Division-III Football Playoffs: Wabash College vs. Franklin College
Match-up: On Saturday at noon Eastern Time the Wabash College Little Giants (North Coast Athletic Conference, 9-1, 8-1) will play host in Crawfordsville, IN to the Franklin College Grizzlies (Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, 8-2, 8-0) in the first round of the Division-III Football playoffs. The Little Giants enter the game No. 14 in the latest D3Football poll, while Franklin received 28 points.
Coaches: Erik Raeburn is in his seventh season with the Wabash Little Giants and is 65-11 at the school. Raeburn had been the head coach at Coe College prior to coming to Wabash where he had a 51-26 mark. This is his fourth trip to the playoffs since taking over the team. His 2011 team made it to the quarterfinals.
Across the field will be Franklin College Grizzlies Head Coach Mike Leonard, who is in his 12th season. It took a few years to get the Grizzlies turned around, as he went 12-18 in his first three seasons, but since then he is 80-21, for a combined record of 92-39. This will be his seventh trip to the playoffs as head coach, with his 2008 team making the quarterfinals.
The Wabash Little Giants offense is led by their two bruising running backs, senior Tyler Holmes and junior Mason Zurek. Holmes carried the ball 174 during the season for 981 yards and 9 touchdowns. Zurek had 104 carries for 679 yards, 10 scores and an impressive 6.4 yards per carry average. The two make this is a very tough ground game to stop.
What adds to the challenge is that junior quarterback Michael Putko can also move the rock on the ground. Putko has gained 245 yards rushing with three touchdowns. Through the air he has 1606 yards passing and 20 touchdowns. For such a duel threat Putko showed incredible accuracy, completing 63.8 percent of his passes with just 3 interceptions in 199 attempts.
Three Little Giants receivers had at least double digits in catches, led by Drake Christen, who caught 61 passes for 836 yards and 9 touchdowns. Houston Hodges added 45 catches of his own for 630 yards and 8 scores.
The defense is led by sophomore safety Austin Brown, who made 83 tackles, 2 interceptions and 4 pass breakups. Brown is a ball hawk, who knows how to read plays and support the run. His football IQ is what makes the sophomore so special, and he should have a huge impact on this game.
Brothers Cody and Ethan Buresh both play outside linebacker for Wabash, and the two are relentless at chasing after quarterbacks. Senior Cody led the team with 11 sacks, with sophomore brother Ethan following closely behind with 10 of his own. Both also cover well, and have to be accounted for on every play or they will disrupt any offense.
Overall the Little Giants finished with an impressive 48 sacks as a team. They only created 14 turnovers however (7 interceptions, 7 forced fumbles).
The Franklin Grizzlies have one of the best quarterbacks in Division-III Football in Grant Welp, who is sixth in the country with 3127 yards passing. Welp is incredibly accurate, completing 67.9 percent of his passes, and the senior threw for 31 touchdowns with just 7 picks. Welp also gained 366 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground, but he can be a little loose with the ball when running, fumbling seven times.
His two favorite targets are fellow seniors Jonny Hession and Zach Cole. Hession caught 52 passes for 650 yards and 9 touchdowns, while Cole recorded 50 receptions for 632 yards and 4 scores. Four other players caught at least 12 passes for the Grizzlies.
One of those is senior running back Joey Pasquale, who made 46 catches for 545 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also delivered on the ground, rushing for 596 yards and 6 touchdowns.
One of the big difference makers in this game will be return man Kole Stogner. The sophomore returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns and he knows how to read his blocks well.
On defense junior Jeremiah Lindell led the team with 104 tackles, plus he added a sack and an interception. He pursues plays very well, and can drop into coverage to help with pass defense. Keaton Lyons led the team in sacks with 3.5 and Taylor Christensen led the team with 4 interceptions.
The Franklin defense only produced 16 sacks, but added 7 fumbles and 15 interceptions.
Franklin: 477.5 yards per game. 41.8 points per game
Wabash: 449.0 yards per game, 41.3 points per game
Franklin: 431.4 yards per game, 26.3 points allowed per game
Wabash: 208.7 yards per game, 11.6 points allowed per game
Outlook: This is going to be a battle of a team that likes to throw the ball (Franklin) versus one that would much rather run (Wabash). The weather conditions are probably going to be cold and should favor the Wabash Little Giants and their defense greatly. Take Wabash in this one, 34-18.
Tomorrow’s Previews on the Minor League Sports Report will look at:
Widener vs. Muhlenberg
Delaware Valley vs. Christopher Newport
Linfield vs. Chapman
Mary Hardin-Baylor vs. Texas Lutheran
By Robert Pannier