/awards/all-decade/2000-team-feature

Team of the 2000s: Portraits of greatness

Blake Elliott
Blake Elliott had a starring role for one of Division III's championship teams of the decade, but was no one-year wonder.
2003 photo by Tom Dahlin

D3football.com
All-Decade Team
2000-2009

Pos. First team
QB Greg Micheli, Mount Union
RB Nate Kmic, Mount Union
RB Justin Beaver, UW-Whitewater
WR Pierre Garcon, Norwich-Mount Union
WR Blake Elliott, St. John's
TE Michael Allan, Whitworth
T J.D. Sheldon, Augustana
G Derek Blanchard, Mount Union
C Josh Knox, Hardin-Simmons
G Josh Warner, Brockport State
T Blaine Westemeyer, Augustana
Defense
DE Bryan Robinson, Wesley
DT Adam Haas, Cortland State
DT Ryan Kleppe, UW-Whitewater
DE Jeremy Hood, St. John's
LB Jerimiah Janssen, St. Norbert
LB Jerrell Freeman, Mary Hardin-Baylor
LB Jermaine Taylor, Bridgewater (Va.)
CB Pete Ittersagen, Wheaton (Ill.)
S Kyle Hausler, Capital
S Josh Kubiak, Mary Hardin-Baylor
CB Clinton Tabb, Rowan
Special teams
RET Larry Beavers, Wesley
K Jeff Schebler, UW-Whitewater
P

Alex Groh, Occidental

Click here for the full team

By Ryan Tipps
D3sports.com

“At the base of it, you need to have strong leaders and good teammates.”

“God-given ability is part of it, but then also it’s what the student-athlete does with it.”

“I think a lot of it is just pure passion for the game.”

These statements -- by former St. John’s wideout Blake Elliott, UW-Whitewater coach Lance Leipold and former St. Norbert linebacker Jerimiah Janssen, respectively -- help paint a portrait of greatness in Division III.

It’s as much internal as it is external. It takes commitment not just for a game or a season -- but for a career. As D3football.com releases its All-Decade team, the players who are honored were not just flashes in the pan, they were the players who carved out a legacy on their respective teams and who were counted on season after season to perform at the highest expectations.

“Our coaches would never put you in a position where they felt like you couldn’t do the job,” said Greg Micheli, a 2009 Mount Union graduate and Gagliardi Trophy winner who led his team to two Stagg Bowl wins. “You know what’s expected of you. They’re actually going to put more pressure on you in practice so that whatever you face in games, whatever nerves you have, all that stuff you’ve worked out before and know how to deal with.”

Division III players take the field without scholarships and, in many cases, without thousands upon thousands of fans to inspire them. Their incentive? Love of the game; camaraderie with their teammates; desire to succeed.

Only partly are stats indicative of greatness. There are also the intangibles.

“The No. 1 word that comes to my mind is commitment, because there’s so many things that a Division III player has to go through,” said Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Pete Fredenburg. “A person who is successful at Division III is truly committed to being the best person he can be and is truly committed to the team and the school he plays for.”

The D3football.com All-Decade team encompasses the years 2000-2009. To be eligible, a player had to graduate in that span or play the majority of his career then. For that reason, Mount Union’s Cecil Shorts, a junior in 2009, is listed, but Whitewater’s Levell Coppage, who was a sophomore, was not eligible. Mount Union, which won six national titles in the decade, was the most heavily represented team on the list with 13 players.

For St. John’s, Elliott, who graduated in 2003 and is one of two people honored twice on the All-Decade list thanks to special teams, said the environment in Collegeville, Minn., and playing for coach John Gagliardi cultivated his success.

Jerimiah Janssen
Jerimiah Janssen finished his St. Norbert career with 296 total tackles and 29 sacks, helping the Green Knights get to the playoffs in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
St. Norbert athletics file photo

“You have to have the talent and the work ethic to want to play,” said Elliott, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings after school but broke his leg in training camp. “At St. John’s, it was definitely a different environment ... in the fact that there really wasn’t this exterior drive from coaching and from the program to be a great player. It was really the kind of system in how John ran things and how the program was historically. There was pressure to kind of live up to how good the program has been and how good John has been as a coach.”

The Johnnies don’t cut players, so Elliott quickly found himself beside 180 guys in practice and on the sidelines. He said he was one of 22 wide receivers on the roster. The atmosphere made him self-motivate toward greatness.

“It became apparent very quickly based on the numbers and the competition for those positions that if you didn’t do A, B, C, D, E, F, all the way down the line, if you didn’t do everything that was expected of you, not only from a football perspective but from an academic perspective ... it was kind of survival of the fittest. You just weren’t going to play,” he said.

Many of the best players can be found on the best teams. Mount Union and UW-Whitewater, teams that met in the Stagg Bowl for the last half of the decade, are well represented. They benefit from seeing some of the top players compete beyond just the 10-week regular season and against some of the country’s best competition. When a player succeeds against the best, it’s hard to doubt their ability.

But most players and coaches will tell you that it never comes down to one guy or one position. Football is a team sport, and the team wins or loses as a whole.

Jerrell Freeman
Jerrell Freeman was the 2007 D3football.com Defensive Player of the Year, the second year the award was given.
Photo by Josh Bowerman, D3sports.com

Over the past 10 years, Fredenburg and his Crusaders have faced Whitewater a handful of times in both the regular season and the postseason. Each time, Whitewater has come out the victor, but UMHB has fought some close games, even against UW-W teams stacked with standout athletes such as running back and Gagliardi Trophy winner Justin Beaver.

“When you get a team like Wisconsin-Whitewater and certainly a great player like Justin Beaver, the reality is that it’s not just him,” said Fredenburg, who coached four players on the All-Decade team. “They have so many good players and have such a great scheme, you have to develop a way to just stop their offense. And obviously, with [Beaver] being the kingpin to that … you have to be fundamentally sound on defense.”

Whitewater’s coach, who has been D3football.com’s Coach of the Year each of the past four seasons, noted that some players are easier than others to adjust for. Mount Union’s first-team All-Decade wideout Pierre Garcon, who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts, was someone who Leipold and his team would key in on. But other Mount players, such as offensive lineman Derek Blanchard, or a UMHB athlete such as linebacker Jerrell Freeman were a little more difficult to make adjustments for.

“Most of the time when we see these guys, we still have to believe in what we’re doing that got us to those points,” Leipold said. “You can’t push the panic button too much. You have to have confidence.”

Especially by those who graduated years ago, the game is missed. For Elliott, it’s partly the camaraderie.

“The guys that you play with are the guys that you live with, are your best friends,” he said, “and seven years later are still my best friends.”

Greg Micheli
Greg Micheli was a two-time first-team D3football.com All-American quarterback.
Photo by David Rich, d3photography.com

Janssen, who joined the New York Jets for a year after graduating in 2002 as the most nationally honored football player in St. Norbert history, said, “I still miss it to this day. ... Former basketball players can go out there and play a pickup game, but not too many guys at my age want to go out there and put on some pads and hit each other.”

Micheli said he misses the practices because it is there where athletes spend the bulk of their time. “That’s really when you develop those relationships and become a team,” he said.

Division III’s greatest players come into the system with natural abilities and a strong foundation of intangibles. They are the players who differentiate themselves from the pack. Fredenburg said athletes such as Freeman, a linebacker who graduated in 2008, had an “incredible innate ability to find the football,” was unselfish and had a deep worth ethic.

The coach’s job is to get players in the right positions and to nurture the natural skill, he said.

“Most of it at this level is coached into guys,” Mount Union’s Micheli said. “You can get away with your athleticism carrying you when you’re in junior high and in high school. But once you get to this level, even Division III, everybody’s good. … The ones who are starting are willing to take coaching.

“If you try to get by on just your athleticism,” he said, “you’ll be a pretty average player.”

Sep. 25: All times Eastern
Final
at Mass-Dartmouth 52, Worcester State 7
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at Framingham State 41, Westfield State 6
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Alfred State 35, at Defiance 28
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Lycoming 29, at Stevenson 28
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Adrian 56, at Finlandia 6
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MIT 27, at Dean 0
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at Merchant Marine 56, Kean 7
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at Salve Regina 50, Rowan 35
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Gallaudet 49, at Greensboro 42
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at Massachusetts Maritime 28, Fitchburg State 0
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at Salisbury 40, Western New England 14
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at FDU-Florham 31, Misericordia 20
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Widener 21, at Albright 7
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Alfred 10, at Kalamazoo 7
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at RPI 41, St. John Fisher 7
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at Hope 52, Northwestern (Minn.) 10
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at Ursinus 28, Franklin and Marshall 0
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Trinity (Conn.) 38, at Bowdoin 14
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at Middlebury 24, Bates 0
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Union 30, at Utica 9
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N.C. Wesleyan 26, at LaGrange 21
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at Husson 26, Springfield 21
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Huntingdon 21, at Brevard 14
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at Susquehanna 31, Dickinson 14
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at Lebanon Valley 24, King's 6
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Washington and Lee 25, at Randolph-Macon 24
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at Kenyon 24, Oberlin 21
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at Ferrum 30, Apprentice 28
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Hampden-Sydney 28, at Guilford 27
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at Emory and Henry 38, Bridgewater 17
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at Gettysburg 48, Juniata 42
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at Albion 23, UW-Eau Claire 20
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at Wilkes 23, Alvernia 0
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at Methodist 37, Southern Virginia 14
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Colby 10, at Amherst 7
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at Westminster (Pa.) 33, Grove City 32
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at William Paterson 28, SUNY-Maritime 7
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at Wesleyan 30, Hamilton 14
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Olivet 44, at Millsaps 27
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Marietta 37, at Capital 7
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at Baldwin Wallace 20, Heidelberg 10
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at Ohio Northern 56, Otterbein 7
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Anna Maria 29, at Coast Guard 24
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at Muskingum 62, Wilmington 14
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Christopher Newport 31, at Catholic 14
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Mount Union 28, at John Carroll 14
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Williams 32, at Tufts 29
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TCNJ 31, at Nichols 0
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DePauw 34, at Wooster 30
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Endicott 30, at Norwich 21
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Ohio Wesleyan 28, at Allegheny 19
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Johns Hopkins 54, at Moravian 6
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at Montclair State 31, WPI 10
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Muhlenberg 23, at McDaniel 0
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at Morrisville State 41, Buffalo State 10
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at Aurora 70, Rockford 20
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Concordia (Wis.) 28, at Concordia-Chicago 19
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Rhodes 47, at Westminster (Mo.) 7
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at Wartburg 28, Coe 7
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at Buena Vista 32, Luther 7
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at St. Olaf 40, Macalester 27
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Augsburg 54, at St. Scholastica 14
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at Gustavus Adolphus 36, Concordia-Moorhead 21
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Central 84, at Simpson 16
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at Carleton 35, Hamline 7
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at St. John's 31, Bethel 25
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Wheaton (Ill.) 58, at North Park 27
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Minnesota-Morris 24, at Crown 18
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Howard Payne 49, at East Texas Baptist 38
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Alma 35, at Martin Luther 27
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at Benedictine 49, Eureka 29
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Loras 31, at Nebraska Wesleyan 30
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at Trinity International 26, Greenville 21
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at Carthage 62, Illinois Wesleyan 35
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at Hendrix 49, Sewanee 27
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at North Central (Ill.) 58, Augustana 6
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at Washington U. 27, Elmhurst 7
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at St. Lawrence 55, Castleton 3
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at Pomona-Pitzer 44, Willamette 8
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at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 29, Chapman 21
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at McMurry 41, Southwestern 31
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at Sul Ross State 12, Texas Lutheran 10
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at Hobart 58, Keystone 14
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at Averett 47, Maryville (Tenn.) 10
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Geneva 42, at Bethany 7
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at Carnegie Mellon 39, Waynesburg 3
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Washington and Jefferson 37, at Case Western Reserve 14
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at Denison 21, Wittenberg 16
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at Centre 14, Trine 7
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St. Vincent 41, at Thiel 7
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at Lakeland 40, St. Norbert 8
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 34, Hardin-Simmons 28
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at Millikin 32, Carroll 25
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at Belhaven 41, Austin 14
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Oct. 2: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Wheaton (Ill.) at Washington U.
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3:00 PM
Washington and Jefferson at Geneva
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1:30 PM
Muskingum at John Carroll
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1:30 PM
Otterbein at Mount Union
1:00 PM
Salisbury at Montclair State
1:00 PM
Randolph-Macon at Ferrum
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1:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Lycoming
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1:00 PM
Muhlenberg at Gettysburg
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1:00 PM
Franklin and Marshall at Johns Hopkins
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1:00 PM
Hobart at Ithaca
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1:00 PM
Cortland at Morrisville State
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3:00 PM
UW-Stout at UW-Whitewater
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3:00 PM
UW-Oshkosh at UW-Platteville
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12:00 PM
Union at Buffalo State
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2:00 PM
Mary Hardin-Baylor at Austin
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2:00 PM
McMurry at Hardin-Simmons
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2:00 PM
Wartburg at Central
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2:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at Carroll
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2:00 PM
St. John's at Concordia-Moorhead
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2:00 PM
Gustavus Adolphus at Bethel
2:00 PM
UW-La Crosse at UW-River Falls
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4:30 PM
Linfield at Puget Sound
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4:00 PM
Lewis and Clark at Whitworth
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Sep. 25: All times Eastern
Final
Washington and Jefferson 37, at Case Western Reserve 14
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 34, Hardin-Simmons 28
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Muhlenberg 23, at McDaniel 0
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Johns Hopkins 54, at Moravian 6
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Final
Mount Union 28, at John Carroll 14
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at Baldwin Wallace 20, Heidelberg 10
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Final
Washington and Lee 25, at Randolph-Macon 24
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Final
Union 30, at Utica 9
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 58, Augustana 6
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Final
at Salisbury 40, Western New England 14
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Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 58, at North Park 27
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at St. John's 31, Bethel 25
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Final
Central 84, at Simpson 16
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Final
at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 29, Chapman 21
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