The Monon Bell still rings in Greencastle.
The 300-pound relic that is the most prized possession at Wabash College and DePauw University made the 30-mile trip to Crawfordsville on Saturday, but it returned with the team after DePauw's 36-14 win in the 115th Monon Bell Classic.
With the win, DePauw wins its second straight Bell game and also ties the all-time series in the bitter rivalry at 53-53-9.
The Little Giants (9-1, 7-0 NCAC) came into the game ranked No. 3 in the country and bound for the playoffs, but the Tiger (8-2, 5-2 SCAC) defense intercepted Wabash quarterback Matt Hudson four times and turned the picks into 23 points.
Steve Valdiserri had two interceptions, while Paul Gbur and Ryan Preuss each added one.
A unit that has had its struggles throughout the year, the DePauw defense had been able to make big plays when it really needed them. On Saturday, the defense made big plays throughout the day in what head coach Matt Walker called an "unbelievable" performance.
"I haven't been secretive about our ups and downs defensively this year, in terms of our numbers," Walker said. "We've shown spurts of playing great, and we've had some big plays when we've needed them in some big spots. I still think we're ranked top 10 in red zone defense. It was a good time to put it all together."
Late in the first quarter, freshman cornerback Valdiserri intercepted a Hudson pass at the Wabash 42 and returned it 30 yards, setting up first-and-10 at the Little Giant 12.
From there, it took six plays, but Spud Dick finally connected with Chris Gasbarra on a three-yard scoring pass with 14:52 remaining in the second quarter. The Jordan Havercamp PAT made it 10-0 Tigers.
Two plays into the next Wabash drive, Valdiserri struck again, picking off an underthrown Hudson pass at the DePauw 40.
From there, the offense embarked on a 10-play, 60-yard drive that mixed runs by Jon Ellis with timely Dick passes. Ellis collected the final yard, scoring on a one-yard plunge with 9:30 remaining. A missed PAT kept it at 16-0.
Sophomore Gbur was the next to victimize Hudson, and he did so in a big way. The cornerback jumped a Hudson pass and took it 32 yards for a touchdown with 2:27 until the break.
DePauw led a shell-shocked Wabash squad 23-0 at the half.
If there were any doubts the Tigers would carry their success into the second half, they put them to rest to open the half. Gasbarra took the kickoff 40 yards to the Tiger 48-yard line.
Dick then led the Tigers on their only TD drive of the day that didn't come after a turnover. The junior was 4-of-5 for 39 yards on the drive and also had a seven-yard scramble.
The seven-yard TD pass to Alex Koors and ensuing Havercamp kick made it 30-0 DePauw with 11:02 to play in the third.
At this point, wandering minds couldn't help but go back 10 years to Walker's senior year at DPU. Although the Little Giants came into the 1998 Bell game with an undefeated mark, DePauw throttled them 42-7. The coach admitted it crossed his mind.
"When we had the shutout going, it flashed back in my mind a little bit," Walker said. "I knew we had a similar day going, but I knew we had a lot of football left to play, and I didn't let it take over what I was thinking."
And the Little Giants were soon to make the game interesting again.
The Wabash offense then found its stride for the first time since early in the game. The Little Giants took possession at their own 31 and began marching. Evan Sobecki ran five times for 21 yards, while Hudson was 3-for-3 for 49 yards. The QB also did well with his legs, scrambling the final 15 yards for his team's first points of the day.
The score was 30-7 with 7:46 remaining in the third.
The Wabash run continued on the next Tiger possession, as the Little Giants' Rich Lehman sacked Dick, forcing a fumble that he also recovered on the DePauw 39.
Hudson mixed passes with Sobecki runs, as the Little Giants marched 39 yards in eight plays with Sobecki finishing it with a two-yard TD run.
Wabash was down just two scores at 30-14 with 3:30 remaining in the third.
But the Tigers had been in battles all year. Much had been made of the difference in strength of schedules. Walker said he didn't get caught up in it, but knows his team has been tested.
"I think playing the whole league gets us ready to go. I know there are a lot of people talking about the differences in our conferences, and I don't know. We don't play who they play. There aren't that many common opponents. We know from our standpoint that when we get tested a lot during our season, you can't help thinking it helps us a little bit. When you're in a dogfight like this all the time, it's clearly going to help you be more prepared," Walker said.
And after the run, the Tigers settled back down. The offense committed no more turnovers and the defense allowed no more scores.
The offense took the ball after the Wabash score and marched for a Havercamp field goal with 13:19 to go in the fourth.
Preuss later collected the final interception of the day, taking it 38 yards to the Wabash 11 with 3:34 to play. Another Havercamp field goal followed four plays later and brought the score to its final margin.
On offense, the Tigers spent the day doing what they had to do. The rushing numbers weren't pretty, with 41 carries for 77 yards, but Ellis picked up the nice runs that his team really needed.
And the passing attack was simply efficient. Dick was 24-of-29 for 227 yards, two scores and no interceptions. Bryan Mulligan led the receivers with eight catches for 55 yards. Koors and Gasbarra each added five grabs and a score.
"When we were on offense, every yard was a tough yard. They've got a good defense," Walker said. "I was proud of our kids for fighting and scrapping. It wasn't always pretty today, but in this game, you take a win any way you can get it."
The defense allowed 262 yards passing and just 79 yards on the ground, but the big stat was the turnover margin, as DePauw finished the day at plus three.
While the season goes on for Wabash, who travels to Case Western Reserve for the first round of the playoffs, DePauw gets to once again finish the season on this high note. Walker said it should also help the future of the program.
"This is a big gain for us recruiting," he said. "There are probably 40 to 50 kids here today and probably 80 percent have been on our campus already at some point, so it's really a big game for recruiting purposes. So any time we can win it, you feel like you may have a little bit of an edge in recruiting."
At Byron P. Hollett Little Giant Stadium
115th Monon Bell Classic
|DePauw||3 20 7 6 -- 36|
|Wabash||0 0 14 0 -- 14|
DePauw -- Havercamp 25-yd FG, 2:33
DePauw -- Gasbarra 12 pass from Dick (Havercamp kick) 14:52
DePauw -- Ellis 1 run (Havercamp kick failed) 9:30
DePauw -- Gbur 32 interception return (Havercamp kick) 2:27
DePauw -- Koors 4 pass from Dick (Havecamp kick) 11:02
Wabash -- Hudson 15 run (Whitehead kick) 7:46
Wabash -- Sobecki 2 run (Oehler kick) 3:03
DePauw --Havercamp 42 FG 13:19
DePauw --Havercamp 28 FG 1:10