Around the Nation Podcast 208: Going for 2

We love a gutsy call. Sure, our job isn’t being put on the line when a coach makes the decision to go for two at the end of a key game, but this is Division III — the coach’s job isn’t really on the line on one play call. We love a little gamble, especially when it pays off. Whether you call a Philly Special (or something that looks similar but fools the broadcaster) or something else, rolling the dice and getting it makes for a great highlight. So, for Marietta and Simpson, which chose to go for two, or Wittenberg, which had no choice, it was a big Week 5, and Pat and Keith honor that by going for two with the Around the Nation Podcast.

Plus, the Little Brass Bell went back home with the team it came with, nobody was trapping Mary Hardin-Baylor or Hardin-Simmons, UW-Whitewater wore UW-La Crosse out and just maybe The Streak is in play this year. Teams mentioned: Denison, Wittenberg, Simpson, Wartburg, Marietta, Ohio Northern, Wheaton, North Central, Hardin-Simmons, Mary Hardin-Baylor, UW-La Crosse, UW-Whitewater, Linfield, Whitworth, Muhlenberg, Franklin & Marshall, St. Thomas, Concordia-Moorhead, Case Western Reserve, Illinois Wesleyan, Susquehanna, Dickinson, Greenville, Westminster (Mo.), Dubuque, Loras, Wisconsin Lutheran, Rockford, Methodist, Huntingdon, Wesley, Southern Virginia, Martin Luther, St. Scholastica, Brockport, St. John Fisher, Worcester State, Fitchburg State, Louisiana College, Sul Ross State, Millsaps, Husson, SUNY-Maritime, FDU-Florham, Misericordia, Dean, Finlandia, Olivet, Moravian, Gettysburg.

That and more on the Around the Nation Podcast. The Around the Nation Podcast is a regular conversation between Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan and guests covering the wide range of Division III football. 

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Photo: Video frame grab of Simpson’s two-point conversion to win the game. Note that this frame isn’t intended to try to show whether he got a foot down inbounds, but to show that the line judge is in a better position to make the call than any of us are.

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Triple Take: Going down the rabbit hole

From a huge rivalry game to a couple of stellar Top 25 matchups, there’s no shortage of things to keep an eye on this week among Division III’s elite.

But if you read our Around the Region columns and listen to the ATN Podcast, you already know how deep the rabbit hole goes with all the stories, teams and players that make up small-college football. There so much more going on than what will fit in this Triple Take space, but Pat Coleman (@d3football), Keith McMillan (@D3Keith) and Ryan Tipps (@NewsTipps) break down the week ahead and some of the games that are on our radars.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Wesley at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Two Top 5 teams. Perennial deep playoff runs. History of great clashes. New UMHB stadium. New Crusader starting quarterback. Wolverines coming off hail mary win. Saturday under the lights. Pick your reason why this game will be exciting. There’s no wrong answer.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Wesley at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor. Given that I already wrote about that here though, perhaps some fresh thoughts on No. 22 Cal Lutheran at No. 3 Linfield will suffice? Pacific Lutheran rushed for 234 yards against CLU last week, and Linfield ran for nearly 300 against Hardin-Simmons, including more than 150 from quarterbacks. The Kingsmen, tied at 24, couldn’t get off the field during PLU’s game-winning drive. Linfield might keep it on the ground at key times and eke out yet another win over its class-of-the-West-Coast rival.
Pat’s take: No. 5 Wesley at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor. Normally we try not to repeat games but let’s be honest, this is it. Once upon a time the Tommie-Johnnie game could have measured up or Linfield-Cal Lutheran, but not this year.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Sul Ross State at Trinity.
It’s a bit hard to get a handle on the Lobos since they have yet to take the field against a D-III opponent. Their ability to get a rushing game going against the Tigers’ mid-range run defense will be the key to Sul Ross getting points on the board and staying in this one.
Keith’s take: Louisiana College at Huntingdon. If it was billed as top-level ASC team against team picked to finish middle of USAC, it might sound like it won’t be close, but this will be. The Wildcats and Hawks are each off to very good starts (Huntingdon won 35-7 at ASC member Mississippi College on Sept. 14, and LC has two wins over NAIA teams). The Wildcats dominated Webber International statistically last week, but needed to cap a 16-play drive with the game-winning touchdown with 29 seconds left, partially because 12 penalties for 171 yards set them back. Huntingdon had eight penalties of its own, and completed just 15 passes last week, so unless both teams clean up their acts, the game could stay close because both sides’ miscues keep the other in it.
Pat’s take: Redlands at No. 11 Pacific Lutheran. This game will not be as far apart as a game between a near-Top 10 team and a team not quite receiving votes would expect to be. Both teams have been tested early, and Redlands could well be up to the task.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 23 Baldwin Wallace.
I could see the Yellow Jackets’ game against John Carroll coming down to which offense has the ball last. Both teams put up some wild offensive stats in their first games, and Baldwin Wallace has the most to lose as the team surely has its eyes on a conference prize if Mount Union shows any bit of vulnerability in the next few weeks.
Keith’s take: No major upsets. Wesley and Cal Lutheran won’t count as upsets if they lose to higher-ranked top-25 teams. I’m intrigued by Redlands at No. 11 Pacific Lutheran, Albright hosting No. 21 Delaware Valley and the two top-25 games involving OAC teams, but I wouldn’t pick them in writing.
Pat’s take: No. 21 Delaware Valley. You’d have to believe that Albright is gong to come out more than a little fired up and focused after losing to Stevenson last week and putting the Mustangs … say, on the radar. Albright might not win the MAC this season, but they’re talented enough to knock off a contender, especially one coming to Reading.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Stevenson.
The Mustangs are carrying a solid opening set into this Friday night matchup against FDU-Florham. I’ll be interested to see how well they can hang onto the ball after Florham showed last week that it likes to pressure teams into making turnovers. The Devils edged out TCNJ in a low-scoring game thanks primarily to forcing five of them. Stevenson, in only its third year, could prove this week and in the next couple that it is a team ready to contend.
Keith’s take: Ohio Wesleyan. Two of last year’s surprise teams, not just in the NCAC but nationally, meet this week when Kenyon hosts the Battling Bishops. OWU would seem to have the edge, with a week off since its season-opening win over Bluffton and the Lords coming off a 25-15 loss at Earlham in which they gained only 221 yards. With both teams playing Wabash and Wittenberg this season, I’m looking for something to indicate whether QB Mason Espinosa and OWU will be a contender for a conference title. Hey, let’s keep it in the NCAC …
Pat’s take: Hiram. No, seriously. Readers of Kickoff know why I say so — they have a transfer quarterback who played at Notre Dame … even if it is the Division II school in Ohio. Rob Partridge is listed as a freshman in the Terriers’ stats, but don’t let that fool you: He’s actually a senior. And with that experience, he’s going to have Hiram in a lot more games than it would have been in last year. If he plays, that is, since he didn’t finish last week’s game at Denison.

Which 0-2 team will earn its first win?
Ryan’s take: Kean.
While the final score last week appears to have been a thorough beating at the hands of Mary Hardin-Baylor, it belies the closeness of the matchup at halftime, when UMHB had just a 3-0 lead. The Crusaders, of course, made adjustments under center and elsewhere, and took off from there, but the fact that Kean was able to hang with such a good team for such a long time and force a couple of turnovers has to give them confidence going up against Endicott this week.
Keith’s take: Salisbury. The Gulls might take the frustration of losing to two top-25 teams by a total of 10 points out on N.C. Wesleyan. It’s a new season and all, and a fresh coaching staff for the (other) Battling Bishops, but Salisbury won 69-6 at home last year.
Pat’s take: Susqhenanna. In a matchup of 0-2 teams, I take Susquehanna over Dickinson. It’s puzzling how poorly Dickinson has been playing so far this season, while Susquehanna has at least looked decent in one game, at Merchant Marine in the season opener.

Which team is far topping your expectations?
Ryan’s take: Juniata.
You have to go back at least a decade to find a season in which the Eagles have started 2-0. And while coach and Juniata grad Tim Launtz showed last season, in his sophomore year at the helm, that he is serious about turning the team around, he’s following through with that goal splendidly this fall. The next couple weeks could be bumpy for Juniata, with Gettysburg this week then Franklin and Marshall and Johns Hopkins, but there’s a lot for these players to be happy about. Junior quarterback Ward Udinski has 634 passing yards in just two games, with more than 100 yards rushing. This is a team that could sneak up on some of the top teams in the conference if they let their guard down.
Keith’s take: Olivet. I listed a handful of mildly surprising 2-0 teams in Off the Beaten Path, and the Comets get more acknowledgement here not just for winning at Wilmington and then beating Wisconsin Lutheran so far. It’s that there’s no reason it should stop. This week’s opponent, Rockford, is 0-2 and 2-30 since the start of the 2010 season, and 0-2 North Park and 0-2 Alma follow.
Pat’s take: Emory and Henry. So far, at least. Not just beating Ferrum, but crushing them, and then beating Maryville as well. Even though the ODAC has generally owned the USA South in recent years, that’s a convincing butt-kicking of the Panthers. And even though E&H generally beats Ferrum soundly in Emory, it’s still a bit of a surprise to me because I was thinking E&H was on a bit of a downslide.

Color me red.
Ryan’s take: Olivet.
This is another one of those teams that could fall under “far topping my expectations,” but since their uniforms are Scarlet, I get an opportunity to talk about them in this category instead. The Comets have already notched their best season in years. And with Rockford and North Park over the next two weeks before MIAA play begins, it’s no stretch to think Olivet could be 4-0 and looking to rattle some conference cages behind Braden Black at quarterback and his go-to receiver, Dan Hugan. The weakness in their armor, though, is the pass defense (statistically 211th in Division III), which will need to improve if Olivet hopes to take this success to the next level.
Keith’s take: Bates. Hey Ryan, my bad for using Olivet, didn’t know you’d be shooting stars down here when I wrote that. (See what I did there?) Maybe I should have given 2-0 Hope some love instead. The good folks in Michigan will appreciate the Olivet nods, but anyway, Bates … So yeah, the NESCAC gets underway this week, and the Bobcats get conference favorite Trinity right off the bat. I’m responsible for a portion of the Bantams’ also receiving votes in the top 25, so I’m not picking Bates so much as I’m watching to see signs that last year’s 5-3 season was no fluke. Jeff Hetzel and Damon Hatheway were high on Bates in Kickoff, and assuming that quarterback battle is settled, we’ll get an indication of whether that 6-2 prediction could be on the money.
Pat’s take: UW-River Falls. After a close loss to St. John’s and a non-embarrassing loss to No. 2 St. Thomas, it’s time for UW-River Falls to hit the road. While that involves something different than the first two games at home did, I think River Falls will be just a bit on the rise this season.

Triple Take: The final 4 – weeks, that is

Tevin Mitchell ran for 162 yards and a touchdown for Hardin-Simmons at Linfield. Can he do something similar against another top five team?
HSU athletics photo by

We talk a lot about the scholar-athletes the Division III level — the ones who skillfully balance sports and study, who are held to the same standard in the classroom as every other student and who don’t tweet about being in college for football first and everything else second.

Next week, the National Football Foundation will announce the winners of its National Scholar-Athlete Award, and more than three dozen Division III players are semifinalists. This week in Triple Take, we touch on but three of those many players and their teams, while also giving you prospects for big turnarounds and Top 25 upsets.

With just four weeks of the regular season left to go, here’s what Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps have to say.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 21 Alfred at No. 7 Salisbury.
“Pound the rock” will be the mantra of Saturday. Salisbury comes in averaging nearly 284 yards a game on the ground, while Alfred respectably nears that mark with 220. And, predictably, both are great, great, great at stopping a rushing attack. This E8 battle will be won in the trenches, and because each team already has a loss, they’re in danger of being on the precarious playoff bubble should they be defeated a second time.
Keith’s take: No. 10 UW-Oshkosh at No. 5 UW-Whitewater. Oh snap, I’m choosing before Pat this week, out of the traditional Triple Take order. So at least I didn’t have to fight with him over getting to pick this game, because its G.O.T.W. credentials are thick. Best two teams in the strongest conference. The Titans, who have never so much as been to the playoffs, are playing perhaps the biggest game in program history. The three-time defending champions are playing to keep alive their chance to defend: The Warhawks are unlikely to make the playoffs with two losses. It’s not like the Warhawks, with the nation’s No. 1 rushing defense (29 yards/game) and No. 3 overall and scoring defense (211.5 yards, 7.3 points/game) are even playing poorly. And that rush defense matches up with Oshkosh’s strength. The Titans, No. 10 in total offense and No. 12 in total defense, rush for 296 yards per game. We know QB Nate Wara, but maybe we should get familiar with Cole Myhra, Zack Kasuboski and Caleb Voss as well. The best thing for the WIAC is two 9-1 playoff teams, but the Titans don’t care, and will probably have a lot of variety-seeking fans from across the land on Saturday.
Pat’s take: No. 10 UW-Oshkosh at No. 5 UW-Whitewater. Doesn’t matter. Usually we do try to pick three different games but every once in a while the game dictates otherwise. Keith has been down the key battles in this game already so I’ll remind people how this game went down last year: At UW-Oshkosh, the Titans went up 17-10 just before halftime after an 80-yard drive. Whitewater answered near the end of the third quarter to tie it up and rode Levell Coppage hard on a fourth-quarter drive, keeping the ball on the ground for all nine plays, six by Coppage and three by quarterback Matt Blanchard. They settled for a 17-yard Eric Kindler field goal to take a 20-17 lead with 1:18 left. Nate Wara drove Oshkosh into Whitewater territory but his fourth-down pass was intercepted in the end zone by Ryan Wenkman, allowing the Warhawks to hold on for the win. Oshkosh fans may remember what happened the next week (although they may have successfully blocked it out): The Titans lost to UW-La Crosse, 30-24, ending any hope of a playoff bid.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Susquehanna at Ursinus.
The Bears have spent the past couple of weeks beating up on the more winless teams in the Centennnial, so it should be a concern that not only are they going up against a team that is more fundamentally solid than the others but also one that allows an average of just 148 passing yards a game. Ursinus will have to find a way to play without its greatest strength.
Pat’s take: Hardin-Simmons at No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor.  It will be interesting to see what Hardin-Simmons can do against its longtime conference rival. The Cowboys haven’t beaten the Cru since 2004, but they have been competitive against two Top 25 teams they’ve played this year, including No. 3 Linfield. So even though the Cowboys have been on a losing streak against the American Southwest Conference’s heavyweight, they shouldn’t be intimidated.
Keith’s take: Concordia-Moorhead at Augsburg. I’m violating the spirit of the category here, but I wanted to make sure we acknowledge this game. It’ll be surprisingly low scoring, as the Auggies put up 470 yards and 38 points a game, but face a Cobbers defense that allows just 259 yards and 17.3. Both teams are 5-1 and need this win, to avoid falling further behind Bethel or St. Thomas.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Widener.
In facing the only other team with an unblemished MAC record, it should be of very little surprise that the Pride will have its hands full. Lycoming biggest strength is its defense, one that has held its past five opponents to 14 or fewer points each outing. That unit is adept at making plays behind the line of scrimmage, which means the Widener offensive line will need to give quarterback Chris Haupt time to make decisions. Doing so will let the team move the ball and, with a win, move up the rankings.
Pat’s take: No. 12 Illinois Wesleyan. I admit Wheaton (Ill.) is not as strong as it has been in the past, but I think the jury remains out on Illinois Wesleyan at the moment until this game. The six teams the Titans have played so far are a combined 14-24, while the three other contenders in the CCIW are left on the schedule. And as we pointed out in this week’s podcast, IWU hasn’t won at Wheaton since 1996. This could well be the year, but until that happens, I’ll wait and see.
Keith’s take: No. 12 Illinois Wesleyan. I hate to pile on. I very nearly took No. 11 Hobart and No. 17 Rowan here, but I think they each have the defense necessary to hold off high-powered offenses from RPI and Cortland State. Both teams are on the road, making those picks even more intriguing. No. 24 St. John Fisher is on a two-game slide, but so is their opponent, Ithaca. I could have backed Ryan’s pick as well, as Lycoming has a shot. Simpson, Gettysburg and Pacific Lutheran will give top 25 teams a game, but in the end, for reasons explained below under 180, this was the pick I felt most comfortable with. IWU has a great defense as well (No. 8 nationally) but Wheaton (No. 10) can match it, plus it can score. And yes I expect we’ll hear a lot of chirping from Bloomington if the Titans do what they’re supposed to do and play like the No. 12 team in the country. Whatevs. We can dish it out and we can take it.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Chapman.
All of the hype in the SCIAC goes to Top 10-ranked Cal Lutheran. But the Panthers have quietly plowed their way to a 4-1 season and stand ready to line up against perennial conference threat Redlands this weekend. With four games to go, Chapman has already tied its win total from each of the past three seasons. Things are looking up for this squad.
Pat’s take: Lycoming. The Warriors and Widener have played some memorable games in the past, including last year, when the Warriors stormed back from a 31-0 deficit to cute the score to 31-28 with 1:56 before an onside kick attempt failed. Keith and I could each regale you with stories of great Widener-Lycoming games we’ve covered in the past. Their meetings haven’t all been stunners, but many of them have. I look forward to another.
Keith’s take: Allegheny. One week they’re beating Wabash, the next they’re losing at Chicago. Both of the Gators’ losses are to UAA teams, which means they’re in control of the NCAC, for now, alongside fellow surprise Ohio Wesleyan. They’re on my radar because they face a serious challenge, at home against Wittenberg, but also because they’re 4-2 with the 229th-best offense in the nation. The Gators, whose defense is top 50 but not putting up carry-the-offense numbers, have somehow managed to keep scores low with a negative turnover margin and an offense that rushes for 115.5 yards a game — and that’s the strong suit (The Gators pass for 114.5 yards per). Are they a team that finds ways to win, or one whose luck is about to run out?

Which National Scholar-Athlete Award semifinalist and his team are you seeing walking away with a win this weekend?
Ryan’s take: Rowan and Chris Popper.
Folks are hard-pressed to find years when the NJAC was a cut-and-dried race to the playoffs. The past two seasons, no team has escaped conference play unscathed. Which makes this weekend’s game between Cortland State and Rowan a big one. They represent two of the three teams undefeated in NJAC play, and it would surprise no one if the race to the top got messy. Popper, a senior defensive lineman, will play his role as part of a stout unit that will be called upon to put pressure on the Red Dragons’ quarterback and slow their potent run game.
Pat’s take: Washington U. and Dan Burkett. Although the Wash U offense has struggled this season and Burkett, a senior quarterback, didn’t play in the Bears’ last game, against Wabash, I have to give props to the program, which produced the last Division III winner of this award, Brandon Roberts, in the 2002 season. The name of the trophy was different but the mission of the so-called “Academic Heisman” was the same. The Bears will be at Denison on Saturday, which has its own Campbell Trophy semifinalist: defensive lineman Nat Kell.
Keith’s take: Mount Union and Nick Driskill. I guess it’s a layup, or to stay sport-consistent, a wide-open bomb. We ignore Mount Union so often on the assumption they’re going to win, and the Purple Raiders rarely ever let us down. Still we should point out that Otterbein is the first opponent with a winning record the Mount Union is facing this season, so I expect the unscored upon streak to bite the dust. Driskill — as perhaps the best player on the nation’s best defense — will have a hand in slowing down Cardinals WR Trey Fairchild, and the Purple Raiders win comfortably.

Which team with two or more losses is worth watching?
Ryan’s take: Hardin-Simmons.
Count me among the camp always keeping a close eye on the Cowboys. After starting the season with losses against two currently undefeated NWC teams (Willamette and Linfield), HSU has swept through the bottom half of the ASC with ease. But Saturday, with Mary Hardin-Baylor on the docket, marks a return to the caliber of opponent they faced early in the season. The rushing defense probably isn’t strong enough to slow UMHB, so the Cowboys will have to rely on their aerial attack and hope they come out on the right side of a shootout.
Keith’s take: Sul Ross State. Or Louisiana College. Take your pick, since they play each other in Alpine, Texas, and could be fringe playoff candidates despite their five combined losses. The Lobos lost two a pair of D-II teams, which has a minimal effect on D-III playoff positioning, and both teams got blown out by ASC leader and No. 2 team in the country, Mary Hardin-Baylor. LC also lost by a field goal to No. 6 Wesley in a non-conference clash. The Wildcats have put up gaudy offensive numbers in previous seasons the way Sul Ross State is doing now, and it hasn’t served them well enough. Now they’ve got a top 35 defense, and they’ll need it against A.J. Springer, Dominique Carson and the No. 1 offense in the country. The Lobos are a risky bunch though. That top-ranked offense is backed by a defense that ranks dead last — 239th — overall and against the pass. They gain 574 yards per game and allow 575. They surrender more than 50 points more per game than No. 1 defense Mount Union, so LC’s offensive stars, led by RB Ryan Montague, have got to be licking their chops.
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. Now, perhaps not this week, but don’t write off the Aggies for the MAC title. This week’s home game against first-year program Misericordia will be a walk in the park, but it will be a good respite before the Aggies visit Lebanon Valley next week. If Widener beats Lycoming this week and the teams win through to Week 11, Delaware Valley and Widener will have a winner-take-all game for the MAC automatic bid to close the season.

Which team will turn the biggest 180 from last week?
Ryan’s take: Christopher Newport.
The Captains stumbled to their first conference loss in two years and in the process gave USA South newcomer LaGrange a great big reason to smile. Averett won’t be stepping off the field in the same kind of happy mood. Expect CNU to loose some heavy artillery as the conference is logjammed with five teams tied at 2-1.
Keith’s take: Wheaton. The Thunder is five points from being unbeaten, but has losses to Albion and Elmhurst. After piling up 596 yards of offense against the Bluejays and turning it over only twice, Wheaton probably still can’t figure out how it lost. By now, it’s over last week and has its focus on No. 12 Illinois Wesleyan, who has played the Thunder to a close game around the 20s (24-19, 29-19 and 20-17) for three consecutive years, winning twice. This time it’s Wheaton’s turn to be the underdog and spring the upset, and the stats and standings here probably belie how close these teams are. The Titans have played great defense to date, but haven’t seen an offense like Wheaton’s.
Pat’s take: Louisiana College. The Wildcats are going to go from scoring three points in Week 7 against Mary Hardin-Baylor to somewhere in the 40s … or higher … against Sul Ross State. Regardless of whether Louisiana College wins, the Wildcats should have a lot more success on offense.