NCAA Division-III Football Playoffs Semifinals: Welsey vs. Mount Union
Matchup: On Saturday at noon Eastern Time the Mount Union Purple Raiders will take on the Wesley College Wolverines at Mount Union Stadium in Alliance, OH, in the semifinals of the Division-III Football playoffs. This is a matchup of the No. 3 Purple Raiders and the No. 4 Wolverines from the final regular season D3Football poll.
Mount Union is the winner of the Ohio Athletic Conference, going 10-0 in the regular season, 9-0 in their conference. Mount Union dominated their first two games of the playoffs, beating Adrian 63-3 in the first round, and Washington and Jefferson 67-0 in the second. Last weekend they defeated arch-rival John Carroll 36-28.
Wesley was the lone independent team entering the playoffs after going 9-1 in the regular season. They have rolled over all three of their post-season opponents so far, beating Hampden-Sydney 52-7 in the first round, MIT 59-0 in the second, and Hobart 41-13 in the third. Their average margin of victory is 44.0 points.
Mount Union Offense vs. Wesley Defense
Mount Union Offense: 59.5 points per game, 288.7 yards rushing per game, 306.0 yards passing per game.
Wesley Defense: 10.2 points allowed per game, 71.1 yards rushing allowed per game, 157.1 yards passing allowed per game.
Wesley Offense vs. Mount Union Defense
Wesley Offense: 51.5 points per game, 183.8 yards per game rushing, 302.2 yards per game passing.
Mount Union Defense: 8.4 points allowed per game, 85.3 yards rushing allowed per game, 132.2 yards passing allowed per game.
Quarterback: Kevin Burke vs. Joe Callahan
Burke is a senior and has proven that he is in the elite class of Division-III quarterbacks. He is last season’s D3Football Offensive Player of the Year, and the 2013 Gagliardi Trophy award winner. This season he has delivered again, passing for 3674 yards in 13 games, with 42 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. His total yards passing are second behind Callahan, but he is No. 1 in passer efficiency. Burke is poised and incredibly intelligent. He doesn’t hurt his team with mistakes, and is as good a leader as a team could ask for. The senior can also make plays with his legs, rushing for 468 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Callahan is first in yards passing in the nation with 3750 and is third in the country in passer efficiency. The junior has thrown for 45 touchdowns, ranked No. 1, and he too is incredibly accurate with a 66.2 percent completion rating. This season he set all kinds of school records including: completions, yards passing, passer efficiency, touchdowns, and completion percentage.
Analysis: These are the two best quarterbacks in Division-III football, and so the matchup between them should be incredible. Either of these quarterbacks can dominate a game, and it should be expected that they will both play a significant role in this contest. Edge: Even.
Running Backs: Bradley Mitchell, Logan Nemeth, Jamal Johnson vs. Jamar Baynard, Ben Martin
Mitchell is only a sophomore, but has proven he is an outstanding back. He has rushed for 1051 yards on 135 carries. The sophomore has scored 18 touchdowns, ranked eighth in the country, and he has an amazing 7.8 yards per carry average. He is a bit small at 5-6, 165, but has proven that great things come in small packages. Nemeth backs up Mitchell and is a load in himself. The 5-9, 195 pound back has gained 722 yards on the ground with 8 touchdowns, and he also has an outstanding yards per carry average of 7.3. Johnson is a freshman, but has incredible speed and can leave most defenders in the dust. He has played in just 8 games this season, but has proven what a force he can be, rushing for 557 yards on just 62 carries for a 9.0 yards per carry average.
Wesley uses two sophomores to lead their ground attack. Baynard has 840 yards on the ground with 11 touchdowns, while Martin has 613 yards with 5 touchdowns. Martin has an outstanding yards per carry average of 9.0, while Baynard chimes in at 4.3. Baynard is a duel threat out of the backfield, catching 38 balls for 572 yards.
Analysis: Sophomores lead both teams’ rushing attacks. Mitchell is clearly the most dangerous of the group, and gives the Purple Raiders a clear advantage. Edge: Mount Union.
Receivers: Taurice Scott, Roman Namdar, Luc Meacham, Sherman Wilkinson vs. Steve Koudossou, Bryce Shade, Kyle George
Scott and Namdar are a dangerous duel threat. Scott leads Mount Union with 65 catches for 887 yards and 9 TDs. Namdar is the team leader in yards receiving (1106) and touchdown receptions (17), plus he had 60 catches. These two are incredibly dangerous, and pose a challenge for any secondary. Meacham and Wilkinson each scored 6 touchdowns, and combined for 74 receptions and 1195 yards.
Koudossou is an incredible talent at the receiver position. He has 63 receptions for 1295 yards, an amazing 20.6 yards per catch average, and 16 touchdowns. He has great speed and knows how to get separation. Shade is second on the team with 43 catches for 437 yards, and George was third in catches with 40 and second in yards with 584.
Analysis: Mount Union has the deeper group of receivers, but Koudossou is a real difference maker. He may be the best receiver in the Division-III football. Edge: Slight edge to Wesley.
The loss of senior Matt Keith was a huge one for Mount Union, but this is still an outstanding offensive line. Senior Alex Goff is a load at 6-4, 300 pounds, and 6-2, 345 pound sophomore Troy Vazquez-Atkins is a space maker. This is a very athletic and quick group with good size and a lot of experience.
Seniors Alex Niezgoda and Ryan Moore anchor this line, along with juniors Temi Adebayo and Matthew Schmidt. There is a lot of youth behind them, but they are all very talented and have proven that they can make space for their running backs and protect Callahan.
Analysis: The loss of Keith really hurts, but overall Mount Union is still slightly better. Edge: Slight edge to Mount Union.
Mount Union’s leading tackler is junior safety Alex Kocheff. He can do it all; cover, rush the quarterback, play the run, tackle well. Kocheff is just a ball hawk, who has 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 interceptions this season. Cody Pogorelc, Nick Rodriquez, Tre Jones, Joshua Scott, and Wil Hiteshue all get time in this secondary, with Jones leading the team with 5 interceptions. Each member of this group can cover and tackle well, and they all play sound within the scheme.
Wesley has a quality group of defensive backs, led by cornerback Derrick Bender and FS Leroy Cheatham. Bender is the one who teams attempt to pick on, because opposite him is Leon Jones, who is quick and reacts well when the ball is in the air. Bender is no slouch though, intercepting three passes this season and breaking up nine others.
Analysis: Wesley has a good secondary, but Mount Union has a great one. Both groups play smart and make plays, but the Purple Raiders squad is better in all facets of the game. Edge: Mount Union.
Mount Union has a quality group of linebackers, led by Hank Spencer and Jonathan Gonell. Spencer is the better all-around player, who can cover backs and tight ends, but Gonell is the bigger hitter. Junior Leshawn Luke is a quality linebacker.
The Linebacker corps of the Wolverines is outstanding. Sosethene Kapepula continues to make a huge impact in these playoffs, and is very hard for offenses to stop. He has 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, and 3 interceptions. He is the Wesley equivalent of Mount Union FS Kocheff; a high-motor guy who can play all facets of the game well. Jordan Wescott is an outstanding linebacker who is better along the line of scrimmage. He moves well from side to side. Matt Capetola, Julian Jones, and Luke Maginnis are very good defenders with skill.
Analysis: Mount Union has an outstanding group of linebackers, but the front seven of Wesley is the heart of their squad. They get great play out of this group, and Kapepula is a difference maker. Edge: Wesley
Tom Lally, Josh Butler, and Mike Furda are all relentless in their pursuit of the quarterback. Lally is the biggest of the three at 6-2, 260, and plays well inside to contain the run. He is joined by Charlie Avila, who at 5-11, 265 help to slow down the running attack of most teams. Furda has an incredibly high-motor, leading the team with 7.5 sacks. Lally and Butler each have 4.5
DT Payton Rose and DEs Roderick Caine and Aamir Petrose help to form arguably the best defensive line in Division-III. The two ends have 20.5 sacks, led by Petrose with 12, and Rose adds 4 more of his own. He has also batted down 16 passes, and Petrose has knocked down 13 attempts.
Analysis: No offense to the Purple Raiders, but the Wolverines have three guys who dominate games up front. Edge: Wesley
For Mount Union, Edward Ruhnke has made 25 of 29 field goal attempts, with his long being a 47-yarder. He is also their punter, averaging 34.0 yards per punt, with 17 of this 34 kicks being downed inside the 20. Taurice Scott is an outstanding kick returner, averaging 38.6 yards per return with one touchdown. Tim Kennedy is the primary punt returner. He has 44 returns for an outstanding 14.6 average.
Eric Speidel has a 91 percent success rate on field goals, but he has only been asked to kick 11, making 10 of them. Junior Nick Miller has a 34.7 average per punt, with two downed inside the 20. Bryce Shade leads the team in kick returns with a 24.1 average and one touchdown return, and Robert Wiggs leads the team with 44 punt returns for a 14.7 yards per return average.
Analysis: The Mount Union group has been outstanding in every aspect of special teams. Edge: Mount Union
Coaches: Vince Kehres vs. Mike Drass
In just his second season at the helm, Kehres has quickly established himself as one of the best coaches in the country. His team was in the national championship game last season, and he is 27-1 as a coach. Kehres is a smart coach, who makes adjustments and gets the most out of his team.
Drass is in his 22nd season running the Wolverines, and with a win on Saturday he will have 200 career wins (199-53-1). This is the 10th straight season that the team is in the playoffs. Drass is a brilliant tactician and has his team playing as well as anyone in the country.
Analysis: It’s hard to say that one of these coaches is better than the other, so I won’t. Edge: Even.
Outlook: A 4-0 prediction in the quarterfinals makes me 24-4 for these playoffs. Both teams have shown that they can dominate games, and this is going to be a matchup that college football fans love. Two outstanding quarterbacks, great coaching, outstanding defenses, and great skill players should make this one an instant classic. I love that front seven for Wesley, but I think Mount Union has the clear advantage in the secondary where I think this game is going to be won. Take Mount Union and their field goal kicker in a close one, 27-24.
Tomorrow the Minor League Sports Report will preview the Wisconsin-Whitewater – Linfield game.
By Robert Pannier