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Muhlenberg College

Friday, November 23, 2007

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football faces formidable foe in wesley

It’s supposed to get harder the farther you move on in the playoffs, and that should be the case for the Muhlenberg football team.

A week after defeating Salisbury, 31-21, in the first round of the NCC Division III playoffs, the Mules (11-0) travel to Dover, Del., to take on Wesley (10-1) tomorrow. The winner will advance to the quarterfinals and host the regional championship game next Saturday against the winner of the game between North Carolina Wesleyan and Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Wesley is in the same conference as
William Moates
Junior nose tackle William Moates had an outstanding game against Salisbury, recording a season-high seven tackles, including 1 sacks.
Salisbury, the Atlantic Central Football Conference, and beat the Sea Gulls, 20-13, to win the league championship. Comparing scores is a tricky business in football, so ignoring the fact that the Mules beat Salisbury by a wider margin (both teams were at home) and the fact that Wesley’s lone loss is to Montclair State, which lost to a team (New Jersey) that Muhlenberg defeated, here are some other facts that point to the Mules’ toughest game of the year:

• Wesley steamrolled through the region to reach the national semifinals in both 2005 and 2006, only to suffer hefty losses at Wis.-Whitewater (58-6 and 44-7) both times. Last year, the Wolverines began their NCAA charge with a 49-21 win against Centennial Conference champion Dickinson.

• Wesley is one of only two teams to rank in the top 15 in Division III in both total offense (ninth) and total defense (14th). The other is Mt. Union.

• Wesley’s offense is not only potent, averaging 485.8 yards per game, but it is also balanced. The Wolverines gain 258.7 yards per game on the ground and 227.1 through the air.

• Although overshadowed by the offense, Wesley’s defense excels against both the run (91.0 yards per game, 22nd in Division III) and the pass (88.9 efficiency, 11th). Last week, the Wolverines held Hampden-Sydney, which came in ranked in the top 10 in total offense, to 313 total yards and two touchdowns in a 45-17 first-round victory.

So the Mules will face an opponent that has a history of success in the playoffs, is hungry to prove itself at a higher level, and is solid across the board in offense and defense. What about special teams? Wesley is fourth in Division III in kickoff returns and 12th in punt returns.

About the only statistical chink in the Wolverines’ armor is one that Muhlenberg has exploited time and again this season, especially in its first-round win against Salisbury: turnovers. Wesley is even in turnover margin and ranks 219th out of 231 Division III teams with 17 fumbles lost.

The Mules, meanwhile, are tied for 11th in turnover margin (plus-17). Last week, they forced four Sea Gull fumbles and recovered three, including two in the last five minutes of the game, which they converted into 10 points to break a 21-all tie.

Muhlenberg has turned the ball over more than once only one time this year (in a 34-0 win against Union) and hasn’t thrown an interception in five games.

The Mules also have a defense that has held all 11 opponents below their season average in points, the last three at least 17 points below, and an offense that, save for a missed extra point against Dickinson, would have scored at least 30 points in seven straight games.

Regardless of outcome, the Muhlenberg football team has already distinguished itself as one of the best in College history. Only three other men’s teams in the school’s 108 years of intercollegiate athletics won their first 11 games: baseball in 1928, basketball in 1945 and soccer in 1989.

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