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|Scots Can Clinch Midwest Conference; Playoff Spot with Win Against Illinois College
|There's a lot riding on the outcome of Monmouth College's 1 p.m. game Saturday against Illinois College at April Zorn Memorial Stadium.
Ranked No. 10 by both the D3football.com and American Football Coaches Association polls, the Scots - 8-0 overall and 7-0 in Midwest Conference play - could clinch the league's automatic NCAA playoff berth with a win over IC (5-2 in MWC). For the Blue Boys' part, they're in position for a top-three finish and looking for redemption from last year's 78-17 loss to Monmouth in Jacksonville.
"We're going to be facing a highly motivated team," predicted Scots' coach Steve Bell. "They'll be motivated for two reasons. Because of last year's game and their offense has been exceptional. They are playing very well right now. They can put up a lot of points."
Points? Illinois College has scored more than 30 a game, but still lags behind Monmouth's 48.9 point per game average.
IC's junior quarterback Mitch Niekamp has thrown for more than 2,300 yards and 27 touchdowns. Senior wide out Mike Jennings has been on the receiving end of 11 of those and is closing in on 1,000 receiving yards. Averaging more than 100 yards per game, Jennings would need a slightly-better-than-average game to reach the milestone against the Scots.
"He's a terrific receiver," praised Bell of IC's all-conference receiver. "Niekamp does a very good job of getting the ball in his hands."
Monmouth isn't hurting for a passing game, either. Junior quarterback Alex Tanney has already broken numerous career records and he had a hand in another broken record last week. Junior wide out Mike Blodgett replaced Evan Haffner as the all-time reception leader with 153. Right behind is classmate Matt Shepherd with 147.
The Blue Boys have added another dimension to the pass in hard-running freshman Demetrious Baylis. The 5-foot-10, 205 pounder has been the workhorse out of the backfield, gaining 651 yards on 150 carries. He's also scored all five of IC's rushing touchdowns.
"Baylis is a very physical runner," said Bell. "The offense is still predicated to the pass, but they can run. They'll be tough to defend. We'll have our hands full."
The Scots have been very good against the run, holding opponents to less than 95 yards per game. The pass defense has been solid as well. Opposing offenses have only gained a little more than 160 yards per game through the air and defensive end Anthony Goranson leads Monmouth's sack attack. The senior is just three sacks from tying the team's all-time mark set by Greg Bennett from 1987-90. The Scots have 18 sacks on the year and 12 different Scots have picked off 15 passes and broken up 40 more.
On the flip side, the Blue Boys have given up nearly 28 points and 380 yards per game. Junior Ricky Padilla - a 5-foot-11, 224 pound linebacker - leads the Blue Boy defense with 69 tackles. Safety Erik Beimfohr has collected three of the Blue Boys' 10 interceptions. Defensive ends Travis Davis and Justin Gerstner along with linebacker Jake De Fauw account for more than half IC's 16 sacks. Only Davis didn't take the field last year when the Scots rolled up 579 yards of offense.
The Blue Boys defense will be put to the test. Monmouth is coming off a 51-14 win over Lake Forest in which they racked up 613 yards of offense and scored on five of their first six possessions. Two of their first three scoring drives took just 64 secondS - combined.
Illinois College may be hoping to erase the memory of last season's meeting, but the Scots are riding a 12-game win streak dating back to 1997. As important as this weekend is to the Scots, the Blue Boys appear to have been prepping to break the string for the last 364 days. Instead of listing Saturday's opponent on their Web site as "Monmouth," it simply refers to the Scots as "The Team Up North."
The Scots have taken a slightly different approach to what could be their title-clincher.
"We'll treat this like any other game," said Bell. "Our kids will come ready to play. There is no extra motivation other than this one seals the deal for the conference title."
(Monmouth College Athletics)