41 degrees and a chance for snow -- could you imagine a better possible scenario for the 115th meeting between DePauw and Wabash with the coveted Monon Bell at stake?
The Monon Bell Classic goes well beyond the game. According to the DePauw University website, there are at least 57 Alumni events slated to celebrate the game. The events span the United States from Colorado to Florida and include pitch-ins, flag football games and the sharing of memories are just a few of the festivities planned and the things that make this game like no other.
Wabash leads the all-time series 53-52-9 and one interesting fact about the rivalry is that the year the bell was introduced as a traveling trophy -- the teams battled to a scoreless tie. The Tigers have held the Bell three times since 2000 and will look to keep it safe and sound in Black and Gold country.
Undoubtedly, the week leading up to the Classic is one of organized chaos, but according to DPU head coach Matt Walker it's more a matter of keeping things the same.
"In terms of preparation, you have to accomplish the same things that you do every week," he said. "The difference is that there is clearly more energy, more emotion for a rivalry game like this one. We talk a lot to our players about being sure to use that extra energy and emotion, not as a distraction, but rather as an advantage to drive them to prepare harder."
With the hype and emotion leading up to a big game such as the Classic, distractions are something most coaches would be dealing with. Walker, on the other hand, noted that his squad knows the gravity of the game and needs little motivation to get up for the game and has stayed focused on the task in front of them.
"They are all very eager to find every edge to win the game," Walker said. "Despite all of the distractions that goes along with this game, our players do a tremendous job of staying focused because they are smart enough to realize that it still comes down to the game and who executes better on the field."
Execution is something both squads has had success doing this season, Wabash's first-year head coach Erik Raeburn has his team sitting at 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in Division III. Walker acknowledged that Raeburn knows what it takes to win a big game and has a lot of talent at his disposal that has done a great job all year. He expects nothing less that that on Saturday.
Talent is something that fills the Tiger sideline as well. DePauw has had a stellar year through the air and have utilized a young running attack en route to its 7-2 record.
Junior quarterback Spud Dick, who is staking claim to most of DePauw's passing records, has had a year to remember. Dick has thrown for 2,669 yards and 23 touchdowns on the year. In addition to Dicks' 296 yards per game average is freshman rusher Jon Ellis and his 72 yards per contest on the ground. Senior wideout Alex Koors is averaging an impressive 108 yards per game and has hauled in nine touchdowns so far this year.
Looking ahead to Saturday, Walker commented that the Tigers need to take care of the football and not let the roller coaster of emotions get to them. With the Little Giants averaging 208 yards on the ground per game, Walker also acknowledged his team would need to stop the run.
"They have a very balanced offense and I am not giving away any secrets when I say we must make them one dimensional," Walker said. "We have to do a great job of what I call 'calming the storm.' Wabash is clearly very talented and are going to make some plays. We must stay poised and answer their big plays with our big plays."
Last year's Classic was decided on a last second field goal from Jordan Havercamp and Walker sees the kicking game as being a key factor that could influence this year's contest. "I think that the special teams will play a huge role in this game," he said.
When asked what the week leading up to possibly the biggest game of the season is like, Walker noted the support of everyone involved is something that is very exciting. He also noted that the team feels a great sense of honor in representing their school.
"Indescribable," Walker said of the week. "There is absolutely nothing else that brings our campus together like Monon Bell week. The support of our campus and alumni the week of the game is a very exciting moment.
"To be part of the team and to be the guys out there actually doing the fighting for your school is a real honor and something we take very seriously," Walker concluded.
The Tigers will travel north to face the Little Giants in the Monon Bell Classic at 1:07 p.m. Saturday. The game will be carried live on 91.5 WGRE and on HDNet.