WABASH COLLEGE FOOTBALL - PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Wabash focused on the playoffs
Little Giants set for showdown against Illinois Wesleyan
Thursday, November 19, 2009 7:12 PM
After an emotional Monon Bell win, Matt Hudson has moved on.
The Paper file photo by Lori Poteet
Wabash College senior Matt Kraft (No. 27) makes a tackle on a DePauw running back in last weekend’s Monon Bell game in Greencastle.
WHAT: NCAA Division III Football Playoffs
WHO: No. 15 Wabash College (9-1) at No. 14
Illinois Wesleyan University (9-1)
WHERE: Bloomington, Ill.
TIME: Noon (1 p.m. ET)
NOTES: Wabash has won a first-round playoff game each of the last two years . . . The winner of Saturday's game advances to play the winner of Lakeland College (6-4) / No. 2-ranked University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (10-0) in the quarterfinals . . . Since his return from a pneumothorax injury and cracked rib three weeks ago, Wabash senior quarterback Matt Hudson has thrown nine touchdowns and zero interceptions.
With the Bell ringing in the background during a mid-week practice, Wabash College's senior quarterback remains focused on his next quest.
He's already lifted the team into the NCAA Division III playoffs with his first Monon Bell win. Now comes his chance to lead the Little Giants into the second round for the second consecutive year.
"If we want to be competitive on a national scale, the playoffs [are] the way to do that," said Hudson, who has thrown for nine touchdowns (including three in the Bell game) and no interceptions since his return from a pneumothorax and cracked rib three weeks ago. "The last thing we want to do is be complacent and to be happy that we won the Bell game. We want to make some noise in this tournament."
No. 15 Wabash (9-1) will travel to No. 14 Illinois Wesleyan (9-1) for a Noon (1 p.m. EST) first-round NCAA Division III playoff game.
Wabash has won its last two first-round playoff games and advanced to the second round in each of the past two years.
Illinois Wesleyan is in the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
And the Titans have reached the postseason thanks to some impressive wins.
Illinois Wesleyan won the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) with a 6-1 league record. Although they shared their conference title with No. 17 North Central (Ill.) College, they defeated the Cardinals 28-22 in overtime on Oct. 31 - giving them the conference's automatic berth.
This year, the Titans knocked off two powerhouses in back-to-back weeks, taking down North Central and then beating Wheaton (Ill.) College 20-17 the next week.
Wheaton crushed Wabash 59-28 in the second round of last year's NCAA Division III playoffs.
Illinois Wesleyan also has the conference's Defensive Player of the Year Nick Nikolich on their side. He ranks seventh in the conference with 49 tackles and played a major factor in the Titans' league-leading defense.
With five All-Conference First Team members, they lead the league in scoring defense (11.6 points per game allowed), pass defense (122.1 yards per game allowed), rushing defense (81.3 yards per game allowed) and total defense (203.4 yards per game allowed).
Even more impressive, they've given up just three rushing touchdowns all season.
Wabash rushed for 93 yards on 26 carries last weekend against DePauw.
Junior running back Tommy Mambourg led the Little Giants with 42 yards on 13 carries. This season, Wabash has averaged 157.9 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns per game.
That concerns second-year Wabash coach Erik Raeburn plenty.
"They're very aggressive. They do a great job of bring pressure and getting after the quarterback. Pressure makes it difficult to run," he said. "We have to try to eliminate turnovers and negative yardage and plays. If you get into third-and-long situations, you're in deep trouble. We aren't able to take four- and five-yard losses or give up a sack for minus eight yards. We have to keep it to zero [yards] or at least get a yard or two and keep it to third-and-mediums and third-and-shorts."
They definitely can't get off to a slow start, like they did against Case Western Reserve in their first-round game last year, either.
Wabash senior offensive lineman Jeremy Morris still remembers how the Little Giants struggled offensively in the first half.
They didn't score any points before putting up three touchdowns in the second half and winning 20-17 on a last-minute touchdown pass from Hudson to junior wide receiver Wes Chamblee.
"We better come ready to play," Morris said. "Last year it was tough against Case [Western Reserve]. We won at the last second. It took a lot out of us for the next week. We were not ready the next weekend and Wheaton blew us out. . . . We have to come prepared that day."