TAG | semifinals
ESPN is televising the Division III football semifinals as it did last year, but those expecting to simply click on a link and watch video feeds like we do most of the season might run into trouble on Saturday. The best advice I can give is to test out whichever method you plan to watch the game well in advance of kickoffs, as there are several hoops to jump through.
ESPN3 is showing the live feed of both games. The network’s online channel also archives the games, so in case you miss it, you’ll be able to pull it up later. This is also good if you’re interested in both games, since they run concurrently.
Here’s the link for Mary Hardin-Baylor at Mount Union. That kicks off at 2 p.m. EST, not noon local time, which is standard for D-III playoff games.
It also airs on ESPNU on Thursday, Dec. 13 at 1 p.m. ET.
Here’s the link for UW-Oshkosh at St. Thomas, which kicks off at 3.
It also airs on ESPNU on Friday, Dec. 14 at 1 p.m. ET
Our D3football.com scoreboard page is still the best place for live updates during the games, and links to live stats, audio and the video.
ESPN3 is not necessarily available to everyone, though. You need to subscribe to certain cable or internet providers to get access. The game is not being televised live on any channel. It’s online, and you need to figure out which ESPN3 rules apply to you. Here’s their FAQ. (There’s a distinction between ESPN3 and WatchESPN explained there too, but I’m not sure it’s terribly important for our purposes).
Me, for example, I wouldn’t get access through my television provider because I use DirecTV, which is not on the list. However, I get internet through Verizon and I have an XBox Live account, so that gives me two options. I’ve also downloaded and tested the Watch ESPN iPhone app.
I would advise you to read through all these rules and test out your system during a non-D-III live event on Friday night or early Saturday morning. It might be easy for you. It might be a hassle. But the last thing you want is to wait until kickoff to find out.
Failing those options, here’s a link I found on how to set up a free ESPN3 account when your ISP provider doesn’t give you access. I haven’t tested it out, but if you’re this far down the list of options, anything is worth a shot.
The games will be replayed on ESPNU, as noted above, but next Thursday and Friday, at 1 p.m., meaning it’s probably only useful to rewatch the teams who advanced as they get ready for Friday’s 7 p.m. Stagg Bowl. The national championship will be televised live on both ESPNU and ESPN3.
If you’re anywhere near St. Paul or Alliance, Ohio on Saturday, your best bet is to just be there in the stands.
Three of this weekend’s contenders are on familiar ground, while the third, St. Thomas, has been building to this point over the past three seasons. Adding a dimension of excitement to the St. Thomas/UW-Whitewater matchup is seeing Gagliardi Trophy finalists Fritz Waldvogel and Matt Blanchard lead the offensive charge for their respective teams.
You’ve been following through the first three rounds; you’ve heard the breakdowns of last week and more in the Around the Nation Podcast; and you’ve probably perused the Post Patterns message board for extra bits of insight.
Today’s Triple Take brings all the pieces together with score predictions and analysis of both of the national semifinal games. The winners of these games get to travel to Salem, Division III’s Tinseltown, for the 39th Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.
On Saturday, there’ll be a live blog running here on The Daily Dose, and all tweets with hashtag #d3fb are included. Take a look at our playoffs home page for our Road to Salem feature stories and more!
Ryan’s take: UW-Whitewater 34, St. Thomas 20
The Warhawks have been dismantling quality teams from Day 1 of the 2011 season. And when a team like the Tommies has one receiver who accounts for three times more receiving yards than other individual on the team, Whitewater will know who to zero in on. Talented defensive backs will be disruptive, and a vicious UW-W front line will get pressure on any quarterback it comes across. And there’s not a running game around that can get through the linebackers led by Greg Arnold and Ryan Cortez (just ask Salisbury). St. Thomas definitely has a couple of stunning skill players, but Whitewater hasn’t gotten to where they are over the past seven seasons without being able to neutralize those skills. The Tommies will need a bit of razzle-dazzle to win; simple strength won’t be enough. I’m not sure that they have it. The Warhawks are tested, and players on the both sides of the ball complement one another. Sure, Warhawk quarterback Matt Blanchard and rusher Levell Coppage are great skill players, but it’s the supporting cast that will make sure this game falls in favor of Whitewater.
Keith’s take: UW-Whitewater 24, St. Thomas 17
So remember last week when I pointed out how UW-Whitewater always plays a close quarterfinal or semifinal, and wrote Salisbury would be that game? Wrong. But I implore you to believe me this week (or don’t): THIS is that game. In all seriousness, there isn’t a program that’s more ready for this challenge than St. Thomas. The Tommies are very much built in the Warhawks’ likeness: Smother the opposing run game (1.56 yards per carry; UW-W allows 2.73; the national average in D-III this season was 3.99), be physical on offense as well, and take care of the ball. I requested game video from both schools this week so I could make a detailed and informed pick. With both teams so dependent on establishing the run (Colin Tobin, 605 yards, 7TDs in playoffs and UW-W’s Levell Coppage, 514 and 10) the only way I felt I could get a feel for if either would be successful was to re-watch both games. Unfortunately only St. Thomas came through. So my insight isn’t what it could be, but there’s this: St. Thomas can win. They’re versatile enough on offense to score and they pursue well on defense, meaning long runs will be hard to come by for the Warhawks. But whenever the going gets tough for UW-Whitewater, they can buckle down and move the ball by handing it to Levell Coppage. And the Tommies, their gaudy rush defense numbers aside, don’t look to the naked eye to be rugged enough to consistently stand up to the Warhawks’ pounding. They’ll need some turnovers and big plays to sway the game, because the Warhawks aren’t flashy, they’re just better than everyone that lines up against them.
Pat’s take: UW-Whitewater 28, St. Thomas 25
I’ve been asked many times in the past couple of weeks if I thought St. Thomas could beat UW-Whitewater. I think they could, but I’d feel more secure in that if they had won their quarterfinal last year and gone on to play Mount Union. I think most teams playing one of the Powers for the first time feel just a little bit of intimidation, but even if not, the adjustment period is noticeable. (Yes, Mary Hardin-Baylor 2004, I see you back there.) St. Thomas has started a bit slow each of the past two weeks, heck, the past three weeks if you think the Tommies shouldn’t have had to punt three times in their first four possessions against St. Scholastica. A slow start against UW-Whitewater could mean a 21-0 deficit. The tough run defense will face the biggest challenge in Division III football. Not many have contained Levell Coppage.
Ryan’s take: Wesley 28, Mount Union 24
I’ve been in this spot before, willing to channel my faith in Wesley into a national semifinal prediction. The Wolverines have emerged from the most loaded bracket of the bunch and have taken down some of the nation’s top polled teams in Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor. And they did it in distinctly different ways, playing to the pressure of the moment and coming up big when it was needed. Wesley signal-caller Shane McSweeny is as great a runner as he is a passer, and it’ll be interesting to see how he fares against one of the most statistically stingy run defenses in the country. And Mount’s pass defense benefits from the likes of Nick Driskill, probably the nation’s scariest guy to throw the ball near. Those defensive elements from Mount take away a lot of Wesley’s strength. However, Mount today isn’t the Mount of last year; or of the year before when Cecil Shorts turned a tight matchup against Wesley into a rout. The question that has to be asked is: Is Wesley capable of taking itself to the championship level? They’ve been so close so often since 2005. This is their moment. It won’t be easy, but nothing has been for them this postseason. I’m colorblind, so I probably won’t be able to tell the difference, but the Stagg Bowl will be purple and navy this year.
Keith’s take: Mount Union 20, Wesley 17
I requested and was promised video from both schools here too, but the DVDs never arrived. Because I’m located so close to Dover, I’ve seen Wesley twice this season, and because I didn’t have DirecTV and Sports Time Ohio, I’ve seen less Mount Union than usual. I wanted to be careful not to pick Wesley just because I know more about them. There are two variables here that could greatly sway the outcome: Which QB takes snaps for Mount Union, and which personality Wesley takes on. Neal Seaman, Matt Piloto and freshman Kevin Burke all played for the Purple Raiders last week, and it’s hard to speculate which one they’d be best off with against Wesley. Meanwhile, Wolverines QB Shane McSweeny — the nation’s fourth-most efficient passer and one of its most versatile quarterbacks — has taken care of the ball all season, never throwing more than one interception in a game. He’s thrown 13 TD passes and two interceptions in three playoff wins, against by far the best competition any of the semifinalists have played. That’s key, because the Purple Raiders are famously successful when winning the turnover battle — 162-1 since 1990, with the loss coming in the 1995 playoffs. So we’ve got two major themes: How Charles Dieseul, Nick Driskill and a smothering defense deals with the multiple threats of McSweeny, the big body of tight end Sean McAndrew and the speed of Wesley’s Steven Koudoussou and Matt Barile. And then how Wesley’s defense — equally adept at smothering teams — functions against Mount Union’s not-as-dynamic-as-usual offense. The Wolverines played great halves against Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor; they’ll need to play four great quarters to slow RB Jeremy Murray and the Purple Raiders’ offense. Are the poor tackling, penalty-prone Wolverines going to show up in Alliance, or are the sharp, multitalented, inspired-by-Ben Knapp Wolverines going to be there? I could honestly see a St. Thomas-Wesley Stagg Bowl, and it would be refreshing for D-III to shake things up a little. But I’ve learned my lesson being wrong over the years. In a game in Alliance, the safe pick is the Purple Raiders.
Pat’s take: Mount Union 16, Wesley 13
I still like Mount Union’s chances of winning with defense, even if they are indeed down to their third-string quarterback. The defense should play well enough, especially the front six, to keep Wesley’s offense in check. I agree this is Wesley’s best chance, but I am not sure that is enough here. Keeping Shane McSweeny contained is the key to stopping the Wesley offense, granted, but I think it’s also time to give the Purple Raiders special teams some shine as well. If Hobart and Kean can put Wesley in bad spots with special teams plays, couldn’t Mount Union also? Enough offense will come. Mount Union can’t score like Linfield or Mary Hardin-Baylor, but won’t need to either.
Can Bethel make the leap past Mount Union and into the Stagg Bowl?
Photo by Scott Pierson, d3photography.com
Well, the day many have been dreading will be dawning here in a few hours. Unless you’re a UW-Whitewater or Mount Union fan, in which case it’s more like wild anticipation. It’s the last chance for anyone to derail a purple-on-purple matchup for the sixth year in a row in the Stagg Bowl.
Bethel and Wesley stand in the way. It’s a great day because it’s the one day a year there’s live video of a Mount Union home football game, and there is live video at Wesley for the second consecutive week.
The folks on the call will be familiar to longtime D3football.com followers. Frank Rossi of D3football.com and Brandon Stewart will call the action from Alliance, Ohio, while D3football’s Gordon Mann and Keith McMillan will have the call from Dover, Del., on NCAA.com.
I’ll be at home buried under a foot of snow again in Minneapolis. However, this week it was planned. And it allows me to set up on both screens and watch both games. Plus I’ll be DVR-ing the Mount Union/Bethel game on DirecTV’s SportsTime Ohio feed.
Opening the floor, and it will be kept up with this week. Sorry about last week, between the traveling and calling the game.
Will Mount Union run away and hide on Saturday? Perhaps not.
Photo by Dan Poel for d3photography.com
Remember the last times these two groupings of teams lined up against one another? Fans of the losing teams would probably rather forget those lopsided outings.
But that was then — long enough ago that it doesn’t matter how those matchups played out. At best, a handful of seniors on Mount Union’s and Bethel’s teams were on the 52-man roster for (and actually played in) the semifinal game from 2007. And then there’s UW-Whitewater and Wesley, which haven’t met in the postseason since 2006.
This is a whole new era for each of the four teams on the field.
So perhaps there will be some new predictions from Pat, Keith and Ryan. Or maybe not. You’ll have to keep reading to find out.
Bethel at Mount Union
Ryan: Mount Union 38, Bethel 14
I can hardly remember the last time a one-dimensional offense fared well against the Purple Raiders. Ironically, maybe it was back in 2004 in the Mount Union loss against Mary Hardin-Baylor. But even then, UMHB needed to have enough skill and composure to complete a long pass in the waning seconds for the win. Can Bethel successfully pass if the going gets tough? The Royals showed they could in an impressive Round 1 against Wartburg. Muster up that kind of outing, and Bethel will have a shot on Saturday. If Bethel puts too much faith in the ground game, Mount Union will be celebrating its 14th consecutive victory.
Keith: Mount Union 14, Bethel 0
I don’t think I’ve ever predicted a shutout before, at least not this deep into the playoffs. And maybe 21-7 is more like it. Or maybe it spirals out of control and my prediction is way wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. But I’m calling a super-low-scoring semifinal because as much as we like to obsess over offensive stars, the back end of the playoffs rewards the team that gets dirtiest and is willing to do the simple things well, like finish blocks and wrap up tackles. Both the Purple Raiders and Royals excel on defense. If Bethel is smart enough to use more than one player to try to limit Cecil Shorts III (59 catches, 16 TD), Mount Union will be able to go to tight end Kyle Miller (54 catches, 5 TD) and wide receiver Jasper Collins (53 catches, 0 TD) for key conversions. Bethel, on the other hand, might end up a one-dimensional running team against a 4-2-5 defense that excels at pursuing to the ball and finishing when they get there. The Royals told our Brian Hunsicker that they don’t send fat guys after the quarterback; Their well-toned rushers better make it to Neal Seaman, who’s hardly needed his uniform washed after some games. Otherwise I think both defenses get their licks in early, and the Purple Raiders emerge with just enough offense to get to Salem.
Pat: Mount Union 24, Bethel 8
Struggling to figure out how Bethel will score, as I suspect my compatriots were. One-dimensional offenses don’t tend to fare too well against Mount Union. In the first meeting with St. Thomas, when Bethel was even more one-dimensional, it wasn’t even Logan Flannery who scored, but Kevin Lindh breaking one open for 52 yards. Mount Union isn’t necessarily the immovable object on defense that the playoffs have portrayed the Purple Raiders as, but the Royals will need to get or create a couple of breaks to put more points on the board. Defensively I see them slowing the Purple Raiders down but not necessarily enough to make more than a dent, although Brendan Flaherty’s reputation as a cover corner will be put to the test against one Cecil Shorts III.
UW-Whitewater at Wesley
Ryan: Wesley 31, UW-Whitewater 27
To come out gun-slinging and not turn the ball over are the best nuggets of advice I can give to Wesley. Wolverines quarterback Justin Sottilare has been wicked-crisp during the postseason: going 63-for-91 (that’s almost 70 percent) with nine touchdowns in that time. And that comes against some solid defenses. The cherry on top might be that Sottilare has also had zero picks in the past three weeks. That’s the playmaker front; Wesley may also be able to harness a bit of an edge in the trenches. The size of the Wolverines’ offensive and defensive lines seems to be better matched than that of their Warhawk counterparts, though it won’t be until we see these teams collide as to whether it’s clear if any speed has been sacrificed in the size differential. To be sure, UW-Whitewater is a top-notch team that could certainly win in Salem for the second year in a row (we’ve all been talking about that for months), but I don’t think of this prediction as going out on a limb — at least not when a team like Wesley also brings so much to the table.
Keith: UW-Whitewater 21, Wesley 16
I’ve been stuck on the same thought since I realized this matchup was taking place: Is this Wesley team significantly different from the the previous three who reached the semifinals and lost, two by blowout at UW-Whitewater? Fans around the country who are tired of seeing Purple in Salem would love to hear a yes, but I think it’s a no. If these Wolverines are better than the ones I picked to win at Mount Union in this round last year, it’s something intangible that I haven’t picked up on. If Wesley wins this Saturday, I don’t think home field is a big factor. It’s Mike Drass and staff vs. Lance Leipold and staff this time, which is a difference from the ’05 and ’06 meetings, when Bob Berezowitz coached the Warhawks. But at this point in the playoffs, every year it comes down to virtually the same thing: What you’ve got up front. And while I have it on good authority that this is Wesley’s most cohesive offensive line, if not it’s most physically talented of the era of Wolverines dominance, I’ve seen both teams this year with my own eyes. UW-Whitewater still does two things most teams can’t: Generate a pass rush using only their defensive line, and bear down and grind out tough rushing yards in the fourth quarter behind their offensive line. Having the nation’s best running back in Levell Coppage doesn’t hurt either. This might be Wesley’s best defense ever, but unless they can win in the trenches more often than not, it’s the same end result.
UW-Whitewater 21, Wesley 16
I’ve resisted making Blanchard plays/Blanchard doesn’t play predictions so far and I’m going to continue to do so even though I feel there is a difference of about a touchdown or so. Having seen UW-Whitewater’s MO on paper the previous two weeks and in person last week, it’s a game plan that should have just as reasonable a chance of succeeding as it did against North Central. Play it fairly close to the vest on offense, wear the other team down, right? Except Wesley isn’t supposed to be as easy to wear down. Here’s where I struggle with Wesley, however — Ellis Krout injured his knee last week against Mary Hardin-Baylor and if he’s not able to go 100 percent, that cuts into one place Wesley has a distinct advantage, its passing game against the UW-Whitewater secondary. Whitewater will have to contain Chris Mayes early after his four sacks in the first half against Mary Hardin-Baylor, as Lee Brekke isn’t as experienced at facing the rush at the college level as LiDarral Bailey was. And this is likely to be an extreme rush. With that in mind I see another low-scoring game, but I still think UWW has enough of the extras aside from the starting 22 to push the balance in its favor — more reliable kicking game, better discipline, and other things that can’t be measured by stats or a roster.
There isn’t a whole lot of intro needed here. We have four phenomenal teams left from a crop of 239. Two will punch tickets to Salem on Saturday, one in sunny Belton, Texas, the other in chilly Alliance, Ohio. And believe it or not, we have unanimity among the trio who’s been forecasting each playoff weekend for you: columnist Ryan Tipps, columnist/managing editor Keith McMillan and publisher Pat Coleman.
After the guys have at it, feel free to add your own picks below. Those brave enough win the opportunity to gloat later.
Wisconsin-Whitewater (12-1) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (12-1)
Ryan’s take: The phrase â€œbruised and batteredâ€ means something different to Mary Hardin-Baylor than it does to other teams. Several times this year, it has seemed the Crusaders were poised to stumble under excessive injuries. Yet instead of tip-toeing through the troubles, they ran past them at full speed, helped by the half-dozen guys who have been able to pick up an average of 5 yards or more per carry. Then again, UW-Whitewater, no slouches on offense, will also likely be the stingiest defense UMHB has lined up against this year. A difference of only 10 yards per game, statistically, separates these two offenses. Both teams have been here before — in terms of time, place and stakes. What could hinder Whitewater is an inability to stay at full throttle for the full 60 minutes, allowing UMHB to pull away after the break.
Mary Hardin-Baylor 38, UW-Whitewater 24
Keith’s take: Usually I’m the long-winded, overly analytical one, but I’ll keep my reasoning simple in this toss-up. I’m making the stretch from picking UMHB to be upset in the first round to picking them to get to Salem, basically based on how they’ve played the past two weeks against Wesley and W&J. They’ve been able to mix the pass in with the always-potent running game, and generate problems on defense. They demolished the Presidents, 63-7, and should be as confident as they have been all season; UW-Whitewater had to battle to get past Wartburg. Playing well, playing at home and playing to keep dreams of the school’s first championship alive, I go:
Mary Hardin-Baylor 28, UW-Whitewater 21
Pat’s take: My concern is that another potent running offense will cause the Warhawks to break rather than just bend. If UMHB is in field goal range it won’t hesitate to take the points, which may have been Willamette’s downfall two weeks ago. The Crusader defense will do a better job early in the game than Willamette did against UWW, plus, I’m still worried about quarterback Jeff Donovan, who is 12-for-29 passing since getting injured at halftime of the second-round game.
Mary Hardin-Baylor 31, UW-Whitewater 20
Wheaton (11-2) at Mount Union (13-0)
Ryan’s take: The Thunder struck hard against the trio of Indiana playoff teams, but Ohio will undoubtedly be a different beast for them. Wheaton is best through the middle of a game: The second and third quarters are their prime times for putting up points and keeping pressure on teams, both of which are critical if the men want any chance of beating the Mount Union machine. For the Thunder, slowing Nate Kmic and getting pressure on Greg Micheli are possible. But is shutting down the receiving corps? That will be the biggest key to Wheaton’s chances in Alliance, and I’m not entirely convinced the team will deliver. Wheaton gives up, on average, 228 yards per game against the pass, but to its credit the team has held its previous two (pass-heavy) playoff opponents to fewer than their averages. At this point in the season, Wheaton is accelerating down the stretch toward perfection — and perfection is exactly what will be needed from them Saturday.
Mount Union 41, Wheaton 17
Keith’s take: I love the run Wheaton is on, I love that they’ve been able to play great defense when needed and outscore teams when that’s been the recipe. Pete Ittersagen is a defensive stud, the offense is mixing the run and the pass well, and the Thunder is playing inspired. That said, we’ve seen hardly the chink in the armor necessary for me to believe Mount Union is going down on Saturday. There are flaws, but they remain few, and I don’t see the Purple Raiders playing a sloppy, turnover-plagued game with Greg Micheli at the controls. It might get dicey at times, it might not be easy, but it will lead to another Purple Saturday in Salem.
Mount Union 35, Wheaton 17
Pat’s take: I just don’t see Wheaton having the firepower to stay with Mount Union, not if Rocky Gingg can’t go at running back. Even if Pete Ittersagen keeps Cecil Shorts in check, it’s a tough task for Wheaton to keep the Purple Raiders’ other offensive pieces contained if the offense doesn’t help by keeping them off the field. In the end, this game looks a lot like last week’s Mount Union game, close for a while with the Purple Raiders pulling away. And I think Nate Kmic gets the all-time NCAA rushing record in the process.
Mount Union 45, Wheaton 14