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CAT | Triple Take

Dec/13

19

Triple Take: Stagg Bowl XLI


Salem Stadium stands ready.
City of Salem photo

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This somehow feels familiar.

After a one-year hiatus of these two teams’ season culmination in Salem, we’re again getting to see Mount Union and UW-Whitewater duke it out for the Walnut and Bronze. Oh, but what an exciting trip is has been to get to this point, as both of these two teams won by just one point last weekend.

Pat Coleman and Frank Rossi also gave their pregame thoughts (kept it under 10 minutes!):

Pat, Keith and Ryan bring you an expanded Triple Take this week, with a few guest prognosticators. And, of course, not only are we doing scores, but we’re also throwing in a bit of analysis. It’s been a D3football.com tradition since 1999.

As always, we welcome your remarks and your own picks in the comments section below!

Pat Coleman, D3football.com publisher and executive editor
I came into this week with a specific result in mind. Whether I could find enough points to make it happen, though, I wasn’t quite sure. Eventually I end up with about the prediction I’d like. Could I see UW-Whitewater scoring enough points on offense to justify the “just barely more than one score” prediction that was on my mind. Mount Union should score enough points to keep this game close and UW-Whitewater needs to really avoid the early-game issues they’ve had the past two weeks. If so, I think the Whitewater defense outperforms the Mount Union offense.
UW-Whitewater 30, Mount Union 21

Keith McMillan, D3football.com managing editor and Around the Nation columnist
I usually try to watch as much of both teams as I can and give a serious pick based on expected on-field factors. But I have a couple of problems this year. While I’ve seen all or part of five Mount Union games, I haven’t seen enough UW-Whitewater to comfortably form a really good opinion. (I do plan to watch the Thursday 3 p.m. ESPNU re-air of the UMHB semifinal on DVR before game time, so I’ll be sharp for our annual Web cast). My second problem is that UW-W fans have specifically requested that I pick against them as I have the past two weeks, when they’ve beaten the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in our poll to advance; Now they’re facing No. 1. So, because I really have no idea who’ll win Round 8 (Isn’t that the way it should be?) and because it will make both sides happy, even our picks at 3-3 and the series at 4-4, I’ll take the Purple Raiders. (I’m not as terrible at this as I thought; I’ve picked the past five Stagg Bowl winners correctly in Triple Take, including UW-W in ’09, ’10 and ’11). I just mentioned myself 10  make that 11  times and haven’t mentioned a single player. Yuck. Anyway, it’s scary to think what it means for the rest of D-III if Mount Union replaces 17 starters and its legendary coach and still wins the Stagg Bowl, but they’ve got Kevin Burke, taking his place alongside the great D-III quarterbacks, playmakers around him (look for a big play from Luc Meacham) and a defense that can be gashed but is opportunistic as well. The Warhawks’ front seven will cause problems for the Purple Raiders’ O-line, but in the fourth-quarter play that defines the game, I can’t envision Burke failing. You had your chances, D-III sub-elite class. Here goes nothin’. Mount Union 21, UW-Whitewater 20.

Ryan Tipps, D3football.com senior editor and former Mid-Atlantic columnist
Year after year when these teams meet, winning seems to wind up being about defense  and most signs point to the Warhawks ultimately being more dominant than the Purple Raiders on that side of the ball. The scores and the stars through the regular and postseasons have shown us a team that can hold the likes of UW-Platteville, Franklin, Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor each to 17 points or less. (For comparison, UMHB’s worst game before last week was a 34-point offensive effort in Week 2.) I have no doubt that Burke and his UMU compatriots will push UW-W to the absolute limit, and Whitewater could get into trouble if Mount’s passing game really takes off (remember 2008?). But Whitewater has beaten the pass, as well as beaten the run, this season, and they’ve made me a believer in the process. Mount Union started the season No. 1 on my ballot and has lived there sporadically since. Since September, I’ve chosen four teams to spend time in the top spot, and Whitewater has beaten two of them in the postseason. Because they’ve done that, there’s little reason to think they couldn’t do it a third time. UW-Whitewater 21, Mount Union 17

Adam Turer, Around the Mid-Atlantic columnist
This is as much a matchup of weaknesses as it is strengths. Casual fans may think this is just another Purple Power coronation, but each of these teams has been exposed, probably moreso than in any other season during this eight-game, nine-year series. The Warhawks have struggled to score early. Falling behind to Mount Union is not a recipe for success. The Purple Raiders have been vulnerable in the secondary, allowing 99 points in the past two games. Matt Behrendt should be salivating. Who do you believe in more: Cole Klotz and the Whitewater defense, or Burke and the Mount Union offense? The past two Stagg Bowls have been defensive struggles. That trend ends this year. Burke and the Purple Raiders will get their points. I expect the Warhawks to try and keep Burke & Co. on the sideline, which means Jordan Ratliffe will be counted on to grind out yards on the ground. This game will hinge on third down — can the Purple Raiders defense get off the field and get the ball back in the hands of the nation’s second-most prolific offense? Mount Union safety Alex Kocheff had the game of his freshman season in last year’s Stagg Bowl. Now, the sophomore starter will need to lead the defense to a bounce-back performance after it was humbled over the past seven quarters. Whitewater has a great defense, but I don’t think the Warhawks have the offense to keep up with the Purple Raiders. Burke will win his third championship in the past four years and the Purple Raiders will be dynastic once more. Mount Union 38, UW-Whitewater 24

Frank Rossi, D3football.com broadcaster
Anyone who saw the playoff games of these two knows there’s great balance between opposite sides of the ball for these teams. The Mount Union offense looks unstoppable at times, while the UW-Whitewater defense becomes stifling as games wear on. Because of this, we’ll see overtime, or perhaps two, with Burke making a believer out of everyone who doubts the Mount Union mantra, “The guy just wins.” Watch the two-point conversion from last weekend for more information. Mount Union 37, UW-Whitewater 31 (2 OT)

Josh Smith, Around the West columnist
It’s the No. 1 offense versus the No. 1 defense. The adage is “defense wins championships,” but not every defense plays against Mount Union. The job Burke has done leading this brand new cast of players on offense is incredible, and the Purple Raiders’ ability to score points when the game is the line has truly impressive. But the UW-Whitewater defense is stingy. Thanks to their ability to adjust on the fly, the defense has been able to shut teams down in the second half, giving Behrendt and company opportunities to put points on the board. I don’t anticipate a shootout, which leads me to think the “defensive” team has the edge over the “offensive” team. A key turnover is likely to shift the game in one direction or another, and the Warhawks seem to come up with big stops when they are needed. UW-Whitewater 20, Mount Union 17

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The UW-Whitewater defense is ready to go. Who else?
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com

Three of the teams playing this weekend – Mount Union, Mary Hardin-Baylor and UW-Whitewater – are Division III’s consensus elite teams of the past decade, all having played in Salem for a national championship in that span. The fourth – North Central – is a fast-moving thrill ride that has every reason to be playing along next to those powers (and the Cardinals would be the only ones of the bunch who wouldn’t bring the purple-clad fanbase that Division III’s championship city has gotten so used to seeing).

Pat, Keith and Ryan again bring you predictions and commentary in this penultimate weekend of the season, and we welcome your score predictions in the comments section below. Or you can reach out to us on Twitter at @d3football.com, @D3Keith or @NewsTipps.

For more info on the 32-team race to Salem, including the brackets, info on each team and feature stories, check our playoffs home page.

Ryan’s take: I would have loved to have been listening in on the Mount Union locker room after last week’s narrow escape from Wesley’s rally – because being there might be the most telling piece of what kind of Purple Raiders team this is. I’m sure there was excitement, along with some relief. But is there now some doubt? Some shaken confidence? If there was, it will have been coach Vince Kehres’ task this week to firm up the mental foundation to get his team ready for the national semifinals. The matchups don’t get easier moving forward, no matter who advances. North Central is a total package team, from offense, defense, turnovers, red zone efforts. And they’ve surely proven capable each week of the postseason, being able to hang big numbers on big opposition. Mount Union is Mount Union, and, in the locker room after last week’s game, perhaps what they really thought was how much they relished the thrill of a successful hunt. North Central 38, Mount Union 27
Keith’s take: Truth be told, part of me is ready to see some new faces in Salem; North Central vs. UMHB would be different than the annual purple power Holiday party. On the other hand, the safe pick this time of year is always Mount Union. So, careful to make this pick about this year’s football teams, and not about my head or my heart, I set out to consume as much info as time would allow, including video of both quarterfinal wins. What I found were two teams with very smart quarterbacks, an array of playmakers, and opportunistic defenses. UMU and NCC are similar, yet very different from UW-W and UMHB, who are like one another. Some of the advantage each offense usually has will be negated by the fact that they run a lot of the same read-option based plays, bubble screens, etc. That means each defense has seen plenty of the looks it will see Saturday. I don’t get the sense that this North Central team will crumble under the weight of the moment, and Coach John Thorne is preaching the formula to win in Alliance: Limit turnovers and big plays (no easy scores) and make Mount Union work for their points. But the Purple Raiders also trot out the offense that put up 42 on a John Carroll defense that had allowed 33 in its first nine games, and exploded in last week’s 62-59 win. In all that I watched, the one thing I don’t see is how North Central is going to get pressure on UMU QB Kevin Burke. If they resort to exotic blitzes, he’ll see where they are coming from, and UMU will put up its points. Mount Union 41, North Central 31.
Pat’s take: All of the anecdotal evidence points at a struggle for the team coming in to play Mount Union for the first time. Those coming to see the Purple Raiders on their home turf for the first time in program history fare poorly. (Except UMHB. I see you, yes.) But it’s not the anecdotal evidence that leads me to pick the defending champs here. It’s the X’s and O’s. No, wait not that. The other one. I am not convinced that North Central has the the deep threats that Wesley did. Peter Sorenson is a big target but not Steve Kodossou. Is Chad O’Kane enough to do that? Probably not. Even with a better quarterback, just not sure how North Central is going to score quickly. Can they score points? Sure. But against an opponent that won’t allow much of a running game, not sure throwing underneath gets the job done. Mount Union 38, North Central 30.

Ryan’s take: Lining up against each other is the team I picked to win the Stagg Bowl in the preseason (UMHB) with a team that I wasn’t even sure would make the postseason (UWW). What makes this pair unique – and was already touched on by Keith in the ATN Podcast – is that neither team is being driven by an overwhelming superstar, the kind of which we’ve seen often from both squads in past years. Now, they both rely on team efforts to do what they do best: for the Cru, that’s put (lots of) points on the board; for Whitewater, it’s to stop just that sort of thing from happening. Because of that counterbalance, I love this matchup, and it truly is one that could go either way. I think two major things are going to come out of this game that will inevitably bring the two teams closer together: the Cru will be held to its lowest point total of the season, and UW-W will give up more points than it has to any one team this fall. Where those ends meet is where the game will get particularly thrilling. Mary Hardin-Baylor 28, UW-Whitewater 24
Keith’s take: The other game might be powered by offense, and star players under center, but this one matches the two best defenses left playing, with the most size and speed. Try in the early going to watch the battle along the line of scrimmage instead of following the ball; that’ll tell you more about which way the game is headed. Are the Cru defensive linemen too fast off the ball for UW-W, or is the Warhawks’ zone blocking using the Cru’s penchant for penetration against them and creating running lanes? UMHB has made its way by shutting down opposing running attacks (83 carries for 145 yards, 1.7 per carry, in the past two playoff games), but UW-W is a different level. Similarly, UW-W’s D has had its way with teams all season; Linfield got up big in the first half last week, but gained just over 90 yards in the second half while the Warhawks had seven of their eight sacks. Watch for the halftime adjustments from UW-W. Also, three UMHB players had a hand in TDs from the QB position last week (Marcus Wimby is technically listed as a WR), and while you can see why UMHB loves Zach Anderson — he has size, speed and an ability to improvise — watch to see if Brian Gallagher or Wimby get snaps. In the end, I expect a defense-controlled game to open up late. Mary Hardin-Baylor 27, UW-Whitewater 24.
Pat’s take: I said at the beginning of the playoffs that UMHB was going to be tough to beat at home. It’s hard for me to go against that now, even though I think UWW comes into Belton in a little better shape of the two teams. UMHB’s offense is a bit unsettled, without the dominant running back it’s had in the past or the stellar quarterback it had the past two years. And the defense might be missing Silvio Diaz Saturday, from what I’ve heard. Enough to make the entire difference? No. I still like UMHB enough at home. UW-Whitewater hasn’t allowed 21 points all year, but it hasn’t gone to Mary Hardin-Baylor yet either. Mary Hardin-Baylor 21, UW-Whitewater 20.

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Field covered, yes, but also bitterly cold. Saturday’s forecasted high in the Twin Cities is zero degrees.
@bethelroyals Instagram photo

Because we’re down to just four games, Pat, Keith and Ryan are doing more than just predicting the winners and the scores – they’re also offering a deeper look at their thought processes and why they’re making the picks they’re making.

Take a peek at the picks and the write-ups below, and then please take a moment and leave your own score predictions in the comments below. Or you can reach out to us on Twitter at @d3football.com, @D3Keith or @NewsTipps.

For more info on the 32-team race to Salem, including the brackets, info on each team and feature stories, check our playoffs home page.

Ryan’s take: Mount Union 33, Wesley 20. Even in Wesley’s strongest years, Mount has bested the Wolverines on the football field. I was, admittedly, shaky on the caliber of this Wesley team going into the postseason, and while I’ve also had some questions about the Purple Raiders, they haven’t been as significant as those about Wesley. To keep it close, the Wolverines are going to have to do something they haven’t really done yet in the playoffs: find success with BOTH the run game and the passing game. A team can’t be one-dimensional taking the field against the Purple Raiders, which ratchets up the pressure on quarterback Joe Callahan and the running backs. They’ll be facing Mount Union’s defense, which is younger than normal but clearly potent and eager to replicate past success.
Keith’s take: Mount Union 35, Wesley 21. In a departure from the regular season, I’ll be the concise one. Neither of these teams would beat the great Purple Raider or Wolverine teams that clashed previously, but that’s irrelevant on Saturday. Wesley’s got the intangibles and should be able to play loose, but QB Kevin Burke has a O-line that should keep him mostly clean against the Wolverines relentless rush. Meantime, DL Tom Lally was a problem for Wittenberg and could be for Wesley as well.
Pat’s take: Mount Union 45, Wesley 21. Just last week, it seems, Mount Union is beginning to come into its own. Wesley has been up and down … or perhaps really far up and just plain up, this year, but I don’t get the impression they are peaking at the right time, while Mount Union is. Jamar Baynard won’t have nearly the amount of room to run this week as he did against Ithaca and the young Wesley offensive line will struggle. The way Wesley has used Jeremiah Howe the past couple of weeks gives some reason for optimism that Wesley could put a few points on the board, at least early, but Mount Union is too versatile on offense now to be slowed.

Ryan’s take: North Central 45, Bethel 14. These two teams have combined for 219 points in the first two rounds, meaning they have averaged nearly 55 points a game. They have been scoring machines, and they were able to put up the numbers against some good competition. This should be the year that the Cardinals break into the national semifinals, something they’ve been predicted to do in recent years before falling just short. And I would have made that pick no matter the status of Bethel’s quarterback (though my score prediction would have changed).
Keith’s take: North Central 34, Bethel 28. For me, this is a departure from the final ballot I cast for the top 25 and the Surprises and Disappointments column. The quarterback issue for Bethel is one thing, but I also think NCC’s offensive run-pass balance and tempo will make it tough to keep off the scoreboard. I’ve fallen into the Cardinals-are-going-to-the-semifinals trap before, but this time they seem plenty tested along the way. I expect this to rival Linfield-UWW as the game of the day.
Pat’s take: North Central 27, Bethel 20. North Central is going to push the tempo on Bethel. I expect Bethel will be able to handle it well enough, however, and I expected the conditions to slow things down, especially the run game. That won’t keep North Central off the board, though. Now, on the opposite side, I have some confidence in Tom Keefe running the offense if Erik Peterson can’t go. I don’t know that that will be enough to get the job done, and if everyone can run their routes and catch passes in the zero-degree temperatures expected Saturday in the Twin Cities. Both teams are going to leave some point on the field (including a PAT in my score projection). I did not project any runbacks of blocked PATs, however, regardless of how many points they count for this week.

Ryan’s take: Linfield 21, UW-Whitewater 13. I imagine that some people’s confidence in Linfield was shaken after trailing as much as 21-3 in the second quarter against Hampden-Sydney last week. But a strange thing came over me. As close as I had been over the years to the H-SC program and as happy as I am to see the Tigers having postseason success, the first thought that came over me was: “That lead isn’t big enough to protect.” We’ve seen this year how Linfield can pour it on after the break -– like against Pacific or Pacific Lutheran in the regular season. When it’s needed, it happens. And that’s my takeaway from Linfield, a team that finds a way to make its own success. Their opponent, UW-Whitewater, is a team that has impressed me –- and won me over in many ways. I think this will be a game dominated by defenses (Linfield had six defenders that were first-team All-NWC and 11 total on the All-Conference team; Whitewater had five first-teamers and 10 total). The team that is able to find some offense or have a breakout play or two will win this matchup.
Keith’s take: Linfield 17, UW-Whitewater 14. I struggled with this one. Linfield was loaded to start the year, but at some point injuries might catch up with them. Both teams have had half-game lapses in the playoffs but have been otherwise outstanding. It’s expected to be between 12 and 18 degrees in Whitewater on Saturday, and The Perk is one of the true home-field advantages in D-III. Still, I think Linfield is due to catch a break in a huge game. QB Matt Behrendt has a 32-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio, and the Warhawks have only six lost fumbles all year, but Linfield has 20 interceptions and 32 takeaways in 11 games. If they stay on average, three turnovers a game, they can squeak out a road win in the best game of the playoffs.
Pat’s take: Linfield 17, UW-Whitewater 15. I have some concerns about UW-Whitewater putting enough points on the board. Heck, I have some concerns about Linfield doing so. I’m torn between wondering if the Whitewater defense can hold Linfield to fewer points than Hampden-Sydney did and wondering if Josh Yoder got the interceptions out of his system. This is the big toss-up of the field, and I’m sticking with the pick I made at the beginning of the playoffs.

Ryan’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 31, St. John Fisher 13. All season, Fisher has been able to beat good and great teams that it’s encountered. But UMHB is different; it’s elite. Defensively intimidating; offensively unslowable. The Louisiana College game aside, the Crusaders have destroyed their opposition this fall. And they’ve held both playoff opponents to single digits on the scoreboard. Fisher has had a great run, beating a Top 10 team and surprising me and countless others with that performance. The team is a testament to the value of bringing two-loss teams into the Pool C fold, and that commands respect. But this will be Mary Hardin-Baylor’s game.
Keith’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 40, St. John Fisher 10.  There comes a point in every great D-III season where grit will only get you so far. The Cardinals have reached that point, and their opponent is one regarded by some as the best team in the tournament. Wind and freezing rain is expected in Belton, but instead of favoring the team from upstate New York, it helps UMHB. Behind QB Tyler Fenti, SJFC has thrown the ball well. That might be their best option, even in bad weather, as the Cru (63 y/g, four rush TDs allowed all season) is built to stop the run. Six defenders have double-digit tackles for losses, and and Fisher only averages 3.6 yards per carry this season — 4.4 by top back Cody Miller — anyway. Meantime, Cru RB Elijah Hudson, who has missed three games this season, appeared at full strength last week, with 23 carries for 136 yards against Rowan.
Pat’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 38, St. John Fisher 14. This is where the road ends. Again, it’s been a good run for St. John Fisher, but this is likely the end of the line. One thing that I worry about for UMHB, though, is that I feel like a good part of the Cru’s home success this year has been part of the momentum from the home crowd, and 2,500 fans are not as big a boost as, say, 9,300 or even 5,000. Playoff crowds are just smaller — they always are. But that’s not going to have an impact this week, and I don’t think UMHB will have to leave the Cruthedral until the Stagg Bowl, should they advance that far.

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