Division-III Football Playoffs: Widener College vs. Muhlenberg College
Match-up: On Saturday at noon PM Eastern Time the Widener College Pride (Middle Atlantic Conference, 10-0, 9-0) will play host to the Muhlenberg College Mules (Centennial Conference, 9-1, 8-1) in Chester, PA in the first round of the NCAA Division-III Football playoffs. Both teams are ranked in the top 25 in the latest D3Football poll, with Widener coming in at No. 11 and Muhlenberg at No. 25.
Coaches: Mike Kelly is in his first year as head coach of the Widener Pride, although he has plenty of head coaching experience. Coach Kelly was the head coach at Division-II school Valdosta State University from 1997-1999 where he went 16-15. In 2007 he went north of the border where he coached the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League to a 7-11 record. The Widener Coach has had stints in the NFL as an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, and New York Giants.
Mike Donnelly is in his 18th season as the head coach of the Muhlenberg Mules, where he has compiled a career mark of 123-68. Coach Donnelly is the winningest coach in school history and is making his seventh trip to the NCAA Division-III playoffs. He has two career wins in the post-season.
The Muhlenberg Mules are led by outstanding sophomore quarterback Nick Palladino. While in his first season as the team’s starting QB, Palladino has quickly established himself as one of the dominant passers in Division-III. He finished the regular season with 2610 yards and 23 touchdown passes, with a very impressive 68.3 completion percentage. He also finished with an equally impressive 154.5 passer efficiency.
Freshman running back Max Cepeda leads the charge on the ground. He finished with 944 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, with a yards per carry average of 5.0. Cepeda and Palladino are making the Mules an impressive team already, and Muhlenberg is likely to be scary good for the next couple of years.
Four Mules receivers caught at least 42 passes. Cody Geyer led the team with 53 catches for 748 yards and 2 touchdowns. Michael Long was close behind with 49 catches for 541 yards, and he led the team with 8 touchdowns. Ryan Delaney added 44 catches, 424 yards and 4 TDs, and Nick Lamb made 42 catches for 490 yards and 6 scores. This is an offense that requires opponents to have a quality secondary or they will get burned.
Senior linebacker Ian Gimber leads the team with 66 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He is a resilient force who flows perfectly from side to side and can attack the quarterback. Gimber is joined by junior linebacker Lenny Smith and senior Jeremey Thomas to form quite an outstanding linebacking corps. Smith was second on the team in tackles with 56 and Thomas finished third with 48 and added 4.5 sacks.
The Mules defense has recorded 31 sacks on the season, and added 10 interceptions. Twelve players recorded at least one sack during the season, and Chris Flynn led the team with 3 interceptions.
The Widener Pride have their own hot shot sophomore passer in Seth Klein. The Widener QB has thrown for 2567 yards and 29 touchdowns. He has a solid 61.4 completion percentage, and is a guy who makes excellent decisions with the football, only throwing 3 interceptions on the season. Klein has a 175.8 passer efficiency, which is ranked ninth in the country.
Senior Terrant Morrison is just 5-7, but he is 190 pounds and is quite a load to try to bring down. The senior ran for 831 yards and 6 touchdowns, and he recorded a 5.8 yards per carry average. Couve LaFate is his backup, and he ran for 331 yards and three scores.
Seven players caught at least 13 passes during the regular season, but senior wide out Anthony Davis was Klein’s favorite target by far. The senior caught 54 passes, 35 more than the next highest amount on the team, for 963 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is extremely quick and spreads the field, averaging 17.8 yards per catch.
Senior linebackers Brandon Harper and Kevin Burns lead the Pride defense in tackles with 68 each. Harper added 3 sacks and Burns 3.5. Both players are excellent at getting involved in plays and also are ferocious about tackling. The two linebackers love to hit and it shows.
The Widener defense is unbelievable at causing opponents to make mistakes. They had 40 sacks in the regular season, led by senior defensive lineman Tyler Glover’s 9. At 6-0, 210 he is quite a bit undersized to be playing defensive line, but he has a motor that has no off switch, and he forces himself into plays. The kind of pressure they create forces teams to make mistakes, and 21 interceptions and 12 forced fumbles proves that. Teams thought they could throw against sophomore Sean Titus, and have learned what a bad plan that was. He has 9 interceptions, which is second in Division-III.
Muhlenberg: 431.5 yards per game. 38.6 points per game
Widener: 465.3 yards per game, 40.5 points per game
Muhlenberg: 268.7 yards per game, 15.2 points allowed per game
Widener: 279.4 yards per game, 11.9 points allowed per game
Outlook: This is an exciting matchup of two sophomore quarterbacks who have great still and an incredible cast around them. Both teams have solid running games, and the receiving corps of both teams shows skill and a great ability to get open and make plays. For many reasons I like Muhlenberg in this matchup, but the Widener Pride defense is just brutal. I see turnovers being a key to this game, and so I will take the Pride, 37-24.
By Robert Pannier