Monmouth not resting on past

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Once DeAndre Wright and the offense get in a rhythm, the Scots will be even tougher to beat.
Photo by Kent Kriegshauser

By Clyde Hughes

Monmouth senior linebacker Kyle Schultz said he does not expect anything to be handed to the Scots despite being defending Midwest Conference champions.

Even though Monmouth is now 5-1 and 2-0 in the MWC South Division, there's plenty of hard work that needs to be done, starting with Saturday's game against Cornell.

Monmouth's only loss has been to now No. 20-ranked Wartburg 36-13 in Week 2. Since then, the Scots defense reeled off three straight shutouts (Macalester 26-0, Lawrence 34-0, and Grinnell 49-0) before giving up two touchdowns in a 59-14 win over Illinois College.

"I think our loss against Wartburg was a very humbling point in our season," Schultz said. "It was a real wake-up call. We were going to have to give a lot more effort if we wanted to be competing for a conference championship. It's not just going to be handed to us because of what we did last year. We are going to have to earn it."

Monmouth has been earning it defensively with a unit that is ranked ninth in the nation in total defense, giving up 229.2 yards per game. The Scots are ranked No. 12 in the country in scoring defense, giving up 11.7 points per game.

"It's been a lot of fun playing with this group of guys," said Schultz, who was a second team All-MWC selection last year and now leads the Scots in tackles, lauding Class of 2017 All-MWC selection Matt Barnes.

"We try to play with a lot of energy when we are out there. Matt was great at creating a positive environment to play in. He always brought tons of energy when he played and it was contagious. I've tried to replicate that this year with our defense.”

Schultz and the defense have paced the Scots so far this season.
Photo by Luke Long

Monmouth coach Chad Braun said Schultz is of one of the Scots’ captains for a reason and has energized their defensive play. He also pointed out the play of leading tacklers in sophomore linebacker Clark Gaden, senior defensive back D.J. Frank, and defensive lineman Lamar Watson.

"Clark Gaden is having a solid year for his first year starting," Braun said. "He is learning and getting better with every game. D.J. Frank is pound for pound one of the toughest players that I have ever coached. He is a safety that is heavily involved in the run game. Lamar Watson up front is leading the charge on the defensive line."

Braun said the Scots did not play Watson and fellow starting defensive lineman Thomas Lesniewski in the Wartburg game.

"We have Lamar back to 100 percent and he gave us a big lift the first week that he came back against Macalester," Braun said. "We have been getting more consistent pressure on the quarterback since that time. Thomas is still working to get back. Once we have him back this defense can be dangerous again."

Braun admitted that the offense has struggled a bit with a new quarterback and a work in progress along the offensive line for running back DeAndre Wright, who is averaging 92.5 yards per game.

"We really got off to a slow start," Braun said of the offense. "A lot of that was due to turnover on the offensive line and the graduation of Tanner Matlick at quarterback. We were really frustrated not being able to get DeAndre loose early in the season. We are starting to block things up better for him."

While Braun declined to talk about a possible division showdown down the road with undefeated Lake Forest, he stressed that he wants his team to remain focused on just the next game.

"We won't overlook them," Braun said of Cornell. "They have always played us tough. Their coaching staff does an outstanding job and will have them ready to play. Our whole focus right now is Cornell."

Three-day upset

While it is hard to call any result in the Little Brass Bell game an "upset," Wheaton's victory over No. 4 North Central on Monday was three days in the making after the game was postponed at halftime Saturday because of inclement weather, with North Central up 13-7.

When the teams returned to Wheaton's McCully Field on Monday, the Thunder looked like a different team, scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter for a decisive 42-20 victory. It was Wheaton's second straight win over North Central, including last year's second round playoff game.

That creates a temporary log jam on top of the CCIW standings and increases the possibility of a shared conference title. No. 11-ranked Illinois Wesleyan is 6-1 and 4-1 in conference play. No. 4 North Central (5-1 overall), Carthage (5-1) and Millikin (5-1) are all 3-1 in league play.

Carthage, which lost to Wheaton earlier, will get its shot at all the top teams over the next three weeks, playing Illinois Wesleyan on Saturday, followed by Millikin on Oct. 28 and North Central on Nov. 4. Those games, along with the Illinois Wesleyan-Millikin contest on Nov. 4, should pretty much clear up the CCIW picture.

Despite registering the conference's biggest win to date with the delayed victory, Wheaton at 3-2 and 5-2 overall would need some unusual breaks to get back into the CCIW title picture and a shot at the playoffs. If nothing else, the win shows that Wheaton is definitely worthy and will probably be good enough to get the Thunder ranked in the No. 25 again next week.

Round Three: Rose-Hulman vs. Franklin for the HCAC title

Here we go again. Franklin will travel to Terre Haute, Indiana, on Saturday in an attempt to grab back the HCAC title the Grizzlies lost to the Fightin' Engineers a year ago when the two teams square off at 1:30 p.m.

Franklin came into last year's game averaging nearly 38 points per game, but Rose-Hulman held the Grizzlies to three touchdowns in a 23-22 Fightin’ Engineers win, allowing them to tie for the HCAC title and win the conference's automatic bid.

In 2015, Rose-Hulman jumped to a 21-0 first-quarter lead before Franklin rallied back in the fourth quarter to win 42-35 in a thrilling contest that also proved to be for the conference title.

"Our team has great respect for Rose-Hulman," said Grizzlies coach Mike Leonard, whose team had represented the HCAC for six straight years before surrendering the playoff bid to the Fightin’ Engineers last year. "Coach (Jeff) Sokol has run a great football there. This is what it's all about. You have two pretty good football teams playing and we've had two great games the last couple of years."

The biggest contrast will be at quarterback where Franklin veteran signal-caller Chase Burton will be matched up against Rose-Hulman's freshman quarterback Andrew Dion. Burton has compiled impressive numbers, completing 129 of 194 passes (66.5 percent) for 1,995 yards with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions. Dion has completed 93 of 161 passes (57.8 percent) for 1,344 yards with 16 touchdowns against six interceptions.

"Chase Burton is a great quarterback," Sokol said. "They have an excellent offensive line and great receivers. We must find ways to get through the offensive line to get to Chase Burton. If he is comfortable, he and his receivers are very difficult to stop."

Leonard said his is concerned with one of Dion's favorite targets, wide receiver Raymond Burtnick, and added that his defense will need to make something happen on their end for the Grizzlies to prevail.

"(Burtnick) is obviously a threat and we have to figure out how we can neutralize him," Leonard said. "They also have a solid run game and ran it really well against us last year. Our defense will have to make plays. If we get a chance to catch the ball on defense or scoop it up, we have to do those things and not miss out on those opportunities."

Rose-Hulman's defense has been impressive this season. John Kirby leads the conference in tackles with 38 stops while Mike Riley and Kaelen Garner are one-two in the league in sacks, with 14.5 and 7.5, respectively.

Leonard said even though this game is one of several Franklin must continue to win, he understands its importance.

"In the grand scheme of things, it's just the next game," Leonard said. "We can't put all of our eggs into this game. We know based on history, though, that this is a driver's seat type of game. You want to control your own destiny and this game will allow us to do that."

Sokol said that playing in a game with these kind of implications is an indication of how your season has gone.

"You have to earn the right to play in a game this big," Sokol said. "You do the hard work all year long just to have this opportunity. Franklin has a great team every year. Our players work hard to make sure we can compete with the best in our conference. Every year our game against them is an opportunity for us to find out if our work and preparation were enough."

Game to watch

Carthage (5-1, 3-1 in CCIW) at No. 11 Illinois Wesleyan (6-1, 4-1 in CCIW), 2 p.m.: Nothing will come easy for Carthage over the next three weeks starting with the Titans. But if the Red Men wants to make a statement about their worthiness to challenge for the CCIW title, it starts here. Carthage's success is not a big surprise seeing that the Red Men went 7-3 last year, losing a hard-fought 19-14 game at home against Illinois Wesleyan. Because of that, one can bet the Red Men will have the Titans’ full attention come Saturday. Carthage's running back tandem of Lafayette McGary and Jamel Davis are both coming off 100-yard games in last week's win against Elmhurst (134 yard and 104 yards, respectively).

Player to watch

Connor Olson, running back, Aurora (3-3, 2-0): The sophomore had the best games of his career rushing for 182 yards on 22 carries in a 16-14 victory over Concordia-Chicago and 161 yards on 24 carries against Wisconsin Lutheran. He sat out Saturday's game against Alma but will return to the lineup Saturday when Aurora opens up its new stadium against Rockford.

"He had some foot issues early in camp and after two back-to-back big games, we wanted to rest him to make sure everything was 100 percent for the remaining conference games," coach Rick Ponx said. One of those games included a possible showdown with Lakeland Oct. 28 (4-2, 2-0 in NACC) where the NACC title could be on the line.

"We do not have a player that works harder on and off the field," Ponx said of Olson. "His offseason regimen brought him to us as a freshman and he led the team in rushing. He needed to work on his top end speed coming off of last year so he went to work starting last January and I believe we are seeing the results this season."