NCAA Division-III Playoffs: Huntingdon vs. Wheaton
The No. 12 Wheaton Thunder will play host to the No. 25 ranked Huntingdon Hawks on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. Wheaton enters as an at-large bid after finishing second in the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW), going 7-1 in the conference and 9-1 overall. Huntingdon finished first in the USA South Athletic Conference, going 6-1 in the conference and having an overall record of 8-1.
How They Got Here:
The Wheaton Thunder began the season by winning their first six contests, dominating all but two of those contests. The two close battles were Carthage on September 17 that they won 19-14, and a 10-6 victory over Elmhurst a week later. The Thunder fell at North Central on 10/15, 35-25, giving them their first loss, but they responded with three dominating victories, including a 60-7 victory over North Park the week after losing to North Central.
The Huntingdon Hawks won their first three games of the season, putting on an offensive showcase with 166-points scored through the first three weeks. They then fell to N.C. Wesleyan on October 1, 41-31, before running the table the rest of the way. That included a whopping 71-0 win over Greensboro. Their only other close contest was a close victory over Maryville on November 5.
Wheaton 36.2 PPG, 171.5 Rushing/Game, 263.4 Passing/Game, 434.9 Yards/Game
Huntingdon 48.8 PPG, 282.8 Rushing/Game, 284.5 Passing/Game, 567.3 Yards/Game
Wheaton 14.2 PPG, 46.5 Rushing/Game, 208.6 Passing/Game, 255.1 Yards/Game
Huntingdon 23.1 PPG, 140.6 Rushing/Game, 238.9 Passing/Game, 379.5 Yards/Game
Players to Watch
Wheaton is led by quarterback Andrew Bowers, who passed for 2,119-yards and 22-touchdowns. He threw just 4-picks and completed 63.8 percent of his passes, plus he rushed for 266-yards. Sola Olateju led the team in rushing, gaining 738-yards and 6-TDs entering the playoffs. Six receivers caught at least 13-passes for the team this season, led by Chase White who made 34-catches for 444-yards and 7-TDs. Zach Lindquist had 33-catches and Trey Hanley made 32.
The defense is led by Eric Stevenson, who made 77-tackles, 2-sacks and an interception. He is a dominant playmaker. Caleb Ashby was second on the team in both tackles (62) and sacks (8), and Chase Greenlee led Wheaton with 12-sacks. Patrick O’Connell recorded 7.
The Hawks have an impressive array of weapons that begins with their running game. John Iwaniec rushed for 948-yards and 11-TDs, and Vic Jerald adds 557-yards and 6-TDs. If that isn’t enough to contend with, QB Luke Bailey ran for 636-yards and 11-TDs as well as threw for 2,751-yards and 31-scores. He is as tough to defend as any quarterback in the country and will be a real difference maker in this contest. Nick Haas and Otis Porter are the big two receivers. Haas led the team in receptions (41 to 40) and in touchdown receptions (8 to 7), while Porter led in receiving yards (785 to 634).
The defense is led by sophomore Trey Hayes, who made 85-tackles, had 3.5-sacks, 2-forced fumbles and 2-interceptions. He is an amazing talent who can do it all. Heath McCray led the team with 8-sacks and Anthony Wood had 3-interceptions.
The Huntingdon Hawks have an unbelievable offense, but their defense can be quite suspect. Wheaton is the more complete team in this contest and they are playing at home. They have the kind of defense that can dominate a game, and that group is really going to have their hands fun trying to stop Bailey. You don’t see a lot of upsets in the first round, but this looks like it could be one of those rare exceptions. Take Huntingdon 35-31.
By Robert Pannier