By Ryan Briggs
Grove City SID
WAYNESBURG, Pa. -- For some, winning a conference title is a regular occurrence, especially in the Great Lakes region. Mount Union has dominated the Ohio Athletic Conference for more than a decade while Hope has four Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association crowns in the last seven years.
Allegheny dominated the North Coast Athletic Conference under Ken O'Keefe from 1990-97 and returned to the top of the NCAC this year by going 7-0 in league play.
Then there's Waynesburg. The Yellow Jackets had never won an outright Presidents' Athletic Conference title since joining the league in 1990 and had not won any sort of outright title since the 1968 West Penn Conference title.
Saturday, 35 years of waiting came to an end as the Yellow Jackets wrapped up the PAC title with a 34-20 home win against Westminster (Pa.).
Photo by Ryan Briggs
Waynesburg players celebrate their PAC championship.
The victory raised Waynesburg's record to 9-1 and secured a Pool B bid to the Division III playoffs. It is Waynesburg's first-ever NCAA playoff invitation.
Whereas Waynesburg's history has been filled with prolific passers such as Harry Theofiledes, Darren Elvey, John Huntey and current junior signal-caller Jeff Dumm, it has been a freshman-oriented running attack that has pushed Waynesburg into the spotlight this year.
Freshman tailback Ryan Abels has 834 yards and 12 touchdowns this year while frosh tailback Eric Daniels 780 yards and a dozen scores. As a team, Waynesburg averages nearly 5 yards per carry.
Against Westminster, Abels ran for 176 yards and a touchdown while Daniels picked up 133 yards and two touchdowns. Daniels also returned a kickoff 85 yards for a score.
That, coupled with a defensive effort that ended two Westminster threats with interceptions, gave Waynesburg the PAC championship.
"It was a total team effort today," Dumm said.
Seeing the joy and exuberance shown by the Waynesburg players was truly special. From a personal standpoint, it made me truly proud to be associated with Division III athletics.
The 80 or so young men in orange and black holding the trophy high into the air were not there due to financial incentive. They were playing for the love of the sport.
The winner of Ohio State-Michigan will get far more publicity from the mainstream media. But the young men in Waynesburg, Pa.; Alliance, Ohio; Holland, Mich.; and Meadville, Pa., have worked just as hard as their counterparts in Ann Arbor and Columbus. And the "big-time" guys will never be more happier or enthused that the Division III players.
Gridiron success is not new to Waynesburg. Waynesburg won the 1966 NAIA national championship and has been a fairly strong program for decades. But under third-year head coach Jeff Hand, Waynesburg has finally returned to the national spotlight.
"It feels great," Hand said. "I, personally, like our chances in the playoffs."
After being head coach at Benedictine, Hand took over as the head coach at Waynesburg prior to the 2001 season. In that first year, the Yellow Jackets went 3-7, followed by a 5-4 mark in 2002.
This year, everything came together. However, Hand and his staff did not have a three- or five-year plan. Instead, they made the PAC championship a primary goal.
"There's never a timetable," Hand said. "I think as a coach that if you give yourself a timetable, that first year is not fair to the seniors. We just set the vision as being the Presidents' Athletic Conference championship."
"It's great," Dumm said. "Words can't explain it. But I knew we could do it. From the first day of camp, that was our goal."
For senior defensive lineman Brandon Doppleheuer, a Waynesburg native, winning a conference title in his hometown is even that much more special.
"This game (beating Westminster) has made it all worthwhile," Doppleheuer said. "But, then again, we're not done yet. Right now, everything is a bonus."
Prior to the 2003 season, regional media and coaches picked Waynesburg fourth in the six-team PAC, behind Washington and Jefferson, Thiel and Westminster. According to Doppleheuer, that perceived lack of respect has been the driving force behind this year's effort.
"Those posters of us being picked fourth are highlighted throughout the locker room," he said. "We've looked at that every day, every practice. Every time that we look at that, it gives us a little more fire. We took that attitude on to the field every day."
By reaching that vision, Waynesburg gets to visit Bridgewater (Va.) Saturday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. Bridgewater is a significant favorite. But they can't really be thrilled by having to play a white-hot team like Waynesburg in the playoff opener.
Not so hot
Hope already had the MIAA's automatic berth wrapped up but the Flying Dutch enter the first round of the playoffs on a down note after losing at Albion, 28-27, Saturday. The Britons scored 21 points in the final 9:14 to pull the upset in the regular season finale. Roman Starr hauled in a 44-yard touchdown pass from Steve Wasil to tie the game at 27 with three seconds left. Andy Cline drilled the extra point to give the Britons (6-4, 4-2 MIAA) the win.
As has seemingly been the case throughout the MIAA for most of the season, neither squad played a whole lot of defense. Hope quarterback Phil Butler threw for 337 yards and four scores while completing only 17 of 42 attempts. Running back Dan Bloemers ran for 213 yards on 43 attempts, helping Hope hold a 21-0 halftime lead.
But Albion used a botched punt to climb back into the game. Following the special-teams mishap, Albion took over at the Hope 19 early in the third quarter. After two negative plays, Wasil fired a 23-yard touchdown strike to Adam Schantz to put the Britons on the board and start the comeback.
Wasil finished with 299 yards and four touchdown passes.
Allegheny returns to the Division III playoffs this weekend for the first time since 1997 after closing the regular season with seven straight wins. Saturday, Allegheny downed Ohio Wesleyan, 20-12, in Meadville, Pa. to cap a 7-0 NCAC season.
In case you forgot, Allegheny started off 0-3 with losses to Baldwin-Wallace, Washington and Jefferson and Westminster. But a 7-6 win over Wabash turned the Gators' season around and vaulted them to their first outright NCAC title since 1996. In most seasons, second-year head coach Mark Matlak would be a lock as coach of the year.
How 'bout them Yeomen!
But Oberlin head coach Jeff Ramsey might be the favorite after leading the Yeomen to a 5-5 mark this year, Oberlin's best record since a 5-5 season in 1974.
Saturday, Oberlin went to Granville, Ohio, and throttled Denison (3-7), 42-3 to earn second place in the NCAC. Oberlin's defense forced five turnovers and held the Big Red to just 202 total yards.
Quarterback Ryan Squatrito completed 11 of 17 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Oberlin offense. Oberlin fell behind 3-0 early in the first quarter, then rattled off 42 straight points.
For Denison, halfback Phil Bowhuis went over the 1,000-yard mark, becoming the first Big Red back to do that since 1989. Bowhuis finished with 1,142 yards.
An upset of Presidential proportion
With RPI and Ithaca each taking a tumble in the season finale, a victory against visiting Buffalo State (1-8) would have likely sealed a Pool B bid for Washington and Jefferson.
But the Bengals ruined the Presidents' postseason plans with a 10-7 victory at Cameron Stadium Saturday, bumping Washington and Jefferson from Pool B consideration.
Again, Washington and Jefferson's inability to run the ball proved too much to overcome. The Presidents generated just 81 net rushing yards on 32 attempts. It is the sixth time in 10 games that the Presidents failed to reach 100 net rushing yards.
In the fourth quarter Saturday, the Presidents had two passes intercepted and also had a field goal attempt blocked.
Still, the Presidents did earn a berth in the ECAC Southwest Bowl Saturday. Washington and Jefferson will play at Wilkes.
Takin' care of business
Mount Union completed another undefeated run in the OAC with a 58-0 win at Wilmington Saturday, extending the Purple Raiders' win streak to 52 games.
It is Mount Union's fifth shutout for the year, the most for the squad since 1997. In addition, Mount Union has permitted just 60 points all season.
While the defense continues to suffocate opponents, the Mount Union offense has been unstoppable. Saturday, Mount Union amassed 608 yards against the Quakers. The Purple Raiders now have 94 straight regular season wins and 85 consecutive OAC victories. Not surprisingly, Mount Union is the top seed in the North Region and has a bye week.
OAC runner-up Baldwin-Wallace earned a much-deserved Pool C bid with a 41-7 win at Otterbein Saturday. The Yellow Jackets will host Hanover in a North Region playoff Saturday in Berea, Ohio.
The Great Lakes region is sending five teams into the field of 28. Mount Union is the top seed in the North while Baldwin-Wallace is seeded third. Also in the North, Hope is the No. 7 seed and visits second-seeded Wheaton.
Wheaton downed Hope on Sept. 27, 43-26, at Wheaton.
In the South, fifth-seeded Waynesburg travels to No. 3 Bridgewater on Saturday. NCAC champion Allegheny is shipped over to the East Region as the seventh-seeded Gators visit New Jersey Athletic Conference champion Montclair State.
The 2003 regular season featured some of the familiar stuff (Mount Union domination, MIAA wide-open race) and some very surprising items (Oberlin finishing 5-5, Waynesburg and Allegheny making the NCAA playoffs). Let me know what your favorite moment of the regular season was. I look forward to hearing from all of you.