Quick Hits: Predicting the Semifinals

One thing we can predict with certainty- history will be made in these semifinals.  North Central or Muhlenberg will reach their first Stagg Bowl.  In the second semifinal, one titan of Division III will return to national finals.  Who is advancing to next week’s national championship?  Here are our takes:

— Greg Thomas (photo by Dean Reid,

The Quick Hits
playoff crew:

Keith McMillan
Ryan Tipps
Pat Coleman
Pat Coleman
Adam Turer
Adam Turer
Frank Rossi
Frank Rossi
Greg Thomas
Greg Thomas

North Central (12-1) at Muhlenberg (13-0), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN3

NCC LogoKeith:  The more I think about this, the more the idea that North Central has faced the top three defenses in the country already, and scored 21, 31 and 59, matters. Certainly the Mules’ defense might turn out to be better than Wheaton, Del Val or Mount Union, and it has given up one touchdown in three playoff games, but the level of competition throughout the season hasn’t been the same. Couple that with all-everything quarterback Broc Rutter and and offense that has no weaknesses, and I don’t see NCC getting shut down, especially given their WRs vs. the Mules’ DBs. So Michael Hnatkowsky and company will have to score, and get the home crowd into it, to ride into the program’s first Stagg Bowl.  North Central 35, Muhlenberg 21.

Ryan: There’s little that still needs to be said about Muhlenberg’s defense, one that has played near shutout football throughout the postseason. Yet never have the Mules encountered an offense a skillfully and strategically balanced as North Central’s. That’s going to make game-planning significantly harder than it was against teams like run-heavy Salisbury or even Brockport State. Clamp down on Ethan Greenfield, and Broc Rutter’s arm will shred you. Double-cover Andrew Kamienski, then DeAngelo Hardy will get extra touches. While the final score isn’t going to be overtly lopsided, I go into this one feeling that it’s North Central’s game to lose — and thus having the advantage. NCC also brings an offense that even Mount Union couldn’t slow (school record books, anyone?), and that should be a concern for any other team out there. As would be the case in most any game at this level, turnovers can drastically shift the tone of the matchup. Overall, both teams certainly come out ahead of their opponents this season in that regard, but fumbles are a concern: each team has coughed up the ball 16 times: the Mules turning it over 11 times, the Cardinals eight. Hang onto the ball, and you could hang onto a win.  North Central 31, Muhlenberg 23.

Pat: There is going to be so much to watch for and watch about this game that I can’t wait for it. How will the North Central offensive line handle the pressure coming from defensive ends Frankie Feaster and Dante Lonardo? What time will Broc Rutter have to throw? If Muhlenberg learns nothing else from the Mount Union game video, it will be that if you give Rutter time, he will find the right guy and pick you apart. I’ve been really impressed with DeAngelo Hardy in this postseason, so you can’t just try to take Andrew Kamienski away, and Ethan Greenfield seemed to be in good form in the quarterfinals, with 28 carries for 93 yards. Muhlenberg should get some points on the board — this is Michael Hnatkowsky’s final audition for an All-America slot as well, as there are probably four strong candidates for the final spot on our list. I’m expecting North Central not to score a season-low in terms of points, but I am envisioning Muhlenberg holding things in check. The Cardinals are not just a quick-strike offense, either, and can hold the ball and control the clock pretty well when it’s called for.  North Central 24, Muhlenberg 21.

Adam: The Cardinals won’t get a Little Brass Bell rematch this year, but they will get another test against one of the nation’s premier defenses. Muhlenberg’s is a hair behind Wheaton’s, but no defense has dominated the postseason like the Mules, who have allowed just eight points through three games. North Central has one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Broc Rutter. The Cardinals also boast one of the nation’s best offensive linemen (Sharmore Clark), running backs (Ethan Greenfield), and wide receivers (Andrew Kamienski). It’s almost an embarrassment of riches. But the first time this unit faced a defense of Muhlenberg’s caliber, they were held to a season-low 21 points. On the other hand, they hung 59 on Mount Union just two weeks ago. Michael Hnatkowsky and the Mules offense can keep up with Rutter in a shootout. The defense can create enough havoc to stymie the Cardinals. I expect another classic playoff game involving NCC, and another heartbreaking exit for the CCIW.  Muhlenberg 27, North Central 26.

Frank: The best thing I think you can do when looking at a game like this is go back to the North Central loss to Wheaton and compare Wheaton to Muhlenberg — and then ask if anything has changed. Wheaton and Muhlenberg appear to be similar in terms of defensive strength, with Muhlenberg maybe being even a bit stronger in the last few weeks. North Central’s offense can be stopped or slowed down — even Delaware Valley could do that last week for periods of time. The question becomes whether or not Michael Hnatkowski and the Muhlenberg offense can score enough points in what should be a game that might barely reach the 20s on the scoreboard, especially if it rains. I think the Mules can score enough and hold back the Cardinals’ offense for a close victory at home.  Muhlenberg 21, North Central 17.

Greg: While so much attention has been paid to the fireworks and upsets all over the bracket, Muhlenberg has fairly quietly gone about the business of reaching the semifinals for the first time in school history. The Mules defense has allowed one measly touchdown in three tournament games- that one a garbage time score to a team that had scored over 140 points in two tournament games. This week Muhlenberg faces one of the best and most balanced offenses in the country. Broc Rutter is the headliner for North Central, but Ethan Greenfield has a 300-yard rushing game in this tournament and the Cardinal offensive line is about as they come in the Division. This is going to be a phenomenal strength-on-strength game. I just can’t talk myself out of believing that the team that won in Alliance isn’t going to be the team to reach Shenandoah. I expect Rutter will find just enough places to be successful against Muhlenberg and the Cardinals to advance to their first Stagg Bowl.  North Central 27, Muhlenberg 20.

Saint John’s (12-1) at UW-Whitewater (12-1), 2:00 p.m. CT, ESPN3

Keith: It’s hard to know whether the physicality that the Warhawks used to smother defending champ Mary Hardin-Baylor last week plays as well against Jackson Erdmann and the Johnnies. Conventional wisdom is that it probably should, and a great defense, O-line and three-headed backfield monster certainly leads one to believe UW-W can return to the Stagg Bowl. But whether you believe in Johnnie Magic or just great players carrying good teams, the Johnnies rallied from 9 down for two late scores in Round 1, and held off everything a loaded Wheaton team threw at them in Round 3. Why not once more, setting up an epic QB clash in Shenandoah?  Saint John’s 22, UW-Whitewater 21.

SJU logoRyan: Pound the Rock…Johnnie Magic…It’s feeling a lot like the D-III of years gone by. But here we are, seeing two Upper Midwest titans aiming to rekindle the fires of tradition and again land themselves in the Stagg Bowl. The Johnnies, however, come into this better positioned to take that leap, largely thanks to the dynamic passing of Gagliardi Trophy-winner Jackson Erdmann (who very well could repeat that individual honor). UW-River Falls at 2-8 is the only team with a really solid passing attack that the Warhawks have encountered, and that team put up 28 points on UW-W, the most of any team all season. And River Falls is feeble compared to what Saint John’s can bring to the table. As the Warharks continue to find themselves breathing life in to their old hard-nosed rushing style, the simple notion of falling behind early will put them in the unenviable position of having to play catchup, something that I don’t think they have the offensive tools to do. Saint John’s, on the other hand, should be able to keep airing it out and launching themselves toward the next Stagg Bowl.  Saint John’s 41, UW-Whitewater 28.

SJU logoPat: This game is as much of a puzzle as last week’s Saint John’s game, and since I was wrong (sad trombone) on both UW-Whitewater and Saint John’s last week, that should be a good indicator that this is a tough call as well. The Johnnies will score on UW-Whitewater, that is clear. They’ll be counting on J.W. Windsor and Richard Carriveau and the guys up front … plus Danny Pietruszewski and the linebackers to slow that Warhawk running game enough and get the SJU offense back on the field. Jackson Erdmann doesn’t need a ton of time to get the ball in the end zone, and in fact, will probably do better with a longer field and more room to work with and get those stud sophomore receivers to make things happen in space. I waited as long as I could to write this and the weather looks pretty good for tomorrow, so with that, I am going with:  Saint John’s 27, UW-Whitewater 23.

SJU logoAdam: The Warhawks’ game plan is simple: stop Jackson Erdmann. The Warhawks’ game plan is extremely difficult: stop Jackson Erdmann. There are no secrets among the WIAC and MIAC foes. UW-Whitewater wants to repeat its performance from the quarterfinals, taking the air out of the football and the opponent. But the Johnnies can do more with less, and time of possession won’t be as critical for an offense that can strike quick and deep. Erdmann led the Johnnies to 34 points against Wheaton, two more scores than the Thunder had allowed in any game this season. Whitewater’s offense was its best defense against Mary Hardin-Baylor. Saint John’s rush defense will need to step up against UWW to avoid a rock pounding. The Warhawks can’t keep the ball out of Erdmann’s hands all day. A bit of Johnnie Magic will propel Saint John’s to the Stagg Bowl for the first time since 2003.  Saint John’s 33, UW-Whitewater 27.

SJU logoFrank: With all the discussion of the Warhawks defense and the team’s “Bully the Bully” approach that Max Meylor told us about against UMHB, what we’re seeing from the Johnnies in the playoffs is a similar approach. The Johnnies’ offense is bullying the defenses they have faced. Wheaton had pitched five shutouts (and allowed seven or less points seven times), but the Johnnies put up 34 points against the vaunted Wheaton defense. They haven’t won pretty in the playoffs, but Saint John’s seems to know how to dissect strong defenses better than UMHB did. They’ll again do just enough to hold off the Warhawks.  Saint John’s 28, Wis.-Whitewater 24.

SJU logoGreg: The Warhawks so very impressively imposed their will on UMHB last week that I’ve had to rethink everything I thought I knew about UW-Whitewater. The degree of domination done by both offensive and defensive lines smacked of the most dominant of Warhawk championship teams of yesteryear. The challenge for Saint John’s will be to do a thing that UMHB couldn’t- get UWW’s offense off of the field. No doubt the Warhawks will seek to limit Jackson Erdmann’s possessions, so the Johnnie defense will be tasked to limit the rushing Cerberus of Jarrod Ware, Alex Peete, and Ronny Ponick and get the ball back into the hands of their star quarterback. The Johnnies will also be challenged to keep pressure off of Erdmann and afford Ravi Alston and T.J. Hodge to do their thing in the intermediate and deep parts of the field. We should know very early on if Saint John’s can match the Warhawks physically, and if they can, it’s difficult to pick against the reigning Gagliardi trophy winner.  Saint John’s 24, UW-Whitewater 21.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays and Fridays.



Quick Hits predicts the quarterfinals

Eight teams remain in the chase for the Walnut and Bronze and those eight teams are ranked 2-9 in our Top 25. Maybe the best quarterfinal round ever? Our panelists predict winners and bring back their takes this week for each of Saturday’s quarterfinals.

Our regular crew is Keith McMillan, Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman, Adam Turer, Frank Rossi and Greg Thomas.

— Greg Thomas (photo by Dan Harris,

UW-Whitewater at Mary Hardin-Baylor

Keith’s take: UMHB 21, UW-Whitewater 17. The offenses aren’t loaded with playmakers like classic Crusaders and Warhawks teams, but the defenses remain elite, so expect a low-scoring slugfest.
Ryan’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 21, UW-Whitewater 17. This will be the hardest either of these teams have had to work all season to find the end zone. And that’s no surprise, since matchups between these two teams have been historically low-scoring affairs. UHMB, though, has been nearly flawless all season, and UW-W hasn’t quite shown this year that it can get off to the hot first-half start it needs to against top-tier teams.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, UW-Whitewater 16.  Picturing a low-scoring game, and it could be even lower-scoring than this. But expect the Cru to get the job done up front on both sides.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 30, UW-Whitewater 14. The Warhawks’ offense is not inspiring as much confidence in recent weeks as the Cru’s is. Home field advantage makes a big difference at the Cruthedral. Since surviving against Hardin-Simmons, UMHB has outscored opponents 285-37. The Warhawks’ offensive inconsistency ends Whitewater’s run in the quarterfinals.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, UW-Whitewater 21. The CRU seem unstoppable on defense — with statistics better than the Warhawks’ numbers in many categories. With a relatively inexperienced QB behind center for Whitewater, I give the slight nod to UMHB.
Greg Thomas
Greg’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 15, UW-Whitewater 8. This one shapes up as a defensive grinder with neither team willing to take big chances on offense. The Cru have an advantage athletically, and I think a big play from Jonel Reed on offense or Keith Gipson on special teams will be the difference.

Consensus: Mary Hardin-Baylor are our unanimous pick, mostly in a low-scoring, single score margin.

St. John’s at Wheaton

Keith’s take: St. John’s 42, Wheaton 41. The Thunder bandwagon ran out of available seating once people realized that team beat the team that beat Mount Union by two touchdowns. And the Johnnies have been beatable at times over the past month. But I don’t think Jackson Erdmann and pals are going down without a fight. At the very least, it’s a shootout.
Ryan’s take: Wheaton 38, St. John’s 28. If the “defense wins championships” statement is true, we should be seeing a lot more of Wheaton this December. When you’re undefeated and your narrowest margins are 14-point wins versus North Central and Illinois Wesleyan, there’s not really a chink in the armor that St. John’s can viably exploit on Saturday.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Wheaton 45, St. John’s 28.  It feels weird predicting Wheaton to score fewer points than Aurora did on SJU, but not weird to predict SJU will score points.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: St. John’s 35, Wheaton 31. On paper, Wheaton looks like the most complete team still standing. If anyone can crack this defense, it’s Jackson Erdmann and the Johnnies. The reigning Gagliardi Trophy winner is on a mission to finish his career with a championship. If any Wheaton team is going to get over the hump, it’s this one. But to do it, they’ll have to shut down Erdmann and that’s a big ask.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: St. John’s 37, Wheaton 31. Jackson Erdmann seems to be getting better in the playoffs, and that’s trouble for the Thunder. I think St. John’s is more equipped to win a shootout like this, so I’m going with the Johnnies.
Greg Thomas
Greg’s take: Wheaton 35, St. John’s 33. Elite offenses can and do score against elite defenses and I think St. John’s will get their points against Wheaton. Wheaton’s less heralded offense has been balanced and prolific all season and will be good enough to get the Thunder through to the semis.

Consensus: Even split!  The panel agrees the winner will put up a lot of points.

Muhlenberg at Salisbury

Keith’s take: Salisbury 28, Muhlenberg 27.  I have no earthly idea who to pick here, since both teams have been smashing everything in their path for weeks. I find it hard to believe the Sea Gulls get shut down, but the Mules haven’t given up a point since the regular season.
Ryan’s take: Muhlenberg 34, Salisbury 21.  There’s little question that this is the Mules’ toughest test of the season, but even with Salisbury bringing more balance to its offense, it doesn’t seem likely to unhinge a clamp-down defense like Muhlenberg’s.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Salisbury 41, Muhlenberg 35.  Could be even higher-scoring, but hard to suggest Muhlenberg allows 0, 0, > 41 in three games.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Muhlenberg 24, Salisbury 18. The Mules defense hasn’t allowed a point this postseason. The Sea Gulls offense has scored nearly every time it’s touched the ball. Jack Lanham proved that the Sea Gulls can win a shootout, even if they have to pass. But it’s doubtful that he can outduel Michael Hnatkowsky. The Mules defense will be up to the challenge of slowing the triple option attack.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Muhlenberg 17, Salisbury 10. The key to beating Salisbury: take them out of their comfort zone. While Sea Gulls QB Lanham can pass, his passing success is helped by the defense being lured into a rush-mode with the triple option. Muhlenberg’s defense is equipped for this game and for taking Salisbury out of that zone, and will force the pass more in the second half — leading to turnovers and a lower score.
Greg Thomas
Greg’s take: Salisbury 35, Muhlenberg 31. We’ve got an unstoppable force versus immovable object situation here. I see a lot of offense early from the Sea Gulls, the Mules settling in and adjusting, but running out of possessions to complete a comeback.

Consensus: Another evenly split panel predicting a close game covering all levels of scoring.

Delaware Valley at North Central

Keith’s take: North Central 35, Delaware Valley 14.  The Aggies have been an elite defense all season, but they’ll need their best performance of the year by far. Against an offense that just gained 699 yards, DelVal folks can dream it, and maybe live it, but I hope they understand why we wouldn’t predict it.
Ryan’s take: North Central 41, Delaware Valley 17.  After Wabash hung around in the Round 1 game against NCC longer than they should have, I started to question some things about the Cardinals. Last week dispelled that doubt (obviously!), and now I’m even starting to wonder about the possibility of an all-CCIW Stagg Bowl. DelVal’s run ends here.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: North Central 41, Delaware Valley 20.  On record on Pod 265 as to what it will take for Del Val to win this game.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: North Central 38, Delaware Valley 24. Lost in all the excitement of the Cardinals’ historic win in the second round is the fact that North Central allowed 52 points. Delaware Valley wins with defense, and forced six turnovers to pull away from Wesley. The Cardinals’ offense will likely suffer from a relative letdown after last week’s fireworks, but will still have enough in the tank to maintain momentum into the semifinals.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Delaware Valley 27, North Central 25. Last week’s shocking victory by North Central might have been as much a reminder that the Mount Union defense hadn’t been battle-tested much this season. DelVal’s defense has had some challenges — twice against Wesley, and against some offensively-adept teams in the MAC. Slight edge to DelVal in a letdown game for North Central.
Greg Thomas
Greg’s take: North Central 44, Delaware Valley 20. I’ll echo whatever my fellow panelists have said about the inevitable exhale from North Central this week. North Central’s offense coming back down to Earth is still good enough to hang 40 on just about anybody. I don’t think the Aggies can count on six turnovers this week and the tournament’s road warriors bow out in Naperville.

Consensus: 5-1 in favor of North Central, generally by multiple scores.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Fridays, where Pat and Keith review the Quick Hits that were prescient, and the Quick Misses that were terribly off base.


Quick Hits predicts the second round

This week our panel gets you ready for all eight second round games by predicting not just winners, but final scores. Curious which games will be close? Or where to find a high scoring shootout? We’ve got your winners and game expectations covered right here.

Keith McMillan, Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman, Adam Turer, Frank Rossi and Greg Thomas each take their guesses at scores for each second-round game.

— Greg Thomas (Photo by Matt McClure,

Mary Hardin-Baylor bracket
Keith’s take:  UMHB 49, Huntingdon 14
Ryan’s take: UMHB 41, Huntingdon 7
Pat’s take: UMHB 61, Huntingdon 7
Adam’s take: UMHB 41, Huntingdon 24
Frank’s take: UMHB 40, Huntingdon 14
Greg’s take: UMHB 51, Huntingdon 10
Consensus: The Crusaders move on comfortably.
Keith’s take:  UW-Whitewater 17, Wartburg 13
Ryan’s take: UW-Whitewater 24, Wartburg 17
Pat’s take: UW-Whitewater 27, Wartburg 20
Adam’s take: UW-Whitewater 24, Wartburg 14
Frank’s take: Wartburg 28, UW-Whitewater 24
Greg’s take: UW-Whitewater 28, Wartburg 17
Consensus: Whitewater by a majority decision, winning in a lower scoring game.
Wheaton bracket
Keith’s take:  Wheaton 34, Central 20
Ryan’s take: Wheaton 34, Central 20
Pat’s take: Wheaton 45, Central 30
Adam’s take: Wheaton 40, Central 20
Frank’s take: Wheaton 37, Central 27
Greg’s take: Wheaton 38, Central 14
Consensus: Wheaton advances to the quarterfinal with a 2-3 score margin.
Keith’s take: St. John’s 34, Chapman 24
Ryan’s take: St. John’s 41, Chapman 38
Pat’s take: St. John’s 38, Chapman 28
Adam’s take: St. John’s 38, Chapman 22
Frank’s take: St. John’s 51, Chapman 37
Greg’s take: Chapman 34, St. John’s 32
Consensus: Not unanimous, but the panel sees St. John’s throwing its way past Chapman.
Salisbury bracket
Keith’s take: Salisbury 42, Union 28
Ryan’s take: Salisbury 45, Union 21
Pat’s take: Salisbury 41, Union 24
Adam’s take: Salisbury 42, Union 21
Frank’s take: Union 24, Salisbury 20
Greg’s take: Salisbury 41, Union 17
Consensus: Five out of six see the top-seeded Sea Gulls march on with a multiple score victory.
Keith’s take: Muhlenberg 31, Brockport 21
Ryan’s take: Muhlenberg 27, Brockport 10
Pat’s take: Muhlenberg 21, Brockport 6
Adam’s take: Muhlenberg 31, Brockport 18
Frank’s take: Muhlenberg 26, Brockport 21
Greg’s take: Muhlenberg 24, Brockport 14
Consensus: The Mules return to the quarterfinals with a double digit win.
Mount Union bracket
Keith’s take: Mount Union 35, N. Central 21
Ryan’s take: Mount Union 31, N. Central 17
Pat’s take: Mount Union 34, N. Central 31
Adam’s take: Mount Union 45, N. Central 43
Frank’s take: Mount Union 50, N. Central 24
Greg’s take: Mount Union 41, N. Central 35
Consensus: Mount Union to win unanimously in a bit of a shootout.
Keith’s take:  Del Val 21, Wesley 20 (4OT)
Ryan’s take: Del Val 28, Wesley 24
Pat’s take: Wesley 34, Del Val 21
Adam’s take: Wesley 30, Del Val 27 (2OT)
Frank’s take: Wesley 30, Del Val 17
Greg’s take: Wesley 27, Del Val 24
Consensus: Another majority decision, this time with Wesley advancing in a close game.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below, or tweet at us at @D3Keith, @NewsTipps and @d3football. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the picks and the highlights from the weekend’s playoff games.