Joe Wojceichowski and the Widener defense will try to shut down Delaware Valley.
Widener athletics photo
The intensity of rivalries is virtually unmatched. The players become more focused, the crowd more vibrant. Alumni flood to stadiums, and memories are dredged up. A win against a rival opponent can rescue an otherwise sour season. And it makes Saturday night celebrations so much sweeter.
Across the country, rivalries will be taking place Saturday as the regular season comes to a close and the playoff prowess in a few remaining conferences shakes out.
Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps walk you through the action, with Selection Sunday right on the horizon.
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: Huntingdon at No. 7 Wesley. It’s been a couple of years now since the Wolverines were in a position in which losing the regular season finale would likely mean no playoff performance. But there are question marks for Saturday. Wesley’s loss to Kean earlier in the year made perfection necessary for the final eight games of the season. And Huntingdon won’t be a pushover. The Hawks have already dealt losses to teams that currently stand at 8-1 and 7-2. Could a team like Wesley, which has been to the national semifinals each of the past two seasons, get left out in the cold entirely? Their performance Saturday will be telling.
Keith’s take: Wherever you’re headed. The other guys nail the games with the farthest-rippling playoff implications. So I’ll go ahead and cop out, under the premise that there’s no need to single out a game when we have five conference championships decided (NEFC, NJAC, MAC, LL and NWC), rivalry games from Indiana to Massachusetts to Virginia — and Iowa and Pennsylvania — that make or break seasons. And beyond that, it’s Week 11 — the last game of the season for all but 32 playoff teams and 14 ECAC bowl-bound squads. Hundreds of seniors will hang it up after this. Parents will see their son play one last time, and tailgate grills will make a final appearance before heading into the garage for offseason storage. So I’ll play the Jon Gruden “everything’s awesome” role. Because, you know, it is.
Pat’s take: Widener at No. 11 Delaware Valley. Literally, you can’t do a playoff projection without the result of this game, and there are a lot of factors. Let’s see, Delaware Valley has this tremendously backloaded schedule, with Lycoming and Widener at the end. The Aggies haven’t looked very much like the young team that they are this season. Widener surprised Delaware Valley last year and sent them on a course for Mount Union in the second round, so the rivalry got amped up a little higher and Delaware Valley has even more motivation. But what could be more motivating than the only chance Widener has to get a playoff bid?
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 Johns Hopkins at McDaniel. Part of the motivation here is seeing JHU almost drop their matchup against Franklin and Marshall last week, a team that should have been handled easily by the high-powered Blue Jays. However, what makes McDaniel a thinker in this situation is its track record this year: of the Green Terror’s seven losses, five were by eight points or less. McDaniel hasn’t really been able to bring all the pieces together to get wins, but the team has been able to hang around long enough to make it interesting. This Saturday’s game will be interesting, too.
Keith’s take: Trine at Albion. Maybe surprising only in the sense that the Britons are playoff-bound no matter the outcome, and Trine — the dominant MIAA program of the past few seasons picked up two conferences losses by mid-October. But I’m not sure I expect Albion to win, observing from afar. After an impressive five-game stretch, the Britons outgained DePauw 380-126 last week but managed just three points. Trine is the MIAA’s top rush offense (179 yards/game) and Albion is the top rush defense (96 yards). Should be a fun one.
Pat’s take: UW-La Crosse at No. 1 UW-Whitewater. UW-La Crosse gave UW-Whitewater a decent game in the season opener. It’s not likely to be the same close game it was in September, but it will be interesting to see how the teams have grown since Week 1 … not to mention how Whitewater might do if it needed to use Levell Coppage in the fourth quarter.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Franklin. Over the past four weeks, the Grizzlies have progressively played their way through the bottom four teams in the HCAC, starting with 4-5 Rose-Hulman and ending with 0-9 Earlham. So how will they react to all of sudden having to play a more competitive team again? Franklin is unquestionably the better team in this matchup, but Hanover’s advantage is being able to push Franklin enough to throw the Grizzlies off their game. This is a rivalry game, too, played for the Victory Bell. Hanover will be well aware of the fact that this is the last game of their season, win or lose. The Panthers will surely want to win.
Keith’s take: No. 9 Wabash. Just kidding Little Giants fans. Admit it, you got mad there for a second. No. 22 Bethel is my real pick. And with the 10th best rushing offense in the country at 279 yards a game, and with the No. 14 total defense, the Royals probably are just an unfortunate version of the team that played in a national semifinal last season. That said, it’s not easy to force yourself to play just for pride, and that appears to be all the Royals have left when they face 6-3 Augsburg in the Metrodome. Bethel and Augsburg had similar results against St. Thomas and St. Olaf, but only the Royals have to realize there’s no long playoff run ahead this year, just a long football-free December like most of are used to, and turning that into positive motivation.
Pat’s take: No. 13 Redlands. Last year, Redlands barely beat Chapman, finishing 8-1. The previous two years, Redlands lost in Week 11 to finish 7-2 each season and miss out on any shot at the playoffs. Not going to say any more.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Muhlenberg. A win in the Mules’ crosstown rivalry game against Moravian would position them well for an ECAC postseason game. Muhlenberg stumbled a couple of times during the season but showed they could compete with the likes of Delaware Valley and Johns Hopkins. The team’s seniors certainly remember the special run the Mules had during their freshman year, and they’ll certainly be eager to channel that energy again.
Keith’s take: UW-Platteville. If the Pioneers can beat UW-Stevens Point for a second time, they’ll finish 7-3 and go down as the best team not to beat anybody great, but to only lose to really good teams. The three losses are to Wheaton, UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh, which are 22-5 combined. A seventh win would also eclipse the best record of the D3football.com era, a 6-4 mark in 2004.
Pat’s take: UW-River Falls. The Falcons started the season 0-8, but had two close losses at home, then won at UW-La Crosse last week to snap the losing streak. River Falls returns home this week to face UW-Eau Claire.
Rivalry game you’re most interested in (alma maters excluded).
Ryan’s take: Amherst at Williams. No matter what, this is the end of the road for both of these teams, which opt not to compete in the playoffs. So at stake is pride: the Ephs’ pride in keeping Amherst from an undefeated 2011 season; the Lord Jeffs’ pride in avenging last year’s loss. If you don’t know the history between these two schools, look it up. It’s unlikely that any two institutions have claim to a more natural rivalry than these two. And it’s rare for them to produce anything but a captivating game.
Keith’s take: Coe at Cornell. Okay, you can get Curt Menefee to pose in a “beat Cornell” shirt. Probably could get Fred Jackson too. But as long as I’ve been writing rivalry stories, I’ve never been able to say anything about this game but that they’ve played it for a long time (121 and counting). Am I just not talking to the right people? The two teams have followed each other from the MWC to the IIAC and are going their separate ways as Cornell heads back to the MWC, but I’m interested in whether fans in Iowa really care about this rivalry.
Pat’s take: No. 14 Kean at No. 15 Montclair State. Okay, so it won’t appear on too many lists of great rivalries but I’m going to go ahead and pick it here because there should be plenty of bad blood … or blood, anyway … to go with what’s on the line in this game, for the NJAC title. Kean coach Dan Garrett and both of his coordinators played at Montclair, which is just 18 miles from Kean, in northern New Jersey.
Who will have the least momentum going into the playoffs?
Ryan’s take: Albion. The Britons have to be scratching their heads after last weekend’s loss to DePauw and should have spent this week learning how to once again become in tune with their offensive mojo. Even though Trine doesn’t have the luster of the last couple of seasons, the team still knows how to force turnovers and run the ball down its opponent’s throat. Albion knows how to handle the run — usually — and the ability to stop that will help them with their confidence going into the playoffs. However, it won’t be a surprise if Albion is an eighth seed in the region, which wouldn’t be doing them any favors. The mental hurdle will be as tough as the physical one.
Keith’s take: St. Thomas. They’re 10-0, sure. But they don’t have a game this Saturday. So I guess it depends how you define momentum.
Pat’s take: Thomas More. Regardless of whether Thomas More wins this week or not, the Saints are already back on their heels after the loss to Waynesburg. Thomas More went solely from being a heavy favorite to being a favorite against Mount St. Joseph in their local rivalry game, but either way, the damage has been done.
Which team can alter its fortunes the most?
Ryan’s take: Lewis and Clark. The question isn’t which team “will,” but rather which team “can.” And the Pioneers certainly can. A win at Linfield puts L&C — a team just three seasons removed from a long string of 0- and 1-win seasons — in the playoffs. On the flip side, a loss for the Pioneers means they’ll be sitting at home next week.
Keith’s take: Hampden-Sydney. Besides Widener and the other teams that can play their way into the playoffs with wins, H-SC could change course the most on Saturday. A win over 7-2 Randolph-Macon continues the Tigers’ dominance in the series and gives them an advantage in recruiting. A loss could mean the difference between a home playoff game against somebody like Christopher Newport, Centre or Thomas More, or a road game at Salisbury, Wesley or Johns Hopkins.
Pat’s take: Trinity (Texas). Not sure it’s in a positive way, however. Austin has to be motivated to not finish the season 0-10. The Kangaroos have been fairly decent at home while the Tigers have struggled a little bit on the road.