Triple Take: One more until Salem

Chris Denton
It’s going to take some great defense to keep Mount Union in check.
Photo by Dan Poel,

The winners this weekend will earn the opportunity to compete for the Walnut and Bronze in Salem.

The left side of the bracket, with UW-Oshkosh and St. Thomas, will yield a winner who has never before played on Division III’s biggest stage. On the right side, the Top 25 poll’s first- and second-place teams square off, and both Mount Union and Mary Hardin-Baylor are on familiar ground.

Saturday builds to the football finale that will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14. Pat, Keith and Ryan bring you their projections for who will play in Stagg Bowl XL – and by how big of a margin they’ll get there.

No. 5 UW-Oshkosh at No. 4 St. Thomas

Ryan’s take: UW-Oshkosh 24, St. Thomas 21 Here are two teams that were absolutely blazing beasts with their performances last week — but in very different ways. St. Thomas decimated a Hobart team that came in holding all the right cards to match up well against the Tommies. That’s a tip of the hat to the winner, who proved that games aren’t won on paper but rather on the field. Can you even remember a team that posted 200 rushing yards on Hobart? UST is the first to do it since September. And farther out west, it’s no secret that I’d hitched my wagon to Linfield since before the season started, and the fact that UW-O battled back from a 21-6 halftime deficit to push overtime and then earn the win gets tremendous respect in my book. Rushing, passing, Nate Wara-ing — the Titans we able to do it all against a great Linfield team. I realize I’m spending this whole post gushing on the teams without really saying why I’m going with Oshkosh. Fact is, I’m impressed with the foundation that both these teams have built, and it’ll be fun watching them go head to head on Saturday. But the Titans will be a little better at holding in check what the Tommies throw their way.
Keith’s take: UW-Oshkosh 28, St. Thomas 21: In all honesty, who the heck knows what’s going to happen here? Isn’t not knowing part of the fun? St. Thomas probably surges to an early double-digit lead, and UW-Oshkosh storms back, wears the Tommies down and continues its magical run towards the Stagg Bowl. That would make sense, the WIAC champ back in Salem, just with the Titans playing the role of the Warhawks. It would be rather depressing for the Tommies to have the season end in this round in back-to-back seasons, so I’m betting St. Thomas sees this as their chance to break through. The matchup to watch is when the Tommies’ defense is on the field against the UW-Oshkosh offense. What a chess match that’ll be, if you read this week’s feature about the Tommies’ success getting off the field on third downs, and how they have a thick playbook capable of giving multiple looks to an offense. The Titans’ offense is a combination of confusion, tempo and power, and all season it’s both worn teams down, and caught them at one point or another out of place for big plays. UST opened up with two WIAC teams, and is familiar with this level of competition from MIAC play and by beating a CCIW team in Round 2. I haven’t done any detailed video study of the teams’ tendencies, so don’t go getting your panties in a wad over the pick (although that’s more for the fans of the other game; I got zero complaints for picking against the Tommies last week, and zero taunts for missing the margin by 41 points). It’s an educated guess. And I don’t really care if it’s right or wrong. On Saturday, I’ll be enjoying the moment and the chance to see someone new earn a shot at a Stagg Bowl. If you’re thinking about how the guys missed the picks instead of doing the same, you’re cheating yourself. This is the high-water mark for whichever program wins, so soak up every second of it. Even if it’s not another Titans come-from-behind victory.
Pat’s take: St. Thomas 27, UW-Oshkosh 21. Neither of these is a one-man team, so the nicks and bruises of a regular season shouldn’t have as much impact as they would on teams that were eliminated earlier in the bracket. Wara is about as indispensable a player as there is in this game, though. On the other side of the ball, probably Ryan Stefaniak, who is the heart and soul of that defense. On the St. Thomas offense, perhaps Logan Marks (and I’ll explain more in a minute) and on the defense, I like how Chinni Oji has been playing at safety. Oji first made a big impact on the Tommie defense when he replaced a classmate at corner a couple of seasons ago, and now he’s making his presence felt at safety. About Marks — sure, Matt O’Connell is the guy with the ball in his hands all the time, but Kyler Anderson has done well when given playing time, and the drop-off might not be so bad. But without Marks at tight end, you go to Matt Allen, and then the Tommies’ two-tight end sets would see a dramatic difference. If St. Thomas comes out as fast as it did last week and UW-Oshkosh as slow as it did the first two weekends of the tournament, it may not be this close.

No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor at No. 1 Mount Union

Ryan’s take: Mount Union 35, Mary Hardin-Baylor 28. Over several years of doing Triple Take, I’ve picked against Mount at times, and it’s often cost me. And this decision was not an easy one, because UMHB will be the toughest test of the season for Mount. By all accounts, this matchup could be more competitive than the Stagg Bowl itself. I’m going with the Purple Raiders because, despite all that the Cru has going for them, they haven’t always been able to protect their end zone as well as they should. Twenty points from teams like Louisiana College or Franklin easily translates to 35 (or more) from The Machine. Of course, the Crusaders’ offense has averaged more than 55 points over the past six games, and it will be interesting to see if the Sultans of Shutouts are able to stop the Texas threat. Both teams, on both sides of the ball, are packed with playmakers, but more importantly, have such great supporting casts that there is little question that either team would be an ideal representative of Division III in Salem. This is not a pick against UMHB, but rather one in favor of Mount Union. None of these players have tasted Stagg Bowl success, and there’s no doubt they’ll leave every last bit of themselves on the field.
Keith’s take: Mount Union 37, Mary Hardin-Baylor 30. I don’t think there’s anything groundbreaking to say here. People from UMHB are saying this is the best Cru team in history, and people from Mount Union are putting this team alongside the great Purple Raiders squads. While I think both sides can be right, only one team is going to Salem — a quirk that’s on those who set up the brackets. Each team is going to be the best team the other has played this season, and champions need to overcome intense challenges to solidify their greatness. Excuse the hyperbole, but think of it like this: Would Ali have been Ali without Frazier? Each of these teams is capable of going down alongside the great champions, and the signature victory would help define it. So how can it happen? Nobody can match Mount Union’s team speed, although UMHB could come close. Mount Union hasn’t faced a quarterback like LiDarral Bailey, who’s got speed with the ball in his hands and touch when he lets it go. But Kevin Burke has shown that skill set as well, so Javicz Jones and the UMHB defense has to be able to deal with a QB who can keep it on a read option, or toss it over defenders’ heads if Jasper Collins or somebody gets a step on a DB. Truthfully, this game will probably be decided along the lines, and I give Mount Union the edge there. If UMHB is able to muscle up like it did in 2004, it’d send shockwaves through the D-III world. But if you think about it, that’s the way UW-Whitewater beats the Purple Raiders too. Last week showed me that this Mount Union team is not just better than last year’s team by a lot. They sure make it look like they are ready to take their place in Purple Raiders history, but they’ll need to go through the best team the rest of D-III has to offer, one whose talent might be on their level in the way UW-Whitewater teams have been, to seal the deal. I’m going with the safe pick, and hope, no matter who wins, we see a semifinal to remember.
Pat’s take: Mount Union 38, Mary Hardin-Baylor 20. I think that Mary Hardin-Baylor has faced some pretty good offenses this year, certainly better offenses than Mount Union has seen. The UMHB defense has been tested. And sometimes it’s failed a bit. If Hardin-Simmons can score 32 on UMHB, how many can Mount Union score? I figure at least a few more. Mary Hardin-Baylor won’t be intimidated in this game, unlike most Mount Union opponents, but confidence alone will not be enough to win. UMHB had its two worst running days (by yards per carry) against Wesley and won’t find it easier to run the ball on Mount Union. Now, here’s where it might turn in UMHB’s favor: The Cru have had to play its starters well into the fourth quarter a few times this season, including this past week. If the game remains close, Mary Hardin-Baylor has the ability to wear opponents down. And as I’ve mentioned all season, the Cru has a credible passing game, perhaps even a really good passing game. Maybe not as good as Widener, but with a running game to take some of the pressure off, Bailey should have some time to work. And of course, the ability to pull the ball down and take off. That’s how UMHB could win.

100 thoughts on “Triple Take: One more until Salem

  1. Certainly the safe pick is Mt Union. They are the kings of D3 football. I think you all have valid points. Ryan states “Twenty points from teams like Louisiana College or Franklin easily translates to 35 (or more) from The Machine”….however, many of these points came in the 3rd or 4th quarter when the game was already essentially over. The biggest test for either team will be playing hard for 4 quarters. I agree if the Cru can wear down MU, they can win. UMHB has been tested (HSU, Wesley) and each time they came out victorious. Should be a great game. My only complaint is covering it only.
    UMHB 31 Mt Union 27

  2. All good points raised for both games. Pat made a point of saying an advantage for UMHB is that their starters have had to “play well into the fourth quarter” more often. I am a bit puzzled by that. To me, I think being able to rest your starters earlier in the year (and the playoffs) keeps them more fresh and less banged up so they CAN play all four quarters later in the season. Plus, because the second string gets more playing time, they develop much more quickly which increases your depth and makes them harder to wear down. In the playoffs especially, all of Mount’s opponents played their starting offense the entire game so the second team defense was facing the first team offense.

    vhwom – Many of the points given up by Mount this year have been in the third and fourth quarter. Franklin was shut out until a 4th quarter touchdown. There were instances of points given up early but the majority occurred in the 3rd and 4th qtr.

    No one is overlooking UMHB and there is tremendous respect for the team! 2004 is on the minds here in Ohio and this game is shaping up to be close, well-coached, and hard fought. I just feel that Mount has too many offensive weapons to key on one guy and the defense is fast and balanced.

    I can’t wait for tomorrow and hope to see a full house!!

    How well do Cru fans travel? I hope to see a good contingent of fans rooting for both teams!

  3. Wish them the best of luck scoring 30 plus on Mount!!! If they can score 30. Mount will put up 45-55 Wish both teams the best.

    Go Raiders!!

  4. Raiderdude — yes, rested is good but tested is better. Resting for 14 weeks and never having to play 70 snaps on defense or be in a position where you need to score in the fourth quarter is not as good.

    vhwon — Alright about Louisiana College. How about Hardin-Simmons?

  5. Pat, I totally agree with you re: Hardin-Simmons. HSU tested UMHB. Probaly the CRU’s biggest gut check. Ryan does not point out HSU, but rather LC and Franklin. My point was Ryan insinuated that the first team offense of Franklin College and LC put up points against UMHB’s #1 defense, which did not happen. CNU, Johns Hopkins and Widener each put up 17, 14, and 13 on MU…does that translate to 25 or more by UMHB?
    just a thought.

  6. I did say “teams like Franklin and LC,” which I would think Hardin-Simmons is on par with.

    Would you rather I have said that if a 4-6 Texas Lutheran team can score 24 points in 12 minutes on UMHB, that easily translates to 35 points for Mount?

    In the two games I specifically referenced, all but 7 points were scored in the third quarter. And looking at the play-by-play stats, Javicz and Cody Jones, Diaz, Michael Johnson, McAteer, they’re all making plays in the third quarter. They’re not second-teamers — this is the first-team defense.

  7. While it has been a great run for Oshkosh, St. Thomas will put this story to rest. The Tommie’s start strong and fast and their defense will prevail in the 4th quarter. Many breathed a sigh of relief when Oshkosh took down Whitewater. While it was probably good for D III football, it has robbed a chance for the Purple Raiders to thrash their arch nemesis. MHB is a great team no doubt about that. They play with a purpose, are physical and fast. The difference here is the Mount Union staff. They have been to many finals. They and past great players will work together this week to have the Purple Raiders ready.

    St. Thomas 31 Oshkosh 17
    Mount Union 41 Mary Hardin Baylor 20

  8. Yeah, vhwon — no offense but nitpicking someone because they didn’t choose the example you would have chosen that proves the exact same thing? Silly. Ryan isn’t wrong.

    What’s your score prediction in the other game?

  9. Fair enough Ryan. You bring some excellents points. I certainly spoke out of turn regarding first and second teams. My apologies if I offended. My point was simply the games were out of reach when they put up some points. UMHB may have relaxed, even with their first teamers. TLU did put up 24 in the 4th quarters (game was pretty much out of reach) and again HSU did test them.
    Just out of curiosity, how would you rank UMHB against the opponents of MU? The only like foe was Franklin College. Both teams were able to handle them pretty easily.

  10. I have no interest in debating playing time of starters or who is the faster team. All 4 teams are here because they proved themselves game in and game out all season long. And all 4 are fully capable of ending the final game of the year with a win. I believe Keith said it best: “Truthfully, this game will probably be decided along the lines”. That goes with out saying for both games. Neither game this week could be considered an upset by any means. They’re all in the Top 5 for a reason. It all comes down to whoever leaves it all on the field.

    UMHB 38 MU 35
    ST 28 UWO 21

    Best of luck to each team.

  11. In my bracket, I have Oshkosh against UMHB in the Stagg Bowl. So I will have to stay with Oshkosh. I think it will be close and the Titans find a way to win just like they did against Linfiled.
    Oshkosh 31 St. Thomas 28

  12. vhwon — Certainly, no offense taken at all. If I “pushed back” a little hard, it wasn’t my intent and I’m sorry for that. Just wanted to defend my point a bit 🙂

  13. Ryan – no worries at all. My fault for starting it. 🙂
    You guys are always fair, honest, and respectful to UMHB and all of the teams. Each wee, I look forward to your columns and overall insight.
    Honestly it should be a great game. I just hope your predictions are off a little. 😉

  14. Hello All I just wanted to say that I think that your predictions of St. Thomas losing and scoring over 20 points are not likely. The Tommies are 46-1 over the last for years when they have scored at least 20 points with the lone loss in 2009. Also the Tommies are 31-1 at home in their last 32 games with the lone loss coming to Bethel in a 12-7 quarterfinal loss. Just thought I should put that out there.

  15. Games get progressively harder at this level of the season, though. Admittedly, if UST had scored 20 against UWW last year they would have at least gotten to overtime but it’s hard to apply stats compiled in part against Hamline, Gustavus, St. Norbert and the like and apply them here.

  16. Well over the last four years in the playoffs they are also 9-1 in games that they have scored at least 20 points.

  17. I don’t know that this is really important however I just saw the predictions and thought that it would be worth mentioning. My take is St. Thomas 24 Oshkosh 14.

  18. Ahem – “past performance does not guarantee future results”.

    That being said, I humbly submit the following predictions:

    UMHB 34 UMU 31
    UW-Oshkosh 29 St. Thomas 42

    Someone has already mentioned the idea that St. Thomas will bolt out of the gates and the slow starting Titans won’t be able to catch up coming down the home stretch.

    I really think the early game in Ohio will be the closer of the two games.

    Good luck to all!

  19. I don’t think you guys were doing triple take in 2004 but any guesses on what you would have predicted for the UMHB-MU game in 2004? I just can’t remember how much of an underdog we were.

  20. Aw Pat! While I agree with the comments about St. Norbert, hopefully you feel different about some if the other schools in the Midwest Conference. Lol

  21. I love this time of year, but it causes enormous family issues for our family. For the past 7 years it was a battle between my wife and I (Mount Union grads ’63 and ’64) and our son (Whitewater grad ’94). When Whitewater was beaten by Oshkosh, we figured our family stress was gone for at least a year. But then I see that there is a possibility that Mount might play St Thomas in the Stagg Bowl, and would you believe that our son-in-law is a Thommie grad?

    I went to the Oshkosh/Whitewater game this year, and Oshkosh looked every bit a Stagg Bowl Worthy team. I don’t think they’ll sustain next year because Nate Wara is such a key player.

    I wish every one of the four teams success. I wish they could all win. I understand why everyone would like to see Mount lose for a change so more teams could experience Salem, but I’m one of those die-hard Purple Raider people who just love the university and the fame that Larry Kehres and his extraordinary group of athletes have given us. So good luck to the Cru, the Titans, and the Thommies, but I’ll be cheering for the Purple Raiders all the way. I believe the Raiders won a total of 6 games during my four years there back in the 1960-1964 years.

    And shame on ESPN. Surely they could put at least one, and preferable 3 games, on their ESPN or ESPN2 channels.

  22. Crufootball — I’m sorry, no. We weren’t doing Triple Take in 2004. In fact, the blog didn’t exist. I can’t find any evidence offhand that tells me definitively what we were thinking, but Mount Union had lost in the Stagg Bowl the year before and had won its first two playoff games 27-6 and 38-20, so I don’t think anyone on staff would have thought UMHB would lose by more than a couple touchdowns.

  23. Mary Hardin-Baylor was undefeated, what more could they have done to earn the right to host the semi final? Why must EVERY semi final be played in Alliance? No team has LOST more Stagg Bowls than Mt. Union, including the last three in a row. No other team has ever lost three Stagg Bowls in a row, yet Mt. Union is rewarded for their failure by being handed home field advantage for yet another semi final game! Tomorrow will be their 57TH CONSECUTIVE HOME PLAYOFF GAME! That is OBSCENE!

  24. Remember, for the first time in probably three years, Mount Union is coming into the final games without injury to their major starters. That’s what held them back in Salem the last two years. Remember how Mount was lagging behing last year – then injured Neil Seaman came in for a few plays and electrified the offense and gamed 40 yards… before being injured again.

  25. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of teams all over the country that would be glad to say they had even been to that many Stagg Bowls, win or lose.

  26. geiger, if you limit the nonsensical points from your screed, you might fare better. For example, using Stagg Bowl losses to justify semifinal hosting rights doesn’t wash at all.

    By the way, twice in the recent past, Mount Union has been seeded to play on the road in the semifinals, except that the team that would have hosted lost before it got to the semis.

  27. I think the Mount Union defense will be the hero again this week. It was their play in the 2nd Qtr last week that allowed Mount to pull away. I just hope they start fast and take nothing for granted from the get-go.

    UMU 35
    UMHB 20

    After the comeback last week, I’ll go with UW-O.

    UW-O 35
    St Thomas 28

  28. “Remember, for the first time in probably three years, Mount Union is coming into the final games without injury to their major starters. That’s what held them back …” oh boo hoo.

    EVERY team has injuries but only Mt. Union gets handed home field advantage for every playoff game for over a decade and a half!

  29. Pat – I understand your point on the playing time but, part of the consistency of UMU is the fact that many second teamers receive quality playing time in game time situations on both sides of the ball. Doesn’t make my point superior to yours but both offer pluses and minuses.

    vhwon – The points Mount has given up during the year (particularly in the playoffs) are very back ended after the game has been decided. CNU scored a touchdown with 10 seconds remaining, Johns Hopkins scored their second touchdown with a little over a minute remaining in the game, and Widener scored 2 touchdowns in the 3rd qtr after the score was 44-3. The first team defense may have been involved the first Widener touchdown.

    geiger – UMU has consistently been ranked 1st in all polls so hosting a playoff game should be the result of that recognition. Mount did lose three in a row but has won 10 out of 17. Not a bad winning percentage.

    Nothing is given and I have no doubt the games will both be well played and entertaining! Good luck to all!!

  30. Thanks for the responses earlier Pat and would logical arguments like UMHB beating more regionally ranked opponents and having a harder strength of schedule work as an argument for the game being in Belton?

  31. Raiderdude — they do at other schools too, though. This is not unique to Mount Union when you get to this level of the playoffs.

    Crufootball — when you have a bunch of unbeaten teams, last year’s playoff results are the tiebreaker. Beat Mount Union this time and next year you’d be seeded to play them at home, if you both went 10-0 and were on the same side of the bracket.

    Brewcru — perhaps. I wouldn’t think we would see that in the next five years, though.

  32. Mt. U. over MHB 34-17.
    UW-O over UST. 24-20.

    Something still bothers me how UST played against UW-EC in the first week and got the win. I think next year is UST’s year to make it to the Stagg Bowl. I also think home field has potential to add pressure for a young squad. UW-O has nothing to lose – just getting up really, really early for the bus over to the Twin Cities. (After UW-W, it was UW-P that was on the radar of the WIAC before the season started).

    This is really UW-O’s year to make a run, with their senior QB. My concern for tomorrow is the slow starts. I don’t see them getting this far next year. Enjoy the journey this time around.

  33. Pat – I think the same could apply to most of UMHB’s games. With the exception of Wesley, LC (first game) and HSU, the games were pretty much done at halftime. Also, CNU put up 14 on the Raiders, scoring in the first quarter. John Carroll was leading after the first quarter. So points against Mount Union are possible. The average you guys have UMHB scoring on them is 26.

  34. I’m so glad geiger is back. I don’t think this game will be as close as we think. MU defense is unstoppable this year, I do think UMHB will put up more than 17 points but they will fall short of a win; final score MU: 42 UMHB 24

  35. brewcru, a neutral site for the semi’s would be a mistake as it would draw few fans. The NCAA has got to start rotating home field advantage for the semi finals, Mt. Union getting to play every semi final at home is just grotesque.

  36. When is the contract up for the Stagg Bowl in Salem? Perhaps UMHB needs to make a bid for the Stagg Bowl itself. They will have the premier stadium in Division III next season.

  37. it’s FINALLY snowing in central minnesota so maybe it will be a running back showdown tommorow. I could see St. Thomas winning 21-14.. and Mount Union winning 52-38

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