|by Howard W. Hewitt • November 10, 2011|
GREENCASTLE, In. - An undefeated season, NCAC Championship, and resounding Bell Victory isn’t a bad way to end the regular season. The Wabash College defense was dominating in a 45-7 thrashing of DePauw in the 118th Monon Bell Classic.
Wabash will learn its first-round NCAA playoff opponent Sunday evening. The Little Giants can enjoy the unbeaten season record and their third straight Monon Bell win until then. It’s the first time since 2001-2003 that Wabash has won three straight.
Few people expected anything like a repeat of the 2010 Wabash 47-0 win. But it started to feel that way in the first quarter when the Little Giants had the host Tigers (4-5) reeling after putting 24 points on the board.
“I thought our defense played great and obviously we played well on special teams,” Coach Erik Raeburn said. “Offensively, it wasn’t pretty but we did what we had to do. We didn’t turn the ball over. When the defense is playing like that you just have to protect the football.”
Who would ever have thought Wabash could complete just two passes and score 45 points? None of that mattered to the Wabash defense.
“Our defense wanted turnovers,” said defensive captain C.J. Gum, who led all tacklers with 16 stops, and 10 of those were solo. “We wanted to score on our own without the offense. If the offense isn’t playing right, then the defense has to hold them up and do what we can.”
To say the defense did plenty is something of an understatement.
Wabash’s best offensive drive of the day was its first which ended in an Ian MacDougall 32-yard field goal. Then late in the first quarter the defense flexed its muscle. Luke Zinsmaster recovered Tiger quarterback Will King’s fumble at the DePauw 33. (In photo at left)
Two plays later Vann Hunt was in the end zone on a 33-yard run, 10-0.
King failed on two passes in the next series then completed one to Wabash’s Jonathan Koop who returned it 22 yards for 17-0.
“I was reading the quarterback, he threw it and I just snagged it,” Koop said. “It was a nice little gift. Then, I just ran into the end zone.”
Bad then went to worse for DePauw. The Little Giant defense forced another three and out resulting in a Tiger punt to Wes Chamblee. The senior, who entered the game third in D-3 in punt returns, took the ball on the 44, split two defenders, and no one could catch him before he reached the end zone, 24-0.
“We had some pressure on the punter and he was trying to kick into the wind,” Raeburn said. “It was a low one. Wes caught it on the run and found a hole on the right side of their coverage and it turned into a huge play.”
Wabash’s lone scored in the third quarter was thanks to tremendous defensive pressure. King was sacked at the goal line by freshman A.J. Akinribade causing a fumble. Pat Clegg was there to fall on the ball in the end zone for 31-0.
DePauw broke a seven quarter scoreless streak against Wabash with a Jon Ellis five-yard score after a short Wabash punt, 31-7. But the defense wasn’t done scoring – not by a long shot. After a Wabash three-and out, Denzel Wilkins picked off a King pass and returned it 28 yards for another Wabash TD, 38-7.
With the game winding down and Wabash playing nearly everyone on the defensive side of the roster, sophomore Drew Walls picked off King at the Tiger 17. Troy Meyers ran for 13 yards then sophomore quarterback Andy Walsh took it in from four yards out for the final, 45-7. (In photo at left)
“We haven’t been getting as many turnovers as we did earlier in the year,” Raeburn said. “These last two weeks we’ve done a great job taking the ball away and I couldn’t be prouder of how we played today.
“It’s hard to win 10 games, for sure, I’m real proud of the guys getting over the 9-0 jinx in the Bell Game. We made sure that wasn’t going to happen this year.”
A huge Wabash crowd awash in white was noisy from the beginning. Numerous players cited the student, alumni, and community support.
“My biggest memory of these last three years is probably the atmosphere,” Gum said. “Getting to play in this type of game with all the fans is special. No one else in the nation in our division gets to play in an atmosphere like this.”
Here’s some good news for Wabash fans. After Gum’s huge numbers came three freshmen. Cody Buresh recorded six tackles, Akinribade and Wilkins had five apiece for the Little Giants.
“This is unbelievable,” Buresh said. “The atmosphere is amazing and it’s just a lot of fun.”
The Little Giant defense collected two sacks, seven tackles for loss to go along with the three interceptions.
It was again the Wabash running attack that made the difference on offense. The Little Giants picked up 159 yards rushing on 31 carries to DePauw’s 39 yards.
The stiff breeze made any passing game tricky. Chase Belton finished 2-11 for 21 yards. He rushed for a net 38. Tyler Burke took over in the second half after Belton suffered a minor injury. Chamblee caught the only two Little Giant completed passes for 21 yards.
Vann Hunt rushed for 59 yards. Tyler Holmes and Troy Myers added 25 and 21, respectively.
Wabash now leads the all-time series 56-53-9. The Little Giants also tied up the series for games contested for the Monon Bell, 37-37-6. The estimated attendance was 8100 at Blackstock Stadium.