millikin 12
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at Wheaton (Ill.) 79, Elmhurst 0
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at St. John's 63, Thomas More 23
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at Millsaps 28, Hendrix 21
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UW-Whitewater 49, at UW-Platteville 21
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Illinois Wesleyan 40, at North Park 13
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Cornell 13, at Lawrence 6
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at St. Norbert 10, Monmouth 7
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at Ripon 38, Knox 19
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Grinnell 41, at Beloit 31
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Illinois College 35, at Macalester 28
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at Bethel 21, St. Thomas 15
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UW-Stevens Point 39, at UW-River Falls 25
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Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, at East Texas Baptist 15
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at UW-Oshkosh 27, UW-Stout 13
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UW-La Crosse 42, at UW-Eau Claire 0
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Cal Lutheran 58, at Whittier 21
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Pacific Lutheran 28, at Lewis and Clark 14
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at Chapman 55, La Verne 34
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at Redlands 52, Occidental 20
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at Linfield 50, Pacific 7
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at Pomona-Pitzer 24, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 19
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at George Fox 62, Puget Sound 48
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Whitworth 52, at Willamette 0
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Carnegie Mellon 29, at Case Western Reserve 23
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Belhaven 8, at Sul Ross State 0
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Nov. 10: All times Eastern
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Union 34, at RPI 10
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Muhlenberg 53, at Moravian 7
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at Johns Hopkins 42, McDaniel 17
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Brockport 49, at Morrisville State 7
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Trine 48, at Kalamazoo 18
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at Frostburg State 38, Salisbury 35
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Wittenberg 27, at Wooster 21
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Washington and Jefferson 33, at Waynesburg 14
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at John Carroll 45, Baldwin Wallace 35
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Final
Delaware Valley 33, at Widener 0
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at Mount Union 49, Marietta 7
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at Wheaton (Ill.) 79, Elmhurst 0
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at Trinity (Texas) 21, Berry 17
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at Hardin-Simmons 83, McMurry 6
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at St. John's 63, Thomas More 23
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UW-Whitewater 49, at UW-Platteville 21
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at North Central (Ill.) 55, Millikin 12
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Final
Illinois Wesleyan 40, at North Park 13
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at Bethel 21, St. Thomas 15
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Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, at East Texas Baptist 15
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at Linfield 50, Pacific 7
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Whitworth 52, at Willamette 0
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Final - OT
Carnegie Mellon 29, at Case Western Reserve 23
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