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. @raider6364 … that’s a great story. If Mount Union and UST advance, we might have to get in touch. I previously thought the Blanchard family tale couldn’t be touched — Derek was a star T for UMU before Matt became the star QB for UWW — but three of four semifinalists is tough to beat.

    @Nash, I don’t think the Mount Union players take anything for granted. Fans who have been around for a long time sometimes do, but these players seem very aware that they have won zero championships and that puts them in the same boat with UMHB. Every week after the games on Twitter, no matter how bad they beat the other guy, they write stuff like “great game with my team out there” or “Big win but we still have a lot of work to get better.”

    If UMU loses, oddly, I don’t think it even precludes them from being in the discussion among the great teams in Purple Raiders history — it might be the rest of D-III has gotten their weight up, so to speak, finally matching UMU’s play the way it couldn’t in 1997 or 2002. 2007 is probably one of the best UMU teams and they just happened to meet their match in UWW in Salem.

    If UMU loses (what I was trying to say earlier), I doubt it would be from looking past UMHB. I really like the leadership and hunger this Mount Union team shows. Whether or not they win it all, they have the attitude that championship teams have, and I’ve been around long enough to compare a few.

  2. According to the schedule ESPN3 will show both games, you just can’t watch both since they will be going on at the same time separated by only 1 hour.

  3. geiger- Shame on you for cryng about the home field advantage!

    UMU has built the tradition as the best team in DIII and until proven otherwise, deserve the rating and home field advantage. When they have not been top seeded, the teams seeded above them lost and resulted in home field for the Raiders.

    Your only complaint should be with the NCAA for having UMHB on the same side as UMU.

  4. crufootball – I believe you can be signed into multiple computers at the same time allowing you to watch both games.

  5. Geiger- welcome back, glad you are still talking about the same thing as last year. Have a nice weekend.

    Go Raiders!!!

  6. Everyone always picks UST to lose or either win a close game. In fact, many people picked UST to lose to Hobart, but instead won by a measly 40 points. Not too concerned about these predictions.

  7. “UMU has built the tradition as the best team in DIII and until proven otherwise, deserve the rating and home field advantage. When they have not been top seeded, the teams seeded above them lost and resulted in home field for the Raiders.”

    mucpurpleraider, this thought is fundamentally flawed in any system that is supposedly based on a given years results. Teams make the playoffs based on this years result not years past, other wise UWW would be in the field irrespective of their losses. I don’t mind Mount getting a number 1 and I don’t mind them hosting in the semis, but they shouldn’t get to host just because they’re mount union.

    As for tomorrow’s game, I don’t like calling games because I am too emotionally invested, but for all of you MOunt is the machine and therefore will win folks, these boys from Texas know a little about football, too. They also have a few things going for them. 1) they’ve never been there and they want it too. 2) If they win and then win the Stagg, they open the new stadium with a banner hanging next year. 3) and I think the point that will sting at UMU the most, they’ll keep this class of seniors for UMU from having won a national title. How long has it been since a senior class has graduated without winning a ring?

  8. I think it is fair to say that the winner of the UMU/UMHB will be favored next weekend against the winner of the UST/UWO. Rightfully so. What would change that, to some degree at least?

    I’d look to the UST/UWO first. For instance is Wara throws 5 TDs in a win. Or UST defense has a shutout.

    Tell me now, so if it happens the underdog will be given just a little bit more of a chance.

    I’ll hang up and listen.

  9. I hope they are all looking at the books and “next week”. Doesn’t matter to me. 15:00.00 and ticking. Game time.

  10. BTW, I’m fine with MU having the game at their site. They’ve earned it.

    Also, as far as actual neutral sites go, I disagree. I like the way it is.

  11. mucpurpleraider, this thought is fundamentally flawed in any system that is supposedly based on a given years results. Teams make the playoffs based on this years result not years past, other wise UWW would be in the field irrespective of their losses. I don’t mind Mount getting a number 1 and I don’t mind them hosting in the semis, but they shouldn’t get to host just because they’re mount union.

    crucowboy- Your comments dont match what you are saying with regards to UMU. UWW had 2 losses this year. That is why they did not make the playoffs. UMU has been undefeated for the last 18 years going into the NCAA Semi-finals.

    Does their early ranking carry over to next year? Perhaps, but UMU has certainly proved each season that they have earned their ranking for that particular season.

    UMHB is certainly a worthy opponent today.

    I would have liked these two teams on opposite halves, so if they won out, would have met in the Stagg Bowl.

  12. Mt Union/UMHB will be a great game. I do not expect the 38-35 or 35-30 scoring fast that everyone is mentioning. I really think that this will be a defensive battle where 21 pts will win.

  13. We got us a great game going on boys! I’m having to listen since I can’t access the game on ESPN 3. Shame on the NCAA for not giving everyone access.

    14-14 boys go CRU

  14. Cru 21-14 baby. Got to play the second half though. Got to keep it up because MU will bring it the second half. When was the last time MU was down at halftime at this stage of the season? I told UMHB was going to bring it baby.

  15. Congratulations to Mount Union. They battled through adversity and executed 3rd downs more efficiently. One of these years, we’ll break through.

  16. What a incredible game! I tip my hat to MHB! They are a extremely talented team. This could have gone either way. The shame of this was that it was a semi-final. No disrespect to St. Thomas, but this will be nearly impossible to top.

  17. Would it ever be considered to re-bracket the final 4 teams? Mount could have hosted Oshkosh and MHB would have hosted St. Thomas. Maybe use National rankings to align the semis in the future? Just a thought.

  18. purpleraider it could have been set up that way, but the championship would still have the same two teams in it.

  19. Other than the scores on tournovers the mount D played so amazing to keep giving the offense chances. Driskill wanted it to bad. 19 tackles!!

  20. I think the trash talking went both ways. Congrats to MU. Now go win it. No disrespect to UST, but I will be shocked if they can hang with MU. I felt my stomach drop when UMHB failed to covert the 4-1 play in the 4th. And everything changed in MU favor after that play. We were so close, but great teams make plays when they have too, and MU did exactly that.

    I hope the NCAA will stop playing silly games about broadcasting playoff games. Many people including me could not watch that great game today.

    Did anyone see the Sportscenter highlights tonight? It showed that big hit by a UMHB player. Well that’s all the game I have seen. Pitiful NCAA and shame on you for not giving everyone access to see it.

  21. A big thanks to D3 .com for all the info and jumping through hoops on how to access the game. I tried all those hoops and they did not work. Shame you guys have to do the grunt work so us d3 fans can watch semi final games. I am not a fan of the NCAA. As they say, it’s all about money. The NCAA can slice it anyway they want but we know its about the profit margin.

  22. Go Cru,

    How do you know who was trash talking if you we’re not there and also unable to watch on ESPN3?

  23. WOW!!!!! what a game. I definately underestimated UMHB. they have some quality athletes down there. i saw there roster. I kid from LA and the rest from Texas. they have a great pool of athletes to recruit from. I’m a big MU fan, but I feel UMHB will get there’s someday.

  24. mucpurpleraider,

    I have telepathic abilities, that’s how. Actually I talked to a few friends who made the trip. Doesn’t matter anyway, you guys made the plays in the end. Now you guys go win it all and bring the Stagg back to Alliance.

    I don’t think UST will give you guys the trouble The Cru gave you. I think the real championship was played in Alliance Saturday. Hey, I’m not being disrespectful to UST but just don’t think they will bring it like UMHB did.

  25. ceggl1,

    I told you it would be a close game. You are a stand up guy for admitting to underestimating The Cru.

    UMHB plays in a competitive conference unlike MU.

  26. mucpurpleraider,

    I tried watch ESPN App as well. My wife was laughing at me as I had everything plugged up trying to get the game. Shame on the NCAA for not giving everyone the chance to see that game.

  27. I would love for MU to come and play UMHB in their new 55 million dollar stadium next year or some other time. Instead, we open with Wesley which will be a good game. But we will likely see Wesley there again in the playoffs. The stadium will be one of the best in the country. Better than a lot of D1 stadiums though it will only seat 12,000. But I guess that is just wishful thinking.

  28. GoCru,
    Its a long trip to Texas for a regular season game. Do you think UMHB would pay UMU a guarantee big enough for the travel expense. With the good football played in TX, UMHB doesn’t lack for quality opponents. Not sure why the Cru played Wesley in the regular season. A multi-million dollar stadium, too. Is UMHB looking to move up a division or two?

Leave a Reply